In the current climate growth can be a challenge. Sliding currency, delayed investment, consumer and business confidence, delaying decisions on investment spending all means the market place is difficult. How will food and drink producers and the industry that supports them cope?

Food and drink are thankfully a basic need. Even the more indulgent products are still valued. In the last financial crisis, it was surprising that indulgent products like chocolate remained buoyant.

New trends and opportunities

Plant-based products are rapidly becoming a important phrase for food and drink. Veganuary has encouraged even more people and not just vegans, to buy, try and change their diet. More consumers are choosing meals that do not include animal-protein. What are the implications for traditional food and drink production? What are the new opportunities and how might they be accessed? What new food and drink technologies should we be looking towards- Controlled Environment Agriculture? Algae? New varieties of peas, beans and other pulses?

Ingredient suppliers are already offering lots of new alternatives that allow food and drink manufactures to change their labels and offer versions of their products that can be ‘plant-based’ ‘free-from’ ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’.

Supermarkets have been following this trend too. They now have some 40% of their chilled-space offering non-animal protein products and products that traditionally would have had to live in a freezer due to low rate-of-sale are now being found in the more frequently shopped chill fixture.

New technology

Technology is making its way into food and drink production. Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) offers producers the opportunity to grow seasonal and high-value products such as soft-fruit, green-leaf salads etc. indoors, intensively, using far less water and energy and sometime much closer to the final market. Combined with the science of AI, robotics and plant-breeding this is an innovation driven growth area.

Growth comes from adding value. If we look across to the Netherlands we can see how they have now introduced standards that mean free-range poultry with its perceived high-level of animal welfare has increased category value as the consumer is happy to pay a premium for a value-added food. Animal welfare and the environmental impact of growing our food is becoming an increasing concern to a new generation of consumers.

Does tax drive change? Despite industry resistance and conflicting interpretations of its effect, sugar tax has helped drive down the overall amount of sugar in the soft-drinks category. Producers have embraced reformulation to comply or avoid a sugar tax. Will we see similar for other food and drink offers such as the environmental impact of animal-protein or food miles or water consumption?

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