10 predictions for the food industry in 2020

The 2010s saw a number of food trends which would define a decade. From the popularity of activated charcoal and kombucha signalling a renewed interest in health and wellness, to the rise of veganism, these new food trends allowed difficult conversations to enter the mainstream.

2020 shows no sign of change in this respect. The impact of our food consumption habits will continue to be scrutinised, as will potential solutions for the mounting challenges we face. Here, Stuart Kelly, Global Head of Commercial at Lloyd’s Register, provides his 10 predictions for the food industry this year.

  1.     More success for plant-based food …

This isn’t so much a prediction as a safe bet. Plant-based food has experienced consistent growth over the last five years, with little sign of change on the horizon. According to the Vegan Society, the number of vegans and vegetarians has quadrupled since 2014 to 600,000 and forecasts show they will make up a quarter of the UK’s population by 2025.

The UK market is currently worth £1.8 billion and has a growth rate of 8%. Many of the biggest names in fast food now include at least one option on their menus and major manufacturers have also established themselves in the category. While the plant-based boom has its roots in the 2010s, it will be the 2020s where the market reaches financial maturity.

  1.     … but not without more scrutiny

Plant-based food may be experiencing commercial success but doubts still linger for many consumers. Lloyd’s Register research, for example, has revealed a deep suspicion on the part of shoppers regarding ethical food products. One in five UK consumers declared themselves to be ‘not confident at all’ or ‘very suspicious’ of claims that vegan products do not contain any meat. Expect to see more certification schemes and outreach from manufacturers to abate these concerns.

  1.     Clean meat’s arrival

Lab-grown meat is still yet to be approved for sale in any country though its commercial reality is inevitable. Companies have already created prototypes, conducted public and private taste tests and are now beginning to scale up in preparation for production. However, as the Guardian reports, there are social, technical and ethical questions that need answering before it can even make a small dent in the $1.4 trillion global meat market. We may not see products hit the shelves in 2020 but the regulatory groundwork will continue to develop.  

  1.     Meaningful plastic reduction

Many companies have moved to reduce, recycle or even eliminate plastic in their supply chains, either working alone or as part of a collaboration. For example, Lloyd’s Register has now joined several major food and packaging businesses in The 3R Initiative, whose mission is to scale up recovery and recycling initiatives and increase accountability for plastic waste reduction efforts around the world. Yet as concern has translated to action, environmental groups have drawn attention to the tiny fraction of plastic that actually ends up recycled. A report in the National Geographic, for example, found that just 9% of all plastic ever produced has been reused, with the remaining 91% either buried or incinerated. Kicking the can down the road will be seen as a reputational threat in such conscious times. As a result, 2020 will see more independent auditing of waste models to ensure refuse is recycled properly.

  1.     Supply chain transparency

Antibiotics, animal welfare and allergen risks have all hit the headlines in recent months as the prospect of a trade deal with the United States edges closer. Consumers have subsequently expressed concern for lower food standards in a post-Brexit UK. The damage that these issues could cause will lead many to tighten up the second-party parts of their audit programmes. Lloyd’s Register research shows transparency is sorely needed in a time of low consumer confidence. Just 11% of consumers, for example, said they were ‘very confident’ that an organic product was actually grown or reared using the correct methods.

  1.     Red meat and dairy fight back

Meat and dairy sales have slumped just as plant-based food has surged. The two sectors will launch their own campaigns in 2020 to counter the growing belief that meat and dairy have no place in a healthy diet. In fact, this has already begun with beef, lamb and pork organisations launching initiatives in December to steal the march on vegan groups. ‘Februdairy’ was scheduled to promote UK cow products immediately after ‘Veganuary’. Scotland’s Association of Meat Wholesalers has claimed that “busting myths” around meat consumption will be a top priority if the industry is to have any future. Expect to see a battle of narratives.

  1.     Challenging ethical-sustainable foods

In 2020, consumers will begin to question whether certain ‘ethical-sustainable’ alternatives are actually better for the environment. Popular plant-based products will likely see a drop in sales as the extent of their impact becomes known. Almond milk manufacturers, for example, have been criticised for their water-intense production methods, particularly in places like California that are already stricken with drought. This argument will be bolstered by the meat and dairy fightback. 

  1.     Farmed fish under the spotlight 

Seafood has soared in popularity as a low-impact source of healthy protein and farming has long been seen as one way to protect ocean stocks while still meeting demand. But now aquaculture is facing mounting scrutiny as its benefits are called into question. Premium products, like farmed salmon, will fight for market share in 2020 as pressure is increased from both environmental groups and those choosing to consume less fish.

  1.     Climate footprint pressures

Climate change could also have a major role to play in 2020. With companies, like Oatly, including a ‘climate cost’ on all of its products, the industry is now being challenged to follow suit. We can expect to see a shift to a clearer and consistent accounting method, allowing consumers to make balanced choices around the impact the food they consume has on the environment.

  1. Health labelling

Health information included on packaging has received plenty of support and it’s likely that this will develop further in 2020. Certain products, for example, might include how much exercise is needed to burn off the calories or how often they should be consumed as part of a balanced diet. Transparency is clearly welcome in a time of low confidence but this strategy is yet to be fully tested with consumers.

By Stuart Kelly, global head of commercial at Lloyd’s Register

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