UK food industry trends
The food industry in the UK, like every industry, has its own challenges and opportunities. It’s crucial for marketing, communications, and insights professionals to be aware of the latest food industry trends to be able to react quickly at all times. As we emerge from the pandemic, data-driven decision making will shape tomorrow’s food industry. It’s critical not just for brand growth, but also for a whole host of societal and environmental reasons. We look at why shaping tomorrow is the key to consumer closeness.
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Consumer insights to stay ahead of UK food industry trends
2020 saw closures and travel restrictions, masked and sanitised shoppers, and consumers locked in their homes. We spent more time online than ever before. Behaviour changed immediately and drastically, forcing brands to re-focus, adapt and innovate to avoid falling behind.
And consumers are noisy. Millions of tweets, reviews and vlogs on customer experience are posted every day. Such online conversations have immense influence over the success or failure of products and marketing campaigns. Many of us do it - publicly sharing direct feedback and exchanging ideas with one another on social media. Brands are constantly on public trial with a (not always) impartial jury.
Just waited 45 mins for a table at Nando’s for them to have no peri salt and no peri drizzle absolutely gutted meals ruined— Amber (@ambxrthorpe) January 8, 2022
It’s through having the right data, getting closer to consumers, and reacting to changing consumer behaviour and food industry trends that FMCG brands can protect their brand reputation and drive greater results.
However, achieving customer satisfaction is no easy task. The days of one-size-fits-all are long gone and the quality of one’s product alone simply doesn't cut it anymore. Brands are left with new questions to answer.
- How can brands align their positioning with consumers' values?
- How can brands assure sustainability is at the heart of their products and services?
- How quickly can they identify and react to the latest food industry trends?
These topics and consumer concerns (and many others) must be addressed through a data-driven, insight-led marketing strategy.
But how can marketing and communications practitioners achieve this level of consumer closeness? Using Talkwalker, we’ve derived consumer insights for the food and beverage industry in the UK, comparing traditional supermarkets to unicorn grocers. With our Consumer Intelligence Acceleration Platform™, we were able to pinpoint the most pressing issues and identify the most recent UK food industry trends that are affecting the different stakeholders of the CPG industry.
We see in this supermarket vs unicorns report the key factors we've identified in changing behaviour that is increasing in Ocado, Gousto, and Getir, and understand that price is no longer the only king for supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury's, or even M&S.
With these changes in mind, here are the three UK food industry trends we think you should know about.
Healthy eating habits
During lockdown, along with a newly found passion for exercising, came a new food industry trend. The volume of conversations soared on Twitter (+17% yoy). Like it or loathe it, and whether you were getting sweaty with Joe Wicks or not, healthy eating was on a lot of people’s minds.
The chart above is based on a global analysis of Tweets combining keywords related to health, mindfulness, and nutrition between November 2020 and 2021. Source: Birdseye Report: Industry deep dive - Food, in partnership with Twitter.
Intermittent fasting, portion control, reducing carbs, and conscious consumption of processed foods are all garnering a fair share of the healthy eating conversation. Diets, products, or brands, consumers were eager for something new. There was a clear opportunity and Huel seized it.
Conversation Clusters help map out the various conversations held on Twitter about diets and healthy eating trends. Source: Talkwalker, Conversation Clusters
Founded in 2015, the global leader of meal replacements was ready for the change in consumer habits and grew at an unprecedented rate throughout the pandemic thanks to its healthy, eco-friendly products and a smart marketing strategy. Enter stage left, Huel.
How did it do it?
A sense of community
Huel owes its success to a strong fanbase and the diversity of its community. The product is suited to a variety of audiences which allows it to engage with different types of consumers. The brand uses the power of influencers to expand its community through word of mouth with vegans, eco-conscious cooks, and gym addicts. It also secured a commercial partnership with tech-industry guru Steven Bartlett.
Promoting a lifestyle
Huel built a thriving community online, with thousands of ‘Hueligans’ creating content every month. The high volume of user-generated content allows the brand to lean on its followership to tell a story, over selling a product. It often features their followers on their Instagram account, sharing recipes and showing genuine consumers that happily integrate Huel into their lifestyles and diets.
‘Hueligans’ act as brand ambassadors when creating and sharing content online using Huel products. Source: Huel, website
Adressing consumer concerns
Huel changes the way people consume food. Which is great. But it also means that would-be customers have questions or concerns about the product. It would be easy for the brand to ignore these groups and sweep them under the rug. But what good would that bring?
On the contrary, Huel is extensively transparent and direct about those consumer doubts on their website and social media. It has got close to its consumers to understand their pain points, and address them through consumer-first marketing.
oh huel that's a protein shake right?— Huel (@huel) May 31, 2021
2021: no, but we'll make a better one
Consumers may have misconceptions on what a brand is or isn’t. But by addressing consumer concerns, the brand controls the narrative, fosters a sense of trust, and finds a solution to convince curious consumers to spend their money.
Let’s talk takeout (and homemade meals)
In the midst of a global pandemic, with little to do and nowhere to go, it is no wonder that consumers found refuge in food. But it wasn't just about healthy eating. With many of us turning to fast food and convenience, the new normal gave new life to another food industry trend - deliveries.
Locked in consumers also turned to homemade meals with a renewed interest. Tweets mentioning “homemade” shot up by 27% between 2019 and 2021. Food-tech companies like Gousto, Ocado, and Getir had a golden opportunity to expand their customer base by offering convenient, eco-friendly or high-quality grocery products (read our latest report on the future of the grocery market for more on that).
The two lines in the chart above are based on a global analysis of Tweets that included keywords related to “food delivery” and “homemade food” respectively, between January 1st and November 15th 2021. Source: Birdseye Report: Industry deep dive - Food, in partnership with Twitter
Ultimately, pandemic restrictions made ordering-in an appealing alternative to closed up restaurants. Arguably, the real winners of the food industry were the ready-made food delivery services. Many consumers gave in to their deepest desires and turned to companies like UberEats and Just Eat for solace. We witnessed a 34% increase in the use of the keyword “delivery” in Twitter conversations in 2021 vs 2019. Pizza represented 17.1% of mentions, followed shortly by burgers.
But in 21st century Britain, how does one reconcile sustainability with fast-food takeout? Consumers expect brands to be greener but still offer a wide variety of options. They’re also calling for more sustainable containers and healthier options. Accommodating all food industry trends seems like a challenge but nothing’s impossible for Deliveroo.
In 2018, the British company was the first food-tech start-up to come up with a clear plan to address environmental issues tied to its activity.
It introduced an 'opt in for cutlery' feature which asks customers if they want to receive cutlery with their order, resulting in a 91% reduction in single-use plastic use. The solution is now rolled out in other countries around the world.
Deliveroo enjoyed 80% of positive and 0% negative sentiment after hopping on the food industry trend by reducing its use of single-use plastic. Source: Talkwalker, Quick Search
It launched an eco-packaging range for their partners so that all restaurants on its network have access to biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable packaging. It is also investing in long-term solutions to develop green packaging, better suited for food delivery as the current market offer is not appropriate for all types of food.
Carbon neutral couriers
Grocery home deliveries need transportation, and traditional vehicles are harmful for the planet. Electric means of transport offer a viable alternative to increase the sustainability of Deliveroo’s services. It recently partnered with HumanForest, a London-based micro-mobility company that allows bikers to “take advantage of more affordable, clean and efficient modes of transport”. By using bikes, the business saw a reduction of 6,400 tons of CO2.
Foods of the future
Sustainability is one of the biggest UK food industry trends of today. Environment-related conversations about food that use the plant emoji went up by a whopping 263.6% in 2021 on Twitter! The issue is dear to many consumers' hearts and the message is crystal clear. Brands need to be environmentally minded if they want to get closer to their consumers and drive success. In fact, 35% of consumers say they are choosing brands based on their sustainability credentials, more now than they did before the pandemic.
Preparing for the future of food means reducing our reliance on plastic and meat. Food industry trends are gearing towards innovations in plastic alternatives, like compostable packaging and edible straws, as well as looking to insects as an alternative source of protein.
Take biofortification for example - breeding crops to increase their nutritional value. This can be done either through conventional selective breeding, or through genetic engineering, and lists improvement to health and reducing micronutrients deficiencies amongst its benefits. This new food industry trend has been gaining popularity online on social media and in food publications The topic gathered 5.7K mentions and 13K engagement since the beginning of the year.
Sainsbury’s, thanks to its research, was able to get ahead of the curve and invest in the growing food industry trends before anyone else. The supermarket published its Future of Food report and laid out its plan to shape tomorrow’s grocery market in 5, 30, and 150 years from now.
Food as medicine
Sainsbury’s banks on the idea that doctors will prescribe nutrition and diet advice for prevalent health issues and chronic diseases. It even predicts that biofortifying will become a widespread UK food industry trend by 2025.
Most used emojis in mentions of biofortified foods. Source: Talkwalker, Topic Analytics
The British giant has already put biofortified foods on the shelves like salmon or the now famous Chestnut Super Mushrooms. The product, enhanced with Vitamin B12 and D, gathers an impressive 90.3% positive sentiment amongst consumers.
The image shows that biofortified mushrooms benefited from 90.3% of positive and 0% negative sentiment. Source: Talkwalker, Quick Search
The environment is a growing concern for consumers. The latest IPCC report published in early April announced that humanity has 3 years to turn things around and to avoid irrecoverable damage. Online conversations about the environment are growing steadily (2.5M since 1st January 2022).
The environment is a clear concern for UK consumers with millions of mentions and engagement in 3 months only. Source: Talkwalker, Quick Search
Consumers expect brands like Sainsbury’s to take immediate action to reduce its CO2 emissions. Representing about a fifth of total mentions, plastic is at the heart of conversations and the grocer’s efforts.
About 20% of sustainable food conversations make mention of plastic use. Source: Talkwalker, Quick Search
Sainsbury’s was the first UK retailer to undertake a major move to reduce plastic use in its packaging by 50% by 2025 through various initiatives. Latest progress includes completely removing black plastic trays, but also plastic-free broccoli, cream pots, light bulbs and batteries, a 70% reduction of plastic in their organic product range, and being the 1st retailer to remove single-use plastic bags from loose vegetables.
Environmental concerns go hand in hand with the rise of alternative protein conversations. With an estimated 25% of vegan and 50% flexitarian consumers in the UK by 2025, the market is set to shoot up by 25%.
To counter the fact that 75% of what we consume comes from just 5 crops and 4 animal species, Sainsbury’s started investing in new alternatives. Products like algae proteins, insects, banana blossoms, and lesser known nuts will make an entrance in their aisles.
Consumers speak highly of alternative proteins. Source: Talkwalker, Topic Analytics
Tomorrow and beyond
It is smart to stay ahead of tomorrow’s food industry trends. It is even smarter to dream about the future in 150 years! Sainsbury’s has a vision and a lot of ideas. From jellyfish-based foods and cultured meats to saltwater farming and crop tolerance to impossible environments like deserts. The brand has thought about it all. Fantasy or reality? Only time will tell!
Consumer preferences are constantly changing. The brands which wish to succeed must stay close to emerging food industry trends and strive to be a motor of change. It is more important than ever before to stay close to consumers. The ability to shape tomorrow and bridge the gap between brand and consumer will be central to the evolving UK food industry, and its successes.
Download the Shape Tomorrow white paper and learn about what you can do to take full advantage of consumer insights and stay one step ahead of your competition.