Insight into key food and beverage trends

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 5th October 2009

The US, the biggest food and drink market in the world, sets the trend in many product categories and recent research from Leatherhead Food Research’s Global Food Markets database has highlighted the likely growth areas for the year ahead.

Whilst retail sales growth in most food categories in the US has slowed during the current recession, there remain many areas of growth. Many of the most successful new products over the last few years have focussed on offering some type of health benefit or fortification. This is particularly prevalent in a category such as yoghurt and chilled desserts, up 4.4% in 2008. The trend toward natural ingredients has also gathered pace and is now the key driver in many categories.

Supermarket aisle - shopping trolley

A squeeze on disposable incomes due to the recession has assisted sales of some product categories such as meals being consumed in the home including soups, a category which grew 4.1% in 2008. The relatively mature ready meals and pizza segments also both registered 2% growth in 2008.

The US savoury snacks market remains by far the largest in the world and shows that mature categories don’t need to be looked at as offering limited growth. Sales rose 4 per cent in the States last year on the back of significant new product development. However in recent years, the industry has shifted its focus towards addressing health and obesity concerns (especially among children’s products), as opposed to the development of flavours.

With regard to flavours, innovation has been evident across a number of sectors especially fruit juice, carbonated drinks and soups. However, despite an ever-widening array of flavours to choose from, most consumers remain relatively conservative in terms of taste. In ice cream for example, vanilla remains the market’s most popular flavour, accounting for 32% of sales, ahead of chocolate with 21%, nut/caramel with 7% and strawberry with 5%.

Consumption in many categories has been influenced by the continued penetration of ethnic cuisines, for example, those based on Mediterranean, Mexican and other Latin American cuisines. Asian cuisines (such as Thai, Malay and Indian) have also become more popular in the restaurant sector which has filtered down into packaged foods. In frozen ready meals for example, Asian meals now account for a 23% share (Italian leads with 60%).

Meanwhile, the trend towards more expensive forms of chocolate confectionery (dark, specific varietals and functional versions) is sustaining growth in that category. Chocolate sales grew 3.1% and the premium chocolate trend appears set to continue around the world.

Rising commodity prices dramatically pushed up prices and hence value sales in a number of basic food categories such as pasta, milk and edible oils. Growth in the cheese market, meanwhile, has been driven by increasing consumption of cheese as a snack as well as growing interest in quality cheeses.

Interestingly, one of the strongest growth areas in recent years has been pet food, with sales up 4.9% in 2008. Australia has witnessed many of the same trends and pet food is a category that is likely to continue to surprise on the upside given the rise in numbers of child-less households, where pets are often treated as well as children.

The major players in the sector remain the diversified Nestlé, PepsiCo and Kraft whose range of brands extend with strength beyond American borders.

Private label has been growing its share in the recession with categories where there is limited differentation still the best bets for own brand growth. Cooking oils, soup and water were among big winners for private label last year as consumers.

Future growth among the established product sectors is forecast to be highest in pet foods, yoghurts and chilled desserts and RTD tea (all achieving growth of above 9% in value between 2009 and 2012). Kitchen cupboard essentials such as soups, coffee, cooking oils and pasta will also see value growth and will benefit from continued economic uncertainty.