What does the future of food look like?

We attended The Food People’s Future Food Trends talk to find out.

April 26, 2024
Taryn Connolly
April 26, 2024
Taryn Connolly

Harnessing knowledge in the food industry is key, especially when it comes to trends and consumer demands. The Food People’s ‘Future Food Trends’ tracker does exactly that – surveying 400 consumers monthly to understand the relationship between future trend predictions and acceptance, readiness and how that manifests over time.

Here’s what the latest tracker, which had a focus on hospitality trends, had to say…  

We’re all getting back out there!

Despite the economic situation, and the cost-of-living crisis, people are still getting back out there when it comes to enjoying food occasions – but people are opting for smaller establishments such as coffee shops and food halls, rather than splashing out regularly on big, fancy meals.

Consumers still want convenience and quality, but in a cost-effective manner, so smaller establishments like cafes, coffee shops and street food markets are well placed to service the consumer needs. However, despite is the venue, consumers are still wanting more experience in less time, especially for those who are looking for lunchbreak options.

With the rise of hybrid working, and more people heading back to the office, consumers are buying lunches out more, opting for more exotic dishes such as sushi, which traditionally can be more difficult to create at home. There is a rise in consumer interest for cuisines such as Burmese and Filipino, while Thai cuisine continues to dominate the market with almost double the number of consumers having eaten it Q1 2024 (compared to Q3 2023).

Small plates are also becoming trendy, with consumers choosing them to explore different flavours and ingredients, without having to commit to the price tag associated with traditional main meals.

Plant based is losing favour – but not completely

Over the last few years, ‘plant-based’ has been a buzzword across much marketing collateral – for both brands and restaurants alike. However, fast forward to today, there is a decline in interest as consumers are once again turning to meat options (with a 50/50 split for meat vs plant-based).

Those who potentially sat on the fence and classed themselves as ‘flexi’ are now picking a side when it comes to eating out, as consumer demand for more natural food becomes higher and concern around plant-based alternatives being ultra-processed begins to grow.

Gen Z’s interest in plant-based alternatives (such a cellular meat) continues to be significantly higher than those aged 45+, due to concern for animal welfare and sustainability, but they also want healthier food with fewer additives – so are more likely to be Vegetarian.

Plant-based eating is no longer just a ‘trend’; it’s a forever food genre which is here to stay, and rightly so. But with the meat movement finding its voice, and consumers wanting more natural options, the sector needs to adapt with better processing methods, to appeal to the masses.

More education is needed around Ultra-Processed Foods (UPFs)

Consumers are becoming increasingly savvier about the provenance of their food and want to know more about what’s in the food they eat.

The term ‘UPF’ is now frequently being talked about across channels and there are multiple articles suggesting we all eat too many UPFs.  However, consumers agree that they want more guidance and governance from both government and food manufacturers, to help them understand, what really is a UPF? 

The majority of those surveyed said they were clear a UPF is considered unhealthy but are unclear on what to look for when reading labels – and with a lot of myths and ‘advice’ being shared in media and on social, it’s difficult to know who, or what, to trust.

Consumers are increasingly aware that a healthy diet is vital to their overall wellbeing but may be less aware that not all UPFs are bad - but with no official definition and a lot of inaccurate information in the public domain, it's not surprising they are sometimes  confused about what to eat!

Despite UPF becoming a trendy phrase to use, it’s still very much considered an industry term and may lead to consumers assuming products are UPFs when they’re not, especially when dining out. Knowledge needs to be leveraged, both now and into the future, to unite the industry in ‘better processing’ and help guide the consumer to make healthier choices as a whole.

Consumers want more from restaurants than just ticking a sustainability box

Consumers are demanding more seasonal options (especially local) when dining out, and it’s no longer a case of ticking a few sustainability boxes on the menu (such as plant-based). People want restaurants to embody freshness and as a result, many chefs are talking and adopting the way of Cooking and Feeding in “harmony with nature”.

This means closer links between farming and agriculture, slower growing for flavour, focus on people and sustainable balance between commercial, people and the environment, as well as a bigger focus on the farm-to-table movement (serving local).

This blog is part of our IFE seminar series and for further insights on the industry, why not take a read of Naomi’s IGD series:

A Deep Dive into Health

The Role of Foodservice in Retail Innovation

IGD’s Big Picture Outlook and the Consumer Perspective