FINALLY SOMEONE REPORTS ON HOW THEY DID!
Everyone has an opinion when the calendar changes from year to year, but rarely are they reporting back as to how they did. Well, the food branding experts at Foodmix Marketing Communications believe in accountability, transparency and all those new era marketing buzz terms. So, let’s peel back the onion layers and see if we stunk or shone in 2019 and put our beverage marketing and food marketing expertise to the test!
2019 PREDICTION: CLEAR LABELS
Clean labels will continue to be a focus in food and drink branding, but that is just the beginning; consumers want to learn about the journey of ingredients, health benefits and brand story – all from the label.
How’d we do: Oh, those discriminating millennials and their priority on making “informed purchasing decisions.” According to a recent Whole Foods study, most millennials want to know where their food comes from and how it’s sourced. As millennials’ spending power grew in 2019, so too did the importance of labels that are not just clean, but informative. Earlier this year, in response to younger consumers’ desire for transparent, informative labels, KIND’s food marketing agency launched a pop-up store that allowed visitors to take an augmented-reality “X-ray” of popular snacks to see how much – and what kinds – of sugar were inside, in contrast to what the labels disclosed. Grade: A-
2019 PREDICTION: PLANT-BASED FOODS WITHOUT THE YUCK
Plant-based will continue to be all the rage; we expect to see a slew of new products, particularly in the snacking and breakfast categories. But players will struggle with delivering on the flavor/taste component of the brand offering. A lot of new items will sound better than they taste.
How’d we do: Up to 2019 the plant-based protein market had been dominated by two young companies: Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. That’s still largely true, but 2019 saw a slew of established food companies launching or announcing their own products. Kroger introduced plant-based products from burger patties to Bolognese sauce to sour cream. Tyson, Smithfield, Perdue and Hormel rolled out meat alternatives, filling supermarket shelves with plant-based burgers, meatballs and chicken nuggets. Kellogg announced plans to launch a line of breakfast meat substitutes called Incogmeato. And Nestlé said it will start selling plant-based versions of bacon and cheddar cheese to foodservice clients next year. I’d like a bacon cheeseburger, please; but hold the bacon, cheese and burger?
With a glut of new products swelling “meat” cases, it’s too soon to tell who the winners and losers will be – but there are sure to be both. Repeat purchase data and consumer feedback are still needed to determine if brands are delivering on taste and if consumers will stick with a favorite. The brand whose food marketing agency launches a plant-based version of the “Pepsi Taste Challenge,” or wins it, could get a lot of attention! Grade: B
2019 PREDICTION: “I DON’T TRUST FACEBOOK”
“Fake news” and privacy attacks have contributed to the public’s—and food and beverage brand marketers’— wariness of Facebook. Sure, grandma needs to see those pics, so we predict that Facebook will shift to serve older generations, while other more visual and flexible social media platforms that enable storytelling, will be more fully utilized for building relationships between food and foodies.
How’d we do: The latest research confirmed that Grandma and her friends are in fact the fastest-growing group of Facebook users. And we’re looking at you, baby boomers. Forty-three percent of US boomers were on Facebook in 2012; by 2019, 60% had accounts. While the numbers of millennials and Gen Xers on the platform kept relatively steady, surveys showed Gen Zers shunning Facebook in favor of more visual platforms.
And speaking of trust, Mark Zuckerberg may be becoming the second-least-trusted guy in America, next to that pitchman for Sprint who used to tout Verizon’s superiority. In July 2019, the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook $5 billion for violating consumers’ privacy. Zuckerberg adamantly refuses to prohibit untruthful political advertising, while rival Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has pulled all political ads. Grade: A+
2019 PREDICTION: “I CAN’T AFFORD TO BE HEALTHY”
The paradigm of the “better for you, the more it will cost you” will begin to shift. With all the investment money flooding the food business and food marketing communications, challenger brands, loved for their healthy attributes, will scale up and be more approachable for the masses.
How’d we do: We missed the boat here. Challenger brands continued to scale up in 2019, but cost efficiencies and a desire to expand their markets did not appear to lead to lower prices at the shelf. While some brand owners were quoted in the press talking about the need to make healthy eating more accessible to those buying food on a budget, foods that deliver on key attributes identified by challenger brands – nutrition, clean label and taste – for the most part remained priced at a premium in the market.
What we did see this year were private label brands stepping up their effort to offer products with healthy attributes at competitive price points. Trader Joe’s, Kroger’s Simple Truth and Whole Foods Market 365 are getting consumers’ credit for having a wide range of affordable, high-quality health and wellness products that are giving challenger brands a run for their money. Grade: D
PREDICTION: “IT’S A FOOD WORLD, AND I JUST HAPPEN TO LIVE IN IT”
The hidden middle aisle of your grocery store is no longer the domain of global foods. Foodies see globally inspired flavors and foods as a way to explore the world when life keeps them off the road.
How’d we do: First of all, it’s not just foodies anymore. We continued to see the overarching globalization of flavor upend the traditional food industry. A 2019 survey revealed that most US consumers are demanding more variety in flavors from their snacks and other center-store food items. Two-thirds indulge on globally inspired foods and flavors at least once a month, while three-fourths want to try flavors from places and cultures that are not their own. And food companies continued investing resources in identifying and delivering global flavors. The food branding experts at Frito-Lay announced use of AI technology to identify micro-markets for exotic flavors and products they might otherwise have missed. Grade: A
PREDICTION: MEDICINE MAN BECOMES MEDICINE MOM
So this trend has been around for a while (let’s say thousands of years), but on the Mom (and Grandma) scene, all types of natural foods are becoming commonplace answers to everyday ailments. Elderberry syrup for colds and flus, essential oils to cure everything from a cold to cancer, and even daily apple cider vinegar shots to aid in digestion. Food as medicine is sure to be amplified in 2019!
How’d we do: While we think we were right on target, this trend didn’t get quite the consumer attention we thought it would generate this year. Evidence of the trend was on display at The Natural Products Expo in March, where countless companies bridging the gap between food and nutrition showed their new elixirs. Supplements, functional foods, extracts and ancient cures were all the buzz.
As this trend grew in 2019, so too did the scientific community’s attempt to get ahead of consumer perceptions. Results of one study suggested that a Mediterranean-style diet may benefit depression sufferers. Scientists weighed in on the purported benefits of apple cider vinegar as a remedy for schizophrenia. And a study from Tufts University suggested that eating an apple a day really does keep the doctor away. The findings supported the concept that food is medicine, and identified the top three healthiest fruits as grapefruit, pineapple and avocado. Yes, apparently avocado is a fruit. Our food marketing experts were also surprised. And a little dismayed, quite honestly, given the years of expensive (thanks, Mom and Dad) therapy it took us to finally accept tomatoes as a fruit. Grade: B
2019 PREDICTION: “MY MEAL KIT SERVICE FEELS LIKE SHACKLES”
It comes every week, and I must prepare it and store it and re-warm it and throw a bunch away. Meal kits, shipped to consumers’ doors directly every week, are proving to be more of a burden than a convenience. But the idea of “elevated convenience” is here to stay. Look for technology to help move this trend along in 2019. Meal Kits (a few will survive via retail partnerships), meal components, delivery service, and yes, even robotics will make it easier to put dinner on the table – or in a cup holder, etc.
How’d we do: Blue Apron, the pioneer of meal kit delivery, continued to see jarring declines in total customers and total orders from 2018, while its market value virtually evaporated from when it was still privately held. Customer churn has remained a major issue with Blue Apron (and with its many me-too competitors like Hello Fresh, Plated and Freshly), despite the company’s best effort to invest in new products and retain customers. Consumers continued trying meal kits… and then stopped using them. Research has showed price as the major barrier to continued usage, as well as having to make a long-term commitment.
This year saw the rise of another concern about meal kits: the environmental impact of excessive packaging. The scientific verdict is still out on whether meal kits have larger carbon footprints vs. conventional food delivery and preparation methods, but popular sentiment that meal kits are wasteful seems to be growing.
Meanwhile, robotic food delivery continued to creep – err, to roll – closer to being mainstream. Starship Technologies announced that it had raised $40 million to expand its food-delivery robots from two college campuses to more than 100 by 2021. Danger, Will Robinson, I’m outside your dorm room with crappy pizza! Grade: A+
2019 PREDICTION: BIG BRANDS BITE BACK
The reports of the death of big brands have been highly exaggerated. Market share declines have gotten the attention of legacy brands that still have considerable equity and leverage in the marketplace. Reformulations of existing items will continue, as will the engagement in start-up incubators looking for that next big thing.
How’d we do: Cleaner labels, new line extensions and product launches were among the methods that legacy food manufacturers and their food branding agencies used in 2019 to stay relevant. Kraft Heinz launched Lunchables Brunchables. PepsiCo introduced a slew of new line extensions from a Wild Cherry version of Pepsi Zero Sugar to Pure Leaf Cold Brew iced tea to a dairy-based shake line under the Gatorade brand. General Mills struck back against newer snack bars like KIND with new offerings, such as a wafer-style Nature Valley bar and a higher-protein Fiber One bar. Even boomers’ retro-favorite Pop-Tarts got a re-do; Kellogg rolled out Pop-Tarts Pretzel, and began pushing the long-time breakfast staple into new dayparts and occasions. Although we question the world’s need for the new Baby Shark cereal from Kellogg’s, seems old habits die hard. Start-up incubation by legacy brands showed few signs of slowing down. The Garage, an incubator run by Hershey, began rolling out a line of chocolate truffles with fewer calories, less fat and less sugar. Yum! Grade: B+
2019 PREDICTION: “MY WIFE SAYS GROWN MEN DON’T GET TUMMY ACHES”
Nomenclature aside, gut health is being better understood and will be a big focus in 2019. Prebiotics will gain some attention, but probiotics will continue to be featured as well. As Americans understand the role gut happiness plays in overall health, wellness and quality of life, look for fewer tummy aches in 2019!
How’d we do: Research on prebiotic supplements is still in its early stages, and by the end of 2019 many of the benefits remained largely theoretical. For those reasons, growth in supplements was slow, and some online nutritionists noted that because potentially helpful prebiotics can be found in fruits and vegetables, it’s best to consume prebiotics naturally whenever possible.
Meanwhile, consumers’ use of probiotics continued to grow, with a study showing one in four US consumers taking the supplement to support cognitive health. And 2019 saw another promising – and surprising – food that makes tummies feel better. UK researchers found that dark chocolate with 70% cocoa can promote friendly bacteria and reduce gut inflammation. Grade: C
2019 PREDICTION: DAVE’S NOT HERE (BUT HE’S ON HIS WAY)
Okay references to Cheech & Chong Movies of the ‘70s aside – cannabis is a cultural wave that shows no signs of slowing down. Aside from munchies, what are the implications for food? Well, as strains/components of weed emerge – like CBD Oil – which is not psychoactive but is known for its pain-relieving properties, expect more of cannabis-related ingredients popping up in food and beverages. Federal regulations will need to change to maximize the potential, but many regional food brands are already utilizing components – and the big beverage companies are well into their research and development processes.
How’d we do: Dave got a lot closer to being here in 2019. The year was awash in news of food companies and their food marketing agencies announcing their entry into cannabis. Arizona Iced Tea entered marijuana edibles through a licensing deal with Denver-based (where else?) weed producer Dixie Brands. Molson Coors announced plans to launch CBD-infused water in Canada. This year saw the opening of the first-ever US-based cannabis consumption-friendly restaurant, Lowell Farms Café in West Hollywood, CA (where else?). And as CBD got added to coffee, RTD beverages, gum, chocolate and just about everything else, functional ingredient sales growth of CBD through US retailers more than tripled YOY. Hey, you can even get CBD at your gas station convenience store.
Though now legal under federal law, CBD is still subject to regulation when sold with a claim of therapeutic benefit. And federal policy still maintains that adding CBD oil to food products is the same as adding a prescription drug — in other words, forbidden without a doctor’s prescription. Grade: A+
That’s what we thought and what we learned this year. As our beverage and food marketing experts prepare for our 2020 predictions – and yes, subsequent scorecard – we would love to hear from you! What do you see as a big trend in 2020? If we pick yours, we will credit you – and maybe make you a bit more famous!