Whilst deflation and the continued recovery from the cost-of-living crisis will clearly be top of the agenda next year, health, wellness and sustainability will also continue to loom large for the industry.
However, outside of these more obvious drivers, we have picked five emerging themes and talking points that we expect to be making waves in 2024, including the ‘Ozempic effect’, AI and personalised nutrition, as well as the reinvigoration of sustainable diets.
A crisis in consumer trust
There's long been a degree of cynicism around health and diet advice. (This 2008 article on health hysteria in the press is a useful reminder.) But in recent years this has come to a boiling point.
Whether it's meat and plant-based alternatives getting caught up in the culture wars or the backlash against the backlash against ultra-processed foods, the public debate about healthy eating is more heated and polarised.
No wonder consumers are increasingly confused about who they can trust. Public trust in health reporting in the media has already plummeted, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.
This will therefore be one of the defining questions of 2024: At a time when they are being told to be cynical about everything, who will consumers trust with their health?
In particular, we are keeping a watching brief on the growing debate surrounding the food industry's relationships with dietitians and medical professionals.
In the US, a recent Washington Post investigation has sparked debate about the ethics of 'influencer dietitians'. Broader concerns are also being voiced about the ethics of scientists and medical professionals acting as paid spokespeople or supporting certain products and sectors. Even the menopause awareness and hormonal health movements - until recently lauded as positive - are now facing a backlash for supposedly being no more than 'a marketing gimmick'.
In the UK, influencer marketing continues to be a big part of the marketing mix and can open up valuable opportunities for food and drink brands. However, it’s important to do it the right way. Whenever we work with influencers at Ceres, we conduct extensive research and dig beneath the surface to ensure the influencers we work with are best suited and qualified to help achieve our clients’ goals.
At a time when consumer cynicism is high, building trust and credibility is more important than ever.
The Ozempic effect
As more people start taking appetite-suppressing drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy, what will be the impact on food and drink sales? It’s a question that’s already starting to get lots of attention in the US. The share price of some food companies was hit recently after Walmart said shoppers on weight-loss medication are buying less food than the average consumer.
However, data on how drugs like Ozempic affect food shopping behaviour remains patchy. In 2024, we expect a clearer picture to emerge, along with an indication of the likely industry winners and losers.
Crucially, we expect 2024 to bring more insight into how these drugs will affect the UK food and drink sector. Britain has been slower to adopt weight loss drugs than the US, but given the scale of its public health problems it is expected to catch up fast. Sainsbury’s has said it is watching the issue closely to see what the impact on food demand will be.
As ever, there will be challenges as well as opportunities. In the US, some restaurant chains are already looking at how to adjust menus to cater for changes in appetite and say they expect the impact to be ‘net positive’. In the UK, Associated British Foods has said it is not worried about the impact because its focus on premiumisation will protect sales volumes.
Meanwhile, Nestlé has started working on ‘companion products’ designed for those on weight loss medication.
Personalisation at scale
The rise of generative AI has opened the door to personalisation on an unprecedented scale. Personalised recipe generators and meal plans, as well as grocery shopping assistants, are just some of the potential use cases being explored by major supermarkets and suppliers.
While 2023 saw lots of trials and experimentation in this area (not always successful – remember the supermarket chatbot that generated a recipe for chlorine gas?) 2024 will likely see the first meaningful deployments at scale.
Growing personalisation throws up a host of interesting opportunities for food and drink brands but also presents challenges. If everyone is working towards their own, personally optimised meal plan, what does this mean for family meal times?
It’s also been interesting to see concerns starting to be voiced about the mental health implications of personalised nutrition apps such as Zoe. Where is the line between helpful data that empowers consumers to take charge of their health – and information overload that causes people to obsess over food?
Wellness: friend or foe?
We believe consumers will continue to care strongly about their health and wellness in 2024, and we continue to see great opportunities for healthy food and drink brands.
But it is worth noting that an anti-wellness narrative is starting to gather steam in certain parts of the media and on social media, which could become a more prominent talking point in 2024.
This narrative is partly driven by the idea that consumers, young consumers in particular, are bored of sanctimonious health and clean-eating advice. They want fun and indulgence and a little bit of irresponsibility. Think maximalist restaurants and caviar bumps. This recent article in Elle UK provides a useful overview of some of the drivers behind the trend.
At the same time, the concept of a 'toxic wellness culture' is picking up momentum, with critics questioning whether the current obsession with wellness could be driving unhealthy outcomes.
While we don't expect it will lead to decreased interest from mainstream consumers, the wellness backlash does raise interesting questions for health and wellness-focused food and drink brands. Chief among them: how can you engage consumers on health in a way that's credible and evidence-based - but not stiff and boring? And how can you tap into wellness in a way that actually helps people to live a good life rather than making them feel bad about their choices?
Reinvigorating sustainable diets
2023 was a bumpy year for food and drink brands offering more sustainable options.
While many consumers continued to care passionately about climate change and the environment, affordability proved a significant barrier to purchase. In a recent EY survey, 56% of Brits said sustainable options are too expensive and 71% feel price is stopping them from buying into sustainable products.
In 2024, all eyes will therefore be on how food and drink brands can reinvigorate interest in sustainable diets and show consumers that sustainable doesn’t have to mean unaffordable.
Given its recent challenges, the plant-based sector’s approach to this will be especially interesting to watch. As inflation starts to ease and consumers have more head space for sustainability messaging again, we expect brands to ramp up communication to highlight their sustainability credentials versus traditional meat and dairy products. Oatly’s recent high-profile campaign for mandatory carbon labelling could be a sign of things to come.
As highlighted in our previous newsletter, and in our latest blog we also expect plant-forward eating to grow in importance. Eating more fresh produce remains important to many consumers, so products that are obviously high in veg will be in prime position to gain more space on supermarket shelves in 2024.
Finally, we expect to see continued focus on regenerative agriculture. The term ‘regenerative’ has faced some criticism in 2023 over its lack of a clear definition and concerns about potential greenwashing. However, efforts to align standards and definitions are under way, which could help regenerative build up further momentum and credibility in 2024.