As we head into the new year, it is worth examining the current state of the food industry and the changes that are likely to take place in 2019. Much of this change is not exactly new, but instead the result of burgeoning trends that have been slowly working their way into mainstream consumer behaviours. The industry’s transformation this year may be, rather than some shocking new innovation, the culmination of work that has been ongoing for several years. The trends the industry should be paying attention to are starting to become more accepted by consumers in everyday life and now is the time to capitalise on those trends. Here, we look at the mega-trends likely to drive the food industry in 2019.

Get well soon: CBD, gut-healthy products and the work towards wellness

The wellness trend has been building for several years now, growing across multiple sectors and helped in no small part by the millennial market. With a greater awareness of, and demand for, products that can provide health-boosting functionality, consumers are looking to brands that can provide more than just basic nutrition. One of the stars of this movement in recent months has been cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. With an international push for cannabis legalisation, related products have benefited in the interim and CBD has found its way into a multitude of offerings thanks to its health claims.

With hemp, which contains CBD, likely to soon see a significant boom in the US following updated legislation in the 2018 Farm Bill, and legalisation efforts for cannabis such as those in Canada, those health claims are going to be put to the test as the ingredient gains increasing interest. Already the beneficent of rapid growth, the CBD market is only likely to continue to boom this year (provided there is no drastic about-face on health claims or regulation).

It is far from the only market we have previously covered that is likely to see notable continued success this year, however. Probiotics, prebiotics and various other gut-healthy ingredients and products are likely to cement their place in the market this year. Probiotic products are nothing new, but have seen some criticism of the extent of their health claims and may be usurped by their prebiotic cousins as brands look to innovate in this area. More broadly though, fermented products are on the up. With kombucha having taken the drinks world by storm, the time is ripe for food manufacturers to push gut-healthy products such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir to the fore.

According to the Kroger Co.: “Medical studies show that a healthy gut is the foundation of overall wellness, and more than ever before, consumers are seeking foods that support self-care and healthy immune systems. Our consumers will find a growing number of products rich in probiotics – good bacteria – and flavour.”

Rise of the machines: robotics and artificial intelligence proliferate

Technology is forever one of the most transformative aspects of any industry, and food in 2019 is no different. Automation continues to dominate headlines across industries as markets reckon with the power of technology to replace human workers in increasingly complex and individual tasks. Robots have had a place in manufacturing for decades, but they are becoming ever more capable of performing tasks typically consigned to human workers, from making 120 pizzas an hour to replacing your local barista. In preparing for Industry 4.0, something the food and beverage industry is falling behind in, manufacturers need to reckon with increasingly advanced robotics and the opportunities they offer to increase operational efficiency.

There are a variety of advances improving the work of the food industry, such as blockchain’s offerings to food-tracking, and digitalisation is likely to continue to proliferate throughout the industry’s various sectors. However, perhaps one of the biggest opportunities on offer is the ability to personalise the consumer experience. Whether it be through augmented reality, expanding the narrative of any product being considered, or artificial intelligence, helping consumers make better and more tailored choices by building a profile of their purchasing, the digital revolution offers brands the chance to revolutionise their relationship with consumers.

Dr Thorsten Koenig, director of innovation at the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, told FoodNavigator: “There will be more tailor-made nutrition. There will be products for sports people, but the [food sector] is working towards more individual nutrition. And there is a step in between that: you look for subgroups – women, pregnant women, men working at a desk compared with men working in a factory and so on.”

Reducing meat consumption and impact: ‘clean’ meat and plant-based food

According to GlobalData, the UK’s vegan population grew from 0.8% in 2014 to 3% in the first quarter of 2017. While still far from a significant percentage of the population, it is indicative of the rising popularity of alternative diets and the threat they pose to the meat industry. Going forward, we can expect to see increasing numbers of vegans, vegetarians and ‘flexitarians’, all of which will be looking for offerings to fill the meat-shaped hole in their diet. A variety of options have been emerging to fill that gap, from plant-based foods to ‘clean’ meat.

‘Clean’ or ‘motherless’ meat is at the edge of innovation in this area, the idea being to remove environmental and animal rights concerns by producing meat in labs. Lab-grown meat would drastically reduce the amount of land required for production and eliminate waste, as well as offering a more ethical option for those still wanting to keep meat in their diet. Economic viability is still a ways off but, given time and further technological development, lab-grown meat could offer a solution to maintain meat’s dietary dominance while drastically reducing all the worst parts of meat production. Expect further development throughout the year.

According to Mintel’s 2017 Protein Report, 31% of US consumers were meat-free once a week in 2017. With that number and frequency likely to rise, plant-based foods have an excellent opportunity to fill the gap. From ambitious meat replacements such as the Impossible Burger to the proliferation of plant-based milk alternatives, plant-based products are on the rise and perfectly positioned to take advantage of consumers’ changing diets. As consumers continue to shift away from meat, plant-based food is likely to proliferate throughout the year. For more on the sector’s success, read on.