NPD Group: ‘Food as medicine’ one of the trends to watch in 2020

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 1,867 views 

Better-for-you and save-the-planet ideology among more consumers continues to reshape the food and beverage industries and 2020 will no different. Consumers are driving innovation in the food manufacturing sector as more startups and private brands continue stealing share for traditional food companies.

Darren Seifer, food consumption analyst at NPD Group, recently outlined four trends in 2020. Seifer said he expects tailwinds behind the a few trending behaviors from plant-based protein demand to greater sustainability expectations. He said plant-based food and beverage alternatives have been around, but Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods helped propel the plant-based alternative market from niche to mainstream. But consumers also like their meat.

“Since nearly 90% of these consumers also use traditional meat and dairy, it’s fair to say people aren’t necessarily becoming vegetarians or vegans; rather, consumers are integrating these products as additional options for their daily repertoire. Watch for continued growth of burger alternatives at foodservice operators and for in-home consumption as these options become more widely available across both,” he noted, while also wondering if alternatives will be a fad or a trend.

This trending “flexitarian” diet behavior caught the eye of Tyson Foods in recent years and the meat giant continues to invest in alternative and blended meat products. Tyson launched its Raised and Rooted brand of blended proteins at retail earlier this year. Tyson CEO Noel White has said the company continues to innovate in this space there will be more products that combine plants and animal proteins into better-for-you offerings that also have a smaller carbon footprint.

Seifer said more U.S. consumers are adopting some plant-based alternatives into their diets such as Almond milk and cauliflower pizza. He said millennials and Gen Z consumers have grown up with many of the products and they push the demand in alternative proteins and dairy. He expects this trend will continue into 2020 with the largest meat companies like Tyson Foods and Cargill paying close attention.

He said the top reason consumers use plant-based alternatives is that they’re considered healthier options, and consumers want to take control of their health with food choices.  He said viewing “food as medicine” is another trend he expects to continue in 2020.

“Nearly one quarter of U.S. adults report they are on a nutrition plan with the goal of promoting long-term health, but not necessarily weight loss. This represents a dramatic shift in the way consumers approach food and beverage choices compared to their behavior in the 1980s and 1990s, when they changed behaviors in response to a specific health issue,” he noted.

Increasingly consumers see food and beverages as a pathway to better health; this is more pronounced among younger adults. And when health issues arise, many turn to natural alternatives for help. One in five adults manages a health condition with food and beverage choices. This doesn’t mean they aren’t taking medication, but that many first look at their food and beverage consumption options as a first solution before medication.

He also said breakfast and morning dayshifts for eating are becoming more important to consumers and the days of serving cereal for breakfast are fading. He said breakfast was also a meal many consumers used to skip, but that too is changing.

“There has been an increase in morning snack occasions as well as restaurant meals that nearly equals the in-home (breakfast) decline. Categories increasing during this time are portable and functional, reflecting the needs for speed and health, which drive much of consumer behavior in the morning. We expect sustained growth for categories like breakfast sandwiches, juices with functional benefits, such as energy and categories with protein, like eggs,” Seifer noted.

Tyson unveiled in September two new Jimmy Dean product lines, Biscuit Roll-Ups and Morning Combos. The biscuit roll-ups wrap eggs, meats and cheese in a flaky biscuit to provide 10 grams of protein per 2-piece serving. The frozen boxes of 8 roll-ups are 240 to 270 calories per serving and come in three varieties: sausage, egg and cheese; egg and cheese; and egg, ham and cheese. Tyson’s Morning Combos breakfast food line pair items like pancakes or blueberry muffins and sausage into bite-sized meals that can be eaten on the move. Each package contains 8 grams of protein.

“Breakfast as a meal occasion is evolving, and we’re excited to lead innovation and the development of products that provide options for everyone,” Steve Silzer, marketing director for the Jimmy Dean brand at Tyson Foods, said in the product release.

Seifer said sustainability will continue to be a third-level concern in the food and beverage manufacturing industries in 2020. Food companies selling to Walmart are measured on their sustainability efforts and the retail giant recently reiterated its goal to reduce 1 gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions from the supply chain by 2030.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon recently spoke at the Evolve Conference in Los Angeles about the retailer’s“close to the core” ways in which it can enact change. McMillon said selling more sustainable products and focusing on more efficient packaging methods to reduce waste were two of the ways it’s moving the needle. He said Walmart is on track with the gigaton goals set in 2017. The EPA said Walmart’s 1 gigaton removal of greenhouse gas is the equivalent of taking 211 million passenger cars off of roads for an entire year.

Seifer said it’s important for food and beverage marketers to engage in real sustainability efforts because consumers want it.

“Food and beverage is unique since taste and health needs are satisfied first, before other needs are addressed. A product’s packaging could be recyclable and sourced sustainably, but that won’t matter if consumers find the taste unpalatable. This explains why animal welfare and sustainability rank low among the reasons for using plant-based foods,” he said.

But, consumers are still interested in how products are produced and they want to feel better about supporting brands that use sustainable methods, he added.

“When comparing two similar products, consumers could find them equal in taste, convenience, and price, but if one uses sustainable production methods while the other product does not, that could be the deciding factor,” Seifer concluded.