There comes a point where a trend is so long lasting that it may actually represent a shift in cultural consciousness. The current trend of consumers moving toward natural, healthy and sustainable foods is beginning to look more like society-wide standard rather than a blip in diet fads and flavor palates.

Research has shown that Americans are taking a variety of avenues to become more connected to what they put in their bodies and, with those choices, those in leadership positions at food and beverage companies have to analyze how their organizations fit with new demands.

One stark example of healthy directly affecting margins is the soda industry’s battle with changing eating habits. Over the past 20 years, 1consumption of carbonated soft drinks has declined 25 percent. Sodas have been positioned as the nemesis of healthy eating, a black hole of sugary sweetness devoid of any nutritional benefit, and consumers are listening and actively avoiding purchasing soft drinks.

With attacks from government policy, school lunch rooms and health experts everywhere, soft drink companies have had to grapple with the overwhelming shift in perception. In what some call a desperate move, Coco-Cola has dumped millions of dollars into scientific research in an effort to convince consumers that soda isn’t the problem and has even gone as far as to recruit reputable scientists to make a case in favor of the sugary delight.

As water steadily moves to replace soda as the top beverage, companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo might have to accept their fate at the bottom of the ladder. The 2016 Culinary Forecast survey from The National Restaurant Association shows that leaders in foodservice are expecting consumers to stick to natural, healthy, and responsibly sourced foods in 2016.

From the NRA’s Top 20 Food Trends for 2016

  • Locally sourced meats and seafood
  • Chef-driven fast-casual concepts
  • Locally grown produce
  • Hyper-local sourcing
  • Natural ingredients/minimally processed foods


2The forecast from The National Restaurant Association surveys professional chefs and members of the American Culinary Federation on which foods, cuisines, beverages and themes will guide menus for the following year.

The 2015 Culinary Forecast showed similar results, with only chef-driven fast-casual concepts and hyper-local sourcing missing from the top five.

 

 

From the Top 20 Food Trends for 2015

  • Locally sourced meats and seafood
  • Locally grown produce
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Healthful kids’ meals
  • Natural ingredients/minimally processed food

A further look at past survey results shows that members of the American Culinary Federation have been noting the growth of these trends over several years, with almost identical lists being published at least since 2011.

Food and beverage brands are now being forced to listen to consumers and find ways to connect customers to the qualities they are looking for. While Coca-Cola may be finding itself in a rut, the scientific research route can be hugely beneficial in positioning products in a way that aligns with the top food trends. The Hass Avocado Board is one great example of an organization that established research initiatives, through Love One Today, to promote consumption of a product with true nutritional benefit. Ultimately, the success of using research to promote a product depends largely in how authentically the product connects to healthier living.

If the drive for nutritional food is truly a shift in societal standards rather than a trend, simply establishing campaigns or funding research might not be enough for brands that don’t have a product to walk the walk. It could very well be time for companies, like many already have, to reconsider whether or not their existing portfolios best serve the markets they occupy.

Kellogg is removing GMOs from its cereals, while General Mills has a whole line of gluten-free options and Nestlé USA promised to remove artificial colors from its chocolates by the end of 2015. There are certainly reasonable ways for companies to address the desire for less processed and more natural – and they need to.

It seems the only key to success in this shift is being transparent about what goes into products and making sure that what consumers see actually connects with the healthy lifestyles they want.

For more information about our Food, Beverage and Nutrition practice, click here.