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What’s in store for the UK’s food and drink market this year?

Last year we saw consumer buying habits change significantly, due to the pandemic, with many buying in bulk in fear the supermarkets may run out of essentials. We also saw consumer preferences shift as everyone spent increasingly more time at home and the world steered away from large gatherings, parties and get togethers with family and friends.

Building on the insights we shared as part of our ‘snapshot of the UK food and drink market in the current climate’ back in December, we’ve pulled together a roundup of the food and drink trends to look out for this year.

The popularity of plant-based

As more people consider the environment and ethical change, more will prioritise plants in their diets with many shifting to only consuming animal products occasionally (mainly as a source of protein), according to data from Mintel.

We’re also expecting consumers to adapt their diet in line with improving their brain health, state of mind and mood, with many turning further towards functional ingredients, as wellness and improving mental health become a bigger priority. We’re also likely to see consumers seeking recipes and meals that are customised to their personal flavour, taste and texture preferences.

Technology and its ability to construct hyper-individualised approaches to physical and mental health will play a huge role here too, as widespread access to tests will enable individuals to understand their unique biological needs. Consumers will also want companies to help them act on this data, by offering custom food/drink products – which we’ve already started to see with Nestle’s XiaoAI smart speaker, which acts as a family nutrition assistant.

The conscious consumer

More and more consumers are taking an activist approach when it comes to purchasing food and drink products. The health of the planet and reducing our environmental footprint are incredibly important with many consumers opting for brands that act responsibly in terms of packaging and resources.

Reducing food waste is another growing area of importance for conscious consumers, as not wasting good food and drink has the same positive environmental impact as taking multiple cars off the roads.

We’re also seeing consumers opt to buy from companies that have acted responsibly in terms of their workforce – ensuring the company is diverse, ethical and provides fair opportunities for all employees will be essential.


Despite consumers becoming increasingly more health conscious, little indulgences will remain popular – but in a smaller snack-size form. In fact, our client, BBF Limited, which produces ambient cakes and desserts for the UK’s major supermarkets, has seen a real shift towards more snack-sized products as everyone continues to spend increasingly more time at home.

This trend is expected to continue well into the future, particularly across the bakery market with cakes and desserts.

The growth of low and no

Recent data from Kantar suggests that low and no alcohol ranges will continue to evolve with demand expected to increase.

Despite most hospitality venues being closed for much of last year, research shows that 1-in-4 visits to the pub last year and 1-in-3 for restaurants did not involve alcohol. Increasing consumer demand and knowledge of the low and no category, present an exciting opportunity for hospitality operators and brands to respond to growing demand as consumer interest here continues to rise.

Hospitality at home

While many consumers are waiting with bated breath for pubs, bars and restaurants to reopen, in recent months we’ve seen a huge surge in more premium takeaways and many creating that ‘hospitality at home’ experience.

From Hawksmoor’s recently announced Ocado partnership to Michelin star restaurants like Manchester’s Mana pivoting to a burger takeaway, the hospitality at home experience is expected to continue well into the future.

Effects of the pandemic

We can't finish a blog about the food and drink sector without referencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (and the lockdowns, more to the point). The impulse/on-the-go category has been decimated, but recent research from IBISWorld suggests it's expected to bounce back post-lockdown, which is great news for manufacturers who rely on meal deals promotions and impulse purchases especially. And if British brands listen to advice from Mintel, leveraging local credentials post-lockdown (as a result of the interest in localism and also post-Brexit) could really reap rewards. 

What trends are you expecting to see across the food and drink sector in 2021? Let us know over on Twitter @RefreshPR or drop us a note.

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