According to the Waitrose report, which is based on OnePoll consumer research of 2,000 people across Britain, 2018 saw the ascent of so-called ‘mindful consumerism’.
Waitrose managing director Rob Collins noted: “Being mindful of how we live and eat has become a priority in today’s world. As we become increasingly mindful of our own health, the wellbeing of our family and that of the planet, we’re reshaping how we shop, cook and eat. Welcome to the era of the mindful consumer.”
Plastics and plant-based diets
This awareness of the influence food has over health, the environment and society is playing out in a number of ways. Collins points to the “incredible reaction” consumer had to the BBC’s Blue Planet II, which examined the impact plastic pollution is having on global oceans.
“The mindful movement marks a subtle shift in how we live, based on the acknowledgement that our natural resources are precious,” Collins observed.
According to Waitrose, since the final episode of Blue Planet aired at the end of 2017, the retailer’s customer service desk has seen an 800% increase in questions about plastics. Attitudes towards single-use bags, plastic straws and packaging “will never be the same again”, the retailer predicted.
“We’ve seen a real turning point in attitudes towards plastics and packaging waste. There’s been a significant and genuine change in behaviour,” Waitrose CSR chief Tor Harris observed.
Health and environmentalism have also proven a boon for the number of people who are looking to cut down their meat consumption in the UK.
One in eight UK consumers now identify as vegetarian or vegan, while 22% say they are ‘flexitarian’, according to the OnePoll data.
Searches for vegan and veggie barbecue recipes on waitrose.com rose by 350% over the summer, with beetroot burgers and celeriac steaks topping the bill.
Waitrose also discovered attitudes to vegetarianism and veganism are evolving and the lines between those who do and don’t eat meat are blurring. Half of consumers who say they’re vegetarian or vegan also eat meat ‘at weekends’, ‘occasionally’ or ‘on special occasions’.
“Vegetarianism has grown and evolved – people dip in and out of it,” noted Jonathan Moore, Waitrose & Partners executive chef.
Understanding this shift is important for product development because people may be increasingly looking for mid-week veggie inspiration while still tucking into a Sunday roast.
Quality over quantity: the decline of on-the-go?
Consumers are reporting that they are more interested in eating healthy, high-quality foods than ‘feeling full’ after a meal. In total, 29% of participants said they eat lighter meals in the evening to avoid a ‘food hangover’ while 47% of people said they avoid drinking alcohol during the week.
Views of healthy recipes on waitrose.com have risen by 158%, and visits to the retailers online BMI calculator have increased by 104% over the past year, Waitrose revealed. Meanwhile, searches for advice and products including the word ‘healthy’ have risen by 87%.
“Customers tell us the most useful things we can do to help them with good choices are making healthy food convenient and easy, and providing recipe ideas,” suggested ane Orchard, partner & manager of store innovation.
Waitrose suggested this ‘quality over quantity’ approach is a response to busy lifestyles and, interestingly, the company liked this to data suggesting consumers are avoiding eating on-the-go. The survey found that 60% of respondents resist the urge to eat on the run. With people trying to “sit down to enjoy their meals mindfully” eating occasions like breakfast are becoming more of an occasion again, Waitrose suggested.
Ingredients that ‘led the way’ in 2018
Waitrose identified ten ingredients that it said “led the way” in 2018:
- Jackfruit: Grown in South East Asia, Brazil and Africa, jackfruit has established itself as a meat-substiture, making its way into burgers, tacos and pulled pork recipes.
- Miso: Sales of miso increased 28% over the past year. Waitrose attributed this growth to the increasing use of miso in non-Japanese dishes, such as miso glazed parsnips.
- Turnips: The inclusion of this traditional seasonal veg in Waitrose’s top ten food ingredients for 2018/19 might seem like a turn-up for the books, but according to the retailer the humble turnip is appearing in everything from gratin to vegetarian meatballs and mash.
- Crispy chicken skin: A snack going for indulgence over health, crispy chicken skin can be used to dip or served as canapé. Waitrose suggested. People have also been whipping it into butter and crumbling it over seafood.
- Modern Mexican: Fresh and zingy Mexican flavours have “rocketed” in popularity, Waitrose said, boldly predicting: “The taco is the new sandwich”.
- Sourdough bread: Boosted by the ever-growing popularity of brunch, sales of sourdough loaves have soared by a third, Waitrose revealed.
- Aquafaba: Chickpea water has gained popularity as an egg replacement in vegan meringues and mousse thanks to its viscous quality. Waitrose noted that it is now mainstream enough to have entered the Scrabble dictionary
- Apple cider vinegar: The trend towards fermented foods and the purported health benefits of apple cider vinegar have resulted in a 60% increase in sales this year, Waitrose said.
- Herby desserts: Think lemon thyme mouse or tonka bean and thyme panna cotta.
- Kefir: Again boosted by demand for fermented foods and healthy associations, this naturally fermented drink, similar to yogurt, has seen UK sales almost triple this year, according to Waitrose.
Future trends: West African foods and bitter flavours
Looking to the coming year, Waitrose predicted adventurous British palates and an affinity for spicy flavours will lead growing numbers of people to try West African foods.
"From Ghana to Senegal and Nigeria to Mali, food from West Africa is set to become the next big thing," Waitrose predicted.
Traditional dishes such as chicken yassa and jollof rice are typically cooked in one pot, feeding into the trend to share meals, the company's trend-spotters added.
Waitrose also suggests that bitter flavours are likely to "come out of the cold" and join the more common tastes in the UK, sweet, sour and salty. This trend can already be seen in drinks like megroni and Aperol spritz, while high cocoa chocolate and kale are both now firmly entrenched in the mainstream.
From bitter to sweet, Waitrose flagged Instagram-friendly ice creams as the next hot dessert trend. The supermarket group noted: "Taking their influences from street food in Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan, trendy new parlours are popping up in the UK and pushing ice cream to the next level of sensory experience."
Changing tastes and demand for alcohol-free drinks are challenging mixologists to become even more inventive with their use of flavour. Waitrose predicted we will see more savoury notes, aquafaba, the use of kitchen trimmings to reduce waste and kombucha all making headway in 2019.
Finally in its look to the future, Waitrose highlighted the potential of personalised nutrition and artificial intelligence to change what we eat and how we shop.
"It sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, but the mainstream use of artificial intelligence to improve our health and diet is just around the corner," the UK grocer predicted.
"Whether through our smartphones, laptops or Alexa-style devices, we’ll be able to view personalised dietary tips and bespoke shopping lists."