CHICAGO — Gen Alpha and artificial intelligence (AI) will be major shapers of the food and beverage industry’s future, according to Datassential.
The market research company named both as important trends in 2023 in its annual FoodBytes trend report, which combines the opinions of industry experts with consumer insights to predict the upcoming year’s biggest macro and micro trends.
While the oldest members of Gen Alpha are about to reach their teenage years and make their own spending decisions, Datassential sees these young consumers already are influencing purchasing patterns in their homes and others through family and social media. The diverse generation, set to number almost two billion globally by 2025, has wasted no time gaining the attention of some restaurant operators, with 35% telling Datassential that the group is already important to their business.
Companies will need to engage the tech-savvy group through various channels to make them into customers, and fortunately most brands have figured out how to take part in the social media craze surrounding food photography on sites like Instagram.
Now, however, they also will need to adapt to the explosion in popularity of short-form videos, especially on TikTok, one of Datassential’s micro trends.
More than 40% of consumers said they have used the social media app, and nearly 80% of Gen Z has, making it a key platform for product marketing, reach and entertainment. Roughly half of Gen Z also has uploaded content on TikTok, meaning brands will have to devote some additional attention to creating video-friendly products and environments.
Another consumer trend for 2023 is the desire for weird, authentic and original brands. Companies will have to become creative with product development and marketing, and the report points to Coca-Cola Co.’s launch of products based on abstract concepts, such as “space” and “dreams,” as an example.
As applications for AI have continued to grow over the last several years, Datassential predicts 2023 will be the year the technology finally takes hold in the industry. The rise of AI-generated recipes and food concepts in 2022 may be evidence of this, with 77% of consumers saying they are open to trying a product created by computers.
From a manufacturing perspective, AI already has become a key player in product development for some ingredient providers. For instance, both Shiru, Inc. and Vectron Biosolutions have used AI and machine learning systems in 2022 to discover protein alternatives for plant-based products.
Additionally, Nestle SA announced in late November it would be investing in AI and machine learning to better its R&D process. The company already had used AI in a number of different processes, including self-regulated manufacturing lines in some facilities, concept and formulation development, plant breeding, advanced process control and early problem detection.
Looking at the future of plant-based meats, Datassential predicts the category will continue to see a decline in popularity.
The company found 20% of consumers who currently or have purchased plant-based meats don’t plan on buying them again, citing declining curiosity, expense and inferior taste as major reasons behind the decision. Similar causes, along with unfamiliar ingredient labels, were cited by a different consumer insight study from the Brightfield Group that found most plant-based alternatives across all categories were declining in penetration.
However, Datassential suggests there is still a market for plant-based meats as the spike in interest levels out, noting 40% of consumers indicated they plan to purchase a meat substitute in 2023.
In another trend featuring sustainability, the company expects to see an uptick in awareness surrounding regenerative agriculture. Only one in five consumers has heard the term, according to the report, but that should change as media, food packaging and marketing discuss regenerative agriculture more next year, especially when 70% of consumers think their food should be grown on farms using sustainable practices.
With in-person dining expected to make a comeback, the report also cites the need for a wave of restaurants that serve as a “third place” outside of work and home to socialize. Popular concepts to fill this void may include restaurants that operate as co-working spaces for remote and hybrid employees during the day and so-called “eatertainment” venues that merge dining with sports, such as the pickleball restaurant Chicken N’ Pickle, or other forms of entertainment.Restaurant review hub Yelp also reported growing interest in entertainment dining, noting searches for terms like “underwater restaurants” increased over 250% in 2022 while “dinner theater” searches saw a nearly 110% bump in the same period.