With new restrictions being announced, the impact and aftermath of the pandemic will be felt for a long time to come. Like the year prior, a good bite of 2021 has experienced the challenges of various restrictions, driving the consumer habits that began emerging in 2020, said Paul Baker, founder of St Pierre Groupe.
“I recall compiling my trends forecast last year and giving a wry smile at how any forecasts for 2020 had probably long-been proven wrong and that the idea of trying to predict 2021 seemed laughable,” said Baker.
“The habits that we saw emerge in ‘20/’21 will be around for a good while yet. Ever the optimist though, these new habits create opportunity and that is particularly true for the food and drink industry.”
Baker said premiumisation is not going anywhere in a hurry as consumers still look for comfort, nostalgia and to treat themselves at home.
“The move towards premiumisation hasn’t slowed and premium brands like our own give consumers an opportunity to ‘trade up’ and elevate their everyday meals.”
He noted, though, that there will be more factors at play next year.
“Many consumers have saved money with various lockdowns and will enjoy spending additional disposable income on great food. For those who have been harder hit by restrictions, job losses and the removal of furlough, having less to spend can make shoppers more discerning.
“The reality is that people will continue looking for ways to improve the everyday meals at home, because they miss the luxuries of dining out or travelling. While things are opening up again, there are still barriers to a ‘return to normal’ – especially following the new restrictions.
“There’s a real mix of indulgence and impulse buys that will continue to benefit our industry”.
Comfortable at home
Another new norm is the socialising at home trend.
“There are myriad reasons why the at-home socialisation trend will remain key. Beyond consumers having different comfort levels when it comes to ‘returning to normal’ there are new financial factors at play,” said Baker, noting that the UK housing market is set to record its strongest year since 2007, which means millions of consumers have new homes in which to entertain guests.
“Staying home is the new going out. The past two years have taught consumers how to make the most of at-home events and next year will be about ‘levelling up’ – taking hosting to new levels.
“The brands that win out of this will be those who inspire new, different ways to use their products; the brands that consumers are proud to have in their homes when their guests arrive or are happy to gift when they are guests themselves”.
Return to homegrown flavours
Baker believes that while consumer palettes are more exploratory than ever before, the UK industry will see more consumers embracing in all-things British.
“So long spent without travel has meant that consumers have become more aware of what we have on our doorsteps and started to embrace it. There are well-documented challenges in the supply chain and as we continue navigate Brexit, labour shortages and the pandemic, I suspect Britain will start to look inward for its flavour innovation.”
Classic British favourites like rhubarb, blackberries, redcurrants and greengages will come to the fore, while the humble flaxseed will play a more prominent role in bakery.
“I think we’ll see more flaxseed in use, particularly as it can be used as a substitute for eggs. I suspect a growing ‘vegan’ audience among British consumers will continue to embrace alternatives.
“Plant-based menus will continue to become more mainstream and I think consumers will look in greater detail at the authenticity or provenance of ingredients.”
Yes, while there is no doubt the health and wellbeing trend has cemented its presence – in fact, it is expected to experience a renewed vigour to tackle the further tendril challenges of the pandemic – Baker said consumers will not forgo their favourite treats.
“Food is more than just a meal on your plate and great bakery is a joy to be shared. So, for all those who might avoid indulgent foods, there will be twice as many who embrace the little pick-me-ups that we all need from time to time.”
He added, “There’s a strong argument for ‘everything in moderation’. Bakers know it and retailers know it and that means there’ll always be room on shelves for indulgent, quality-made baked goods.”
A new landscape
Traditionally set by the EU, next year will see changes to UK regulations.
“We have already seen some of this coming through with changes in flour fortification in bakery, but I would put money on more, similar, regulations coming into play from 2022 onwards. I think hot topics will range from folic acid to changes to imperial vs metric measures,” said Baker.
“I don’t think there’s likely to be any huge shift in regulatory procedure, but there’s still a lot of bureaucratic detail to be refined. The food and bakery industry needs time to adjust to new regulations and crystal clear information ahead of looking to meet new stipulations.”
The HFSS movement
The impact on products that ‘fall foul’ of healthy fat, sugar and salt levels will continue to play out.
“There’s been a huge shift in HFSS … and we’ll continue to see the impact of that on supermarket shelves,” said Baker, noting that this should be viewed as an opportunity rather than an undesirable move by the UK government.
“I don’t think it’s a negative thing – quite the opposite – but even with greater information available about the impact of HFSS foods, there will still be an audience keen to buy their cheeky treats and indulgent goods.”
He maintains the key is to ensure that information is accessible to consumers, such as provided by the Better Health Campaign. Another good move is that from April 2022, many cafes, restaurants and takeaways will start displaying the calorie counts on their menus – as it is done in the US.
“As an industry, we have a responsibility to present the facts to consumers and allow them to make informed decisions. If you know you have quality products that taste better than anything else available, then consumers will keep coming back,” said Baker.