Trends that affect your company

Companies active in the food industry and the health care sector are very much affected by trends. Those who can predict what will be popular can keep on top of the game and gain business advantages over the late comers. However, it is not easy to know which of all the alleged trends that are real, and worth betting on. This is why we will tell you about six meta-trends and nineteen short- and medium-term trends to watch.

10 July 2019 •

HMT, the Healthy Marketing Team (HMT), is locat­ed in Malmö, or “Greater Copenhagen” as they call it. They are a con­sul­tan­cy that helps food com­pa­nies such as Oatly and Bayn to sharp­en their mes­sages on nutri­tion, health and wellness.

In 2019, the HMT’s Global Gamechangers 2019 report was pub­lished. I have read the 90 page report. Among many oth­er things it describes the nine­teen trends that affect com­pa­nies in the food and health sec­tor. It cov­ers not only what is hap­pen­ing now, but why it hap­pens and how you can use it to devel­op your brand.

The 19trends have arisen and are dri­ven by meta-trends. These are changes that occur over a long peri­od of time, and which slow­ly but com­plete­ly change the rules of the game. That’s why they are called game chang­ers in the report. Six game chang­ers are identified.

My idea is to here explore the six game chang­ers and the nine­teen trends they give rise to. But before we start our jour­ney, let’s equip our­selves with a bet­ter under­stand­ing of what trends and meta-trends are.

A trend is a trend is a trend? No?

When tabloids and mag­a­zines write about new trends it usu­al­ly isn’t a ques­tion of trends at all, in the aca­d­e­m­i­cal sense of the word. It’s rather more or less guess work on what is hip and not. That is not the kind of trends we’ll cov­er here.

With trend we mean a sta­ble and long-term change in soci­ety regard­ing e.g. econ­o­my, demo­graph­ics, val­ues, inter­ests or con­sumer pat­terns. In any case this is how the ency­clopae­dias put it.

In their book Practical Business Intelligence*, Linda Genf and Johanna Laurent describe the term like this:

A trend is a long-term change in a cer­tain direc­tion. It has move­ment, it increas­es or decreas­es. It has a his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment and is ongo­ing. A trend is not some­thing that will hap­pen. It is hap­pen­ing now. A trend can also be proved by sta­tis­tics, exam­ples or oth­er quan­ti­ta­tive or qual­i­ta­tive examples.

Trends run for longer than you think

Trends are long-term. Even the so called short-term trends. A cycli­cal eco­nom­ic fluc­tu­a­tion is an exam­ple of a short-term trend, no mat­ter that it may go on dur­ing sev­er­al years.

Medium-term trends run over a decade or more. An exam­ple of a medi­um-term trend is that more and more con­sumers are buy­ing goods and ser­vices online.

Many of the trends cov­ered in the HMT report are prob­a­bly medi­um-term trends.

What cre­ates and dri­ves short- and medi­um-term trends are usu­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant changes that occur slow­ly but sure­ly dur­ing a very long time. For exam­ple, urban­i­sa­tion. These changes that feed oth­er changes are called meta-trends, pop­u­lar­ly also called mega trends. These are the kind of trends that HMT call game chang­ers.

From daredevils to dilly-dalliers

We are going to look clos­er at the six meta-trends (or game chang­ers, if you like) that HMT has iden­ti­fied. But first let’s look at how trends spread.

You have prob­a­bly heard of ear­ly adopters, con­sumers who catch on ear­ly, dri­ven by an insight pos­sessed by only a few. Early adopters make up 13-14% of all con­sumers. They are the first to embrace the new, despite the fact that it almost always leads to prob­lem and dis­rup­tions for them.

That last bit is not always entire­ly true. Two to three per cent of con­sumers are will­ing to hop on the train even ear­li­er. These are the dare­dev­ils who so strong­ly believe in an idea that they are will­ing to put up with almost any­thing. They are often a part of cre­at­ing the trend. That’s why they are called inno­va­tors.

A large amount of con­sumers are open to new trends and show an inter­est in them as soon as they become aware of them. But to be aware of and inter­est­ed in is not the same as to embrace. They are keen to try, but won’t run the line until “every­body else” is also doing it. They make up about a third of all con­sumers and are col­lec­tive­ly named ear­ly major­i­ty.

A large part of con­sumers are not at all as keen. Some will embrace the idea when it becomes too incon­ve­nient not to. They are called the late major­i­ty and make up about a third of all consumers.

We are now left with the lag­gards. Actually this is all too kind a descrip­tion. Like lud­dites they resist every change and stub­born­ly refuse to accept the new until they are forced to do so by cir­cum­stances. About 16% of con­sumers belong to this group.

Spreading innovation

This descrip­tion of con­sumers is a free inter­pre­ta­tion of the late Everett Roger’s descrip­tion of man’s will to embrace inno­va­tion. He was a pro­fes­sor in com­mu­ni­ca­tion the­o­ry and soci­ol­o­gy, most known for his con­tri­bu­tion to sci­ence with his Diffusion of Innovations.

Already in the late 19th cen­tu­ry they stud­ied how inno­va­tion spread. But the research only caught real speed in the 1930s, when it was inves­ti­gat­ed hybrid corn ker­nels were accept­ed by farm­ers in Iowa.

Studies show that the time it takes before peo­ple embrace an inno­va­tion is a nor­mal dis­tri­b­u­tion (blue curve in the fig­ure). This is why Everett Rogers in the begin­ning of the 1960s sug­gest­ed that the 2.5% who are quick­est to embrace a new tech­nol­o­gy should be called inno­va­tors, the 13.5% fol­low­ing should be called ear­ly adopters, the next 24% ear­ly major­i­ty, the fol­low­ing 34% to be called late major­i­ty and the last 17% should be called lag­gards.

The accu­mu­lat­ed num­ber of peo­ple who over a time embraces an inno­va­tion describes an s-shaped curve (yel­low in the fig­ure). This shows how the mar­ket share of the inno­va­tion is grow­ing. At first hes­i­tant­ly when only inno­va­tors and ear­ly adapters board the train. Then at full speed when both ear­ly and late major­i­ty comes on board. In the end phas­ing out as it’s most­ly lag­gards left on the platform.

Innovations are more than inventions

It’s easy to think of an inno­va­tion as an inven­tion of some­thing tech­ni­cal. That is what we usu­al­ly mean. But inno­va­tion can also be a new idea, or a con­cept. And these are spread in the same way.

One exam­ple is the spread­ing of the idea that it’s good to top up with intesti­nal bac­te­ria (pro­bi­otics), and to feed these (pre­bi­otics). Another is the real­i­sa­tion that not only those with dia­betes can ben­e­fit from damp­en­ing the fluc­tu­a­tions in blood sug­ar. And a third exam­ple is that the thought that pro­tein enriched foods are good for “reg­u­lar peo­ple” too, not only those who want to build muscles.

A connection between spreading and trends

The yel­low curve in the dia­gram above describes not only how the mar­ket share is grow­ing. If you stop to think you will realise that it also describes the devel­op­ment of a trend. It is the growth of the inno­va­tion’s, or of the idea’s, mar­ket share that is the trend.

When the mar­ket share grows faster dur­ing one peri­od than dur­ing the pre­vi­ous peri­od of the same length, we have an increas­ing trend. When it grows slow­er we have a decreas­ing trend.

The con­clu­sion is that inno­va­tions or ideas can cre­ate and dri­ve trends.

Trends of the kind that HMT cov­ers in their report are dri­ven by under­ly­ing ideas. It’s these ideas that HMT calls game chang­ers. These are the trends we are going to take a clos­er look at, and the 19 trends they drive.

I. Food for health and well-being

In the Japanese cul­ture they are of the opin­ion that food serves three pur­pos­es. Food shall give nour­ish­ment to sus­tain life. Food shall have taste, smell and tex­ture that pro­vides an expe­ri­ence. And food shall change phys­i­o­log­i­cal qual­i­ties in a pos­i­tive direc­tion (fur­ther to pro­vide nourishment).

So it is not strange that the con­cept func­tion­al foods was coined in Japan. It is used of food that is pro­duced with the third pur­pose in mind.

The con­cept was first used in 1984 in a Japanese sci­ence project to sur­vey the effect dif­fer­ent foods have on peo­ple’s health. But it took more than ten years for the con­cept to spread. This hap­pened at a con­fer­ence in Singapore where the aim was to unite Asian food cul­ture and knowl­edge with that of the West’s.

Perhaps it can be seen as the begin­ning of the meta-trend which HMT describes as “food for health and well-being”. The trend is the way East Asian think­ing is spread­ing to the rest of the world. More and more peo­ple are mov­ing from con­sid­er­ing food as fuel to see­ing it as build­ing rocks for bet­ter health and well-being.

According to HMT this meta-trend dri­ves four “reg­u­lar” trends:

1. Probiotics 2.0

Consumers’ inter­est in good bac­te­ria is mov­ing from the gen­er­alised to the indi­vid­u­alised. They look for prod­ucts that add the bac­te­ria (pro­bi­otics) that your body needs or prod­ucts that help these bac­te­ria thrive (pre­bi­otics).

2. Live to exercise, exercise to live

Ever more peo­ple see a fit body as a part of their per­son­al­i­ty. This means an increased inter­est among a wider range of con­sumers, in pro­tein enriched food and func­tion­al foods, for e.g. focus and recovery.

3. Sugar sensible

Consumers are mov­ing from accept­ing arti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers as a replace­ment for sug­ar, to demand more nat­ur­al solu­tions giv­ing a more even blood sug­ar with­out com­pro­mis­ing on taste or tex­ture. A good solu­tion is sweet­ened fibres: Sweetening from a nat­ur­al source attached to dietary fibres and with the right texture.

4. A mental advantage

More and more con­sumers are inter­est­ed in foods that are nootrop­ic, or con­tain psy­chobi­otics. Nootropic foods con­tain sub­stances that increase your men­tal capac­i­ty. Psychobiotics are healthy bac­te­ria (pro­bi­otics) or sup­port for such bac­te­ria (pre­bi­otics) that has a favourable affect on mood, moti­va­tion and learning.

II. People are getting more numerous, older and richer

When Jesus deliv­ered his ser­mon on the mount he shared the globe with an esti­mat­ed 0.3 bil­lion peo­ple. During the first half of the 19th cen­tu­ry we were up to about a bil­lion. Somewhere between the Beatles split­ting up and ABBA win­ning the Eurovision Song Contest we passed the four bil­lion mark. At the turn of the cen­tu­ry we were six bil­lion. Only ten years lat­er anoth­er bil­lion peo­ple had been born. In just a few years’ time Earth will have a pop­u­la­tion of eight bil­lion people.

And we get ever old­er. In the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tu­ry the aver­age life expectan­cy in Sweden was about 40 years. Now it’s more than twice that. And the num­ber of peo­ple who have reached their 60th birth­day in the world has dou­bled in the last thir­ty years.

We are also get­ting rich­er (even if some get there quick­er than oth­ers). For instance, the world’s total BNP is more than twen­ty times as large today as it was a hun­dred years ago (in today’s money).

So we become ever more numer­ous, ever old­er and ever rich­er. And it goes on. According to the UN there will be 9.8 bil­lion peo­ple in the world by 2050. 2.1 bil­lion will be old­er than 60 years. And the mid­dle class­es will make up about a third, accord­ing to the invest­ment bank HSBC.

This will, accord­ing to HMT’s report, dri­ve three trends:

5. Let the children lead

More and more health con­scious par­ents, want­i­ng to make the most of their chil­dren’s ear­ly years, are try­ing to find new ways to give them super healthy habits. One of these ways is to involve the chil­dren ear­ly on in cook­ing to encour­age them to exper­i­ment with taste and tex­ture, so that they will be open to all kinds of food.

6. Pro-aging

How the old­er gen­er­a­tion views aging is chang­ing. More and more are invest­ing in their health. They want to remain active as long as pos­si­ble so they can enjoy life as much as pos­si­ble. They see them­selves as health con­scious con­sumers rather than aging con­sumers. Also the weak­er of the elder­ly put a focus on qual­i­ty of life.

7. Gender roles are (not) dead

The idea that there are gen­er­al gen­der spe­cif­ic needs in the mat­ter of health is con­sid­ered more and more out­dat­ed. Focus is instead on the needs of each and every indi­vid­ual. At the same time what socio-cul­tur­al group a per­son con­sid­ers them­selves to belong to, their iden­ti­ty, becomes more impor­tant. Consumers pre­fer brands that assert their iden­ti­ty. One such iden­ti­ty on the rise is female empow­er­ment.

III. Resources will be scarce

We have ploughed up a bit more than a third of all arable land on Earth. Farming uses more than two thirds of all the water we bring to the Earth’s sur­face. And the glob­al food and bev­er­age sys­tem, from field to super­mar­ket shelf, counts for a third of all the green­house gasses – more than trans­port, heat­ing, and light­ing does togeth­er. On top of this we throw away a third of all the food man­u­fac­tured in the world. This is not just a waste of food; it is a waste of land, water, ener­gy and of course busi­ness opportunities.

For most peo­ple there is no doubt that pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of food can­not go on like it does today. As a con­se­quence more and more con­sumers and com­pa­nies make prac­ti­cal and con­sid­er­ate choic­es that con­tribute to stop this neg­a­tive devel­op­ment. This is the dri­ving force behind two of the trends in the HMT report:

8. Eating activism

The devel­op­ment goes from a few prin­ci­pled activists dri­ven by a strong con­vic­tion, to many who make prac­ti­cal and con­sid­er­ate choic­es that con­tribute to stop the neg­a­tive trend. For exam­ple, while there is only one in one hun­dred Swedes who con­sid­ers them­selves a veg­an, one in four eat a veg­e­tar­i­an meal at least twice a week. Companies make con­tri­bu­tions too. For instance more of them make use of and refine by-prod­ucts from their food production.

9. The superiority of plants

The atti­tude to veg­eta­bles is mov­ing from being a healthy addi­tion on your plate to being the most impor­tant thing on your plate. An exam­ple is the inter­est in plant based “meat” – mean­ing prod­ucts that look, smell and taste like meat but are entire­ly made entire­ly of plant pro­tein. Another exam­ple is the increased demand for veg­e­tar­i­an ready meals and snacks.

IV. A natural and transparent manufacturing process

The man­u­fac­tur­ing of foods has changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly dur­ing the last one hun­dred years. From bak­ers’ appren­tices who with their naked (and prob­a­bly dirty) feet tread­ed dough for the first fresh bread of the day, to food tech­ni­cians in white coats over­see­ing how enzymes dur­ing high pres­sure and with nick­el as a cat­a­lyst, makes chem­i­cal won­ders that con­sumers can eat.

The prob­lem of this fast evo­lu­tion is not that foods in gen­er­al have become bad or worse, but that the process from field to super­mar­ket has become incom­pre­hen­si­ble to the aver­age con­sumer. They find the man­u­fac­tur­ing process unnat­ur­al and what is pro­duced arti­fi­cial, less healthy and per­haps even haz­ardous. An expres­sion for this is the fear of E-num­bers. Some con­sumers con­sid­er them dan­ger­ous, when in fact they were actu­al­ly estab­lished to ensure the safe­ty of foods.

Consumers want food to be made from nat­ur­al ingre­di­ents and in a nat­ur­al process. This is a trend that has been grow­ing for some time now.

We who work in the food and bev­er­age indus­try know that “nat­ur­al” is a rel­a­tive term. Yeasts do the same “nat­ur­al” job in the bread pro­duced today as they did a hun­dred years ago. The dif­fer­ence is that there are no dirty appren­tice feet that tread the dough.

But to just point this out is not going to help. What is need­ed is increased trans­paren­cy. A trend that goes hand in hand with the demand for natural.

These meta-trends are what is dri­ving the three trends men­tioned by HMT in their report:

10. The process is the product

A prod­uct is much more than what the con­sumer takes home from the super­mar­ket shelf. It is the entire expe­ri­ence of the prod­uct. Previously expe­ri­ences were shaped by the prod­uct itself, its price, pack­ag­ing and place, its mes­sage in adver­tis­ing, and what oth­ers said about it. But now there are a lot of oth­er things affect­ing a con­sumer’s expe­ri­ence. They are ask­ing: What is it made of? Where is it made? What were the con­di­tions? How was it made?

You can no longer hide the naked truth. Stand up for it. Own it. And use it to cre­ate sto­ries that engage the consumers.

11. It is alive!

Bread that looks fresh years after the best before date is con­sid­ered unnat­ur­al and unwant­ed. The oppo­site, food with live bac­te­r­i­al- or yeast cul­tures, are con­sid­ered more nat­ur­al and some­thing desir­able. The inter­est in food made with tra­di­tion­al meth­ods, that includes live organ­isms, is increas­ing. Just take the pop­u­lar­i­ty of sour dough bread, for one. Another is kom­bucha, made by adding bac­te­ria and yeast to tea brewed with sugar.

12. The food (r)evolution

Consumers avoid things that are con­sid­ered unhealthy or cause prob­lems. The free-from idea has been pop­u­lar for a long time. Free from sug­ar, gluten, lac­tose… add the unde­sired sub­stance of your choice. But now con­sumers demand the inclu­sion of dif­fer­ent sub­stances. It could be healthy things, like pro­tein, vit­a­mins, min­er­als etc. But also things that make the food more enjoy­able. Do remove the sug­ar, by all means, but don’t change the taste or texture.

V. Technical innovations give consumers power

We are cur­rent­ly under­go­ing a dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion in soci­ety. This means that old and famil­iar approach­es and meth­ods slow­ly but sure­ly are being replaced by com­plete­ly new ones. Approaches and meth­ods that pre­vi­ous­ly have not been pos­si­ble but now, thanks to dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion of infor­ma­tion and process­es, are.

Information dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion means that infor­ma­tion that was pre­vi­ous­ly stored and trans­ferred in the shape of paper doc­u­ments and the like, is now stored and trans­ferred as dig­its (zeros and ones). An exam­ple is the infor­ma­tion on foods, that three decades ago was usu­al­ly just avail­able on print­ed prod­uct sheets, but are now sent to and stored in a data­base, from which, among oth­ers, the FMCG busi­ness­es can retrieve the information.

Process dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion means a change in com­pa­nies’, branch­es’ and mar­kets’ man­ners of oper­a­tion and busi­ness process­es, made pos­si­ble by infor­ma­tion dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion. One exam­ple is com­put­er pro­grammes for diet and menu plan­ning that com­pose nutri­tious meals with infor­ma­tion from the above men­tioned database.

Of course the food and bev­er­age indus­try is great­ly affect­ed by the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion. Most cer­tain­ly as the trans­for­ma­tion means that more and more pow­er is moved to con­sumers. This results in four trends, accord­ing to HMT:

13. The experience is everything

Two thirds of mil­len­ni­als share a pic­ture or video of their food before they grab their fork and knife. The behav­iour is an expres­sion for a human need for expe­ri­ences, and the need to share these with oth­ers. In its sim­plest form it is about giv­ing con­sumers an expe­ri­ence worth sharing.

14. My clan online

The dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion has made it eas­i­er for con­sumers to find like-mind­ed in blogs, pods, vlogs and Instagram accounts, and in the com­ment fields for these. And among par­tic­i­pants in forums and Facebook groups. It cre­ates new are­nas for meet­ing and shar­ing your expe­ri­ences and knowl­edge. And this, in turn, cre­ates new risks and pos­si­bil­i­ties for food and bev­er­age com­pa­nies for bad and good PR respectively.

15. Convenience is a lifestyle

Smartphones and apps like Swish [the Swedish app based pay­ment sys­tem] has made life more con­ve­nient for most peo­ple. And years after “smart homes” were first men­tioned we are start­ing to see signs of them becom­ing a real­i­ty. Smart speak­ers is a start. Soon, 5G will make the “inter­net of things” pos­si­ble, and quick­ly there­after we’ll have blockchains. This affects the food and bev­er­age indus­try, with new pos­si­bil­i­ties as well as new demands. And not only tech­ni­cal ones. Convenience takes many shapes, for exam­ple; increased shelf life with­out giv­ing the appear­ance of an arti­fi­cial prod­uct. Or pack­ag­ing that is easy to re-use or recycle.

16. Trace yourself

Digitalisation enables per­son­al­i­sa­tion. Personalisation means that the behav­iour of indi­vid­u­als is traced, to lat­er be used to pre­dict what the con­sumer desires. Depending on the means this may be expe­ri­enced as any­thing from desir­able to offen­sive. The trend is increased usage of per­son­al­i­sa­tion, as it gets more and more accept­ed and even expect­ed. This trend also affects the food and bev­er­age indus­try. Consumers want ever more foods adapt­ed to their own needs, and they are expect­ed to become more will­ing to, in exchange for per­son­alised prod­ucts, to do tests or use apps that col­lect data.

VI. Science for a smarter future

In East Asia it is con­sid­ered nor­mal to think of food as med­i­cine and the oth­er way around. What we eat should pro­vide us with ener­gy as well as and pre­vent disease.

That is not the case in the West. We draw a sharp line between food and med­i­cine. Food is nutri­tion. Medicine is a cure. Full stop.

But the line is no longer that sharp. The East Asian way of see­ing things is bring­ing the idea that food does not only con­tain nutri­ents but also sub­stances that may have a med­i­c­i­nal effect. The inter­est in such foods is increas­ing in con­sumers who want to pre­vent and alle­vi­ate. In the pub­lic sec­tor it is seen as a pos­si­bil­i­ty to reduce the cost of health care. The pro­gres­sion is slowed, how­ev­er, by EU’s strict reg­u­la­tions for health statements.

According to HMT the increased inter­est dri­ves three trends:

17. The root to healing

In East Asia con­sumers can buy plant based mix­es that alleged­ly have a pos­i­tive effect on your health. Some may con­tain as many as a cou­ple of thou­sand dif­fer­ent sub­stances sup­posed to affect dif­fer­ent parts of your body. As an exam­ple turmer­ic, gin­ger, leafy greens and berries are used to reduce low grade inflam­ma­tion. The inter­est in these mix­es is increas­ing in the West, and more and more of them will under­go west­ern evaluation.

18. Food therapy

Consumers’ inter­est in how food con­tributes nutri­ents for the body to stay and become healthy is on the rise. They are not look­ing for mir­a­cle cures, but rather a diet that con­tributes to pre­vent, or be a part of, a way to alle­vi­ate your spe­cif­ic health prob­lems. They are seek­ing a more holis­tic solu­tion that inte­grates func­tion­al foods in a diet based on nutri­tion­al science.

19. Longevity

We live ever longer. A com­mon denom­i­na­tor for a long life seems to be a good diet – rich in vit­a­mins, min­er­als and fibres. But the mod­ern diet is low on micronu­tri­ents – min­er­als and vit­a­mins which we need in minute amounts, like iodine and vit­a­min A. This could lead to an inabil­i­ty to heal, and to chron­ic dis­ease. To enjoy a long life you need a good diet and per­son­alised supplements.

Read more

Whew! that was a long jour­ney we just took togeth­er. We have looked clos­er at six meta-trends affect­ing the food and bev­er­age indus­try, and we have acquaint­ed our­selves with nine­teen trends dri­ven by these meta-trends.

The six + nine­teen trends are described in detail in the report HMT’s Global Game Changers 2019, pub­lished by Healthy Marketing Team (HMT) in Malmö. The descrip­tion above is not from their report, even if it has of course been used as an inspi­ra­tion and a source, so any and all pos­si­ble mis­takes are mine, not HMT’s.

Perhaps you’re won­der­ing if there is any­thing left to read in the HMT report. Absolutely! It con­tains much more than we have looked at here. First and fore­most the report pro­vides a more in depth pre­sen­ta­tion of the trends, includ­ing sug­ges­tions for how to har­ness the pos­si­bil­i­ties that the trends present. More than a hun­dred exam­ples of brands that made use of the trends is cov­ered. Six of these are analysed more thor­ough­ly with HMT’s method. Furthermore, four con­sumer seg­ments that can be described as ear­ly adopters of the trends are presented.

You can read more about the report, and down­load a sum­ma­ry, on HMT:s web­site.

Author: Thomas Barregren

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