Food industry trends 2022: from COVID-19 to climate change

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

iStock credit: Dilok Klaisataporn
iStock credit: Dilok Klaisataporn

Related tags Supply chain

Brexit, supply chain issues, the pandemic, sustainability and consumer concerns about health and wellness look set to steer many food industry trends in 2022.

The UK is still in the grip of the pandemic, with the new variant Omicron causing disruption. And while many may have cheered the end of 2021, thoughts have turned to what may be in store this year? Here, Food Manufacture​ picks out some of the trends that could hit the sector. 

Brexit and the supply chain 

Disruptions in the food supply chain with the impact of Brexit and the global transport issues look set to continue into 2022. 

Richard Harrow, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation has already warned that the new border controls on animal and plant products from the EU could see major delays.

From 1 January 2022, the law changed for importers who must make a full customs declaration on goods entering the UK from the EU or other countries. 

And Philip Rycroft, former permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme some companies could simply stop importing. He explained the new procedures could be 'really complicated' ​for certain food products.

Brexit customs
Disruptive new procedures could dissuade some from importing altogether. Credit: iStock Studio 1222

Global transport problems mean many companies are trying to source their packaging supplies from the UK, rather than from overseas, to try to cut lead times and 'astronomical' shipping costs, says Tom Smith, managing director, at Advanced Dynamics.

“Many of the conversations we’re having with our customers are around how they take more control of their end-to-end production,” ​he says.

But it's not only imports that are set to be challenging as the UK still faces a significant labour shortage. That's despite the Home Office extending the seasonal worker visa to allow foreign workers in for up to six months.

National Farmers Union vice president Tom Bradshaw says: “With labour shortages so rife across the entire food supply chain, we will continue to monitor the situation closely and continue to engage with the Government on the sector’s needs.” 

More automation with labour crisis​ 

Many believe the labour crisis will prompt an increased focus on automation in 2022. 

“Brexit on top of COVID-19 has been a perfect storm," ​says Ed Hewitt, field sales manager at Reiser. "What we have realised is that we relied on a labour force that were generally very skilled, had a very good work ethic and we have lost that and that has created an even bigger hole.”

The result has been increased engagement with digitalisation and industry 4.0 across the industry, from larger companies to smaller food manufacturers. 

“If you are a small producer, you can be saving one person out of your total employment out of 15. That is almost a bigger impact than a site that has several hundred staff that is only saving a few people,”​ he says.

“It might not be total automation, as there will be a person there but it might be more efficient, quicker and deskilling the process as well.”​ 

James Kemp, managing director at Pentadel Project Management, says 2022 will be focused on 'positive solutions'. 

“Manufacturing and distribution will no longer look at automation as a 'nice-to-have' to reduce costs, rather it will be imperative to ensure the efficient functioning of parts of the facility,”​ he says. 

Increased automation, including cobots, could help tackle the labour crisis

Stuart Coulton, UK market development manager at Omron Industrial Automation predicts cobots - collaborative robots that can work alongside humans - will help tackle 'chronic labour shortages', especially in end-of-line operations, including palletising and case packing. 

Plant-based and alternative proteins continue to grow 

The boom in plant-based products, which has been impacted by consumers demands for a more healthy and sustainable lifestyle, looks set to continue into 2022. 

Recent research by Mintel reveals that the impact of COVID-19 has made the vegan diet more appealing, with half of Brits (51%) believing plant/botanical ingredients such as herbs and spices can have medicinal benefits. 

Corporate engagement manager at The Good food Institute (GFI) Carlotte Lucas says GFI expects plant-based eating to continue its growth, albeit a little slower than during the COVID-19 boom.   

One of the things we saw in 2021 and expect to see continue in 2022 is really a growing interest from large food companies in the plant-based and cultivated meats, either launching their own products or investing or strategic partnerships,” ​says Lucas. 

“The largest meat company in the world JBS S.A. in Brazil acquired both Vivera which is one of the largest European plant-based companies but also recently acquired Biotech foods which a Spanish cultivated meat company. They see that this is a continuing trend and it is here to stay.”​ 

Sam Thomas, head of category at Upfield UK&I, the plant-based food producer, says brands will continue to capitalise on this changing demand. 

“In addition to shopping for healthier food, sustainability will continue to be a key factor when it comes to what food consumers are purchasing,”​ he says.

Consumers demand better ingredients​ 

Consumer demand for plant-based foods is going to have an impact on the ingredients used in the food sector. 

Vicky Berry, European business development manager, Synergy Flavours, says the younger generations (millennials, born 1982-1995, Gen Z, born 1996-2009, and Gen Alpha, born 2010 to present day) are especially environmentally conscious. That will have a big influence on emerging trends, particularly the demand for plant-based foods, which many link to a climate-friendly agenda.

“As for 2022, expect to see more innovation around plant-based seafood alternatives and dairy alternatives driving growth in the use of new plant-based protein sources such as pea and fava bean,”​ Berry says. 

Thomas predicts manufacturers will turn to plant-based ingredients such as coconut, sunflower, sustainable palm, olive, linseed, and rapeseed oils, plus oils from nuts, almonds, or cashews, where they are sometimes fortified with vitamins A, B12, D2 and E.

Synergy_2022 Trends_2_lowres
Bakery could be the playing field for a lot of innovation in flavours, says Synergy

Nostalgic and exotic flavours to dominate​ 

Nostalgic flavours are tipped for 2022. 

Berry says we may see ‘retro’ dessert flavours like trifle and school-dinner sprinkle sponges, sweetshop flavours such as Rhubarb and Custard and cereal-inspired profiles continue to grow in popularity. The year could see more innovation across bakery, foods with a particular nutritional message and beer, with flavours like cereal milk, fruity pops and cinnamon cereal, she predicts. 

The lack of travel due to the impact of COVID-19 is also expected to impact flavourings in 2022.  

Tasneem Alonzo, joint managing director at Lähde by EHL Ingredients, says the impact of travel restrictions has seen a growth in people looking for flavour combinations offering a sense of escapism. 

We see this as a trend that will continue into 2022 with spice blends, marinades, and seasonings from Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Ethiopia, South Africa, Tunisia and Georgia set to be in demand,” s​he says. 

“Consumers are also enjoying Levantine foods – they’re fresh, full of flavour, colourful, varied, suitable for sharing and packed full of healthy ingredients such as chick peas, seeds, nuts, beans, pulses - and spice blends such as baharat, za’atar and sumac.” 

She is also expecting to see Afghan foods start to appear, using ingredients such as asofetida, dried fruits, and spices.

Functional food and drinks

Functional food and drinks have undergone rapid growth after COVID-19 struck, with many consumers seeking out products that support immunity, better sleep and reduced stress. 

ShelfNow, the business-to-business online marketplace, says it has seen a spike in sales of probiotics, gut-friendly drinks and fermented food and drink. In 2022 the platform anticipates a continued rise in interest in products such as these, including popular items such as cultured kefir beverages and cold-pressed juices. 

Philip Linardos, co-founder and chief executive of ShelfNow, says: “As it stands, the shift to more health-conscious food and drink purchases has never been more apparent.”​ 

Tate & Lyle has highlighted the trend of better-for-you snacking, which it says has grown during the pandemic. 

As people increasingly prioritise their health, they are looking for snacks that offer a nutritional boost," ​says Natalya Bright, manager global market research at Tate & Lyle. "Manufacturers must keep this in mind when formulating new snacks in the coming months, whether it is reducing calories or enriching products with functional ingredients.

“The clean label movement continues to evolve, moving from all-natural claims to communicating how products are made. Increasing numbers of consumers are seeking healthy food and beverage products they can trust, and they want to know the source of the ingredients in those products.”​ 

Synergy_2022 Trends_1_lowres
Healthy, natural flavours could do well in beverages

Health hits beverage trends 

The low- and no-alcohol market is booming, with consumption expected to grow 31% by 2024, according to market researcher IWSR. 

While the category is still relatively small, it's proving more popular with consumers, especially with the increased focus on health and wellbeing fuelled by pandemic-related concerns.

Almost one in three (32%) UK drinkers now ‘semi-regularly’ consume low- and no-alcohol products, compared to one in four (25%) in 2020, an online study by YouGov, commissioned by the Portman Group, recently found.

Meanwhile, Synergy predicts a return to simplicity in flavours within the beverage sector. 

“After so much focus on exciting flavour combinations, 2022 may see a return to single flavours done well," ​Berry says. "This trend is already being seen in products such as White Claw’s hard seltzers and also in gin, where single profiles like blackcurrant, elderflower and different varieties of orange flavours are proving popular.

“In soft drinks, we're also seeing a return of single flavours, with pear, cranberry, and cherry featuring as the fastest growing flavours in the top 15 launches.” 

Regulations and burdens to hit​ 

2022 will see the introduction of new regulations. The restriction of the marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) will present a challenge for food manufacturers, many of whom are facing pressure to reformulate products, particularly in bakery, desserts and snacks.   

“Whether manufacturers decide to reduce sugar, salt and fat or add healthier ingredients like protein, reformulation will present a number of taste challenges that will need to be tackled with flavour and texture solutions to bring them in line with consumers’ taste expectations,” ​Berry adds. 

The infrastructure of Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme, including reverse vending machines, will start rolling out from summer 2022 with implementation delayed until 2023 due to the pandemic. 

Tetra Pak says the UK Government’s policy risks being undermined by confusion, as its research suggests 58% of consumers don’t understand what DRS entails. 

Food manufacturers will also face another new burden with the introduction of a tax on plastic packaging from April 2022. This will apply to plastic packaging manufactured in, or imported into the UK, that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic. 

And there's also the results of the Food Standards Agency consultation on precautionary allergen information and labelling to come this year.

While big ticket items such as the pandemic and climate change are set to remain firmly on the public's agenda, more changes are definitely on the wind. Yet, given the uncertainty of the past few years, the industry is well-practised at weathering future storms.

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