We have seen significant shifts in consumer eating habits in 2023. Pressures such as inflation, health and globalization of food are influencing what consumers are buying. These pressures will influence not only the trends we see today but also the food trends expected in 2024. In our latest report “Stomach Share: How are Shifting Consumer Preferences Impacting Food Consumption?” we analyzed consumer behavior across four primary consumption categories: limited-service restaurants, no/low-cook foods, prepared foods, and raw ingredients. Through this lens, we identified several key trends in food that manufacturers and retailers can leverage in their planning for the next year.
What flavors are trending? A sweet & healthy affair.
In 2023, consumers are increasingly favoring sweet yet healthier flavors over traditionally sweet options when purchasing raw ingredients. This shift is fueled by the rising popularity of fresh, exotic fruits that not only cater to the sweet tooth but also align with the growing demand for healthier choices
Exotic fruits like fresh lychee have experienced an astounding 77% surge in units compared to the previous year. Dragonfruit follows closely with a 29% increase, sapote with 25%, coconut with 23%, and soursop with a noteworthy 13% growth in units. These trends reflect the changing preferences of consumers who are eager to explore new and nutritious options.
Brand leaders should look for ways to implement fresh and exotic fruits into their product lineup and innovation testing.
What culinary trends are in store for 2024? A taste of Asia.
As we look ahead to 2024, Asian cuisine is growing in popularity, based on purchasing trends. Asian ingredients have seen a remarkable surge, with fresh sweet yams, lotus root, longan, choy sum, and gobo root all experiencing impressive growth rates, each surpassing a 20% increase in units compared to the previous year.
American consumers are looking to expand their cooking prowess this year–16% of the US population has not tried cooking Chinese food before but plans to do so this year, the highest among the cuisines surveyed. This growing curiosity about Asian cuisine mirrors the broader trend of culinary exploration and diversity.
By researching which cuisines consumers want to start making at home, brands can create a global flavor portfolio and create successful innovation launches.
Fast food trends to watch for: Finding value outside of the grocery store.
In an era defined by hectic schedules, convenience takes center stage in the food industry. Coupled with rising prices, finding both financial and personal value is important. Consumers are moving towards dining-out as overall satisfaction of trips to limited-service restaurants has grown over the past four quarters.
Our research indicates that traffic to limited-service restaurants has increased by 3% year over year, ending in Q2 2023, while in-store grocery store traffic remains flat. Leading the charge in this growth are food service giants like Chick-Fil-A, Dunkin', Chipotle, and McDonald's.
Notably, Gen Z is at the forefront of this trend, with over 1 in 3 Gen Z’ers stating that grocery prices have risen to the point where eating fast food is more affordable. Additionally, winning chains have also made inroads with Gen Z by leveraging unique partnerships with leading streetwear brands and TikTok influencers.
Prepared foods: Simplicity and convenience take the lead
Consumers are seeking simplicity and convenience, even in their food choices while shopping. This has led to a significant surge in the demand for in-store prepared foods.
Two products showcasing strong growth within retailer-prepared foods are in-store prepared pizza and hot dogs, with both categories experiencing a growth of 12% and 10% in units, respectively, compared to the previous year. These products have proven to be resilient in the face of inflation. Spend per unit on in-store prepared pizza has grown by 6.6%, while in-store prepared hot dogs have seen a 5.7% increase, compared to an 11% increase in total in-store grocery prices.
The growth in in-store pizza volume can be attributed to club stores like Costco and Sam's Club, though Casey's General Store, a Midwest regional convenience store, has contributed to an impressive 22% of prepared pizza unit growth. Retailers have the opportunity to develop a prepared foods hero item that drives traffic to their stores, and brands can partner with retailers to create that offering.
What can we expect from private label foods in 2024?: A challenge for name brands
The rise of private label brands is a continuing and prominent trend. These in-house offerings are challenging established name brands across various categories in the food industry.
Within the snack department, private label brands like Great Value and Trader Joe's have recorded impressive unit growth of 14% and 11%, respectively, compared to the previous year. In particular, Trader Joe's has had success with their Chili & Lime Flavored Rolled Corn Tortilla Chips and their Lentil & Rice Sour Cream & Onion Rings, which have become top-selling snacks for the retailer. These products replicate the flavors and textures of Barcel’s Takis and FritoLay’s Funyun.
The impact of private label brands isn't limited to snacks alone. Great Value and Trader Joe's have notched remarkable unit share gains within private label unit share for Ice Cream and Frozen Dinners & Meals, respectively.
Brands will need to develop a winning retailer playbook to prove their distinct value, whether that is better-for-you, an entry level price point, or bringing in a valuable consumer group.
In conclusion, the changing landscape of consumer eating habits in 2023 and the outlook for 2024 are marked by a shift toward sweet and healthier flavors, the rise of Asian cuisine, the growing preference for fast food chains over groceries, the demand for simple and convenient prepared foods, and the ascent of private label brands. For food marketing leaders to succeed in this space, they should:
- Track omnichannel behavior for proper demand planning between in-home and out-of-home consumption.
- Look beyond their immediate categories for inspiration during brand planning–current trends can create strong implications for future consumer behavior.
- Watch restaurant trends to learn how to capture emerging cohorts such as Gen Z.