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5 key FMCG consumer trends for 2018

Food fads come and go with the wind - but true food trends, powered by consumer behaviour,  are a very different beast. While fads can emerge overnight as the result of a celebrity endorsement, powerful media campaign or new diet craze, trends evolve in a very different way. They develop over time, they’re less marketer-driven, and they have a longer shelf life.

True trends are usually seen in parallel with a significant shift in cultural, political and economic factors - they require a complex blend of time and pressure. So, given the current era of political and economic flux, what FMCG trends can we expect to see in 2018?

Health and wellness

Although the trend for health and wellness is not in itself anything new, a study by Euromonitor claims global sales of ‘healthy foods’ are predicted to reach $1trn by the end of this year - and we predict further growth in 2018.

A cultural move towards reducing stress and anxiety, and adopting a more mindful attitude, is seeing more and more people focusing on health and self care. As Mintel’s 2018 food and drink trend report says: ‘The frantic pace of modern life, constant connectivity, pervasive distrust, and contentious tones in politics and the media have caused many consumers to look for ways to escape negativity in their lives.’

So what can we expect to change in the health food sector in 2018? Health with added convenience.

In this fast-paced age, people don’t always have time to eat - but they do always have time to drink. The ease and portability of liquids means more brands are diversifying their drink ranges to include health-boosting offerings. Earlier this year, Innocent launched their plant-based protein smoothies, and Kombucha (a Japanese fermented tea) is now readily available in most supermarkets. With the grab-and-go culture on the rise, healthy snacks are also set to significantly increase in 2018, with the market expected to be worth $32.8 billion by 2025.

Let’s get personal

In 2011, Coca Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign proved the magnetic power of basic personalisation. The chance for people to buy a can of Coke with their name on the front resulted in UK sales of Coke growing by 2.75% and increased overall sales by 2%.

Personalisation is a growing trend in everything from tech to food - a trend driven largely by a faster pace of life, a growing need for convenience and higher digital expectations from consumers. A study by Deloitte found that 20% of consumers are happy to pay a premium for personalised products or services, and 42% want brands to lead their selection choices by offering them products they think they’ll want.

Many more FMCG brands will offer fully personalised digital experiences, with customised suggestions, tips and recipes delivered to specific consumers based on their stored data. Everything from the colour and design to the content of an app or website will be personalised for a more positive and memorable customer experience. As voice command technology becomes more widespread, shoppers are more likely to receive ideas for their shopping list via Google Assistant or Alexa, making the entire food shopping experience more convenient and less time consuming.  

While the costs for offering greater personalisation can be initially high, brands can’t afford to ignore the opportunities it represents.

As well as increasing customer loyalty and satisfaction, personalisation also gives brands greater insight into consumer behaviour, allowing for better business intelligence and more accurate forecasting. The key to creating personalised services and products is customer data. Brands can use social activity, geolocation, app use and purchase data to accurately personalise every step of the customer journey.

It’s all about the experience

Driven by the millennial and Gen-Z ‘experience over stuff’ psychology, and the need to share noteworthy experiences on social media, 2018 is set to see more multi-sensory products enter the FMCG sector. According to a study by Harris, 78% of millennials would rather spend money on an experience than a product, which is why many FMCG companies are injecting a dose of the experiential into their products.

Mintel say: ‘In 2018, the sound, feel, and satisfaction that texture provides will become more important to companies and consumers alike.’ More brands will launch drinks with higher carbonation or extreme flavours (like Coca Cola’s LIFTor Fanta’s Sour Tingle Berry) and we’re likely to see more textures like seeds and fruit chunks in drinks and yoghurts. In addition to texture, we can expect to see more unusual marriages between product and flavour, like Tyrrells Poshcorn new Bellini Cocktail popcorn.

By creating more adventurous, multi-sensory products, brands not only increase customer satisfaction and boost sales, they can also further their reach. If someone has an interesting or exciting food experience, they’re much more likely to share it online.

The Brexit effect

Last year, a study by Nielsen revealed that 67% of UK consumers believed leaving the EU would result in a rise in the cost of grocery shopping. Are they right? According to research conducted by the University of Sussex: yes they are.

In its opening summary, the report states: ‘The realities of a Food Brexit are awesome. The British public has not been informed about its implications….There is a real danger of a fantasy that these new times will not affect UK food. They will.’

In 2008, the global economic crisis had a big impact on consumer behaviour - shoppers became more discerning and economical. They frequented budget supermarkets, swapped expensive ‘luxury’ brands for supermarket ‘own brands’ and responded positively to campaigns like Sainsbury’s ‘Feed your family for a fiver’. Although Brexit is unlikely to spark the same level of credit crunch, it is likely that a rise in prices (the British Retail Consortium predicts a rise of up to 22% if we leave without trade deals in place) will see a similar shift in company and consumer behaviour.

Plant based

You only have to look at YouTube’s raft of food vloggers or Instagram’s food glitterati to know plant-based foods are big business. Over the past few years, global sales of non-dairy milk have soared (set to reach $16.3 billion by the end of 2018, compared to $7.4 billion in 2010). The number of vegetarians and vegans has increased (360% between 2006 and 2016). Supermarkets are stocking more meat-free options than ever before (Tesco reported a 40% increase in the sales of vegetarian food this year). In addition to this, research from Mintel found that 28% of people in the UK reduced their meat consumption in 2017, even if they didn’t adopt full vegetarianism.

In 2017, plant-based burger brands like Impossible Burgerand Beyond Meat (which simulate the way real meat tastes and feels), hit the mainstream, thanks in part to big investors like Bill Gates and Biz Stone. With Google trend mappers reporting a 90% increase in vegan searches this year, the trend for plants in place of meat is on course to further disrupt the animal-based market in 2018. Why?

The move towards plant-based foods incorporates consumer concerns regarding sustainability and the environment, ethical concerns over farming and a shift towards healthier lifestyles. This powerful combination of driving factors means plant-based foods are set to keep growing in scope and value, through 2018 and beyond.

All of the food trends listed above are part of a long and steady curve of time. Some are a direct result of the digital age, others a reflection of the political and economic zeitgeist, and some an echo of things past. One thing they all have in common is their connection to where we are as a society - and their power to shape and influence the future.

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