Health, sustainability, trust among key consumer trends

Health and sustainability, weight management, trust and digestive health are some of the key trends that are currently driving consumption habits in Africa and the Middle East. Will Cowling, Marketing Manager of FMCG Gurus, discusses what this means in practice for food and beverage manufacturers in the region.

Africa and the Middle East contain countries of untapped potential for F&B manufacturers, with strong economic growth and ever-increasing numbers of consumers plugged into the global market. A 2019 survey of 13,000 consumers from across the region, conducted by FMCG Gurus, has shed new light on some of the key issues that are influencing consumers in the region.

Healthy body, healthy planet

Health & sustainability has emerged as a key concern over the last couple of decades. “Consumers are witnessing environmental and ecological change and noting the impact that this is having on their health,” Cowling told attendees at Food ingredients Europe in Paris. “They are concerned about air pollution, the depletion of natural resources, deforestation, mass extinctions and emissions, and are starting to worry about future generations.”

Cowling noted that consumers are making a direct link between environmental damage and the globalised, industrialised food industry, which is increasingly seen as unsustainable. Some 64% of consumers believe that brands should be doing the right thing to protect the planet, while 42% say that they have become less trusting of environmental claims made by brands in the last two years.

Growing environmental awareness ties into the concept of responsible living. Six in ten consumers across Africa and the Middle East say they have changed their dietary habits in the last two years in order to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. “This means more opportunities for sustainable products on the market,” said Cowling. “Insects and plant-based products are a good way of moving forward. In Africa there is high acceptance of insects, which are a good source of protein.” Beans and lentils are also high in protein and traditionally form part of many local diets.

Changing habits

Industrialisation, globalisation and growing affluence have impacted eating habits across Africa and the Middle East. Some 57% of consumers say that time scarcity means that they are reliant on convenience food, while 21% say that they eat out a lot. “This trend is being driven by younger, more affluent consumers in urban areas,” said Cowling.

These changing eating habits have led to increased levels of obesity. More and more consumers are therefore watching their weight and proactively looking to improve their diets – without necessarily sacrificing on indulgence.

“This is driving demand for functional snacks,” said Cowling. “Consumers want products that offer genuine nutritional value, especially as mealtime habits become more fragmented.” There has been a switch towards snacks high in protein, as well as ‘better-for-me’ products that offer some sort of sensory appeal. “It is critical that products are seen as offering health, taste and convenience simultaneously,” said Cowling.

Trust and transparency remain key issues. Manufacturers are increasingly seen as making deliberately misleading claims when it comes to the health and environmental credentials of brands. Losing trust can have a major impact on brand loyalty, and manufacturers need to find new ways to connect with their consumers.

Blockchain technology, although in its infancy, could be one means of achieving this.

Cowling noted that many consumers are tech-savvy and use their smartphones to conduct market research themselves. “Brands could load information about their products onto databases, which cannot then be manipulated," he said. “This could be a big opportunity for early adopters.”

A final key trend is digestive health, a common concern especially in Africa. Some 87% of consumers say that they have looked to improve their digestive health over the last twelve months. Consumers believe that this will deliver overall better quality of life, which ties into a growing conception of holistic healthy eating. There is significant potential here; 83% of consumers say that they are interested in products that address digestive health, even if they do not suffer a specific condition.

In conclusion, Cowling noted that products that are seen as being good for the consumer and good for the Earth will continue to be attractive to the African and Middle East markets. Consumers are looking to make sustainable changes to their diets and are also seeking out functional snacks associated with being conveniently nutritious. “Generation Z are most likely to say that they are concerned about the state of the environment, while Millennials are the most likely to be changing their diets to lead a more sustainable lifestyle,” he said.

The issue of consumer trust is challenging, though this can be addressed by demonstrating more transparency when it comes to policies and practices. Digestive health remains a popular claim upon which to position brands across the region. “Consumers are embracing the concept of holistic health, believing that all aspects of health are interlinked,” said Cowling.

Article based on the presentation delivered at Food ingredients Europe 2019 in Paris by Will Cowling, Marketing Manager of FMCG Gurus.

UK-based FMCG Gurus provides market research and insight into consumer attitudes and behaviours across the food, beverage and supplement markets around the world. With a focus on trend innovation, services include ingredient analysis, future trend mapping and actionable recommendations.