Key Consumer Beliefs and Attitudes Shaping the Food Industry Right Now

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Knowing what consumers value most can help brands create products that align with emerging food and beverage macrotrends

KerryDigest Fast Facts:

  • Trends are shaped by common consumer beliefs and attitudes. At the start of 2019, six such beliefs have a significant influence on the food and beverage industry. This article—the first of a two-part series—explores three of these beliefs and the trends they're inspiring.
  • The sentiments examined below are shared by consumers around the globe. One linking factor amongst these beliefs is the sense that they elevate food to a greater position than ever before, giving it the power to influence mood, provide a sense of identity, add a spirit of adventure and otherwise enhance lives.
  • Next week, we’ll reveal three more consumer beliefs affecting the food and beverage industry, including the food macrotrends they’re inspiring.

KerryDigest Full Scoop:

Like clockwork, the new year ushers in a bounty of food trend articles. Predictions are made about the food and beverage categories, flavours, products and more poised to dominate the market in the coming months. But one major thing missing from most of these articles is an analysis of the consumer beliefs and attitudes about food that spur trends in the first place.

To get a better understanding of these prevailing consumer sentiments—which are influenced by social, technical, economic, environmental and political factors—we reviewed primary and secondary research from within and outside of the industry. We also looked at the food and beverage trends that are emerging and prevailing right now, at times working backwards to see which beliefs most strongly influenced their spread.

In the end, we identified six key consumer beliefs food shaping the industry in 2019. These sentiments are influencing product development, sourcing, packaging and manufacturing decisions. In this article we explore the first three such consumer beliefs, which are largely related to identity and experience. Next week, we’ll examine the remaining three, which include environmental concerns, the microbiome and the embracing of technology.

Consumer Belief: “I want to reconnect with the joy of eating… without compromise”.

Consumers with this belief have a desire for “Freedom Food”, or the ability to make food choices without compromise. This is playing out in the industry with more people than ever choosing food according to their principles i.e., foods that are vegan, organic or sustainable. Consumers are also choosing to eat more consciously and avoid ingredients they think will negatively affect their health.

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We see three primary macrotrends resulting from this consumer belief:

Macrotrend: Micro Health
A defining element of Freedom Food trend is the free-from movement, or the ability to eat in a way that reflects a person’s values, even if the priorities are fluid, changing along the Purity Curve. And, because many consumers are avoiding more than one ingredient, it is now commonplace to see product launches with multiples free-from claims.

For example, there’s been recent growth within the free-from dairy, meat and other animal products category, with “vegan” ranking as the third fastest growing on-pack claim for food and drink launches globally. Around 42% of consumers agree that they are eating less meat nowadays, per Kerry research, and Mintel found that over half of all UK adults consumed at least one meat-free meal in the first 6 months of 2018.

But for many consumers it’s not an all-or-nothing shift. For example, only a small percentage of the population identifies as following a wholly vegan diet. Another such category is gluten-free. According to recent Mintel data, 41% of consumers choose gluten-free foods for reasons other than gluten intolerance, such as because they believe gluten-free foods are healthier, more natural or can help with weight loss. Only around a quarter of all consumers who eat gluten-free foods have been diagnosed with coeliac disease.

Macrotrend: Sustainability
Across categories, consumers are purchasing products they perceive as being healthier for themselves and for the planet. One way we’re seeing this in the marketplace is through concern about animal products. Consumers who still eat meat are shopping for better quality products such as grass-fed and organic meats, which are perceived to be more sustainable and free-from pesticides, antibiotics and genetically-modified feed.

Amongst a broader range of products, people are looking to labels such as “Fairtrade”, “organic” and “GMO-free” for assurance about source or origin. In categories such as coffee and chocolate, it is almost essential for brands to have a vocal commitment to sustainable practices. These measures are being taken against a greater backdrop of a food trust vacuum, in which half of consumers say they trust food and drink producers less than they used to, according to Kerry research.

Macrotrend: Lifestyle
Liking and sharing social media posts helps always-on consumers connect to a lifestyle they want for themselves. In the search for identity, people increasingly crave membership to groups or tribes and the choices they make around food—including what they eat and what they don’t—is key.

For example, the hashtag “vegan” has been used millions of times on Instagram, helping like-minded individuals connect. In a world where consumers are far-removed from where their food comes from, Netflix shows such as “What the Health” and “Vegucated” are inciting change in huge cohorts of consumers.

This need to be a part of a food tribe has been identified by the market, and may be contributing to the rise of on-pack claims such as “keto-approved”. There also now exists a much greater need for products that cater to special diets—even in convenience and prepared meals.

Consumer Belief: “I’m more interested in doing something really fun than in buying things”. 


The craving for “Everyday Adventures”—including in the pursuit of new food experiences—highlights the way in which experience is the new must-have product for consumers. Ninety percent of global consumers believe that prioritizing experiences over material possessions is important in their personal life, according to Bord Bia, in Ireland. New and novel is becoming a status symbol and, thanks to social media, everyday consumers are taking on the persona of “foodie”.

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We see one primary macrotrend resulting from this consumer belief:

Macrotrend: Beyond Flavour
Consumers want to elevate nourishing occasions by maximising flavour, smell, sight, touch and sound during the eating experience. Some of the ways consumers seek Everyday Adventures is through new cuisines, travel, flavours, street food and beverages. Food and drink preference is no longer just about taste. For example, pushing the boundaries with colour in beverages has been very trendy over the last few years with colour-changing and glittery drinks making waves. A recent survey found 1 in 5 consumers to say they are interested in colour-changing drinks, proving this trend is more than just a fad.

Exploring world cuisine is another way consumers are asserting their adventurous spirit through food and their ability to try new things. Around 30% of Americans self-identify as “adventurous eaters”. Younger consumers, urban dwellers, parents and those living in more affluent households are the adventurous eaters most open to new tastes. Although this trend can be seen across categories, ice cream is one area which embraces adventure in new product development, not just through flavours but through inclusions and texture innovations that take inspiration from categories outside of dairy.

Consumer Belief: “I intend to live life to the max… including with what I eat and drink”.

For consumers committed to “Living Fulfilling Lives”, there’s a focus on nourishing experiences that are fulfilling, that engage with the community and that balance work with leisure. Within this segment food has taken on a greater meaning than simply fuel or even nutrition. It’s aspirational, inclusive and capable of medicinal-like healing.

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We see three primary macrotrends resulting from this consumer belief:

Macrotrend: Experiences
Closely related to the above macrotrend, “Beyond Flavour”, consumers are increasingly seeking experiences that stimulate the senses and push their boundaries. Amongst younger millennials, half prefer to spend money on new leisure activities rather than ones they have tried before. This is showing up in the food industry in the form of unusual food and beverage experiences, such as virtual reality dining, out-of-the-box food pop-up experiences and “dine in the dark” dinners, which are designed to bring a person’s focus to the texture and flavour of food through the removal of sight.

Macrotrend: Community
Food can establish a sense of identity for consumers, immersing them in society and giving them a sense of belonging and purpose. Under the Living a Fulfilling Life umbrella, food is a means to build community and connections and create a better world. For example, redistributing surplus food has become an area of focus in the past 5 years, serving a dual purpose of cutting down on waste and delivering food to people who need it. Organisations as well as apps such as OLIO, which redistributes surplus food by connecting neighbors with one other and with local shops, are addressing this need. This focus aligns with popular beliefs around sustainability and making better food choices—with living to your best self.

The spirit of community is also showing up in other areas of the industry. For example, brands are creating and strengthening community by nurturing groups interested in their products. One way of doing this is through the act of co-creation, or giving consumers a role in product development. Campaigns that challenge consumers to create a new flavour or improve a product are popular ways to manifest chatter and add excitement while also making consumers feel valued.

Macrotrend: Work-Life
The rising trend of working outside the traditional office setting goes hand-in-hand with the trend towards working longer hours and having higher stress jobs. These factors have led to a blurring of lines between work and the rest of a person’s life, and the need for sustenance that fits into these changing parameters.

As a result, an influx of high protein and healthy foods in convenient packaging are entering the market, and more products along these lines are being developed. These are designed for consumption on the job, while driving from point A to point B, or any other time that allows for eating during an on-the-go lifestyle.

Conversely, product launches for convenient foods and beverages that address sleep, stress, relaxation are also on the rise. These account for the new reality of changes in work-life balance by addressing the downsides of busier consumers. Just as activities such as meditation and the use of wearable tech are aiding the sleep-deprived, in the future food will have an increasing role in helping people wind down and regulate sleep patterns.

This is a look at the first three of six consumer beliefs influencing food macrotrends in 2019. To read about the other three, visit KerryDigest next week. For a deeper dive into consumer beliefs and behaviours, including segmenting consumers by location, age, and more, contact Kerry about partnering on product development and reformulation.

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