Unless you have been hiding under a rock or tried a stint as a hermit, it should be no surprise to you that consumer power has never been stronger. Brand owners, once the kings of the supply chain, have now had to bend to the will of the consumer. Consumers are informing brand owners – through the power of their wallets – what they will accept and what they will not.
This power has actually resulted in the creation of a completely new category of foods – the health and wellness category where consumers are demanding foods and food packaging, which addresses their demand for healthier foods. What constitutes healthy is slightly more difficult to define because it depends, in part, on geographical preferences and individual tastes.
Euromonitor International Food and Nutrition Consultant Marla Mascaraque prepared a synopsis of a global report on health and wellness packaged food which explains the five top trends in health and wellness. The report starts with an astounding comment that health and wellness packaged food is growing faster than regular packaged food. Two food types in particular are seen as stand-outs in this – organic and ‘free-from’ foods – due to the fact that more people are adopting a holistic approach to healthy diets. The markets of North America and Western Europe are seen as the leaders in this because of their greater demand for organic and free-from foods. Free-from is an umbrella term which covers a number of items including lactose, gluten, additives, preservatives, sugars, genetically modified organisms and others.
The use of the word organic has resulted in some confusion which has lead to new descriptions being required. Another factor which has to be taken into consideration is the geographical aspect, because although the Western markets are demanding ‘organic’, the Eastern market of Asia – and other developing countries – are demanding fortified foods which offer the opportunity to minimise the nutritional gap. In the Western markets these are seen as being processed and artificial.
The top five trends in health and wellness packaged foods are:
1. Healthy appetites drive growth of free-from foods
Free-from has consolidated as the category with the most dynamic growth in the health and wellness space, moving beyond intolerance. The health-conscious consumer habits towards gluten- and dairy-free options are contributing to the future of the free-from offering. It is no longer those intolerant of a specific items such as lactose who are opting for this lifestyle change.
The response from manufacturers has been to create new products which address these lifestyle changes. Products which are nutritious, tasty and appealing. It has seen the resurgence of some under-utilised food items such as quinoa and buckwheat which offer significant nutritional benefits without the negatives associated with gluten or lactose. Included in these newly rejuvenated products are plant-based proteins which offer the ability to reduce or eliminate the use of animal products – further appealing to the growing vegan market.
In the Eastern markets free-from is driven by the high rate of lactose intolerance found in countries like China.
2. Demand for organic in developed markets
In the developed markets of the West, the demand is for minimally processed or unprocessed foods. This is because consumers view these as being more natural and, as a result, healthier than other foods. Organic food has surged in popularity and as a result manufacturers have responded to more organic production.
However, this is where the confusion around organic has come to the fore. In the manufacturing sector, organic refers to the manufacturing process. The organic label applies to the production process, ensuring that the product has been produced and processed in an ecologically sound manner. It does not actually refer to the presence or absence of external additives, although consumers generally believe that this is the case. This is especially prevalent in the markets of Western Europe. This confusion has resulted in manufacturers looking for alternate descriptions to organic, such as free-range when referring to dairy cows and laying chickens.
The growth of organic in the markets of China has generally come about due to safety concerns following the contamination of baby formula in 2008.
3. Fortified foods are growing in emerging markets
In the Western markets, fortified or enhanced products are now in constant decline as they are perceived as less than natural with large sections of the populations of these countries removing them from their diets altogether. However, in developing markets such as Asia Pacific and Africa, fortified foods are seen as offering intrinsic benefits in terms of reducing malnutrition or enhancing the benefits of foods. Items such as probiotic yoghurt and fortified milk formula are seen as containing real advantages. India, as an example, has formed the Food Safety and Standards Authority which, in 2016, announced new guidelines concerning the manufacture and distribution of fortified foods to help combat malnutrition in the country.
4. Energy boosting foods as part of a holistic diet
The health and wellness lifestyle has brought with it a shift of focus from weight management to overall improvements in health. This includes a more active lifestyle which brings with it the demand for increased energy levels from healthy sources. This is driving a growth in foods rich in energy which is evidenced by increased spending on these types of items. Other pockets of growth exist in brain health and memory and vision health, which are emerging as an opportunity to target consumers of all ages as part of this more holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle. An example of these energy boosting foods are energy bars but without all the added sugars and other empty or harmful additives.
5. Subscription meal kits
This is a trend which is primarily being seen in the developed markets where convenience is of prime importance. Add to this the desire to eat healthily and there is a demand for subscription meal kits which are delivered to your door and all that is required is following the recipe and instructions to put together a hearty and healthy meal. A number of variations are available taking into account various preferences or allergies such as gluten-free. This is clearly going to be a growing trend seeing not only more consumers making use of the service, but more companies devising their own subscription meal kit solutions.
‘The packaged food industry is responding to consumer demand for natural, health-focused offerings. Consumers are looking for products and services which support a holistic routine and lifestyle, including physical and mental wellbeing, as well as personalised services in ways that fit in with their nutritional requirements and dietary choices.
‘Moving forward, for big food companies looking to gain exposure to new potentially faster growing categories in the health and wellness space, mergers and acquisitions remain a popular route. However, making a minority investment, especially when it comes to start-ups, could be a good alternative. Big food companies are increasingly establishing in-house development and venture capital arms to support innovative young companies to help them grow, and for them to tap into evolving consumer trends and learn about more agile ways to innovate.’
The report does not actually investigate the ripple effect on packaging manufacturers, although this could be significant. New products and alternatives on the market bode well for packaging design and production. While there are moves afoot for doing away with packaging where possible, it is not viable for all food products and the opportunity exists for packaging manufacturers to work closely with food companies to develop packaging which enhances the appearance and visual aesthetics of the packaging to reflect the natural and wholesome characteristics of the food contained within.
This is an opportunity for packaging manufacturers and printers to get in on the ground floor, by presenting alternatives to their clients designed to meet these trends as they are just becoming apparent.