Let’s delve into 6 of these pivotal trends…

Buying behaviours and attitudes have changed dramatically in recent years, and the food & beverage sector has been forced to respond well to this transformation - or risk falling behind. After a visit to the Food & Drink Expo 2023 last week, we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to discuss how consumer behaviours and all-consuming trends have changed the face of the F&B sector for good.

Prior to this year, there were numerous predictions for how the pandemic would shape the next generation of retail. Some articles referred to a collapse of physical stores, even supermarkets with hundreds of years behind them. Others made specific assumptions regarding our - supposed - disdain for alcohol and our pursuit for a tee-total, protein-fuelled self. But while we’ve seen a shift in purchasing habits (some physical stores have fallen behind and there has been a noticeable rice in ‘mindful consumption’) there is also a consumer craving for the ‘norm’. Restaurants and bars are still a hive of social activity, supermarkets still serve as an opportunity to explore, and independent retailers continue to offer tailored experiences like no other.

But let’s take a look at some of the biggest trends affecting these F&B retailers today….

Buying Up & Buying Better

While there has always been an appetite for premium food & beverages, there has been an undeniable surge in prioritising ‘superior’ produce, particularly in the years post-pandemic. One significant cause of this is the health and wellness movement, with “52% of consumers claiming that purchasing a premium product makes them feel good”. However, premiumisation is not solely rested on health in the traditional sense, but a broader spectrum of self-care. Millennials and gen-z shoppers (currently the largest buying group of premium products) are happy to spend more on premium products which align with a ‘treat yourself’ state of mind. From authenticity of a products provenance through to the exclusivity of a personalised product, there is an undeniable readiness to engage with food & beverage brands which align with our individual goals. This premiumisation trends leads nicely into personalisation and gifting, both of which will continue to drive growth in 2023 and beyond. In fact, a recent study highlighted that consumers are willing to pay a higher price for personalised products, compared to the mass-produced equivalent. While there may be some ambiguity as to whether the personalised product is any better, the objective of purchasing tailor-made products and packaging is closely linked to a feeling of indulgence, self-expression and storytelling.

Storytelling & Provenance

We’ve mentioned this a couple of times above, but the concept of brand storytelling is highly relevant in the F&B sector. Effective storytelling is crafting a narrative that resonates with your audience and inspires a purchase based on trust. Nespresso’s experiential boutique in Amsterdam is an ode to the brand’s coffee circularity, inviting customers to be their own Nespresso barista and delve deeper into the success of Nespresso’s brand mottos. Elsewhere, Cravendale’s ‘Everybody’s Free’ campaign injected the right amount of humour to explain and promote their ethical milk production. As a retail design agency, the concept of brand storytelling sits with us from the very beginning of any project. Without the consumer narrative, brands within an overly saturated F&B sector run the risk of falling behind some of the best storytelling powerhouses.

Sustainability & Transparency

Sustainability, can we call it a trend? A trend implies that it has the chance to pass by fleetingly, potentially only affecting us only in the short term. But sustainable products and practices are not going anywhere. When making a purchase online or in-store, consumers are becoming concerned with that they are making this purchase with a clear conscious – and that sustainability is being guaranteed throughout the entirety of a production and supply chain. When Coca Cola introduced their ‘attached caps’, we might have been slightly confused thinking we’d selected a dud bottle. But in fact, the innovation ensures that no cap is left behind and will always be recycled. And the sustainability movement is not limited to the brands themselves, but the retailers and grocers who are innovating in-store with refill stations, reduced plastics and an option to recycle packaging.

A Wellness Directive

Over the years, food & beverage trends have come and gone, but one trend has maintained resilience: health & wellness. In 2023, a predilection for personal wellbeing will continue to be top-of-mind for consumers worldwide. Not always related to diet-based goals, consumers are interested in a breadth of wellness goals, such as mental health, gut support and brain stimulation. Leading this drive for wellness are no&low brands, plant-based produce and companies incorporating CBD into their offering. And while new brands might have surged the market with wellness innovations, heritage brands were quick to pick up on a consumer desire for healthier lifestyles. There’s a wealth of opportunity for brands with a wellness directive, particularly when targeting a millennial or gen-z consumers. These shoppers are seeking a mindful approach to their food & beverage choices, favouring those brands which positively engage their mind, body and spirit.

On-The-Go (RTD Drinks)

With F&B being such an overly saturated market, brands are continually looking for how they can innovate and disrupt the category. And one category which is seeing an enormous amount of product development is the Ready-to-Drink category. While we’re loathe to ‘blame’ the pandemic for all changes in the industry, it can be noted that drinking occasions were vastly changed during the time we couldn’t leave our homes. This lead to the introduction of canned cocktails and hard-seltzers which allowed us the freedom of great tasting drinks from the off-trade. But it is not just the alcohol sector benefitting, as RTD also includes a greater variety for those moderating or looking at healthier alternatives – consider Trip who offer CBD in a ready to drink can. With this new opportunity, we are not only seeing new players storming the market, but also established brands expanding their remit, including ABInBev and Diageo. Given how competitive the market already is, this huge opportunity also opens the question of how to truly stand out in F&B 2023.

Balancing Humour

Across social, e-commerce and physical retail channels, there has been a noticeable increase in campaigns with humour at the forefront. While this can be a dangerous game to play – and win – there have certainly been some wins in both the on and off-trade for humour-based campaigns. McDonalds have been relatively unrivalled in the humour game for some time (see their drunken billboards for reference) there have been some new players who are championing sarcasm and wit in their omnichannel campaigns. In the last year, both Oatly and Surreal have released innovative campaigns to make us laugh, and hopefully purchase. Surreal’s quirky billboards made bold statements such as “Dwayne Johnson’s favourite cereal” and “It’s special, K?” with very clear caveats. (They’re actually referring to Dwayne, a bus driver from London.) While digital campaigns can be slightly more forgiving with humour, we’re interested to see how brands such as Oatly and Surreal can elevate their physical presence by translating this humour into eye-catching campaigns.

To Conclude...

From sustainability and convenience through to premiumisation and an eagerness for wellbeing, there are countless trends affecting the future of the food & beverage market. But what is evident across all areas is that the sector has become greatly affected by emotion-based buying. The current consumer, particularly the millennial and gen-z shopper, are increasingly driven by what them makes them feel good. Whether that’s understanding a brand’s ethos, engaging with the retailers sustainability commitments or quite simply making a purchase which will benefit their physical and mental health, all trends point towards emotion being a key driver.

As retail designers, we see a huge opportunity for brands and retailers to explore the importance of emotion-based purchasing habits in the food & beverage market in 2023.

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