Remember when consumers might walk down the grocery store aisle picking up their kids’ favorite sugary cereal brands, a liter of sugary soda and an easy packaged meal for the family dinner. With Millennials becoming the most influential group of shoppers, they are increasingly likely to be found around local farmer’s markets, ordering online for food delivery, opting for alternative, trendy protein snacks over traditional meals and paying a premium for healthy, eco-friendly options. (See also: Food Cos. Get Weird to Meet Millennial Tastes.)
As major food industry players restructure, funnel money into venture capital arms and startups, buy up competitors and revaluate production, they are finding three major trends significantly impacting the shake-up. (See also: Bernstein Downgrades Food Industry Leaders.)
Gluten-Free Goes Mainstream
A recent report by Euromonitor estimates that the gluten-free retail market has doubled from $1.7 billion in 2011 to $3.5 billion in 2016 and is forecast to grow to $4.7 billion by 2020. Gluten-free, multigrain products and other diet trends have dragged per capita wheat consumption down to 133 pounds in 2015 from 147 pounds in 1997.
America’s largest privately owned company, Cargill, says “revenues for organic, gluten-free and non-GMO foods are up sharply.” Players such as Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) are doubling down on the trend. Last year, Chicago-based ADM acquired high-protein gluten-free pasta maker Caterina Foods, which produces flours from lentils, peas, rice, quinoa and other grains and legumes.
Anti-Sugar Sentiment on the Rise
A global campaign against sugar explains why bottled water sales surpassed those of soda in America last year. A recent report indicates that soda sales dropped 1.2% in 2016, marking the 12th consecutive year of declines as leaders such as PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) and Coca-Cola Co. (KO) build out premium water and sparkling beverage businesses.
A wave of major chocolate makers, cereal makers and traditional packaged food companies have reduced sugar in their products as they simultaneously shift their core portfolio in the way of “guilt-free” or healthier snack alternatives. Consumer sentiment has been bolstered by widespread government health campaigns against unhealthy foods, with India, the world’s largest democracy, proposing a “fat tax,” and local government around the U.S. such as Philadelphia following through on citywide soda taxes.
Revived Demand for Healthy Fats and Butters
U.K.-based consumer goods giant Unilever (UL), once king of the margarine aisle, wants to shed its long-time butter-alternative businesses as consumers become increasingly aware of the scientific community’s siding with natural fats. Health authorities now say trans-fats, those found in processed foods like margarine, are the primary health risk, shunting aside the old popular belief that natural animal fats led to heart disease. As demand for butter skyrockets, prices have reached record highs in Europe, reports the Financial Times. Once-shunned fatty oils are also back in business, prompting companies to ramp up production. (See also: Goodbye, Margarine: Unilever Done With Spreads.)
While health food trends such as gluten-free, sugar-free and natural fats tend only to hold in developed countries, analyst Maria Mascaraque suggests that emerging markets tend to follow the lead of European and American consumer powerhouses.