The changes ushered in by the coronavirus pandemic have percolated pretty much every industry and sector on the planet.

The food industry is diverse, stretching from food research, development and manufacturing to the hospitality and entertainment industries.


Closures to brick-and-mortar stores, pubs, restaurants and other food shops have had a huge knock-on effect, the brunt of which has been suffered by establishments that can’t offer alternative delivery or takeaway services.


Many ongoing trends in the industry have steadily continued, including the increased market share of free-from, gluten-free and plant-based brands and products which reached a new level in 2020.


2021 will be a year of mixed fortunes for most across the foods industry, but there are trends to consider now in preparation for another strange but hopefully improved year for all.

Dealing With Shutdowns

The repercussions of lockdown and other closures hit the food industry hard in 2020. According to CGA and AlixPartners, over 10,000 establishments closed their doors permanently with more likely to follow this year.


There were both winners and losers - Hospitality and Catering News reported that the takeaway sector grew faster than any other to fill the void left by brick-and-mortar closures.


Restaurants and pubs sitting on the fence when it comes to offering a takeaway or delivery service should act to prepare for closures later on in the year, especially in Q4 winter. Those who have been offering this already should look to refine their business models and work out how they can improve for next time.


Whilst we hope that summer sees a return to indoor and outdoor dining and drinking, at least in some capacity, it’s impossible to tell when closures may reoccur, on either local or national level.

The Rise of Free-From and Plant-Based

Plant-based and free-from foods and diets are consolidating their position as the fastest rising trends in food and drink consumption. The Good Food Institute (GFI) reported that the purchase of free-from, plant-based and meat-free foods outpaced all other foods by 4 or 5 times in 2020.


The GFI also reported that plant-based milks are now purchased by some 41.3% of families in the US. Meanwhile, the gluten-free market is expected to increase from $22 billion in 2019 to $36 billion by 2026.


The free-from market is a huge opportunity for both suppliers and retailers. There is plenty of unexplored territory and creative new foods are being developed all the time. Consumers also want brands to be crystal clear on what their products contain.


These types of foods have been the centre of a huge R&D effort to develop free-from alternatives.


Takeaways, restaurants, food brands and manufacturers are adapting their products to add more plant-based and free-from alternatives whilst smartening their brand message and packaging to better communicate what their products contain.

Sustainability and Tackling Food Waste

Mckinsey reported that consumer awareness of environmental issues is ushering forth a new era of sustainable packaging - and customers are demanding that brands take it seriously.


Tackling food waste is high up the global agenda. According to the UN, over ½ of all fruits and vegetables are wasted globally each year. The UK alone wasted some 6.7 million tonnes of food in 2019. 


Packaging waste is a major part of this trend. The pressure is on food companies to reduce plastic packaging whilst offering sustainable, recyclable alternatives.


The development of sustainable, innovative packaging has proven a new branding opportunity for food businesses. It’s possible to distinguish yourself from the competition whilst also playing a hand in environmental issues by switching from plastics to recycled papers, cardboard and other easily biodegradable packaging that is also food-safe.


As well as developing new, innovative packaging, food manufacturers, as well as pubs, restaurants and takeaways, should also invest in technology that can keep food safe on the premises.


Investing in a vacuum packing machine, deep freezers and other storage technology can save long-term costs whilst reducing food wastage.

Artisan and Luxury Brands Increase in Popularity

Whilst many switch their general and bulk foods to cheaper alternatives, 2020 saw an increase in those choosing artisan or luxury foods to accompany them.


As we take greater pleasure in creature comforts, the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) reported that private-label specialist or artisan foods outpaced conventional products across many product categories including cereals, snacks, meats and fruits and vegetables.


Many of these artisanal foods tie in with health benefits too as ‘healthy treats’. People are willing to pay a bit more for specialist foods which are genuinely made with care and designed to be healthy.