Around this time of year consumer research companies and marketing analysts unleash a barrage of predictions about food industry and health trends. In fact, there are so many predictions ricocheting around, it’s a real task separating genuinely significant food trends – those with the power to disrupt business as usual – from the fanciful. So, let’s see if we can help here.

tendencias alimentarias
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Understanding trends

First, a question: Do you know your micro-trends from your anti-trends, your mega-trends from your phenomena? You’ll need to if you’re serious about understanding the forces that will shape the future of the organic market. So says the Danish futurologist Birthe Linddal, one of the most widely quoted experts in the field of ‘food futures’.

She explains: “The most important trend for futurologists is the mega-trend because it changes the whole dynamic. Sustainability is a mega trend. But we also need to be aware of the anti-trends. Much less secure, much less stable, these are where the new ideas are coming from”. Plant—based, like sustainability, is now firmly established as mega-trend. But both were once anti-trends, says Linddal. “Anti-trends act as a critique of the mega-trends, so as an example localism acts as a critique of globalisation”.

Ethics have moved centre stage, shifting from a focus on specific concerns to a more holistic approach

As a futurologist, Linddal is looking further ahead in time than we are here. Her job is to predict how the world will look in ten or twenty years’ time. But all trends are part of a continuum. And with the right tools and information we can chart their progress and influences on the organic sector – and how they impact our personal choices.

Power to disrupt

Hanni Rützler’s Food Report 2022 contains a fascinating food trends ‘map’ that bundles different strands of trends into thematic clusters. It offers a powerful visual overview for food producers, retailers and restaurants to help them decide – in line with their brand philosophy – which trends they should address in the future.

Resembling a city metro map, Rützler’ schematic features a series of ‘destinations’ – Health, Beyond Food, Sustainability, Enjoyment and Glocal among them. On the route to Beyond Health we pass through through Plant-based Food (major stop), Real Omnivores and Veganmania. Heading to Glocal we encounter Urban Farming, Seasonal Food and Brutal Local. The trip to Enjoyment meanwhile takes us through Sensual Food, Meet Food and Healthy Hedonism.

Rützler, a high profile German food and nutrition expert, may have designed her map as a fun way to spot new food trends, but she insists that trend-spotting itself is a serious business. Food trends are important to follow, she says, because they “are both disruptors for business as usual and strategic orientation aides for companies”. Taking note of the micro-trends on her destination routes will help brands guide and refine their marketing and new product development.

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Rule of ten

One way of looking at trend-spotting is as a kind of intersection of markets and cultures. And it was one of the most culturally attuned retail brands in the world, Whole Foods Market, that was first out of the blocks with its 2022 trends predictions. The retailer tasked a team of global buyers to come up with their Top 10 Anticipated Food Trends for 2022. Step forward Ultra-urban Farming (think hyper local crops, and short-supply chains serving city communities), Reducetarianism (where those cutting down on meat and dairy move over to high welfare, pasture-raised alternatives), Sober curious (as Millennials and Gen Z-ers are dialling down their alcohol intake, the market is growing for sparkling tonics fortified with botanicals and prebiotics), Turn up the Yuzu (the lesser known citrus is the hero ingredient of a growing range of vinaigrettes, hard seltzers and mayos), Moringa’s Moment, Omnipresent Hibiscus and others.

Global food ideas agency The Food People has also compiled a Top 10 Food Trends for 2022. Among them, it identifies Comfort (and predicts a “comeback for carbs”), Thrift Rules (in which the throwaway culture is rejected in favour of ‘upcycling’ surplus food into new products), Power of the Gut (the growing importance of foods that nurture gut microflora) and Head Space (food and botanicals for good mental health, including CBD, maca and cordyceps).

With the right tools and information we can chart their progress and influences on the organic sector

Departing from the trend-spotters’ rule of ten, Global market research specialist Kadence takes a more slimline approach, offering four emerging trends – Plant-based Foods, Immunity-boosting Ingredients, Tastes of Home and Transparency, Safety and Sustainability.

It’a useful to place these food trend predictions into the context of wider consumer trends for 2022, where Mintel highlights In Control (meeting the needs that consumers have for greater control in their lives in times of uncertainty), Ethics Check (requiring brands to show evidence of ethical claims) and Enjoyment Everywhere (blurring the lines between the real and the virtual, and the behavioural changes it leads to).

Common themes

While these reports approach their subject from slightly different angles, common themes quickly start to emerge. For example, we can see the continuing impact of the pandemic on consumer behaviour, which expresses itself as a need for comfort and familiarity (traditional food and social eating) or reassurance (more information and transparency). The pandemic’s effect on our attitudes to wellbeing and its amplification of concerns about mental health, is also increasingly evident – and may be encouraging new relationships with food and eating. At the same time, ethics have moved centre stage, shifting from a focus on specific concerns – for example, cruelty-free – to a more holistic approach, leading to more responsible consumption and use of resources. Hence growing interest in upcycling, climate-friendly food production and social justice.

Learnings (and opportunities) for organic

How should the organic sector interpret these predictions, and what lessons – and opportunities – are there for our own industry? Broadly, many of these trends naturally advantage organic: Organic already commands high trust levels, has fairness built into its standards. It is perceived as ‘cleaner’ and healthier in an era of health anxiety. But let’s pull some of these different strands together and close with a few organic-specific trends to watch out for in 2022 and beyond.

  • Plant-based: Perhaps to state the obvious, plant-based remains the biggest single food trend, and only looks set for further growth as it transforms the food industry.
  • Organic plant-based: Organic plant-based offers a huge growth opportunity for the organic sector. Denmark, already a world leader in organic, is now pitching itself as a front-runner in plant-based organic, which Danish agriculture minister Rasmus Prehn recently called “the best solution of all”.
  • Sustainable livestock: The products of high welfare, pasture-raised livestock, especially organic, are favoured by those cutting down on dairy and meat and marketed as eco-restorative.
  • Net zero food: Measuring and declaring embedded carbon (CO2e) in food products is likely to become a requirement in time. Some organic companies are already able to claim net zero (carbon). Knowledge sharing in this area could help organic gain commercial advantage.
  • Eco-convenience: The lure of convenience remains strong for many consumers. Some organic brands are recognising the opportunity of eco-convenience. For example the UK cereals brand Alara which has launched a Singles range, using net zero food ingredients packed in home-compostable sachets, with an FSC card outer box.
  • Wholefood 2.0: Reaction to worries over the growing prevalence of ultra-processed foods has promoted a discussion about food integrity, and the complex nutrient matrix of whole foods. Could we be about to see a rebooting of the wholefood tradition?
  • Fair food: The fair trade movement has achieved huge progress in advancing the cause of sustainable and equitable trade. ‘Fair’ is also one of the four key principles of organic, so expect to see the concept of ‘fairness’ taking a more central role in organic messaging. The climate crisis is shining a light on the issue of food justice, and demand for fair food is growing quickly.

Author: Jim Manson, Journalist

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