Food & beverage (F&B) companies faced incredible challenges in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic—especially related to delivery, supply chain, and last-mile logistics. Shelter-in-place orders made shopping frustrating and risky, complicated by social distancing. Dining restrictions forced people to make more meals at home, often with basic staples that were long-lasting and easy to store. Proactive grocery stores turned to e-commerce for online ordering. As the pandemic took hold, F&B companies re-evaluated their supply chains and business models and invested in new technologies to make themselves more resilient and agile moving forward.
Consumer-centric strategies continue to drive F&B innovation. Below are eight key trends that will help shape the F&B industry in 2021:
1. Healthier foods. The risks of COVID-19 have made consumers more interested in healthy foods that boost immune system performance. “Immunity-boosting ingredients will play a significant role in 2021 while research and interest in the role of the microbiome and personalized nutrition as ways to strengthen immunity will accelerate,” states Innova Market Insights, a research firm for the F&B industry.
2. Artisan home-cooking. The International Food Information Council’s 2020 Food & Health Survey reveals that many consumers have changed their eating or food preparation habits as a result of the pandemic. This includes re-creating the restaurant experience at home by using pre-packaged meal kits, restaurant-branded products, and more sophisticated or flavorful ingredients from artisan food producers.
3. Home-made convenience. Many consumers purchased in-home appliances to make meal preparation easier during the pandemic. For example, “air fryers and multi-cookers posted double-digit dollar sales growth over the last year, meaning many households now have these appliances on hand,” says Darren Seifer, a F&B industry analyst. “Look for more products that are specifically made for these appliances, or existing products that now show cooking instructions or recipes.”
4. Plant-based foods. Demand for plant-based foods & beverages continues to grow, expanding beyond burger replacements. “Double to triple-digit growth in emerging categories—snacks, dips, sauces, cheese, spreads, creamers, etc.—are driving increased plant-based sales,” indicates Food Industry Executive. More restaurants are launching plant-based meals, such as McDonald’s McPlant. Flavor solutions are also being specifically formulated for plant-based food products.
5. Transparency. COVID-19 has accelerated the trend of consumers wanting more transparency into the origin and supply chain history of the products they purchase and consume. Innova Market Insights indicates that transparency throughout the supply chain is a top demand by consumers in 2021. Technologies that will improve transparency include radio frequency ID tracking of ingredients throughout the supply chain and wireless/smart technologies such as invisible barcodes.
6. Food safety. Food producers are increasingly using blockchain and other Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to track the handling of food ingredients and finished products throughout the value chain, as well as monitor environmental conditions during shipment. Blockchain additionally provides improved traceability in the case of a recall or other safety issue. “Meat processors have also already started to expedite their plans to incorporate more automation and robotics to elevate food safety as the pandemic ravages their workforce,” states Fooddive.com.
7. Industry 4.0 technologies. F&B manufacturers are moving toward “smarter” operations that increase supply chain and manufacturing efficiencies. IoT technologies include sensors that gather data on machine performance, which are analyzed through cloud-based software programs. Other analytical programs can more accurately assess shelf life and product traceability. In-line vision-based systems optimize quality by identifying variances or errors in real time.
8. Sustainability. Now that F&B producers and consumers are more experienced at living with the pandemic, focus can shift back toward sustainability (for example, some environmentally-friendly practices, such as using reusable cups, were suspended for safety concerns). However, in 2021, “sustainability takes center stage,” states ADM, a food technology company, observing that nearly two-thirds of consumers want their food choices to have a positive impact on the environment. Lux Research’s report The Food Company of 2050 also lists “increasing sustainability” as a key factor for increasing brand awareness and market share.