Whether you want to sell direct to the public, add value by creating a product, or produce for a commodity market, it is helpful to understand where the main areas of growth are and how people eat and shop.
There is a real opportunity to add value to British farm produce, says Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at market analyst Kantar Worldpanel.
“Farmers need to think about what people want to eat, not just what they want to grow. If you accept what people want, then you can try [to produce something to serve that market].”
The healthy eating trend has been growing for some time, says Mr McKevitt. However, this area of growth has recently shifted.
Consumers are now much less interested in products where something has been removed, such as fat, and are now more into products where something has been added, says Mr McKevitt. The exception is sugar.
Good examples are cereal bars and yoghurts containing added protein, as many consumers look to protein-rich foods.
As part of the healthy eating trend, there has in many ways been a positive shift in the way dairy is viewed. Rather than being seen as high in fat, consumers are increasingly viewing dairy as high in protein.
However, there is also a shift towards non-dairy ‘milks’ and other products, including desserts, ice creams and yoghurts made using soy, oats, almonds or coconuts.
“The darling of non-dairy, the Alpro brand, is being bought by one in every five households,” says Mr McKevitt. “People are buying it who don’t have a dairy intolerance.”
There has not been a meaningly increase in the number of vegetarians (currently about 7% of the population, vegan 2%, according to AHDB/YouGov), but there has been an increase in the number of vegetarian meals consumed, says Mr McKevitt.
This means more people are choosing a ‘flexitarian’ diet (7% according to AHDB/YouGov), where they switch between meals with and without meat, the overall aim being to eat less meat. The key drivers are health and environmental concerns.
Flexitarian products are being developed as a result: In the last 12-18 months, major UK supermarkets have launched new sausages made with meat and vegetables or pulses.
Sales of pulses and alternative grains, such as quinoa, are doing well and there are new products containing added plant protein, such as yoghurts with fava bean protein.
Brits have a much more varied diet than 20 years ago and people are more open to different flavours and cuisines, says Mr McKevitt.
This has created a knock-on effect for potato sales, as people move away from the ‘meat and two veg’ diet, towards one-pot meals. On the converse, this has meant an increase in consumption of other carbohydrates, such as rice and pasta.
Big cuts such as joints are out, and smaller, convenient cuts which can be added to one-pot dishes, such as curries, stews, stir-fries and salads are in.
The time people spend cooking has almost halved in two decades, says Mr McKevitt. More lately, speed has become separate to convenience, with consumers more interested in minimising effort than time.
For example, people would prefer to put pulled-pork in the oven and leave it for 30 minutes, allowing them to go do something else, rather than sticking an instant meal in a microwave for 10 minutes.
Eating out is growing at 5% a year, according to Mr McKevitt, driven by a long-term trend away from spending on stuff, towards spending on experiences.
As part of this, new food trends are bubbling up through food trucks, pop-up markets and street food stalls. These tend to be picked up by retailers quickly – such as pulled pork, and Korean and Japanese cuisines, so are good places to look for ‘the next big thing’, says Mr McKevitt.