2021 food and drink trends: the consumers driving innovation

Download the full 2021 consumer and trends report

Staying ahead of the curve has always been the difference between success and failure within the food industry, but in today’s world of social media this is even more prevalent.

The rise of the impact of social media and blogs on the food industry is well documented and is producing a wealth of data for researchers to analyse and pull trends from.

But with so much data to examine, it’s easy to get lost down a rabbit hole of information, which is why at Synergy we invest significant time and resource cutting through the noise to distil information into actionable trends.

This is why every year we launch our trends report which aims to predict the consumer and flavour trends which will dominate the industry the following year.

Jump to section:

Consumer profiles:

  • The Food Philosopher
  • The Rebalancer
  • The Game Changer
  • The Globetrotter
  • The Life Hacker

Flavour trends:

  • Cherry Blossom
  • White Tea
  • Toasted Sesame
  • Mascarpone
  • Chargrilled

Identifying the consumers driving innovation

As part of our research, we identified five key consumer types (each with two to three supporting trends) which we see as being the consumer types most likely to drive innovation in the food and drink segments.

Whilst these consumer types are not specific to any age range, they are generally inspired by the consumers which are pushing the market to innovate, particularly Millennials and Generation Z.

The first of our five consumer trends is the Food Philosopher. The Food Philosopher takes a thoughtful approach to their food and drink, carefully considering the impact their choices make on the health of both themselves, their children and the planet. 

They make conscious consumption choices, often opting for Allergen-Free diets, in fact 37% of consumers actively avoid at least one ingredient due to an allergy or intolerance. (Mintel – Allergies and intolerances: free from dieting trends [2020]) It’s not just the fourteen listed allergens either. Manufacturers are expected to cater for numerous diets or allergens, including, for example, FODMAP (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols).

The Food Philosopher may also favour a Flexitarian diet, unwilling to completely ditch meat or dairy, but recognising the benefits of plant-based living for both health and the environment. Flexitarianism is becoming increasingly prevalent, with as many as 25% of UK shoppers looking to reduce their meat intake.

The clean label trend (Clean Label 2.0) is also highly important to The Food Philosopher, with 38% of UK respondents saying they trust a product with a shorter ingredient list than a long one (Mintel – What’s next for clean label [2018]), it’s no surprise that manufacturers are feeling the pressure to reformulate to more natural sounding products!

The Rebalancer consumer is always on the lookout for healthier choices. Rather than beat themselves up for a cheat day, The Rebalancer takes pride in the small victories and is more focussed on their overall wellbeing, rather than specific targets at the gym.

The Rebalancer understands The Power of Veg and wants to pack as much of it into their diet as possible. In their quest for the healthier things in life, The Rebalancer will seek veg in unexpected places, such as avocado ice cream or broccoli pizza crusts.

Positive Nutrition is another key area for The Rebalancer. Going beyond the protein fortification that has become so prevalent in the past few years, we’re seeing The Rebalancer on the lookout for other functional ingredients such as probiotics, or even cognitive boosting products.

The Rebalancer may also be looking at Cutting Back on certain ingredients. Government legislation in certain countries is driving the sugar, salt and fat reduction agenda, but we’re also increasingly seeing people binning the booze. In the UK, for example, 52% of Brits agree that alcohol-free beers have become socially acceptable, reflecting a wider trend for the reduction of alcohol consumption in the country.

The Game Changer is one of the fastest moving consumer profiles identified. They are not one for playing by the rules, and whilst health is important, they don’t believe it should come at the expense of fun!

Being Bright & Bold is one way for brands to stand out with this consumer group. In 2019, 49% of consumers said they learn about food through social networks which is why creativity and a sense of fun is so important. Consumers love to see their favourite brands experiment with colour and visuals or novel flavours.

One key trend amongst Game Changers is the concept of Blurring the Lines between categories. Flipping the expectations of a product is a great way to turn consumers’ heads. Reviving nostalgic flavours, transporting flavours from one product category into another, or even experimenting with sweet and savoury crossovers are all great ways to engage consumers, particularly on social media.

The Game Changer is also very bought into The Craft Movement, focussing on less frequent, more premium food and drink experiences. Callouts such as “small batch”, “artisanal” or “handmade” resonate with these consumers. Interesting flavours are also a great way of engaging this demographic, with 57% of craft alcohol buyers considering “unique flavour” to be the most important factor in purchasing a product (Mintel – attitudes towards craft alcoholic drinks report [2018]).

There are a number of different elements to our Globetrotter and ways in which they experience food. With the typical methods of experiencing new foods (global travel, street food festivals and restaurants) currently unavailable, the idea of the shrinking globe through digital means has become more important.

Social media has been playing an increasingly significant role in how we expose ourselves to new food, and in light of the current situation this is only going to become more prevalent. With many foodies now confined to their house, the ability to find authentic recipes from local bloggers half way around the world is set to become even more important! 

Prior to the global cessation of travel, Japan was a major beneficiary of a global tourist boom and had become one of the fastest growing tourist hot-spots, with 31.2million visitors in 2018. As a consequence, we’re seeing a greater appetite for Japanese food – Mintel survey data found that 26% of UK consumers had eaten Japanese food in the last month, whilst a further 43% identified it as a cuisine they would like to try (Mintel – attitudes to world cuisines [2019]).

But equally, classic cuisines such as Italian are also seeing a resurgence, with premium variants popping up on supermarket shelves, combined with a host of celebrity chefs revisiting their roots with regional Italian cooking. Italian food offers something for everyone, which is why it is the UK’s top cuisine choice for eating out, with data from Payment Sense showing 19% of consumers favour it.

Our final consumer profile – The Life Hacker – is perhaps the newest and fastest moving of our five consumers. The Life Hacker is all about improving day to day efficiency. Food can be fun, but if it can be condensed and streamlined then all the better. 

The Life Hacker is very much a spinoff from the global Silicon Valley-style tech scene, so it’s no surprise that many of the most famous life hacking innovations have come from people in, or adjacent to these worlds.

On-the-go has become an integral part of today’s busy society. Lunch time has always been the biggest on-the-go opportunity, and indeed 76% of Brits now buy lunch out, but perhaps even more surprising is how it has spilled into other eating opportunities too. For example, The Grocer reported that ‘Deskfasting’ (eating breakfast at your desk) now accounts for 12% of breakfast eating opportunities in the UK!

Another important aspect of life hacking is Complete Nutrition, the concept of packing as much of a person’s daily nutrient requirements into one quick and zero-preparation product, often a shake. This idea originated in San Francisco’s tech scene, but has quickly been adopted across the globe, and while few people live exclusively off these products, they are widely viewed as a tasty and convenient replacement for one meal a day, particularly on days when you forget to bring lunch to the office!

The final aspect of The Life Hacker is the idea of Personalisation. Consumers recognise that complete nutrition is important, but it also means different things to different people. Consumers are increasingly looking for personalisation in terms of achieving their own nutrition goals, as well packaging and flavours which express their unique personality. 

Appealing to consumer profiles

Clearly these five consumer profiles are not entirely exhaustive, nor do each of us fit neatly into one profile alone but will most likely overlap two or even more profiles. For example, a Life Hacker looking for complete nutrition, may also have elements of a Food Philosopher about them, wanting their meal replacement to also fit their flexitarian or clean label ideals.

However, having these rough consumer profiles in mind when innovating for the future can be vital in helping you identify where your products sit in the market as well as where the gaps are.

Trending flavours for 2021

As well as our five consumer profiles, we have also identified five key flavours across sweet and savoury which we expect to see more of in the coming years.

Inspired by a growing interest in Japanese cuisine, coupled with consumer trends towards natural tasting botanical profiles, we expect cherry blossom to be one of the flagship sweet flavours for Japanese cuisine.

Cherry blossom initially sparked interest through launches in Japanese variants of Kit Kat, and the flavour is now being used across a range of product categories including sports nutrition products and even gin.

And whilst the Olympics in Japan is now on-hold, cherry blossom also stands to gain further exposure following the rescheduling due to the Paralympic mascot Someity which is named after cherry blossom!

Sticking with Asian-inspired flavours, white tea is another profile of growing interest. Over the past five years, the world’s tea drinking habits have changed – black tea has seen a decline, particularly amongst younger generations who are now on the lookout for different tea varieties, as well as alternative product variants.

White tea remains a relatively niche profile, but one that is definitely growing, and will continue to do so, particularly following high profile launches such as Evian’s white tea and peach and white tea and mint infused waters (France) or Hartley’s white tea and peach jelly in the UK.

Toasted sesame is another top trending flavour. It is always been a staple of Asian (toasted sesame oil) and Middle Eastern (tahini) cuisine, but we’re increasingly seeing it used in a broader range of applications adding toasted nuttiness to sweet and savoury products.

It’s distinct flavour profile pairs well with everything from sweet, dark and nutty chocolates to a variety of cheeses which helps broaden its applications!

Our penultimate trending flavour for 2021 is mascarpone, the celebrated Italian cream cheese which has found global fame through its inclusion in Tiramisu.

Mascarpone is viewed as a premium ingredient meaning its inclusion and call out in products such as cheesecakes or yogurts gives them an air of luxury and indulgence.

Another profile with sweet and savoury applications, it pairs perfectly with classic cheesecake fruit flavours such as blueberry, as well as savoury flavours such as tomato.

Synergy’s mascarpone flavour incorporates also uses Synergy’s unique dairy flavour technology to improve its authenticity.

Our final trending flavour for 2021 is chargrilled. If there was one trend that dominated the 2010s it was the emergence of American-style barbecue, smoke, fire and the techniques that surround it.

As a result, the culinary (particularly the fast-casual) landscape has drastically changed, whilst American-style barbecue is fairly saturated, it has opened consumers’ eyes to the opportunities around smoked flavours. 

Despite barbecue’s ubiquity, consumers seem to have a near insatiable appetite for smoked and barbecued products – data from Mintel shows that it is still the cooking type consumers want to see more of, with 48% of respondents favouring barbecuing and grilling.

As a result, consumers are always keen to see new barbecue ideas from new regions, as well as sweet products which incorporate smoky notes, such as burnt pineapple or coconut.

Targeting tomorrows consumers

At Synergy we are always on the lookout for how we can support our customers grow their business by understanding the trends that drive the market.

The full report is available to download now, or alternatively you can speak with a member of our team for more information on our 2021 trends or general flavour solutions.