24 Mar 2023
As a food producer or retailer, you probably dream of being able to see inside your customers’ minds. Although we can’t do this yet at Taste Tomorrow, we do have the next-best thing: sophisticated AI technology that can analyze and predict people's wants and needs based on their online behavior.
We’ve used this to look at the major trend shifts taking place in the bakery, patisserie and chocolate industries. Which are rising, and which declining? Our semantic AI not only shows whether vegan donuts are ‘in’ or ‘out’, but gives an understanding of consumer motivations and experiences by closely examining the language they use.
Interested in enriching your product offering or winning the hearts of new customers? Then check out this overview of the most prominent consumer trends in our industries.
A growing number of consumers around the world are experimenting with gluten-free, low-carb and/or wheat-free diets. They perceive these as healthier, and encouraging weight loss. As a result, there has been a steep rise in online debate about the best flour and grain alternatives. The growth has been particularly rapid in the Russian-, Chinese-, Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking regions. We predict that interest in alternative grains will increase by between 10 and 42 percent over the next year.
For people with celiac disease or severe gluten intolerance, avoiding wheat flour is an absolute necessity. But lots of consumers are opting for spelt or almond flour, simply because of their health and nutritional aspects. Flour and grain alternatives are gradually being appreciated for their benefits, ranging from aiding weight loss and digestion to anti-inflammatory and glycemic properties.
Among Russian-speaking consumers, rice flour is a trending gluten-free product used to recreate the Kinder Milk Slice at home. Chinese-language consumers who want to eat gluten-free are opting for tapioca flour and kuzu. Coconut flour is another favorite, because of its low-carb and high-fiber qualities and recognizable coconut taste.
In supermarkets, bakeries and patisseries, products made without wheat flour are still relatively rare. So there’s plenty of room for new innovations. If you’re working on new products with alternative flours, such as spelt, oatmeal or almond flour, be sure to highlight not just the gluten-free aspects of these products, but also their health and nutritional benefits.
Food can carry memories. A pie can take you back to your childhood birthdays, and a mouthful of stew can trigger memories of the region you grew up in. That’s part of what makes classic foods so extremely comforting. Consumers around the world are craving these nostalgic products, and conversations about them are increasing by 22.3%. When we look at volume alone, this is the number one trend in our industries right now, and is growing rapidly in all languages but Japanese, where mentions of traditional foods are down by 17.9%.
Because this trend is so tightly connected to local cultures, and to the traditions and flavors of the past, the specific foods that are trending vary wildly across the world. In Russian-speaking regions, where this is the number one trend with 39.0% growth, it's a crêpe-style pancake that consumers are longing for. In the Spanish-speaking world (17.1% growth) it’s the classic taco. For those consumers, this dish has a strong emotional charge because it is a symbol of local identity.
Chinese-speaking consumers are trying different street foods in an attempt to find memory-triggering tastes. There, dishes with black sesame and Cantonese-style foods are pushing the 15.2% trend growth. Consumers aren’t impressed by dishes with old-fashioned decorations: they prefer a taste that hits just the right nostalgic spot and uses high-quality ingredients.
In Italy, consumers are seeking out the tastes of traditional recipes, such as grandma’s apple cake. A large part of the 12.8% rise in conversations about such classics comes from people sharing recipes and tips passed down from their grandparents.
Want to know more about how to use this trend to your advantage? Check out these tips and insights.
Honey, maple syrup, agave syrup and, more recently, erythritol: while consumers are well aware of the negative effects of eating too much sugar, their love for everything sweet is simply too great, though some are opting for natural or artificial sweeteners instead. We see the number of online conversations about sugar alternatives and reduction growing by 18.1%.
Consumers who speak Russian (26.4%), German (25.5%), Portuguese (15.8%), Chinese (15.0%) and Italian (14.2%) are looking for treats containing little or no sugar. Only in Japanese do we see a sharp decline: there, the interest in sugar reduction has halved compared to last year.
Our semantic AI analysis shows that consumers are driven by a desire to take responsibility for their health when they choose sugar alternatives. Seeing a ‘sugar-free’ label destigmatizes foods that are otherwise seen as naughty, such as chocolate. When a treat contains alternative or natural sugars, consumers feel less guilt (and thus more joy) when they consume it.
There’s no scientific basis for replacing sugar with honey. So be careful to make health claims on reduced-sugar products, not on those that use natural sugars. Since the trend is geared towards naturally based sugar substitutes, this very aspect should be the focus of communication: reducing calorie intake and switching to a natural diet.
Roughly one-third of all climate impact comes from making and eating food, so it’s no wonder that consumers are keen to stop wasting it. The 17.8% increase in the number of online conversations about upcycling food comes partly from people who want to feel good and do their part to preserve the environment.
But there’s another benefit for consumers who are tackling food waste: it saves money. Now that everyday groceries are getting more expensive due to inflation, using leftovers and food scraps becomes financially attractive too.
A lot of the online conversations around upcycling are about experimenting with new recipes using leftovers from vegetables and bread. This trend is peaking in the German (41.7%), Spanish (20.7%) and English (20.1%) markets as consumers feel reluctant to throw away food that they paid top dollar for.
Upcycling food is a great way for businesses to show their commitment to environmental protection too. Especially for bakeries it seems, as bread is the most discussed food item when it comes to upcycling. We already see the first initiatives popping up, such as bakeries and celebrity chefs using old bread to prepare bread chips or pizza rolls and getting coverage in the food and mainstream media. Three bakeries in the Netherlands got lots of press attention when they developed a bread of which 20 to 30 percent is made from old, unsold loaves. These are dried and finely ground, creating a sourdough bakers can use for new dough.
For industrial-scale producers, upcycling leftover or slightly defective products remains a challenge. Strict food regulations and the huge volumes involved make it hard to upcycle bread and patisserie into new baked goods, though some are used in brewing. Another option to operate more sustainably is by using upcycled grains such as SuperGrain+, developed by ReGrained in partnership with Puratos.
Taste Tomorrow tracks nine different languages and follows trends in 50 countries, because some sector trends are happening simultaneously around the world, but more often there are huge differences between markets. The fresh-on-demand trend is proof of this. Globally, the amount of conversation around bake-off rolls, frozen cakes and other convenience items shows a small 4.1% decline.
Among Japanese- and Chinese-speaking consumers, the decrease is 47.9% and 31.6% respectively, but in Spanish-language areas, conversations are up by a hefty 26.6%. Our semantic AI analysis shows that in Japan and China, the fresh-on-demand product category really took off during the Covid pandemic, so the decrease can be seen as a stabilization and return to normal. Japanese consumers are still interested in frozen bread and pastries, especially those that are sugar- or gluten-free. In China, however, there are also some health concerns holding consumers back, as industry standards and regulations for ready meals are lacking. But despite those worries, the ease of a quick and fresh meal still exerts a major pull on consumers.
In Spanish-speaking regions, fresh-on-demand products satisfy a craving for fast, simple, and practical dishes. Having a snack or meal waiting in the fridge or freezer gives consumers peace of mind. They always have something to eat, without investing much time or effort. There has been an increased interest in desserts and indulgence products, with muffins, pizza, hamburgers, and cake being the most discussed items.
When bringing new frozen or bake-off products on the market, it’s important not to focus just on how quick, easy or time-saving they are. Consumers need to be won over with emotional arguments as well, so don’t forget to talk about their taste, indulgence aspects, or health benefits.
Our AI analysis tool monitors millions of food-related social media posts, search requests and online media articles. We’ve made top-5 lists of the trends mentioned most in regions across the world. Find out what’s trending in your target market.
For a more in-depth overview of the trends in your country and tips on how to use these to your benefit, get in touch with your local Puratos representative.