• The Acheson Group

How 2020 Is Shifting the Food Industry – and Providing Opportunity


2020 has been irrevocably marked as the year of COVID; however, it is not the only thing impacting the food industry. As presented at IFT “SHIFT20” virtual conference, continuing trends in plant- and cell-based foods, consumer diets, sustainability, and social inequality challenges also are having significant impacts on the food system. Following are some thoughts on each based on an overview by Food Navigator-USA with TAG commentary:

Plant- and Cell-based Foods. Many companies have been changing product and brand names in order to be more socially responsible, but that isn’t the only reason to look closely at the terminology of food. A recent study from Rutgers University, to be published in the Journal of Food Science has shown that, at least for seafood, “cell-based” is the best term to be used on product labels as the common or usual name. Cell-cultured also was deemed acceptable, with both fulfilling the finding that terms with the word “cell” in them, including “cell-based” and “cell-cultured,” worked best in helping consumers understand that the products are neither farm-raised nor wild-caught. However, cell-based is best because study participants found that descriptor to be as desirable as wild-caught and farm-raised.

In relation to plant-based foods, two studies found the most desirable aspect of plant-based foods to be its perceived health benefits, particularly in comparison with animal meat. However the future potential of plant-based meats is not yet solid as an IFIC study showed that of those who had purchased plant-based meat 27% would do so again, but 18% would not.

Consumer Consumption. Other trends in consumer food consumption discussed at Shift20 included that of Keto diets and food as a comfort tool. Stated as having “exploded” last year, new keto-diet based products increased by 230% between 2018 and 2019, with nearly a quarter of new sports nutrition products having a keto claim. However, the number of products that fit within a keto diet still remains low – which provides an opportunity for the food industry to jump aboard the current trend.

But even today’s “comfort food” can be part of a restrictive keto diet. While past associations of comfort with food elicited images of mom’s butter- and starch-heavy casseroles, mashed potatoes, etc., food overall is being seen as comfort in today’s stress-filled world. As noted in the article on the presentation by Eve Turow-Paul, “anxiety and desire for control are major drivers of many of the food trends seen today.” And it’s not just about COVID, as consumers have been anxious about things like food safety and climate change – and the constant reminder of them on social media reduces the feelings of control over our world.

The Food System. The food industry has long focused on sustainability and renewable packaging, but the challenges of 2020 are making that more difficult. The lack of a national, standard recycling system, supply shortages, increased cost of recycled materials are all impacting the forward momentum and goals of packaged goods companies. Because of shortages and recycling costs, recycled materials can be twice as expensive as “virgin” materials, but because of the lack of simple recycling options in many areas, consumers continue to trash recyclable packages.

On the other hand, the use of wireless sensors to monitor the quality of stored crops is helping to reduce waste in this area. New sensor options enable the gathering and analysis of real-time quality data on subtle changes in the crops in both storage and transportation. This is particularly beneficial with the food supply complications of COVID, where products may sit longer or be transported farther than normal increasing the potential of damage and/or spoilage.

While 2020 has brought numerous challenges for the food industry, a panel of experts at SHIFT20 discussed the opportunities the year has brought to build a better food system. That is, by showing the inequalities revealed by COVID, with the poor and immunocompromised suffering the most, the pandemic has brought the opportunity to “rethink things,” to “question normal,” and seek change business as usual in order to improve food quality, production, distribution, and access.

TAG’s Take. 2020 is certainly a year of changes, challenges, and disruption to “business as usual,” but just as the experts of SHIFT20 have seen opportunity amidst the disturbance, TAG has been involved in helping businesses shift from the usual to not only protect workers while maintaining the food supply chain but to improve business for the future along the way. No one asked for COVID-19, and it certainly was nothing we would have ever desired, but just as 9/11 brought a new way of thinking in food defense, so, too, has COVID-19 brought a new way of thinking in hygiene and sanitation that can only help to increase food safety – and consumer health.

If you need assistance working through the challenges and silver linings of COVID-19 to ensure your own business continuity and improvement, give TAG a call today. We can help.

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