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With a rapidly changing market, and upheaval from socio-economic factors such as US President Trump’s trade wars and Brexit, uncertainty is rife across industries. Trust in manufacturers has also been hit hard in recent years, with rising recalls and incidents such as the horse meat scandal leaving consumers with a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to relying on brands previously considered trustworthy. Given this climate, it is unsurprising that consumers are increasingly looking towards products that provide some measure of comfort and brands that provide authentic experiences, assuring consumers the brand is worthy of their loyalty.

In the upcoming report from GlobalData, TrendSights Overview: Comfort & Uncertainty, associate analysts Charles Sissens and Matthew Perry explore how consumer desires for increased transparency, trust and craft quality are driving change in the industry. Drawing from research detailed in the report, we examine how these factors are shaping consumer purchasing behaviour and the ways in which brands are adapting to provide their customers with a relationship they feel they can rely on. 

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Socio-economic change and traditionalism may inhibit health and convenience-related growth

According to GlobalData’s 2017 Q1 global consumer survey, 54% of consumers pay a high/very high amount of attention to the ingredients used in food and drink products. In the Q4 survey of that year, it was found that 61% of consumers like to stick to grocery products and brands that they know and trust. With the rapid expansion of internet connectivity and social media, consumers are increasingly information aware and expect brands to make product information readily available. That availability can help brands to establish trust with consumers by proving a higher level of product transparency.

The key drivers identified by the report are growing health awareness, convenience and personal experience. Health and wellness have been key drivers across industries recently, as consumers become increasingly aware of the ways in which specific products can influence their health and the validity of certain health claims. The subsequent consumer desire for products that are both transparent in their contents and provenance and utilise more natural formulations ties well into preferences for experiences that cater to consumers’ lifestyle choices. Within this preference, we can also see the route to targeting convenience as consumers’ hectic lifestyles lead them to desire brands that can provide them with a trustworthy experience without sacrificing health goals.

Inhibiting the trend is socio-economic change, traditionalist norms and technological change. The 2017 Q1 survey found that 59% of consumers are very/extremely concerned with their current financial situation, a position which is likely to find many consumers making very particular purchasing choices. Tailored, premium options may appeal to their lifestyle preferences but often come at a price point that is likely to be intimidating. Traditionalist norms play less of a role; the 2016 Q3 survey found that only 31% of consumers somewhat/completely agree that there is pressure to follow traditional norms, but may still discourage consumers from trying new products. Lastly, the simplicity that technology has enabled in people’s lives means that consumers are more expectant of products that can conform to this convenience.

62% of consumers in GlobalData’s 2018 Q3 global consumer survey were found to always or often be influenced by how food products impact their health and wellbeing

Consumers seek simplicity and science-led innovation

With the 2017 Q1 survey finding that 71% of consumers find products formulated with the lowest number of ingredients somewhat/very appealing, perhaps the chief takeaway when addressing the comfort & uncertainty trend in regards to food is that consumers are seeking to understand what goes into their food. Using simple formulations can help products appear less manufactured and more authentic, helping them also appeal to the 57% of consumers (2016 Q3 survey) who seek real products, saying that they seem more authentic.

Although the vast amount of information available to consumers can help them assess brands and make decisions, it can also result in an information overload that can lead them towards traditionalist norms. Making sure that product information is concise and clear can ensure that consumers are willing to try things, no matter how new or unorthodox.

Currently, the comfort & uncertainty mega-trend is showing the greatest relevancy to fresh foods (although it is also strong in dairy products and bakery & cereals). As consumer desire for authenticity in their staple diet grows, the requirement for fresh everyday items to be sourced locally or sustainably will increase. Going forward, however, the report expects savoury snacks to catch up as manufacturers seek authentic positioning within the category. As the trend towards premiumisation continues across the food industry, we can also expect categories such as prepared foods to pivot towards greater health consciousness and appeal to varying lifestyle choices. 

Furthermore, the report highlights the expectation for innovation to be science-led. As claims with specific positioning are becoming more common in mainstream products, it is important that manufacturers look to use scientific techniques to remove unwanted inputs and more closely align to specific consumer desires. It is important, however, to retain transparency about these techniques and emphasise clarity about the sourcing of ingredients in products and the processes used around formulation. Highlighted as a good example of innovation in the sector is Cellular Seasonings, a range of ‘meat salts’ made from 100% USDA Cellular cultured meat in protein bioreactors. Utilising science-led innovation while also allowing consumers to remove artificial flavouring, products such as this may be emblematic of what manufacturers should aim for in the future.

52% of consumers often feel like they need an energy boost to get them through the day

New technology drives foodservice with m-commerce and drone deliveries

As it relates to foodservice, the comfort & uncertainty trend is principally identified in the report as having a bearing due to the demand for convenience and health driven innovation. According to GlobalData’s 2017 global foodservice survey, 48% of consumers ordered their food online when ordering takeaways from Quick Service Restaurants (QSR). In order to best service this consumer contingent, which is likely to continue to grow, outlets should seriously consider investing in online delivery services and ensuring streamlined production for time-scarce consumers. Furthermore, while the report spotlights that only 13% of consumers claim their choices at full service restaurants are motivated by healthier options, the trend towards health and alternative diets is a growth area and foodservice operators should be sure to consider expanding their healthier options. 

The report identifies comfort & uncertainty as being strongly relevant across most foodservice categories, though particularly so in the pubs, clubs and bars, and full service restaurants categories. Outlets have largely responded well to the call for accommodating lifestyle preferences, such as alternative diets, and should continue to innovate in this area. In the future, it is predicted that the trend will gain significant ground in the areas it is presently less relevant within (mobile operators and QSR & fast food) as m-commerce gains ever more ground. Simplicity, authenticity and heritage will continue to gain importance, but it will be important that outlets can deliver these elements via smart tech and mobile integration.

Technology is already starting to be put to use to innovate and answer consumer calls for transparency, with augmented reality dining experiences allowing consumers to explore their food in greater depth. Services such as Uber Eats have played a significant role in the consumer call for convenience in recent years. Looking to the future, the report highlights the possibility of drone delivery services. The first drone food delivery service has been launched in Reykjavik, and if proven successful in the long term (allowing for regulatory hurdles), is likely to inspire a host of competitors and copycats. 

The GlobalData 2018 Q3 global consumer survey found that the ‘high protein’ was the most prioritised claim

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