This week I attended the Food Matters Live Exhibition at the Excel in London. It was a great opportunity to catch up with my network and gain further market insights, particularly around the trends and challenges the food sector will be facing in the coming years.
It was evident that there is still a lot of enthusiasm, innovation and desire to grow the UK food sector and its manufacturing. The sector is seen as a strong provider to the U.K. economy and will continue to be so.
Currently, the industry provides £108bn to the UK economy and employs 1 in 8 of the UK workforce. Food manufacturing is bigger in the UK than the UK automotive and aerospace sector combined. With over 10,000 new products launched every year from the UK food sector we already have a strong foundation to build on and increase our productivity.
There are plenty of opportunities and new trends that the sector can take advantage of however this doesn't come without its challenges.
Some of the challenges identified include the shortage of skills, the lack of people being attracted to the sector and views around low pay. On a positive note the industry is still renowned for its innovation but stronger succession planning and further graduate and apprenticeships schemes are required to nurture our innovative talent.
Brexit was another topic of conversation at the event. For the food and farming sectors in particular, there is a need to ensure that the terms negotiated enable the sector to grow and innovate. However at present less than 20% of UK food businesses export - surely this is a big opportunity but it can only be an opportunity if the terms are attractive.
Other political factors will also have an effect on the sector especially immigration. The movement of people from wider geographical regions results in an increase of newly introduced products, trends and taste preferences. I wonder what new themed restaurants will appear on the high street?
Listening to a number of seminars, health seemed to be the largest topic of conversation at Food Matters Live. This was reflected not only in the future products on show but, more importantly, in the discussion about how to educate children and ensure the Government is helping to tackle the problems associated with a bad diet.
By 2025 it is expected that 70 million children worldwide will be classed as obese. Reformulation of products, along with newly developed categories, is therefore still required. The Head of Marketing at ProperCorn noted that where once the snacking market was dominated by crisps and chocolate, now it is swamped with popcorn, healthy snack bars and alternatives. Health is therefore now seen as a filter in the market, not a driver. With this in mind, what other categories can now be focused on? Children’s snacks are a likely route where convenience (a continuing market driver) and health go hand in hand.
Finally, with food demand set to increase by 70% over the next 25 to 30 years, food alternatives will be required. By 2050 it is expected that 70% more animal protein will be required worldwide. It is felt that this is currently not achievable. Alternative proteins are therefore required...
Alternative proteins were on show at Food Matters in the form of insects! Most people see insects as a 'no go' when it comes to their diet. However, it is estimated that 2 billion people around the world already consume insects as a source of protein in their diet. So will the UK and Western Europe adopt this future trend? Insect flour used in products is seen as the first step, but fried and roasted insects are also seen as an alternative.
For some, the jury is still out. There are still concerns about potential viruses and cross contamination entering the food chain. It is also said that it takes the same amount of feed to farm insects as it does chickens, so why not just farm more chickens? For me for now, I'll continue to watch the Z-list celebrities eat them on my behalf in the Bush Tucker Trials!!