IFT17: Analysts Discuss Macro Trends in Ingredients

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Long before they end up on consumers’ plates and in their bottles, innovations in the food and beverage space often show up first at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) show.

This year’s edition of the annual event brought over 20,000 attendees from across the globe to the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas to showcase the latest in ingredient technology and food science applications. During the show, BevNET spoke with analysts from leading market research firms Mintel and Innova Market Insights about their observations on the macro trends in this space that are helping shape the next wave of consumer food and beverage products.

Plant-based proteins has been one of the more prevalent trends in recent years, and its strength is showing no signs of waning. Global food and drink analyst Jenny Zegler of Mintel explained that consumers are demanding a broader range of plant-based products made with ingredients they are familiar with, such as kale or quinoa. But as ingredient manufacturers continue to explore new plant-based protein sources, they’ve also improved flavor.

“Plant-based proteins have caught up with taste,” said Zegler. She credited the popularity of almond milk and other non-dairy milks with helping ease consumers into the idea of other plant-based protein applications, such as the much-heralded Impossible Burger. “As we see more of these plant-based ingredients and meat substitutes kind of emulate what’s going on in the meat category, they have also started to become more mainstream. It’s plant-based, it’s good for you, but also doesn’t feel like making a massive trade-off to what you are doing.”

According to Innova Market Insights, 40 percent of U.S. consumers choose plant-based protein products primarily because of taste. On an ingredient level, where protein isolates are often paired with masking agents, that statistic suggests that other factors besides plant source may ultimately determine the success or failure of certain types of plant-based proteins.

“When you are thinking about these plant-based protein products, what the occasion is, what the brand is, if it’s organic, are all going to be part of the decision tree,” said Kara Nielsen, U.S. sales and engagement manager for Innova Market Insights. “A lot of people don’t care whether the product is plant or animal-based.”

The influence of the vegan diet is also shaping the plant-based product market. According to Mintel, between 2012 and 2016, there has been a 25 percent increase in vegetarian claims and a 257 percent rise in vegan claims in global food and drink launches. “We are seeing vegan claims on many more things, including iced coffee,” said Nielsen, noting a 136 percent increase in claims for iced coffees in the past year.

As the importance of mindfulness and sleep have shifted towards the mainstream in recent years, Zegler noted that the window of opportunity to expand the market for food and beverage products that provide stress relief is wide open. According to Mintel, in the U.S., 56 percent of women and 46 percent of men say that stress is health issue that concerns them. Though relaxation-themed such as Marley’s Mellow Mood and snack bar company Nightfood have helped established a market for the sub-category, Zegler said she expected food and beverage brands to further explore functional products formulated specifically for nighttime use occasions.

“These are products for consumers who are thinking about if I am sleeping, what else could my body be doing for me?,” she said, citing as an example Gatorade’s early stage development of a yogurt formulated to repair muscle overnight. “If you are someone used to multitasking all the time anyway, why can’t you take advantage of that? So I think there’s a lot of opportunity to be thinking about that and giving consumers things that help them calm down beyond alcohol and comfort food and things like that.”

Taken from an even broader perspective, most of the major developments within food science and ingredient technology as seen at IFT 17 were united by a single overriding theme: the quest for clean labeling. From 2015 to 2016, the market saw 14 percent growth in global food and beverage launches with a no additives/preservatives claim, according to data from Innova. In 2016, it accounted for 15 percent of the total launches for the year. The demand for transparency and simple, natural formulations in food and beverage is driving ingredient suppliers to push for innovations that can keep them ahead of the curve.

“It’s really started to change in the past couple of years as we’ve seen this ‘clean label’ become so much more important to consumers,” Zegler said. “The way some of these products are positioned and the formulations that they are showing as part of their promotions, is becoming more natural because that’s that expectation. It’s kind of changing that dynamic and this is where it has to start changing.”

Yet if consumers are driving the market closer to clean labels, will they one day decide to switch back?

“I don’t know how we go back from it,” said Zegler. “It’s definitely a shift.”