Welcome change – top ten global trends

6 April 2017

Ugly is beautiful, cold is hot and alcohol is healthy: these are just three of the top ten trends expected to announce themselves in 2017. Thomas Vierhile, innovation insights director at GlobalData Consumer, makes sense of the confusion.


Online brands have been more of a curiosity than a real threat to the established order in fast-moving consumer goods. This is changing, though, and 2017 could be a pivotal year for ‘clicks-to-bricks innovation’.

Former internet-only brands – such as snack-box pioneer Graze in the UK and online razor seller Harry’s in the US – show that e-commerce brands can succeed in stores.

Unilever’s recent purchase of internet razor retailer Dollar Shave Club suggests that packaged goods giants are watching this trend. E-commerce-only brands are in a position to understand the purchasing patterns of their customers better than makers of packaged goods sold through stores, and represent a knowledge base that can be tapped for in-store marketing.

E-commerce brands have the ability to test novel flavours or ingredients in real time in a way that would be nearly impossible in stores. For instance, Kellogg’s Bear Naked custom-made granola offers 50 unique ingredients (like coffee brittle, bourbon flavour and dried black olives) so consumers can design their own granola online, providing taste preference information that could be used by supermarkets.

Blank-slate brands

Forget the past: blank-slate brands are all about the present and future. Often created from scratch, these brands are free of the baggage that can hinder the pursuit of new opportunities.

A case in point is Kraft Heinz’s new Devour frozen meal brand, which is promoted to millennial males in the US via the sexually suggestive tagline, “Food you want to fork,” a phrase that could possibly be toxic for an existing brand.

Blank-slate brands tend to resonate with younger consumers, who are often wary of big companies and uncomfortable with brands that do not reflect their personal values. According to a 2015 Canadean survey, 59% of 25–34-year-old consumers globally say they like to buy foods or drinks that are reflective of their attitudes or opinions in life, compared with just 44% of over-55s.

Ugly is beautiful

Beauty may only be skin-deep, but lack of beauty has deep roots in causing a food-waste crisis. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN estimates that as much as 40% of fresh fruit or vegetables are excluded from the market because they do not meet cosmetic standards.

‘Ugly’ food may taste great, but lack shelf appeal. Marketers are waking up to the waste issue with a new generation of products made with visually imperfect produce. In France, Intermarche’s Ugly Vegetables line offers canned peas, carrots, green beans, and spinach at a 30% discount to ‘regular’ stock. Uglies crisps – made from potatoes rejected due to minor imperfections – are expected to hit US stores in 2017. Look for growing numbers of food and beverage makers battling waste by finding clever new ways to use ‘ugly’ fruit in 2017.

Blurred meal boundaries   

The growing tendency of consumers to snack at any time of day is eroding the concept of three square meals. In its place, new foods or drinks are targeting consumption during different times of the day. Consumers now have the chance to enjoy concepts like toast-flavoured crisps for breakfast (in Japan), hummus as a dessert (in the US), and fish and chips as a snack (in Spain). No meal appears to be off-limits for change. A pair of recent Canadean surveys found that the percentage of consumers saying they snack between breakfast and lunch rose from 26% in 2014 to 33% in 2016 – a huge change in just two years that reflects the growing opportunities offered by blurred meal boundaries.

What’s (really) old is new again

Innovation in food and non-food products is returning to its ancient roots as companies look to the past to provide a roadmap for the future. Fast-moving consumer goods firms are rediscovering a host of concepts, from fermented foods and essential oils, to ancient grains, charcoal-based cleaners, Ayurveda-inspired oil-pulling, and more. Look for the trend to continue in 2017 as, according to a 2016 Canadean survey, 51.9% of global consumers either completely or somewhat agree that products from the past are better than products that are available today.

New ways to go animal-free

Going animal-free used to mean reduced taste and performance, but recent breakthroughs may make this notion obsolete. Cellular agriculture has enabled the production of ‘milk’, with real protein, to be created without the environmental footprint that is associated with traditional dairies. Perfect Day, which is set for a 2017 launch in the US, uses cow DNA to help produce proteins via a fermentation process similar to that used to make craft beer.

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley-based start-up Impossible Foods promises the world’s first plant-based ‘meat’, claimed to be so close to the real thing that consumers will not notice any difference. Even personal care is getting in on the act, with the percentage of personal care launches promoted as being vegan-friendly more than doubling between 2014 and 2016, according to Canadean’s product launch analytics database.

Beauty queens

Younger consumers love to share on social media. Makers of packaged goods are tapping into this behaviour by creating products with more of a social-media-friendly ‘wow’ factor. The popularity of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat is forcing companies to think about how their products play on social media.

Conversely, social media itself is inspiring innovation. The concept of ‘overnight oats’ – made by combining oats with milk, yogurt, fruit, and more in a jar and refrigerating overnight – has become a social media sensation to the point where Quaker recently partnered with the Chef’d meal delivery service to offer overnight breakfast meal kits in the US.

Personal care brands are also tweaking products to increase social media reach with the goal of going viral. Kanebo’s new Evita beauty whip soap in Japan is dispensed in the shape of a rose, turning a mundane product into an online sensation.

Full disclosure 

No, it’s not your imagination. Grocery store shelves are looking more like confessionals as packaged goods brands ‘come clean’, revealing details about how products are made, where ingredients are sourced and what products do and do not contain.

Growing issues, like provenance, and product safety, are encouraging more forthcoming attitudes. Recent controversies like the ‘fake farm’ fiasco – in which UK supermarket retailers appeared to suggest that food had been sourced from local farms when it hadn’t – have fanned the flames, as have‘faked’ fish.

Environmental group Oceana used DNA analysis to prove that one in three fish evaluated in the US had been mislabelled. Disclosure matters, but so does the source of the disclosure. A Canadean 2016 survey found that twice as many consumers trusted certification logos from the government or another authority than claims made by brands on packs.

Healthy alcohol

It sounds oxymoronic, but alcoholic beverages are getting ‘healthy’ as issues like calorie reduction, energy-enhancement and clean label concerns are addressed by manufacturers. A new generation of drinks inspired by bottled water is on the horizon as alcoholic beverages tackle issues that have troubled carbonated soft drinks for decades, including calorie content and sweeteners.

These new seltzers and sparklers could create a new category of low-calorie, flavoured alcoholic beverages. Alcohol-free beer is also becoming a rising global force. AB InBev said that it expected a fifth of its total beer volume worldwide to come from no-alcohol or low-alcohol products by the end of 2025, up dramatically from around 6% today.

Cold is hot 

Cold-pressed juices were among the first packaged products to put ‘cold’ on the map as a positive attribute for foods or drinks. Since then, it has migrated to coffee (cold-brewed), baby food, and even skincare products like a fast-moving polar vortex. ‘Cold’ has even become shorthand for a product that is perceived to be less processed, purer, and cleaner, with higher levels of nutrients. It also aligns with the ‘clean’ label concept in a way that consumers can easily understand. Packaged goods innovators will warm up to cold in 2017.

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