Influenced by a multitude of factors including growing populations, changing demographics, improved access to education, rising incomes, ongoing research in the field of dietetics and nutrition, growing health consciousness and concern for the environment, global food trends are constantly evolving.
The following list contains 20 current and emerging trends – a number of which can be observed at the 20th edition of the world’s largest annual food and hospitality trade show, Gulfood 2015, which takes place at Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) from 8 – 12 February 2015.
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Trixie LohMirmand, Senior Vice President, Exhibitions & Events Management, DWTC: “The international food industry is a constantly-evolving landscape where changing international markets, evolving supply routes and general industry trends have resulted in major international suppliers viewing the Middle East as a new sourcing, trading and distribution hub. Armed with a world-class logistics infrastructure and efficient customs service, Dubai is a cost-effective global gateway for the international food industry to access numerous emerging and fast-growth markets. Trading is in the region’s DNA and – with a 38-year history of facilitating the trade of huge volumes of foodstuffs and commodities – Gulfood provides a specialised platform for the worldwide food industry to debate global trends and explore monetisation opportunities with regional companies.”
- More meat: Overall, the structure of the global meat trade is changing due to shifts in size and location of demand, with growth being driven by rising populations, incomes and increased urbanisation in emerging markets. For example, the GCC population is likely to exceed 50 million by 2020 – a 20 per cent increase on 2010 – with the rising regional affluence levels resulting in increased demand for premium protein-rich foods such as meat and dairy, and away from carbohydrate-based foods consisting of staple items such as cereals. With increased quality, freshness and a demand for improved Halal standards being of paramount importance, the regional market is vast for every player in the global meat industry.
- Convenience foods: In the GCC, a fast growing population, increased urbanisation and a growing workforce has led to generally busier lifestyles. As a result, people spend less time preparing elaborate meals, opting for the convenience of ready-to-eat, pre-packaged food instead. In addition, a greater number of organised retail offerings – hypermarkets, discount stores, local groceries and other retail outlets – has significantly contributed to the growing demand for processed food, which currently accounts for more than 50 per cent of the GCC food industry (Frost & Sullivan) and equated to a value of USD 25 billion in 2013.
- Healthy & organic: Continued consumer demand for all things healthy, organic, additive-free and natural is driving an increasingly health-conscious food market – both regionally and internationally. The GCC market for organic produce is set to reach USD 1.5 billion by 2018 and the UAE – a hub for farmers’ markets and dedicated organic cafes and stores – is leading the way in its sales. Since obesity and diabetes are two of the primary health concerns in the region, this sector is expected to only grow. With the regional consumption of fast food and processed foods now at an all-time high, parents are also fighting childhood obesity by making smarter food choices for their children and looking for healthier restaurant options. Restaurants, forced to revamp their menus, now offer baked fries instead of French fries, salads and fruits instead of empty calorie foods, frozen yogurt instead of ice cream and fresh juices instead of sodas.
- Locally-sourced ingredients: There is a growing market for seasonal produce that is sourced and/or grown locally including meat, seafood, fruits and vegetables. Despite the challenging climate, the number of local farmers, consumers and restaurants supporting small-scale domestic food production has substantially increased across the region. Given limited water resources and climatic conditions, however, farming activities remain marginal and the UAE and wider region are heavily reliant on imports.
- Responsibly-sourced animal products: As food sustainability moves up the agenda for consumers and restaurants, more focus is given to cage-free eggs, free-range chickens and livestock, and sustainable seafood. Increased emphasis on critical issues such as animal cruelty and the preservation of wild, diverse and healthy ecosystems, means sourcing animal products responsibly has become a source of differentiation for many restaurants and supermarkets. In the UAE, for example, the overfishing of hammour has received considerable attention and many restaurants no longer serve the ‘under threat’ fish stock.
- Halal: Halal food already accounts for almost one-fifth of world food trade, and is a trend that will only grow. Halal extends into a wide variety of foodstuffs, from meat to dairy, and from canned foods to baked goods and cold drinks, with the lucrative trend being tapped by mainstream food giants and niche manufacturers alike. Globally, the sector is forecast to reach USD 1.6 trillion by 2018, with GCC Halal food imports set to jump from USD25.8 billion in 2010 to USD 53.1 billion by 2020. (Economist Intelligence Unit).
- Gluten-free: As more people are tested for gluten intolerance and diagnosed with celiac disease, demand for gluten-free products is on the rise, with entire households converting to gluten-free diets to accommodate the need of one affected family member. Gluten-free packaged goods, gluten-free muffins, buckwheat, wild rice pasta and wheat flour substitutes such as quinoa flour, amaranth flour, coconut flour and almond meal are gaining consumer attention and market share around the world.
- From clean to clear label: Consumers are increasingly applying pressure on manufacturers to address the lack of definition of ‘natural’ by demanding greater transparency and information about their food including the origin and naturalness of products. The behavioural pattern is underlined by a a raft of new apps which provide health conscious consumers with immediate access to the nutritional content of food, simply by scanning a barcode or inputting a list of ingredients.
- Veganism and raw veganism: The vegan and raw vegan trends persist and continue to influence restaurant menus around the world. Vegans, apart from avoiding all forms of meat, chicken or fish, also refrain from consuming dairy, eggs and any other animal-derived substances. Raw vegans add raw foodism to the plate, excluding all food cooked at a temperature of higher than 48 degrees Celsius or 118 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Good fats and good carbs: With obesity a mounting concern, the popularity of vegetable oil, olive oil and food rich in omega-3 fatty acid content has grown as consumers opt to replace bad fats, i.e. saturated and trans fats, with good unsaturated fats. Similarly, simple carbs generally have a bad reputation, breaking down quickly and leading to sugar spikes—as opposed to complex carbs that take longer to metabolise, maintaining stable sugar levels. As consumers shift towards healthier lifestyles, naturally occurring sugar is favoured over sucrose and artificial sweeteners. Coconut sugar, for example, is an emerging trend—it is less processed, has lower glycemic index and contains more nutrients than white table sugar.
- Fermented foods: Though fermented foods rich in live bacteria have been around for a while, their popularity is set to surge in 2015 because of increasingly-recognised health benefits. Known to balance the microbiome – the vast community of bacteria living within us – fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented vegetables and kefir help regulate the immune system, promote a healthy metabolism, sustain the gastrointestinal tract and help maintain a healthy weight. For example, drinks like kombucha, a centuries-old fermented tea, are becoming a hot commodity.
- Alternative protein: As consumers shy away from industrial farming and opt for sustainable alternatives, food manufacturers and shoppers are on the lookout for the next protein source. Some substitutes that continue to gain popularity include soy, whey and pulse protein. Emerging trends also include algae and even insect-based proteins.
- Smoked everything: Smoking is gaining new ground for the wood-fired flavour that it adds to food and beverages. No longer used solely for bacon and other meats, hot and cold smoking processes are now applied to vegetables, butters, cheeses, cocktails and other non-traditional foods including salt, sugar and paprika.
- Spice alchemy: Thanks to the proliferation of global cuisines, there is increased consumer interest in bold flavours and spice combinations. With general consumers seeking alternatives to salt (due to concern over sodium intake) and become amateur spice mixologists, spices like cumin, saffron, cardamom, sumac, za’atar, harissa, and Aleppo and Marash peppers are being used more frequently in cooking and found more frequently in general supermarkets.
- Seeds and nuts: Due to their nutritional properties, nuts and seeds – rich in omega-3 fatty acids, proteins, vitamins and minerals – will remain the health buzzwords in 2015. Incorporated into meals and eaten as healthy snacks, nuts are used in baking to substitute wheat flour and in the preparation of raw nut cheeses for consumers passionate about living a vegan lifestyle.
- Flavour fusions: As consumers become increasingly sophisticated, picky and hard to surprise, manufacturers have taken to pairing unusual flavours for dynamic effect including chili and chocolate, wasabi and chocolate, sea salt with caramel, cinnamon and orange, strawberries with fava beans, and oyster and kiwi. More unexpected combinations will be introduced in 2015.
- Matcha: Popular in Japan for centuries, Matcha, a green tea in the form of a fine green powder, is emerging as the next big trend in ultra-healthy beverages. Packed with antioxidants, L-theanine and beta carotenes, Matcha is also a coffee substitute and contains only a quarter of the caffeine found in coffee. In addition to being served as tea, it is increasingly available in convenient formats such as lattes, sodas and ready-to-drink cans.
- The new coconut water(s): Consumers are moving away from fizzy, sugary drinks and seeking natural and healthier alternatives rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and electrolytes. Though coconut water has dominated the market, new forms of hydration drinks including maple, cactus and watermelon water have emerged. The all-natural maple water contains 15 calories per 8-ounce serving, with only half the sugar content of coconut water and more manganese than one cup of kale!
- Texture matters: As consumers seek more than flavor in their food adventures, texture continues to play a vital role in the taste perception of food and beverages. Using it to assess whether a product is “real”, fresh or less processed, shoppers look for nuts in bars and cookies, and pulp in freshly-squeezed juices. Striving to make their products rich, crunchy and chewy, manufacturers pay special attention to crispy inclusions, soft centres and extra crunchy toppings.
- Packaging revolution: Increasing aware of the effects their consumption patterns have on the environment, shoppers are driving innovations in the packaging industry. Apart from delivering healthier and fresher products, package designs also need to be sustainable, add functionality, create a novel experience, convey the brand story and be recyclable and/or compostable to gain traction with consumers. More food labels will undergo a transformation process to align with these expectations.