European Food Trends: A Diverse Jigsaw in a Global Food System

By Claudia Vasquez Alarcon, Founder and Director, Origenal Story (March 22, 2022)

What would you choose between: organic, cage-free, free-range eggs obtained from battery-grown chickens, or omega-3 enriched or vegetarian-fed, hormone-free, pasteurized or pasture-raised? These options illustrate the multitude of choices one might find today on the shelves of European retailers. In some countries, the selection can be large and varied, while in others, the assortment is limited. So when it comes to describing European food trends, the situation is as tricky as stepping on eggs.

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On one side, French consumers and French food brands promote local food consumption, clean labels – by redesigning nutritional formulas in food products (rich in salt, sugar, or fat), and nutritional labeling in packaging (expected by the end of this year) – and more recently, food sovereignty. On the other side, farmers from its neighboring country, Spain, last year demonstrated their disagreement with the production costs (electricity, water, and fuel), and more recently their concern with the drought, together with Portuguese farmers.


Pleasure, Health & Ethics


Generally speaking, European consumers are attracted by three focus points: pleasure, health, and ethics, according to Xavier Terlet, CEO of XTC, a French consulting firm that researches food trends in Europe. The big picture is that “North European consumers are more oriented to practical food, and Southern European consumers have acquired a more refined palate due to their gastronomic culture,” stated Bernard Boutboul, Gira’s CEO, a consulting firm specializing in Hotel Restaurant and Catering (HORECA) in France.

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That being said, European consumers pay attention to these key features of a food product:


HEALTH:


Consumption of healthier foods and immune-health supplements (minerals and algae) have increased over the last two years, and the trend soars in Northern European countries. In the Netherlands, Japanese seed firm Takii Seeds launched Phytorich vegetables rich in phytonutrients in 2020 at Fruit Attraction – the largest fruit and veg trade fair in Europe – and some trials are currently in progress with European farmers with the goal of launching innovative food products together with European retailers or food brands.


As a matter of fact, 62 percent [1] of UK consumers surveyed are actively trying to reduce red meat, or eat it in moderation, and 65 percent report the same for dairy, according to GlobalData, a data intelligence firm. Following this trend, in January of this year, UK retailer Tesco announced the discontinuation of its fish, meat, and hot deli counters in response to requests for plant-based options.


SUSTAINABILITY:


Small, mid, and large firms have clearly received the call from the EU policy called The European Green Deal (EGD), which proposes as a mission for Europe to become the world's first carbon-neutral continent by 2050, and to strengthen European cohesion through this mission. The Farm to Fork strategy is at the heart of EGD, with the goal of making food systems fair, healthy, and environmentally-friendly by implementing new plant breeding techniques, and increasing ag R&D and innovation.


There’s also the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which has the main purposes of guaranteeing minimum levels of production so that Europeans have enough food to eat, and to ensure a fair standard of living for those dependent on agriculture.

European shoppers are lured by recycled or plastic-free packaging, and sometimes even confused by the large amount of labels on their food products, but at the end of the day, price remains the main purchasing decision factor.

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European food initiatives are only a small representation of global trends asdietary preferences for lower meat consumption (e.g. vegetarian or vegan diets) or for alternative protein sources (e.g. cultured and plant-based protein substitutes for meat) are assumed to expand slowly,” as was noted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation Development (OECD) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) last year in The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2021-2030[2]. These trends are adopted by a “small part of the population concentrated mainly in high income countries,” added the report.


Rest of the World


Specific and similar food trends are emerging globally. Nonetheless, the rest of the world continues with traditional intensive farming techniques and food consumption habits. The facts are there. While some plant-based products are being launched worldwide, mainstream food consumption is still focused on meat. In fact, according to the OECD and FAO, growth in consumption of meat is projected to increase by 12 percent by 2029, with poultry consumption leading the way.


Meat Consumption Per Capita: Continued Rise of Poultry and Fall of Beef

Source: OECD/FAO (2021), “OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook”, OECD Agriculture statistics (database)



Source: OECD/FAO (2021), “OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook”, OECD Agriculture statistics (database)


However, global food trade might change this course. Since Russia’s attack earlier this month on Ukraine, global cereal players are concerned about the costs of imported raw materials, such as wheat, especially noting that Russia is the world’s largest exporter of wheat, accounting for more than 20 percent of international exports. Additionally, “over the next decade, more than 50 percent of the global production increase in wheat will come from India, Russia, and Ukraine,” according to OECD and FAO.[3]


The world is certainly watching the conflict in Ukraine with much trepidation knowing that the country also produces nearly 16 percent of the grains used throughout the world. Ukraine also is the sixth largest producer of corn and the seventh largest producer of wheat in the world, as well as the world's largest grower of sunflowers.[4] This will certainly have an impact on our global food system.


WIA Today spoke further with Claudia about these food trends in this video interview. Take a look.


SOURCES:

1 GlobalData’s 2021 Q4 Consumer Survey, November 2021, 500 UK respondents https://www.globaldata.com/tesco-dropping-deli-response-plant-based-preference-says-globaldata-62-people-try-reduce-red-meat-consumption/.

2 https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/agriculture-and-food/oecd-fao-agricultural-outlook-2021-2030_19428846-en (6. Meat > 6.7. Main issues and uncertainties section).


3 https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/agriculture-and-food/oecd-fao-agricultural-outlook-2021-2030_19428846-en (data from 3. Cereals 3.6 Trade & 3.1 Projection highlights respectively).


4 Ukraine: A Major Grain Producer. SGS.com. December 18, 2020.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Claudia Vasquez Alarcon is the founder and director of Origenal Story, a European branding and marketing agency specialising in agrifood and ingredients. As an international freelance journalist, who is based in Barcelona, Spain, Vasquez Alarcon enjoys sharing with her global clients some insights about global food trends that counter critical challenges in the agrifood industry. She also collaborates with international trade publications related to dairy, fresh produce, and organic food.

In addition to her years in the agrifood sector, she has almost 20 years of experience in e-commerce, telcos, and cars, as well as specialised R&D and sustainable solutions knowledge, making her a unique voice and resource to the agrifood sector.


Vasquez Alarcon earned a master’s degree in journalism in Barcelona at Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, and a bilingual master’s degree in international trade and management in Bordeaux from Université Bordeaux IV. You can reach her on LinkedIn.



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