Food trends in the UK have led to intriguing innovations, all of which excite the senses and get the culinary juices flowing in kitchens across the country. By taking a look at what trends are being lauded and loved, you can be inspired, both as chef and eater, to seek out new delights to experiment in your kitchen. All, of course, with the goal of being able to create an exciting, sellable product that will put your food business on the map.
What Drives Food Innovation?
Food trends are the result of food innovation. But ‘what drives food innovation?’. In a way, it’s the trends (it is quite cyclical). Typically, we are motivated by changes in our ways of eating, availability of ingredients and what we know about certain foods. There are a lot of factors, across diet, the environment and, of course, taste.
So what does this mean for restaurants, catering companies and food trucks? Food and drink innovation should reflect the zeitgeist, but it’s all a matter of timing if you’re a food producer. Move too soon and you won’t have scale, move too late and you’ll be another ‘me too’ – which can still be profitable. Food innovation though is most successful when you get your timing right.
Food Trends Are Risky Business
An article by Food Manufacture stated that food firms waste about £30.4M per year on failed launches. This means the price of failure is considerable. So, as a food trend hunter or manufacturer, how do you get your food innovation solutions right?
6 Macro Food Trends Driving Food Innovation In The UK
There are lots of factors that contribute to food innovation and yearly trends. In order to gain a full understanding, and apply those locally or within a niche market, you need to understand the macro factors that are influencing food innovation.
1. A Focus On Long Term Health
We’ve been obsessed with the way we look and our fitness since mirrors and competition were invented. However, the pace that the health agenda is evolving at is quite remarkable.
The current iteration focuses on long-term lifestyle changes and every day health, as opposed to short-term dramatic changes, like diets. For food innovations, this means that today’s consumer is less likely to treat their choices as punitive actions, instead favouring informed choices as part of a larger health vision.
This has led to big shifts in the food and drink landscape. A 2018 report in The Guardian asserted ‘nearly 30% of young people (16-24 year olds) in England do not drink’. This is a far cry from the ‘Booze Britain’ and ‘Binge Nation’ headlines from as recently as eight years ago.
The UK government has also taken a leading role in the drama by introducing the Sugar Tax in 2018. This tax had huge implications for certain industries (namely soft drinks and cereals). It also induced a thought-provoking debate on where the responsibility sits and the burden we place on the NHS with our habits.
One of the drivers of this change is the idea that a healthy lifestyle is a form of social currency and a brand. Characters like Joe Wicks and Ella Woodward are now greater influences on our lives, meals and habits than many TV chefs. Jamie Oliver’s war on turkey twizzlers started a movement, there’s no doubt. Today though, the baton is with palpable personalities whose every move can be followed in an online diary of pictures and posts.
Which Companies Are Pushing Health Innovations In Food?
Coca Cola & Pepsi
The Sugar Tax forced the hands of some huge multinational corporations, like Coca-Cola and Pepsi Co. With the inconvenient truth being out there in the public domain, they needed to act. Some have really taken the bull by the horns.
Coca-Cola Enterprises have made their best efforts to renovate and innovate. They reclaimed the iconic red colour from Original Coke for Coke Zero, added a new range of flavours for Diet Coke, and are investing in the future by launching Fuze Tea, an iced tea brand. Meanwhile, PepsiCo have taken a different approach for their future by acquiring Sodastream. A smart manoeuvre from outgoing CEO, Indra Nooyi.
We’re all on the lookout for ways to reduce our sugar intake but still be able to satisfy our sweet tooth. SugaVida think they have the answer to that conundrum with a Palmyra Blossom Nectar. Stephanie Hazelwood explains their mission: ‘we are looking to use this natural and nutritious sugar alternative as a pioneering tool to transform health and wellness’.
She believes the next frontier in UK food innovation is education: ‘the public currently do not have enough knowledge, nor are they receiving the right information. It’s a long battle but worthwhile when you start to see the changes’.
Healthy Ice Cream? Kalina Halacheva has set out on a mission with her business to ‘nourish your body, indulge your soul’. She’s acting on the health trend, but bringing indulgence with her healthy ice-cream and snack balls brand, Nouri.
This is a business grounded in insights and food innovation solutions with veganism, all natural, no added sugar and gluten free all being important attributes of the food. Kalina has a very clear view of the current and future trends influencing our habits in the UK. She believes ‘plant-based is number one for me; but also, city farming and probiotics will grow and grab more of our attention’. So keep an eye out for those predictions!
Rebel Chocolate is a business based in Glasgow, run by two scientists with a mission to bring healthy chocolate to the market. It’s a tough gig but sounds awesome! Neil and Suzanne have developed a range that contains half the sugar of market leaders, 25% protein, 57% cocoa and made without gluten or lactose. No need to miss that chocolate fix now!
2. Traceability: Sourcing & Production Awareness
The next macro trend to consider is all about a yearning for sourceability. Less from an ethical standpoint – as with Fairtrade – and more of a trust or mistrust of the supply chain.
A couple of events in recent UK food history that have catalysed this trend, most notably the horse meat scandal in 2013. As consumers, we care now more than ever about where our food comes from. Manufacturers need to work hard to earn the trust of the modern shopper.
Any breaks of that trust can be catastrophic for manufacturers and retailers involved. In 2018 alone, there were several such breaches, including whole animal DNA being found in vegetarian meals sold in Tesco and Sainsbury’s. There was also two tragic and fatal incidents involving Pret a Manger being unable to identify allergens in its food. The obsession with sourceability has led the FSA to introduce new rules on food and drink labelling. They are promoting cleaner ingredient decks to make things easier to understand for consumers and shoppers.
This trend isn’t just about the paranoia around food sourcing, it is a two-sided coin, with the shinier side being a movement towards traceability used as a marketing tool, for example single-origin. David Greenwood-Haigh, Chocolate Consultant (yes that is really his job title!) at Coeur de Xocolat, is an expert on food trends and has seen this trend develop over the last five years or so:
‘it’s an aspect of our behaviour that has been commonplace in a few categories for a long time now; it wouldn’t seem a usual question to ask what region your bottle of wine or whisky was from. Now we’re seeing this trend creep into other categories where sourcing and production awareness has increased in the minds of the shopper. Chocolate is just one of many categories that has expanded based on this trend with producers now proud to call out the growing region or one of the premium ingredients that is just one aspect in the symphony of flavour’.
Farm Drop is an ethical grocer. It is looking to replace your supermarket shop by providing an online delivery service of local fresh food and ethical larder and household items. Claiming to cut out the supermarket by connecting consumers with their producers and shaking up the way the UK food supply chain operates and saving your carbon footprint…and the planet!
Compassionate dairy farming? Ahimsa (meaning cruelty-free) Dairy Foundation is a not-for-profit dairy in the idyllic Rutland hills where the ‘happiest cows in the world’ are sung to, massaged and fed digestive biscuits as part of their daily routine. So how much would a pint of milk set you back if this were your bag? £2.60. That’s the price of a product from the world’s happiest cows.
Wondering how to source ethically or reduce your waste as a food business? Take a look at our Must Reads on green ingredients and eco packaging
3. Social Responsibility: Waging War On Food Waste & Unnecessary Packaging
2018 seemed a big year for food innovation when it came to packaging and food waste. But this only accelerated in 2019, leading to significant announcements from supermarkets to reduce waste in the form of packaging and improve recyclability. Asda announced recyclable packaging for its ready meals and Sainsbury’s pledged to halve its use of plastic packaging by 2025 – steps that have been lauded as positive steps.
This trend is important to consumers and retailers and is strongly rooted in appealing to our social conscience and, specifically, around the redistribution of waste and the impact we’re having on our planet.
The war on waste in the industry is being spearheaded by The Grocer with its ‘Waste Not Want Not’ scheme which launched in reaction to the fact that ‘just 47,000 tonnes out of the 2.64 million tonnes of surplus and waste food the industry accounts for is redistributed for human consumption’.
The war on packaging, and plastic, is something that has been bubbling under the surface for a long time and has finally erupted with Plastic Manifestos being produced by almost every mainstream grocery retailer.
The fire appears to be fuelled (or at least fanned vigorously) by celebrities such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Sir David Attenborough to add impetus and gravitas to the campaign. Having said that the retail trade has its own champions with Richard Walker, MD of Iceland, and Dave Lewis, CEO of Tesco, leading the charge.
Which Companies Are Reducing Packaging & Waste?
Rubies in the Rubble
Rubies in the Rubble offers condiments with a conscience. These folks have really embraced the war on waste and made it their own by finding ingredients that would otherwise go to waste and producing condiments with a conscience. It’s simple but effective!
The Real Junk Food Project
Redirecting food destined for the landfill, The Real Junk Food Project is a fantastic example of food innovation solutions. It is a network of Pay As You Feel concepts with a global reach and a great presence in the UK. Their mission is to intercept food destined for waste and redistribute it to the right places and generate cash through their cafes to support the cause. Food innovation that we can all celebrate.
It’s no secret that farming for meat is destroying our planet, so where to look for a more ethical protein hit? Debbie Robinson, Spar MD, asserts that ‘the need for cheap protein will almost certainly be fulfilled by the consumption of insects’ which is quite a thought! Enter Eat Grub, which offers delicious, nutritious and sustainable protein solutions.
Looking to clamp down on your food waste? Take a look at our Must Reads on sustainable and green food businesses
4. Globalisation & Travel: A Search For New & Under-Explored Flavours
The world is getting smaller. You can now travel from Manchester to Europe cheaper than you can get to London and we are taking full advantage of that fact. As travel becomes cheaper our reach widens, our exposure to new cultures increase and our appetite for new food and drink grows. This translates into what we see on the streets back in the UK, in restaurants and, eventually, in retail when the right food innovation solution lands on shelves.
Who Is Bringing Us World Foods?
Wahaca & Pho
Our culinary world is getting much smaller and the high street is the starkest example of this. Chains and groups offering new food experiences are popping up on a daily basis with Big Hospitality asserting that ‘small but fast-growing casual dining brands are expanding six times faster than bigger names’, highlighting brands like Wahaca and Pho as examples of this trend.
Flavours that were once exotic and inaccessible are now turning up in the most unlikely of places with Gregg’s proffering a Katsu Pasty and McDonald’s showcasing their Jerky burger. Certainly, one could argue that at the point that these once exotic flavours reach places like Gregg’s and McDonald’s they stop being modern and move to become postmodern, but this level of permeation does mark a wider use of food innovation.
Street Food is spilling out in a big way in the UK with vans and pop-up restaurants filling any kerb space available. With this trend brings new flavours, nuances and lands to explore. London is a fantastic example of food innovation as Kalina Halacheva states, ‘the vibrant London restaurant scene has so much creativity and innovation. It has put the country on the world map as the top gourmet destination’ with Street Feast leading the way.
5. Digital Innovation: Food At Our Fingertips
The way we consume our food has changed irreversibly, forever, with digital and food and drink innovation going together like two very committed newlyweds. Online shopping has changed our shopping habits completely and we now demand more from the comfort of our own home with voice ordering and one-hour turnarounds no longer a sci-fantasy.
This revolution extends beyond home shopping (remember how people used to have to do that with cringe-worthy television and awkward automated phone calls?) and has heavily influenced our out-of-home/in-home eating with delivery services expanding.
This macro trend is definitely an example of a situation where ‘innovate or die’ is a relevant mantra with manufacturers and retailers scrabbling over each other to deliver on the next sub-trend with no room for laggards.
Rising to the challenge, many companies are looking to create healthy eating home delivery and at home recipe boxes. Companies are already getting on board, both new and old brands, and finding success.
Which Companies Are Shifting Food Online?
Graze is challenging to struggling snacker who is bored of browsing the shelves to get a nice healthy option, whilst all you see are crisps and chocolate screaming at you to buy them. Graze takes away the decision making by giving you only healthy options to choose from and then delighting you with a surprise box of goodies as often as you require them
Let’s face it, if we could be bothered, we would all be eating freshly rolled pasta. But no-one has the time to think about it, let alone do it. Pasta Evangelists promise that they put in the hard work so that you can create a gourmet pasta meal in under 5 minutes.
The Spice Pioneer
The Spice Pioneer is tapping into another niche market, focusing on bringing you all the spices and flavours needed to create the most exotic and tasty meals from every continent of the world to your doorstep. No need to stack those shelves with piles of spices, nor to think about how to make your meal that little bit special – they have all the bright ideas, including the soundtrack that you need to cook with.
Just A Splash
Some consumers are constantly looking for the next trick up their sleeve to impress their friends of families and we can only see that developing further with brands like Just a Splash pushing those boundaries. Just a Splash is a food ingredient innovation with a range of five recipe-sized spirits and fortified wines, adding delicious flavours and textures to any dish.
6. Convenience: Easy But Not Speedy Home Cooking Solutions
The final macro trend on this list is all about the value convenience. It used to be that speed and convenience were synonyms in food and drink innovation – with chicken a la ding being the plat du jour – however, now they have been pulled apart like a nice low and slow brisket. Consumers and shoppers realise that their need for speed has often come at a cost to quality and enough is enough. The replacement is all about ease of use and preparation so the slow cooker has seen a resurgence along with overnight marinades and sous-vides.
Which Brands Are Making Cooking Lives Easier?
Synonymous with healthy home cooking without all the effort, Hellofresh has done a great job of bringing portionable, simple recipes and meals into the homes of thousands of Brits. This has led to an explosion of proliferations of food innovations that offer single or multiple meal solutions and can be as easy as just applying heat.
Building your Recipe Repertoire: Simply Cook’s mission is to provide restaurant style food to your home, at an affordable price. Claiming that most British people only have 6 meals in their repertoire – they offer to change this without blowing your budget.
These Food Trends Aren’t Going Away Any Time Soon
So, to recap, the six key macro trends which are driving food innovation are:
- Long Term Heath
- Traceability & Production Awareness
- Social Responsibility
- Globalisation & Travel
- Digital Innovation
A continued concern about the environment is sure to drive the next range of food innovations, especially as many move to a vegan and vegetarian diet. Couple that with food delivery making more and more waves and convenient, accessible, healthy and recyclable foods that taste good could soon be the new normal. Only time will tell how effective new brands will be at getting their products to market and whether or not consumers will put their mouths where the money is.