Trends that are transforming the Food & Drink manufacturing industry

In the latest report[1] from FoodDrinkEurope, figures show that the food and beverage industry is by far the largest manufacturing sector in Europe, with a €1,205 billion turnover and more than 4.8 million employees, making it Europe’s largest employer.

20 per cent of turnover in Europe is related to the meat industry, with 15 per cent in drinks, six per cent in processed fruits and vegetables, and four per cent in fish products[2].  These are all segments that have high dependency on water and wastewater solutions to help keep production running smoothly - reducing operating costs, ensuring regulatory compliance and increasing sustainability.

With such an enormous role to play in the European economy then, what are the consumer trends that are transforming the food and drink manufacturing industry this year?

Eat local - Consumers are demanding that food manufacturers limit transport miles and reduce carbon emissions linked to climate change.  This slow-food trend ensures that people eat the freshest ingredients, sourced locally, while helping to ‘save the planet’.  Europeans are more concerned about climate change than ever before, with 20 per cent saying they would choose sustainable brands over others[3].

Kinder meat and dairy production - Animal welfare and climate change concerns are driving reduced meat and dairy consumption.  Consumers want vegan, vegetarian, and cruelty-free options, and many more are becoming ‘flexitarians’ who choose to only eat meat now and then.  Provenance is also key, with consumers wanting more reassurance about traceability and humane treatment of animals.  In the UK, vegans numbered 3.5 million in April 2018 (up from 150,000 in 2006) according to a recent study by Compare the Market[4].

Eating for health – Consumers are increasingly looking for products that fit their wellness goals. Keto, Paleo, 5:2, Dukan, Atkins and others diet trends have all increased demand for food substitutions like “courgetti” in place of pasta, cauliflower for rice, and lettuce for wraps.  Consumers are also interested in foods that make claims to improve brain health like omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants such as oily fish, berries and leafy greens[5].

Care for the environment – More than ever before, consumers feel responsible for the state of the planet and want to do what they can to help.  Food and drinks manufacturers play a critical role in minimizing waste in production processes and using sustainable packaging.  The showing of “Blue Planet II” on the BBC caused 88 per cent of viewers to change their behaviour and embrace zero-waste initiatives, like banning disposable straws, plastic water bottles, plastic cutlery and single-use coffee cups[6].

Dietary requirements – An increasing number of consumers want to avoid allergens and irritants by following dairy-free and gluten-free diets. “Free-from” food sales in the UK grew by £230 million in recent years, while the number of people who regularly buy “free-from” products more than doubled.  In addition, sensitivities such as lactose intolerance and coeliac disease have boosted sales for dairy-free milk[7].

Waste minimisation – Consumers want to reduce waste so many food and drink manufacturers are offering smaller portions, less packaging, and clearer food labels.  In the UK alone, more than 10 million tonnes of food are wasted each year with 20 per cent of that number (about £1.4 billion worth) coming from food manufacturing[8].

Provenance – Consumers want to be reassured about traceability, transparency and the security of a manufacturer’s supply chain.  “Mindful” shoppers are increasingly seeking nutritious, safe, ethically sourced foods, and want clean food labels on brands that demonstrate commitment to quality.

Implications for food and beverage manufacturers

The impact of consumer behaviour and preferences on food and beverage manufacturers is significant.  As increasingly popular movements like eating meat-free (which jumped 987 per cent[9] in 2017) gain traction, manufacturers need to respond just as quickly to ensure they are not lagging behind the competition – not just in terms of product offerings, but in terms of digitalisation of production processes, sustainability, food supply chains, innovation and investment in R & D.  For food and beverage manufacturers, this means they must continually adapt their production plans – including product and process water treatments - to meet the ebb and flow of customer demand.

Sueli Roel Backes, Industrial Disinfection Sales Manager – EMEA for Evoqua Water Technologies, says that with product recalls predicted to rise[10] once the various pandemic lockdowns lift, now is the time for food and beverage manufacturers to revisit the safety, rigour and sustainability of both process and product water.

“Waterborne micro-organisms are responsible for adverse effects on flavour, colour, odour and shelf life of products – as well as posing a potential health risk to consumers – so it is critical that food and beverage manufacturers find the right water treatment solutions to correct the issue.

“Security of disinfectant supply is critical in these uncertain times and many producers are moving from bulk chemical supply which carries supply chain risk, to more self-sufficient methods of disinfection like OSEC® systems and UV,” she says.

“With the global population expected to reach almost ten billion people by 2050[11], and the need to create a sustainable food future over the next 30 years, it is critical that we pay heed to the enormous role that water plays in the manufacturing industry that feeds our global community now and into the future,” says R.


[1] 2020 Data and Trends [2] 2020 Data and Trends [3] [4]  [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]

Connect with Sueli Backes Roel (MBA) on LinkedIn.