1. Collaboration in innovation
Last year, we suggested that open innovation would spread from the first big players who pioneered the idea, like Unilever and General Mills. Indeed, many more companies have chosen to outsource some of their R&D in this way over the past year.
2013 saw Doehler launch its open innovation platform looking for help with three specific challenges: Finding a natural blue colour other than through spirulina, reducing sugar and calories naturally, and extending the shelf life of food and beverages with natural ingredients.
And what about our prediction that more mid-sized companies would join the open innovation bandwagon? Allfoodexperts.com launched in January, specifically targeting SMEs and freelance R&D, and the number of food industry challenges listed on the site has multiplied since then.
2. Ethics at eye level
There have been enormous changes in sustainability initiatives in 2013, including some that are likely to transform the food industry. Among the biggest were two related to the palm oil sector: One from the world’s largest sovereign investment fund to cut its ties with unsustainable palm oil firms, and one from trader Wilmar International to implement sustainability standards along the whole of its supply chain.
The Wilmar move is particularly significant due to its control of 45% of the world’s palm oil trade, so it holds real power to transform an industry that suffers from a particularly poor reputation. Meanwhile, large food companies are also increasing their commitments to sustainability in the palm oil sector.
Companies are also moving well beyond sustainable raw material supply, with commitments that encompass all aspects of their supply chains, from workers' rights to climate impacts. This wider remit has been pushed forward in no small way by pressure from NGOs, including Oxfam's 'Beyond the Brands' report that ranked companies according to their sustainability efforts.
3. Rising food prices
Last year's prediction largely was based on a World Bank report that suggested higher food prices would become the 'new norm' unless there was significant change.
However, on the whole prices have not continued to rise in 2013, particularly eased by an increase in global cereal stocks. In October, the Food Price Index rose for the first time in five months, by 1.3%, but this was still 5.3% below its level a year earlier.
That said, the world population continues to grow, and consumption habits are changing, moving toward more energy- and land-intensive dietary patterns, such as increased demand for animal protein. FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva urged countries in October to take advantage of calm conditions on world markets to prepare for upcoming food price volatility.
4. Food taxes and subsidies
Food taxes have proved resoundingly unpopular among food manufacturers, consumers and policy makers alike over the past year – but they are still in the research spotlight, especially when examined alongside subsidies for healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables.
While new research has backed the potential effectiveness of taxes for reducing consumption of less healthy products, most European countries have lacked the political will to take these forward into concrete policy.
Instead, increasing attention is being paid to economic interventions that could promote healthy eating, and so far, research has been encouraging, suggesting that subsidising healthy foods would indeed help improve diets.
5. Simple ingredients
This is one trend that’s not going anywhere. There is still debate about what consumers are really looking for, but for food manufacturers, 'clean label' and 'natural' continue to be well-used buzz words.
A recent move is the issuance of guidance notes on colouring foods, to clarify the distinction between food colour additives (requiring E numbers) and food extracts with colouring properties.
Back in June, Datamonitor’s innovation insights director Tom Vierhile said that consumers and food marketers alike were moving away from using the word natural on-pack, as they began to recognise it as a ‘squishy’ term – although consumers may still be looking for the same attributes in their foods. However, instead of ‘natural’, they were looking for words like free-from, gluten-free, minimally processed, simple, and organic, he said.