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Technology, sustainability, and shifting consumer preferences are transforming the food industry landscape

Sylvain CharleboisOne report that many Canadians should read annually to gain insight into upcoming food trends is the Trend Report from Canadian-based Nourish Food Marketing. The 2024 edition, just released this week, offers a comprehensive and insightful analysis of emerging trends in the food and beverage industry.

It underscores the significant roles of technology, evolving consumer preferences, and the increasing importance of sustainability and health-conscious choices. For those involved in food marketing, this report always provides an intriguing and thought-provoking read.

As we enter 2024, according to the report, the food and beverage industry stands at a crossroads, shaped by technological advancements, evolving consumer expectations, and pressing global challenges. This 34-page document offers a window into this transformative landscape, highlighting key trends reshaping how we produce, market, and consume food.

food trends

Photo by Tamas Pap

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Most notably, it offers consumers a glimpse of how the industry aims to engage with us in the near future. While, as consumers, we may not want to believe that our behaviour is heavily influenced by grocery store or restaurant marketing, the reality is that it is.

One of the most striking developments emphasized by the report is the advent of AI in our kitchens and food industry supply chains. Although we may not always realize it, AI is already a part of our daily lives. However, it is about to revolutionize the food industry and how food is marketed to us.

With free tools like ChatGPT, AI has become a practical tool that augments human skills in product development, consumer insights, and even taste testing. The report suggests that AI, in its various roles, will drive product innovation, enhance personalization in nutrition, and optimize supply chains, ultimately making our food systems more efficient and responsive to consumer needs. While this may be scary for some, it is invigorating for others.

Amidst the digital revolution, the enduring challenge of climate change looms large. This year saw record-breaking temperatures and widespread environmental disasters, underscoring the urgent need for sustainable practices. However, the report notes a paradox: while sustainability is crucial, immediate economic pressures like inflation often overshadow it in consumers’ minds.

This presents a unique challenge for the industry – how to effectively communicate and implement sustainable practices that align with consumers’ immediate needs and values. However, a recent survey by GlobeScan suggests that consumers, especially younger generations, increasingly view environmental stewardship as an integral part of their food choices, even in the face of rising food prices. This indicates a gradual shift in this trend.

And what would a marketing report be without mentioning the “Ozempic” craze? The report also highlights significant shifts in consumption patterns. The rise of the ‘Ozempic effect’ and an aging population suggest a potential decline in calorie consumption. Concurrently, consumers are increasingly focused on health-conscious and brain-boosting foods, driven by a cross-generational demand for dietary choices that support cognitive and overall well-being.

Meanwhile, the world of vegetarian protein-based foods is experiencing a resurgence. The initial fascination with highly processed meat alternatives is giving way to a renewed appreciation for the inherent qualities of plant-based foods. This “back to basics” approach resonates with the growing consumer demand for simplicity, authenticity, and nutrition. In other words, the market has moved on from the “Beyond Meat” craze as it seeks choice, quality, and taste. The initial goal of replacing meat altogether seemed somewhat impractical, given that over 91 percent of Canadians continue to consume meat regularly.

A key demographic in this evolving landscape is Generation Alpha, those born after 2012. These children are growing up in a digitally saturated and environmentally precarious world. According to the report, they are expected to have adventurous palates influenced by diverse family structures and a globalized social environment. Observing this crop of consumers will undoubtedly be fascinating.

As we navigate through 2024 and beyond, the food industry is poised for dynamic changes. The interplay of technology, consumer health consciousness, sustainability concerns, and the rise of new consumer demographics will drive innovation and transformation in the sector.

While the future of our cost of living remains uncertain, we can hope that 2024 will be a bit more interesting and less challenging than 2023 when it comes to the grocery store.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

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