Sure, COVID took over in 2020. In the news, in our daily lives and as a consequence of that, it also made its way into what and how we eat. But, what will be the long-lasting impact of COVID on the mega food trends? How will this affect consumers' expectations, and therefore the food industry, in 2021? We have covered the most recent literature to build a snapshot of what we think it may look like, using our own words / visuals, and looking at the specific impact for ice cream.
For some time now, the food industry has been driven by 4 mega-trends that are widely accepted even though the wording may differ depending on whom you speak to.
Starting with "WHAT I CONSUME", which you can see at the bottom of the image above, there are 2 mega trends that show a strong consumer polarity between:
WELL-BEING (or HEALTH): a conscious commitment to eat healthier based on the well documented motto "I am what I eat". While well-being may have a varied meaning among the different food categories (for example, a cookie is not necessary healthy but can be made healthier, whereas consumers will definitively consider vegetables as always being a healthy option), all categories are looking to attract those health-conscious consumers, or at least retain them, with plant-based offerings, natural recipes or "hero" ingredients with functional benefits.
INDULGENCE (and FUN): a more impulse-driven need for comfort food and to indulge oneself while socialising after a tough day. Multi-textured food and desserts, surprising shapes or global flavours are all bringing in some fun and comfort in daily life. As you can imagine, we all need fun & comfort during COVID! Interestingly enough, the same consumer can be a regular consumer of guilt-free low calorie ice cream, but also indulge themselves for a special occasion with a more decadent ice cream choice following the thinking that ‘since I saved all those calories by eating low fat ice cream, why not allow myself a treat from time to time?’
Looking back over the last few years, products responding to those 2 food trends separately have been experiencing significant growth while everything in between ("mainstream"), has shown to produce stable, or sometimes even declining, sales.
Looking at "HOW I CONSUME", 2 trends are pre-dominant, and at times, antagonist:
SUSTAINABILITY is a conscious concern for consumers globally, starting with millennials and the newer generations. Their "SAVE THE PLANET" concern is pushing the food industry to look at their overall environmental footprint and reduce it as much as possible, be it through packaging, supply chain or even re-thinking recipes in order to favour lower carbon-footprint ingredients.
CONVENIENCE on the other hand is required by our way of living. With an increase in urban populations, less time to eat, and more on-the-go consumption, our access to food requires different channels of distribution and adapted packaging to suit our new snacking & easy-to-prepare patterns.
However, Convenience goals, at times, may clash with Sustainability goals: how can I reduce packaging if I have to wrap single snack portions? How will I be able to reduce the carbon footprint if I have to deliver a single pack of ice cream directly to a consumer's home?
FROM 4 MEGA-TRENDS to 16 TRENDS
While looking at the recent literature on food trends, each analysis / study will come with its own set of trends, sometimes focusing more on ingredients, packaging or technology. We made an attempt at capturing all of them within 16 primary trends, all based on the previously mentioned 4 mega-trends.
@ HOME-COOKING will capture the consumer need for convenience at home. With COVID still prevalent in our lives, the home-office means more time at home and more meals cooked there (especially when restaurants are closed!). This leads to additional interest in ‘Eater-tainment’ (making cooking fun), Meal kits (fully or partially-prepared ingredients delivered to your home for an easy-to-cook balanced meal) and Breakfast (we now have time for a proper breakfast reflecting in cereals sales going up 35% in the US during 2020!). Cooking at home is also about new kitchen appliances. Check out how Coldsnap plans to become the Nespresso (or Keurig) of ice cream. They are not the only ones looking to tap into the potential of home cooking: Coconut Bliss has just announced the launch of the Bliss Maker, a more traditional ice cream machine using Coconut Bliss pre-mixes. Who is next?
ON DEMAND is very much linked to online ordering and home deliveries. With the explosion of companies such as Glovo, Deliveroo and UberEats, the last mile delivery hurdle is being overcome. Order a latte from Starbucks or an ice cream from Haagen Dasz and you can receive it in 20 minutes. This trend will certainly remain in place post-COVID as companies are switching part of their business model to digital & home delivery, in both retail and foodservice businesses alike. Just look at the growth of so-called Ghost Kitchens everywhere! Post-COVID however, consumers may adjust their needs taking into account the holistic footprint of the delivery (i.e. is getting a latte delivered to my home making sense in term of sustainability?)
OMNI-CHANNELS, or how to make sure my product is always within reach of my potential consumer wherever they go (does ubiquity ring a bell?). While this trend turned dormant in 2020 due to the restrictions on mobility, the need will remain in the coming years.
SNACKING is growing, fuelled by our urban way of life and quest for free time. On-the-go formats, calorie-controlled portions, and sharing sizes are leading to smaller, individually wrapped formats. While COVID restricted our snacking opportunities (except at home!), it has also generated new requirements to avoid hand contamination: many food products previously found loose are now becoming individually wrapped. Check out how My/Mo Mochi ice cream moved to individual single-served pack to ensure food safety.
MODERN NOSTALGIA is about re-inventing the food and flavours of our past and bringing a modern twist to traditional comfort food. COVID has edged consumers towards reassuring flavours while they are trying to find comfort in food. Think cheesecake or apple pie ice cream... And if you are looking for a very modern twist, check out how Coolhaus' milkshake and fries ice cream or their recent Crackers & Cream ice cream, co-branded with Ritz. In 2021, expect to see the resurgence of red velvet, banana bread, blueberry cheesecake or S'mores as trendy flavours. Will these flavours make an appearance in the ice cream world as well?
MULTI-TEXTURES is driving indulgence. Mix a crunchy biscuit with a smooth creamy filling or layer various visible textures in one pot to create new sensorial experiences. While this trend is less prevalent in the recent literature, you can still see features in recent product launches (e.g. Talenti multi-layers ice cream, Haagen Dazs Trio...). And do not miss High Road's Wallops, the perfect indulgence made as a bite of ice cream surrounded by cookie dough inside a chocolate shell. A feast for the eyes and our palate!
SURPRISING SHAPES are calling our attention and creating some excitement and fun at a time where our lives at home may have fallen into a dull routine. Not to mention that those shapes can get almost instant fame thanks to the Instagram generations. Check out Dream Pops in the US and their geometrically shaped ice cream, or the success of Chicecream in China with its unique ice cream design.
GLOBAL FLAVOURS have always been a way to discover new food and cultures while staying at home. Our appetite for international cuisine has grown over the last decade and new exotic or ethnic flavours have become mainstream across all food segments. Matcha green tea or jalapeño are very good examples of our evolving palates and interest in new flavours. In ice cream, a few brands have been pushing the boundaries with daring combinations, such as Nestlé Outshine brand's mango with tajin seasoning or smaller ventures such as Marco Sweet & Spices. With COVID still limiting our mobility, global flavours will definitely be on our watch-list for 2021. Predictions from the main flavour houses mention Mediterranean citrus (building on the association in the mind of the consumer between vitamins, immunity and citrus fruits), Asian-inspired yuzu, cherry blossom (also called sakura) and spices such as South American chili or even Indian curry.
ADDITIONAL BENEFITS encompass all additions of functional ingredients (also called "hero ingredients") to make you feel better and improve your health through food. Probiotics, and more recently, a higher protein intake (think Halo Top in ice cream) have led this trend across most food categories. Not to mention other magic ingredients such as collagen peptides for a firmer and smoother skin (see how Derinice developped an award winning formula specifically for ice cream). However, COVID resulted in a new focus on immunity booster ingredients, such as turmeric, berries or even honey. A very good example of this new crave for immunity ingredients in ice cream is the launch of Amul's Haldi ice cream in July 2020. In 2021, expect to see more ginger, turmeric and moringa (a plant originating from India and high in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants) and the resurgence of probiotics and vitamins in food. 2021 will also see further development in "mood platforms", a range of products associating specific ingredients with your feelings or more generally a specific moment in the day. Unsure of the concept? Check out Nightfood and its special formulation to help you sleep, or Moody's with its 4 mood boosting flavours.
FREE FROM. No need to say more! Whether we are talking about allergens, fat, lactose or sugars (generally speaking), the trend to remove all health-risk ingredients knows no limit. Nevertheless, it may affect geographies differently: allergen-free is a long-lasting trend in North America due to the high number of allergic consumers, same goes for lactose-intolerance in Scandinavian countries and some Asian regions. However, beyond fat, sugar now becomes the global enemy. All major ice cream companies are working on reducing their sugar content, using sweeteners or flavour enhancers. Expect to see even more products with no added sugar such as Magnum in the UK, or even brands such as Denada claiming 99% sugar-free. The real question is not whether to decrease the sugar or not, but which natural sweetener to use? In 2021, you will probably see more allulose being used. With practically no after-taste and being 70% as sweet as table sugar, allulose is growing in popularity and will offer further possibilities for reformulation along with stevia, monk fruit or erythritol.
NATURAL & ORGANIC includes cleaner label (a shorter list of less transformed ingredients), all natural recipes and the use of 100% organic-certified ingredients. Looking for both reassurances about what they eat and where it comes from, naturality and organic is becoming a permanent trend. But while all manufacturers are cleaning up their recipes to remove artificial flavours, colours or sweeteners, we still have not seen the rise of a mass-market brand focusing exclusively on clean label or organic ice cream. The last attempt of this was made by Haagen-Dazs in 2009 with its Five brand but it did not last long.
PLANT-BASED is here to stay! What originated from activists in the aminal-welfare and environmental space has since grown into to more of a health trend where replacing animal-based proteins with plant-based alternatives has become the norm. Who has not at least tried a vegan burger, dairy-alternative milk or a plant-based ice cream in today’s world? As the taste profile becomes closer and closer to the original meat or dairy product, the adoption rate increases. Ice cream is no exception. All major manufacturers now have a plant-based portfolio with innovation moving to sourcing new vegetal ingredients, with the objective of finding the best balance between taste and environmental footprint. Have you heard of aquafaba, the water used for cooking chickpeas? Check out SNÖ's aquafaba ice cream gingerbread man here. Studies tend to see a lot of potential for chickpeas in future plant-based formulations, since they are nutritionally dense, allergen-friendly and inexpensive. Quinoa and hemp are also on the rise, while longer term trends also point towards algae, funghi and mushrooms as future sources of plant proteins. Ready to try algae-based ice cream? It may come sooner than you think!
TRANSPARENCY. According to Innova Market Insights, 6 out of 10 consumers globally are interested in knowing more about the origin of their food. In 2018, a Food Marketing Institute study highlighted that 75% of US consumers would agree to switch to a brand providing more in-depth information about their products. The COVID crisis has only made this trend even more prevalent with many people worrying about food safety. Food brands are reacting by establishing direct links between ingredient farmers and customers. In October 2020, Cargill launched its CocoaWise portal where its B2B customers can trace the chocolate back to the cocoa beans farmers. Expect to see more technology-enabled tools such as blockchain traceability (check out how 3IPK used blockchain to tell the consumer how their Lyra chocolate was made) or digital expiration date labels which shows the consumer whether their food is fit for consumption.
UPCYCLING is gaining traction. According to the UN, about 1/3rd of global food production is lost or wasted, which translates to approximately 1.3 billion tonnes! Upcycling refers to reducing food waste (consumers / industry) and food loss (producers / farmers) by transforming under-utilised, less than perfect ingredients into added-value ingredients and products. Check out how Loop Mission, a Canadian company upcycles imperfect fruits, milk permeate waste, day-old bread and even potato cuttings to sell high value smoothies and cold-press juices. Interested in upcycling while creating ice cream? Check out Agrosingularity's fruit powders made from farmers' losses to add flavour and colours into your frozen products.
RENEWABLE SOURCES. Many companies are switching from fossil-based plastics to bioplastics, driven by their commitment to improve their environmental footprint. Plant-based renewable plastics require less energy during their production cycle and can be carbon-neutral. They are mostly based on annual crops, like sugar beet, sugar cane or corn. In ice cream, while most containers are paper-based, a plastic liner is always required for the surface in contact with food. This did not prevent Unilever in leading the way and introducing the 1st fully renewable and recyclable packaging for ice cream under their brand Ingman in Finland. In such a case, the fossil-based PE liner has been replaced by Stora Enzo's PE green. We are unfortunately still far from compostable packaging in this scenario however...
REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE. Obviously, the best route for sustainability in packaging is to remove it! Easier said than done, especially during COVID. But innovation knows no limits and bolstered by recent regulations in Europe to ban plastic cutlery, companies such as Incr'Edible Foods are offering edible cutlery which can withstand both the hardness of ice cream and the humidity of a hot tea. As for re-using the same packaging, Nestlé (and now Froneri) are leading the trend in ice cream with Haagen Dazs' refillable container which has been tested in the US in New York since 2019, and is now distributed nationwide. You can order your ice cream, eat it and return the container to Loop. After being washed, the container is filled again and sent back into the "loop". As for Unilever, in 2021 they will launch globally the 1st rPP (read recycled PolyPropylene) ice cream tub. Developed with SABIC, the rPP is made from recycling mixed used plastics. And in 2021, you can expect the plastic wrap covering your favourite ice cream bars to be progressively switched to paper or recyclable plastics. Another good step in the right direction for our environment...
We hope this overview of 2020 and 2021 trends has been insightful. If you feel we have missed anything, do not hesitate to share your insight with us. Interested in knowing more? Do not hesitate to reach out here. To conclude this article, we have highlighted in green in the graph below the general consensus regarding the winning trends in 2021, taking into account a long COVID phase-out.
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