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Trends for grains & legumes in 2014 – update

With a constantly evolving range of foods on our supermarket shelves and a huge number of product launches every week, we take a look behind the global trends that are influencing what we will see in our supermarkets in 2014 and beyond. Sarah Hyland, Research Director at Colmar Brunton, provides an update on the key trends, together with some consumer insights and the potential implications for grain and legume foods.

‘Free From’ movement continues to grow
Although it has often been dismissed as a “fad”, the consistent growth in sales of gluten-free products over the last decade has proven that there is enduring consumer interest in the ‘free from’ movement. The segment is moving mainstream, as product development widens into new categories, and supermarkets are responding with launches of own label. The same trend can be seen in the milk category, with increased launches of soy and almond milks, new variants emerging such as rice, quinoa, and coconut milks, and the expansion into new sub-categories with the launch of added fibre milks. Growing consumer interest and self-diagnosis of other allergies and intolerances are driving expansion beyond gluten and lactose, to GM, additive, preservative free.

Growth in this industry is being driven by to two factors: taste and health. Improved palatability has taken these foods beyond the niche of people who for medical reasons have no choice but to eat gluten-free products and made them accessible to consumers who choose to eat gluten-free. The interest in health has spread from those diagnosed with specific allergies and intolerances, via the self-diagnosed, to those with a more general interest in health and wellbeing.

It is clear that the free-from sector is set for further growth, and this has several implications for food manufacturers. Because taste remains the key to success even for foods that focus on better-for-you nutrition, gluten free foods must be palatable in order to succeed. Although consumer acceptance of higher pricing for gluten free foods can prove lucrative for some manufacturers, the costs of formulating gluten-free products, preventing cross-contamination and guaranteeing traceability can be substantial. Manufacturers of grain based foods are increasingly exploring alternative (gluten-free) grains, such as rice, tapioca and potato flours to satisfy this growing demand.

Protein – focus shifting to weight management
Whilst protein for weight management isn’t a new trend, it has certainly undergone an evolution. High protein foods have transitioned from body-builder niche through to weight management and health-conscious consumers. There is steadily increasing consumer understanding that protein is a “good thing” to have in a healthy diet and an increased emphasis given to protein by weight management regimes. This is reflected in the use of protein as something you expect to find in a variety of regular foods, not only as part of a main meal.

Protein rich ingredients are being added to foods in other categories, e.g. cereal bars, powdered shakes, soups, pastas, ready-to-drink beverages, cereals and sweet and savoury snacks and new product formulations, e.g. high protein breads, higher protein cereals, are substituting or combining grains to increase the protein content. Plant proteins such as pea, potato, chickpea, banana, sprouted brown rice and also microalgae are emerging as a way to bolster protein to meet this demand, particularly among vegetarian consumers. In keeping with the ‘free from’ movement, a ‘natural’ identify is being legitimised by pairing with familiar ingredients, such as oats and honey.
Messages around the benefits of protein for weight management, satiety and sustained energy are resonating well with consumers and this is reflected in brands calling out protein content on pack. Improvements in the taste and texture of high protein products continue, as this trend widens to a more mainstream audience whose consumption is driven by more than simply sporting performance.

‘Weight Wellness’ – it’s all about how you feel
A more holistic approach to nutrition is being seen with the emergence of a trend towards ‘weight wellness’. This approach is centred around eating right for optimal health and the emotional outcome of eating foods to ‘feel good’ and ‘energised’. An optimal weight is viewed as being one at which our bodies feel healthy and happy and is not defined or dictated by aesthetic, shape, or weight. Coupled with this focus on the emotional outcomes of health and nutrition, is the demand for highly individualised choices. This is reflected in the growth of apps and online programmes, whilst structured weightloss programmes and meetings are in decline. Consumers are guided by what friends and family are doing and a general sense of doing what they believe actually works for them. Choices are highly influenced by information online, which typically discourage eating processed foods, grains, dairy and refined sugar, and position them as allergens. Companies appealing to the wellness segment are typically blending a natural and weight management position.

‘Slow Energy’ – a complex message for consumers
Whilst there has been a sharp increase in the number of products launches and claims around ‘slow energy’, this remains relatively niche. Previously ‘energy’ was monopolised by the energy drinks sector, which was built around providing additional energy often in the form of caffeine. The emerging ‘slow energy’ is differentiated in that it focuses on sustaining energy, i.e. not adding extra, just making it last longer.

Messages of ‘slow release energy’ resonate strongly with consumers, but claims are complex and difficult to communicate effectively. Consumers are highly fragmented in how they interpret the health benefits, varying from ‘healthy’, to blood sugar control, and sustained energy. Most consumers are thinking about their weight and their energy levels, but they don’t yet see themselves as in a disease state and they make their choices from “regular foods”

Selecting ingredients to deliver the slow energy effect typically leads product developers to slowly digestible carbohydrates, of which oats and barley are well known, but there may also be opportunities for lesser grains such as sorghum and millet.

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