Meeting the needs of consumers is not the straight line it once was – with some groups motivated to shift to plant-based diets, others seeking clean-label, low-carb or paleo, and more and more following flexitarian regimes.
Consumers are embracing more diverse dietary behaviours than ever, and they’re examining their food choices more closely than ever before.One European survey suggested 84% of consumers believe product information is of “major importance”, and a further three out of five consumers reported wanting to know more about where their food comes from and how it is made.
And certainly, with an ever-diversifying range of dietary behaviours, and ever-increasing number of products aimed at satisfying them, a key challenge facing food manufacturers is how to ensure their product resonates with the consumer target group.
Alongside the expert team at Brenntag Food & Nutrition, we delve into the minds and behaviour patterns of the modern consumer.
The conscious consumer
Take, for example, the conscious consumer. While this shopper might not associate themselves exclusively with labels like vegan or seasonal, their choices reflect a belief that what they buy can make a difference – be it to the environment or their health.
“The conscious consumer actually makes choices for foods when they’re buying,” explains Tayab Haq, Technical Sales Manager at Brenntag Food & Nutrition. “It has to be from a sustainable source, or they may be actively reducing consumption of certain foods such as red meat for health reasons.”
Conscious consumers are becoming more and more popular in the UK, Tayab says. One in four dairy consumers are consciously reducing their intake, and one in three meat eaters are doing the same. Data like this gives credence to the idea that this era of food history largely belongs to the flexitarian.
Tayab defines a flexitarian as someone “who is predominantly plant-based, while occasionally eating meat”. The food companies that capture the heart of the conscious flexitarian are in for the win. As a result of these varied eating habits, Tayab says hybrid foods are expected to soar in popularity. Hybrid foods mix plant-based ingredients with meat to reduce the overall animal protein content, while offering “a more balanced amino acid profile” than traditional vegan or vegetarian products, Tayab says.
Brenntag Food & Nutrition’s innovation teams have been working with this in mind. Technical Sales Manager Louisa Marshall says food manufacturers developing hybrid meat products allows the conscious consumer to make other protein sources the star of the show, instead of always having meat as a focal point.
The same is true of plant-based products. Tayab says flexitarianism and veganism are becoming such popular dietary choices that there may well be an expectation for a vegan option in every category in the very near future.
Responding to this, Brenntag Food & Nutrition has developed a range of vegan sausages using soy protein – one of the most traditional alternative protein sources alongside rice, oat and potato proteins. Louisa says the sausages are the perfect addition to any diet, be it flexitarian, omnivorous or plant-based. When Food Matters Live podcast host Stefan Gates tried the sausages (cooked while recording live) he was astonished at how closely the taste and texture resembled his favourite meat sausages.
“I have to admit, I wouldn’t normally go for a vegan banger,” he said. “But that is absolutely fantastic – that would easily take the place of a meat banger.”
The proactive consumer
Whilst the conscious consumer is motivated by what their food can do for the world, the proactive consumer is often tuned into functional food trends and looks for products that offer impressive health benefits. These shoppers want food and beverage products that clearly demonstrate a point of difference from their usual choices.
One of the top ways to satisfy the proactive consumer is through functional ingredients in beverages. As Tayab explains, the functional beverage market is estimated to be worth $120 billion so there’s a good reason why the category offers so much appeal.
Many people consume these beverages to boost their energy. Some may wish to improve their gut health or maintain their general wellbeing. Others may prefer to improve their cognitive focus or sports performance. When it comes to a quick energy spike, for example, coffee has been king for decades, if not centuries. However, while a coffee caffeine fix hits quickly, it can dissipate just as fast – leaving consumers feeling sluggish. The same is true of most energy drinks, which usually contain synthetic caffeine.
To fix this, Brenntag Food & Nutrition has been exploring new ways of delivering health benefits to proactive consumers. Tayab explains some of the most innovative methods of doing so are through functional ingredients like L- theanine, which is often derived from ginseng or ginkgo extracts, or different pro- and prebiotics.
In the case of functional energy drinks, these ingredients deliver a more balanced energy experience, which doesn’t fall off a cliff after 20 minutes. Additionally, the inclusion of pro- and prebiotics offers digestive benefits on top of the required energy hit. However, these innovative ingredients aren’t just applicable to energy drinks, as Tayab explains: “It’s important to remember that this can cover a wide range of products from sparkling flavoured waters, through to smoothies and all the way to cold brew coffees.”
When it comes to the meeting the needs of proactive consumer, there are plenty of avenues for food manufacturers to explore.
The informed consumer
Beyond the proactive and conscious consumers, another wide-ranging trend for modern shoppers is the informed consumer. These are people who value clean labels with clear promises and transparency around ingredients.
It’s not hard to understand why clean labels motivate so many – simple peace of mind often has us opting for simpler ingredients list where possible. The easier an ingredient is to pronounce, the less intimidating it tends to be. The problem for most food companies, of course, is that some of the most useful ingredients, be they flavourings, stabilisers, colours, or other additives, put off the clean-minded shopper. This dilemma is something Brenntag is increasingly helping its customers to tackle.
“Our manufacturing customers get routinely challenged by their own retailer or foodservice customers,” Tayab says, explaining some of the most common questions revolve around reducing complexity of ingredient lists, working out how to support a certain desired health claim for an existing product, or how to communicate on front of pack.
The case of the former is straightforward enough, with the help of Brenntag Food & Nutrition’s knowledgeable innovation teams. Supporting certain health claims, Tayab says must be done in harmony with the original ingredients list. “It has to fit within the nature of that recipe,” he explains.
One step beyond the informed consumer is the connected consumer – those who want to be able to go beyond food labels to really explore the provenance and inner workings of their product. Brenntag Food & Nutrition is helping its customers communicate with these shoppers through innovative solutions, ranging from QR codes to storytelling through to guidance on front of pack communication.
To discover more, join Stefan Gates on his exploration into what is driving conscious, proactive, informed, and connected consumers in Food Matters Live’s upcoming podcast series, produced in partnership with Brenntag Food & Nutrition. Experts will discuss some of the biggest formulation challenges faced by manufacturers in alternative protein, functional drinks and clean and clear labels, and offer tried-and-tested guidance on how to overcome them.
Highlights include live tastings from Stefan, during which he shares his thoughts not just on the taste and sensory experience behind some of the innovative solutions, as well as insights into the science behind new ingredients, flavour selection and botanicals. Additionally, don’t miss expert industry advice on the strategic considerations to keep in mind when creating blue sky concepts, reformulating recipes and developing concepts for nascent categories like E-gaming.