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  • Esme Jepp

A day in the life of a market researcher at IFE 2023...

We had a fantastic time attending this year's International Food and Drink event in London last week, providing a fascinating insight into what's on the horizon for the food and drink industry, the developments and innovations happening within the sector, and how these play into our understanding of what consumers want and need from brands and manufacturers in this everchanging global landscape.

One of our Directors, Clare, not only attended the event but was also invited to present the results of our latest consumer trend tracker report, Insight with Bite, alongside Seed Group's Phia Folkes, with whom we have partnered to deliver the trend tracker and the insights it provides for brands in terms of their ongoing strategic development and marketing communications.

This quarter's report, available to download on the link above, highlighted consumers' increasing focus on their health in the context of their nutritional choices, as well as sustained investment in British produce and locally sourced ingredients. Whilst it was fantastic to see some real innovation in the plant-based sector across a huge variety of products (including deliciously creamy potato milk and some thoroughly convincing, even for us omnivores, pulled "chicken"!) we were saddened that the predominant focus for so many brands is still on sourcing the cheapest ingredients, regardless of provenance or food miles. With many of the ingredients featuring prominently in these developments and innovations within the plant-based sector being native crops for the UK (we're especially looking at you, pea protein!), we would love to see the wishes of consumers to see more locally produced ingredients in their food being fulfilled by manufacturers. Whilst environmental considerations are not high in the purchasing hierarchy for many consumers, this is because they expect brands to include these values and practices as standard, rather than viewing them as a USP. For those moving to plant-based reasons pertaining to sustainability or environmentalism, locally-produced ingredients that reduce food miles and support the local economy can only be a benefit over cheaper ingredients from further afield.

We know from our trend tracker that despite, or perhaps even because of, the cost-of-living crisis and other global upheaval, consumers are still treating themselves when they are able, to little treats and luxuries when it comes to their food shopping habits. However, with the constant development and innovation within the sector, it became clear at IFE that these do not always need to come at the cost of important health-related considerations. We saw cauliflower crisps, sugar-free and naturally-sweetened chocolate truffles, vegan chocolate that is some of the best we have ever tasted, as well as a plethora of dried fruit and nut-snacking options.

It was great to catch up with some of our previous clients, including Barfoots of Botley with their new vacuum-packed sweetcorn product. Clare was particularly happy to see their new sweetcorn 'ribs' on offer, after battling with recreating them following a recent taste-testing project we ran! It's always brilliant to see the products that our consumer panel have tried and given their verdicts on as they hit the shelves and start making a splash with retailers, especially when the verdicts from our panel were so unanimously positive and glowing in their praise as they were with this corn - so do keep an eye out for it!

Finally, on the subject of innovation, we were fascinated to see robotics developed for the food service industry, although we can't help but feel that the technology still has a way to go after we had to scuttle somewhat rapidly out of the way of one rather overzealous robot! The use of robots does raise an interesting question regarding the future of employment opportunities within the industry, as well as more basic, but practical considerations around the safety and efficacy of such technology when applied in a more "real world" setting. Whilst we were able to avoid a collision, when used in a restaurant environment the safety of those with lesser mobility must be considered, as well as diners not generally wishing to interrupt their meal in order to dive for cover!

Want to get involved in our next trend tracker and have your say on what the food and drink brands you buy should be prioritising? Apply to join our consumer panel using the link below and let us know why getting involved with research in the sector is important to you!

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