A Taste for Trends: What’s on the Menu in 2017

As we look to the year ahead, we are staring down a business world that can increasingly be described as tumultuous and transformative, consumer-driven and multidimensional, and fundamentally interconnected. As we developed our 2017 Food & Beverage Trends, it was impossible to ignore the extent to which these descriptions rang true for our industry. The current atmosphere in food and beverage is one where everything is changing – agriculture and aquaculture, flavorings and ingredients, packaging and distribution, retail and marketing, even creation and preparation.

Before we step forward, let’s take a quick look back. As we watched our 2016 Food & Beverage Trends unfold and develop, it was clear that many of those storylines would only continue to develop in the year ahead. Authenticity remains paramount for brands, populist pushes in world politics dictate evolving regulations, issues like food waste and food security are now firmly planted and food and beverage will always own a personal – and social – place in consumers’ hearts and minds. But, as we peek around the corner, we see cutting-edge innovation and passionate movements shaping and evolving our ever-dynamic sector. Some key takeaways for 2017:

Beverages Refreshed – Consumers’ palates have never asked more from their drinks. They want the classics, but with a twist. From water to coffee to spirits, we expect what we sip to make us feel good – not only about how and where beverages are made and how they may contribute to our health, but also about the unique and different taste experiences they create.

Demands for new beverages place added pressure on our water supply and can lead to misinformation and misperception about things like sourcing, ingredients and health benefits. Whether a company is new or is a veteran of the beverage space, there is increased pressure to underscore responsible sourcing, stewardship of the environment, ingredients and communication of product benefits.

Global Food Forum 2.0 – Brands continue to listen and respond to concerns around food waste, climate change, animal welfare, nutrition security, safety and labor; yet, tension between cultural, social and political movements has taken center stage as we watch issues fly from the polls to the plate. For better or worse, the globalization of our sector accentuates what were once local issues and brings them into the international spotlight.

To succeed in our global marketplace, brands must take both a multinational and a multicultural approach to marketing and engagement. They must build brand communities with a top-down and bottom-up approach. This means owning and driving strong campaigns that are driven by programming and content that is informed by, and adjusted to, local audiences’ nuances and needs.

Culinary Gets Creative – Foods and beverages should be nourishing – but they’re also delicious and can bring great enjoyment. Chefs and cooking enthusiasts from all paths of life are injecting (sometimes quite literally) new flavors and unexpected ingredients into tried and true favorites, and they’re looking in new places for the next big gastronomic discovery. Hint: that place doesn’t necessarily need to be on dry land.

Whether by land or by sea, no matter where our food comes from, it has to be palatable and sustaining. So, in a time when our resources are under more pressure than ever, brands and the companies that make them must underscore how they are investing in innovations that come with solutions. They cannot mistake great marketing as a substitute for buttoned-up compliance and accreditation, and they need to be sensitive to access and affordability. Culinary creativity is exciting, but we need to make sure that it does not come at the expense of consumer needs and desires.

Technology Takes Over: The food-tech connect on its own is not new, but the essentiality of technology in our sector’s growth and relevance is. From functional tech, with an eye on sustainability and nutrition security, to the type of tech that’s just flat-out cool, there are myriad innovations disrupting the ways we eat and drink. Adapting and investing in tech is an absolute must.

There is an opportunity for technology to bring much-needed solutions to our global food and beverage marketplace. Engaging all stakeholders – including consumers – in how companies are using technology to bring about solutions is easy. But that same technology can lead to skepticism and declined trust.  It’s harder to engage when technology might lead to job loss, higher costs or cyber-security risk. Rather than avoiding the tough stuff and letting others tell the stories, brands would be better served by proactively partnering with NGOs, government and even competitors to bring about solutions to these tougher issues. By doing so, and telling the story behind such partnerships in relevant, authentic and transparent ways, they are better positioned to build leadership and maintain trust.

In this transformative environment, food and beverage remains something that nourishes, delights and connects us in ways that are not always as obvious as we want them to be. We’re looking forward to watching how these trends – and their implications – play their part in revealing how food and beverage evolves in the next 12 months.

Tish Van Dyke is the global lead of Edelman’s Food & Beverage sector.