When we started The Brand Nursery in 2006 the widely accepted mantra within the world of food and drink (as defined by the Institute of Grocery Distribution) was that the three great macro drivers that innovations should seek to deliver against were ‘Health’, ‘Convenience’ and ‘Indulgence’. New products that could demonstrate that they reflected one or more of these characteristics had the best opportunity to achieve success in the market.
There was a lot of truth in that assertion, but it had gone largely unchallenged for approaching 20 years, and we felt that it could do with refocussing – those three drivers were broad and a bit imprecise.
So we thought long and hard about how we could identify and define drivers that were more pointed and helpful to food manufacturers and brand owners. In 2007 we set out three New Food Drivers that built on the original trio, but that felt a bit more dynamic and focused for those early years of the millennium.
Our Food Drivers’ were ‘Virtuous’, ‘Tailored’ and ‘Crafted’.
‘Virtuous’ was about feeling good about the food we buy, in every sense – it embraced a whole range of characteristics, from organic to Fair Trade to functional foods to social responsibility. And, of course, relevant health benefits too.
‘Tailored’ was the driver that reflected the increasing choice and ‘personalisation’ that consumers were experiencing and demanding across a range of markets – most obviously exemplified by the massive expansion in choice of TV channels in the early 2000’s, but also seen in the burgeoning of specialist products in sectors like tea, bread or chocolate at that time.
‘Crafted’ was all about those products that are (or appear to have been) produced in a more natural manner by people who actively care about the food that they are selling – it was the antidote to faceless, bland, mass-produced.
In 2008, after further analysis, we identified a fourth emerging driver that we defined as ‘Homely’ – ‘Homely’ was about the comfort that we get from returning to our roots. It was especially pertinent in troubled economic times, (and 2008 was a lot like 2022/23 in that respect!) with many consumers having to reign in their willingness to experiment with new brands and ideas in favour of a return to more familiar old favourites. In uncertain times there is a natural human instinct to cling to the things we know and love best – they are comforting and safe and dependable.
What’s changed since then?
Well…quite a lot!
- Back in 2008 smart phones had only just begun to emerge. Social media was in its infancy. Now we have a generation of people that will record images of almost every meal they eat, will seek out recipe ideas via the internet rather than a cook-book, and there is real desire to capture images of ‘Instagramable food’
- You could probably get a home-delivered pizza back then (provided you lived in a big city), but you’d have to phone for it. Just Eat and Deliveroo were still some years away and take-away food (along with grocery shopping) was something you had to queue for and buy at a shop. Home delivered food ordered via an app is now a regular part of daily life for many
- Vegans were seen as odd social outcasts with very alternative views 15 years ago, and vegan food (and most vegetarian food) was seen as bland, flavourless and a bit of a challenge. Now we have a plant-based sector that offers real choice and ever-improving quality – although questions are now emerging around over-processing and the use of some of the flavour enhancing ingredients within these alternatives
- The discounter supermarkets were expanding their shopper base and their sales through that 2008 recession, but there was still something of a stigma around them – respondents in focus groups were often coy about admitting they shopped at Aldi or Lidl back then. Now it is almost a badge of honour to use the discounters – a sign of ‘canny shopping’ – and Aldi is the UK’s third biggest supermarket as more and more consumers prioritise value when doing their weekly shop
- Since that recession hit back in 2008 we have lived through austerity and its consequences – poverty and the use of food banks has clearly increased, and so has a general sense of ‘squeeze’ that has impacted on the shopping habits and food choices of many of those on middle incomes. This has further fuelled the growth of the discounters, but it has also meant that those tailored choices are less important and relevant to some, who now rely on more ‘brilliant basics’ to form the core of their weekly groceries
- And, of course, we’d never heard of Covid in 2008…that weird period that forced us to shop more carefully and less often, and to spend more time at home around our families with a consequent re-evaluation of home cooking habits and (for many) a greater focus on foods that can nurture, nourish and protect us better
The New Food Drivers for 2024
We’ve looked through a wealth of reports and analysis of trends within food and drink over the past 15 years. We’ve considered what’s going on in the UK, but also what’s been emerging globally. And we’ve supplemented that with regular visits to international food trade shows and our exposure to new product innovation from participation as judges for food and drinks awards.
We’ve synthesised all our learning down to arrive at three New Food Drivers that we believe will be important as we move through the next decade.
1. Feel Better
‘Virtuousness’ remains a key motivator and embraces as wide a range of different aspects as it did back in 2007. But as time has moved on we think there are benefits in slightly refining this driver – hence the change to ‘Feel Better’.
‘Feel Better’ is a phrase that captures both the emotion and the more practical benefits that consumers are increasingly seeking from the food and drink they consume.
It embraces those kinds of food and beverages that we regarded as virtuous 15 years ago, but also a number of other aspects that have become more important in recent years.
At a very literal level, foods that have added protein to help fuel recovery or muscle strength, or that contain ingredients like collagen to enhance our skin are helping us to ‘Feel Better’.
But so are products that are responsibly sourced, or made from ingredients that are grown in a sustainable way. Or that are stored in recycled, fully recyclable or compostable packaging – it’s just that they do so in a way that impacts our attitudes and emotions, rather than our physical health.
The rapid rise of plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy and fish are another exemplar of this trend. And again, it is the emotional benefit (consuming something that is less harmful to the planet and doesn’t involve farming animals) that is the most significant motivator.
And that’s perhaps the most significant shift between ‘Feel Better’ and ‘Virtuous’ – the latter was really rooted in how products were made and delivered. ‘Feel Better’ is more about how the end consumer feels about these products.
2. Here and Now
We’re replacing ‘Tailored’ with this new driver that reflects the world that we now live in, and the changes to behaviour that have emerged in the past 15 years as our usage of phones, apps and the services that have arisen as a consequence has exploded. It’s become a means to acquire food ‘Here & Now’.
This is all about the desire, and expectation, that we should have almost instant access to anything we want. Food delivery services, rapid online grocery ordering and the prevalence of a host of outlets that offer immediate food and drink offerings whilst we’re on the move make it possible to satisfy this craving. The opening hours of many grocery stores have also been extended, to enable shopping at a time that fits better with busy lifestyles.
And it’s a trend that also reflects the continued breakdown in conventional meal patterns that mean ‘optimised eating’ occasions and frequent snacking has replaced the steady rhythm of ‘breakfast, lunch, dinner’ for many people.
Instant, all-in-one, easily portable solutions for breakfast, lunch and replenishing snacking reflect the desire of many for food and drink solutions that are more easily incorporated into a hectic working day.
Clearly, much of the impact of this Driver is on the way in which we shop for food and drink products, but it does also impact on format, packaging and presentation too. The recent growth and acceptability of canned wine that is ideal for picnics and other ‘on the move’ drinking is a reflector of the desire to be able to consume whatever we want, wherever we want or need to.
3. The Joy of Food
‘Crafted’ was all about the (perceived) care and attention that was put into the creation of food and drink products. In today’s world, the focus has shifted onto the experience of consumption.
In a world where for many (but certainly not all) food is plentiful, and the choices we are offered are extensive, those who want to indulge can now be more demanding. Food is something that many take great pleasure from, whether that’s an occasional treat or a desire for quality on a more constant basis – in these circumstances consumption of food and drink should be joyous.
This can be about the full organoleptic experience of a product – how it satisfies all our senses. Or it can be about a ‘flavour adventure’ that is now far easier to discover as global cuisines and fusions have become more popular, familiar (from our exposure to media and through foreign travel) and more readily available.
It can also be about the ‘theatre’ of presentation – most obviously within an out-of-home eating experience. But this theatre can also be delivered by the way a food product is presented or packaged, or in the way in which we are encouraged to complete the cooking process by adding final flourishes and seasonings.
Home food recipe kits and recipe boxes enable us to derive the pleasure of creating ‘restaurant style’ meals without all the effort of preparation, or the fear of failure.
Elegant packaging and clever or witty designs marry the delight of visual anticipation with the joy that comes from eating or drinking something really tasty.
One More Driver:
Of course, these Drivers rely upon the ability of consumers to make active choices about the food and drink that they buy and consume, and the price will always be another key factor in determining these choices.
Recession is, hopefully, a temporary state, but the impact that a prolonged period of economic difficulty has on shopping attitudes and behaviours may be longer lasting.
We believe that a key underlying principle has also become evident – we’re calling it…
‘Right and Relevant’
‘Right & Relevant’ is all about ensuring that the products we look for in our supermarkets and online shopping are ‘fit for purpose’. We should instantly understand the role they are seeking to play – a basic, almost commoditised product that meets a need as cheaply as possible, or a more premium, luxury or added value indulgence.
It’s about making sure that products are priced, packaged and presented appropriately, following appropriate market cues and language, and being clear about their purpose and role. And, of course, ensuring that the product inside matches up to that promise.
To some degree, this has always been the case, but it’s even more vital in today’s world.