Well, here we are, a quarter of the way through 2015. It seems that we were just debating the new year’s most important industry trends. At this point, we should be able to shape an actual assessment of what broad trends are delivering an impact to the food and beverage industry at-large.
Let’s begin with gluten-free products. Is this still a thing? Yes. Without a doubt, food manufacturers have not slowed product development in the gluten-free realm. In late 2014, Mintel reported that gluten-free foods had surged 63%.
“Overall, the gluten-free food market continues to thrive off those who must maintain a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, as well as those who perceive gluten-free foods to be healthier or more natural,” says Amanda Topper, food analyst at Mintel. “The category will continue to grow in the near term, especially as FDA regulations make it easier for consumers to purchase gluten-free products and trust the manufacturers who make them. Despite strong growth over the last few years, there is still innovation opportunity, especially in food segments that typically contain gluten.”
In the first two weeks of this year, Packaged Facts reported that the U.S. gluten-free food retail market reached $973 million in 2014. Looking ahead, the gluten-free market’ momentum isn’t expected to wane. In fact, Packaged Facts projects sales will exceed $2 billion in 2019.
That means the segment is expected to double in the next four years. Jeepers, for a trend that once seemed rather compartmentalized and alienating for many consumers, new gluten-free products are an engine for growth and innovation across the industry.
Okay, so gluten-free is easy. What about flavor trends in 2015? In general, we can agree that big, aggressive flavors are taking over many categories. From supremely sour vodkas to “jacked” chips—intense flavors are attracting more experimental consumers. Living Essentials, makers of 5-hour Energy Shots overhauled the flavors of its product lineup for the first time in its 10-year history. The move was a direct response from consumer feedback requesting flavor enhancement.
Perhaps the most important flavor thus far in 2015 is none other than sriracha. I first experienced the green-top bottle of squeeze-able red spice at a Korean restaurant in 1998. Who knew a little restaurant catering to college students was so far ahead of a major food industry flavor trend? Now we have television commercials espousing the virtues of sriracha as well as people shaving the word into their hair and decorating their sneakers with it. Hipster ketchup, some folks call it. Some industry experts have intimated that growth in the hot sauces category could rescue stagnant “center-store” products. Whoa, that’s a lot of responsibility for a condiment.
There’s plenty more: convenience chilled coffee, the explosion of functional food products and sports drinks. Food science is really carving new paths for these kinds of products to stroll. It’s an area where the science seems to come first and the products follow. That’s not always the case in this market.
At any rate, we’ll be sifting trends, research and product launches every day for the rest of 2015. The next major industry shift is out there somewhere. We intend to find it.