From delivering products that evoke memories and childhood nostalgia, to foods that can elevate moods, relieve stress and make people more productive, Hobkinson’s report predicts the food industry trends for the years ahead.
During times of rising uncertainty, people crave nostalgia, harking back to times where everything seemed more definite. Today’s consumers face often overwhelming torrents of uncertainty amid social media, fake news, climate change and, of course, pandemics. Shoppers are therefore seeking much-needed anchoring, solace and comfort from foods that arouse positive memories.
“Consumers find it extremely comforting to indulge in something that was prominent during their childhoods. It gives people a small, but very valuable, sense of warm fuzziness,” said Hobkinson in her report. “Nostalgia and food can also be a unifier. When we feel alone, connecting with others that share similar food memories can be a wonderful cultural touchstone.”
Citing Kimberley Wilson, a chartered psychologist writing in the British Journal of Nutrition, the report added: “The foods we eat during childhood become associated with not just being physically nourished, but emotionally cared for. It makes sense that when facing the greatest level of collective anxiety in a generation, we find ourselves drawn to foods that elicit those memories of safety and simpler times.”
Consumer desire for food nostalgia has heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic. During lockdown, childhood dinners became a big trend and people turned to their once beloved dinners for comfort. As sales of frozen foods and baked beans soared, according to market analysts IRI, it became clear that nostalgia can be a powerful tool during a crisis. According to 2020 research from Mintel, nostalgia has 63% of chocolate buyers reaching for the same bar today that they did as a kid.
There is an opportunity, however, for food brands and chocolatiers to combine nostalgia with premiumisation, noted Hobkinson’s report. “More than three quarters (76%) of chocolate buyers say that it’s worth paying a little more money for premium chocolate, and this is where confectionary companies can lead. By creating chocolate bars that evokes memories, or gives consumers a warm, cosy feeling, a brand could dominate the market,” she said.
In the next 20 years, Hobkinson predicts a rise in nostalgic flavours, such as dried pineapple, salted peanuts, malt, burned milk, dulce de leche and churned butter.
Mood food and eating for happiness
Hobkinson cites the ‘clear links’ between chocolate and happiness. The serotonin levels found in dark chocolate can have a positive effect on the brain and its functionality. Chocolate also contains small amounts of the lipid anandamide, a neurotransmitter that targets the same brain structures as THC and which produces a similar high.
This fact, she reckons, means chocolate is particularly well placed to capitalise on rising consumer interest in mental health and wellbeing, a trend itself fuelled by the growing scientific knowledge about the relationship between food and mood.
“The chocolate industry should focus on happiness in the next two decades, in order to remain relevant,” she said. “Chocolate is already perfectly placed for this. As a treat that offers scientifically proven nutritional and mental benefits, it has been long established as something that can deliver happiness to the masses.”
Consumers meanwhile are also personalising their approaches to healthy eating and, according to research by the Institute of Food Technologies, are looking for customisable foods, beverages, and dietary solutions that will help them more aggressively meet their own unique nutrition and personal health objectives.
Hobkinson therefore believes the industry no longer needs to simply focus on the energy and calorific function that food provides. “We can now begin to use food to actively alter our moods and emotions. Therefore, by creating specific products that are targeted to certain moods, consumers can eat according to how they are feeling, or how they want to feel.”
In the next 20 years, she forecasts we’ll see more eating for happiness, with menus and diets packed with serotonin-boasting foods. Plus, with evidence mounting that our microbiome plays a crucial role in regulating our emotions, we’ll see more research and approaches that explore the relationship between a healthy gut and happiness.
She also expects new innovation and technology to assist consumers be more conscious of their food consumption.
“New research and nutrient tracking will give us the ultimate understanding of how nutrition affects our metabolism, and what we can do to get the most out of the things we eat, in a very personalised way,” she explained. “Since our genetic makeup varies from individual to individual, it inadvertently affects how we react to the food we consume. With the increased availability of DNA sequencing, we can now have a better idea of what we should be eating and when.
“Key flavours will be high intensity guarana, Matcha, low-level THC, chamomile, lavender, and fermented foods that have a direct impact on our gut biome. Hyper connectivity with smart technology will also mean we can monitor our serotonin levels and moderate what we’re eating according to need.”
But despite the links between chocolate and happiness, the rise in awareness of obesity and the negativity surrounding sugar places chocolate at a crossroad.
Hobkinson suggests the ‘never-ending quest for permissive indulgence’ offers exciting opportunities to innovate chocolate products with fruits and vegetables.
“Popular flavours such as citrus, coconut, banana and berries are here to stay, and we’re seeing vegetable combinations take off across several categories, including confectionery, bakery and ice cream,” she observed. “Consumers will crave high protein food, kaffir lime, curry powder, turmeric, peppercorns, kale, beetroot, honey, and 5HTP – all foods that promote health and wellbeing.”
The importance of ethics and origin
Today’s customers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from. ‘The Blue Planet Effect’ has given rise to conscious consumers, who are looking to not only improve their own health, but the health of the planet, too.
“Consumers will actively seek out cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans such as Madagascan, richer flavours, spices, and other single origin goods like vanilla pods, amaranth, purple corn and maca,” observed Hobkinson.
They will also continue to engage with products through the use of technology. “There’s an increasing trend for using tracking or QR codes on packaging, in order to educate consumers on provenance,” noted Hobkinson. “Developments in technology are offering clear opportunities to communicate transparent information on sourcing and ingredients, as consumers demand more.”
She also predicts the rise of ‘Collectively Responsible Consumerism’. “People, businesses and governments will begin to work together to protect our health, wellbeing and planet,” she explained. “Consumers are increasingly using their purchasing decisions as political activism, therefore the origin, stories and people who were part of a product’s creation will need to be transparent.”
Manufacturers over next 20 years will explore ever more how food can be used to provide consumers with new and exciting experiences, claims the report, making products more memorable and ensuring that buyers come back again and again.
Research by Hobkinson in collaboration with Dr. Thompson Bell of Leeds University, for example, has discovered that sound can enhance the flavour of food.
It may sound far-fetched, but academics have already designed sound clips to be enjoyed alongside meals and snacks, in order to create an immersive and multi-sensory experience.
Extended reality, she believes, will allow food brands to create seamless multisensory experiences. Algorithms will be created to use sound or scent to customise flavours according to our tastes. What started with wearable fitness trackers will extend to devices that can trigger sensory stimulus to amplify flavour.
“Consumers will crave sensory experiences to go alongside their food, including selecting items that offer particular excitement for the palate, including ginger, sea salt, seaweed, popping candy, Szechuan pepper and chili,” she elaborated.