Free-From, Plant-Based & Sugar… Oh My! FMCG Trends Of The Last Decade

10 years of HRA, means 10 years of predicting, wrestling with and reflecting on the forever changing food and drinks landscape. In honour of celebrating a decade in the business, we are looking back over the top food and drink trends that have shaped the past decade.

Not Just The Rise Of Free-From, But The Shift To ‘Full-Of’

The past decade has brought with it the free-from era, a category which in its infancy was relatively niche and inaccessible.

Fast-forward to 2021 and many of our favourite brands now proudly display free-from claims on front of pack – gone are the days of hunting for the inconspicuous free-from aisle and labouring over back of packs to uncover a certain allergen.

Free-from products are no longer just for coeliacs, those with lactose intolerance or those with food allergies, but for the mainstream consumer as well. With one third of UK consumers willing to try gluten/wheat free products, and just under a third willing to try dairy-free (Product of the Year, 2020), free from has well and truly become mainstream.

Nowadays brands are focusing less on what their products are free-from and more on what they are full-of, as consumers are more focused on what they can add to, rather than take away from, their diet. Product callouts such as high fibre, the inclusion of supergrains such as quinoa and flaxseed, as well as fortification with vitamins and minerals are just a few of the ways products have been leveraging this trend over the last few years.

The Plant-Based Seeds Were Sown

plants growingAnother trend closely linked to free-from that has perhaps seen the biggest explosion of all is plant-based. In the past year, the number of vegans in the UK have increased by 40%. With a quarter of the UK population estimated to be vegan or vegetarian by 2025, it is looking likely that this trend is here to stay (The Vegan Society, 2021).

There have been three key, highly publicised drivers behind this trend: concern for the environment, animal welfare, as well as health. There has been much publicity surrounding not only the environmental credentials, but the health benefits of plant based diets.  Netflix shows like Cowspiracy (2014) and Seaspiracy (2021), as well as the raised platform of activists such as Greta Thunberg are great examples of this, key drivers behind meat, fish an animal product reduction in the UK. Much of the UK is now geared up to embrace plant-based for health, taste, sustainability, and ethical purposes.

Whilst veganism has exploded in the category, it isn’t simply those who strictly avoid all animal products driving the trend. Whilst the rate of increase in strict veganism has slowed, the plant-based category continues to experience exponential growth through the increase of ‘flexitarianism’ and ‘meat reduction’, whereby consumers, rather than adopting a strict vegan diet, simply seek to reduce their intake of animal products. Figures as high as 30% of the population now identifying themselves as flexitarian (University of Nottingham) have been seen – meaning there is still room for this industry to grow.

Sugar Was Deemed Public Enemy No.1 & Seems Set To Stay That Way

 An action report from PHE in 2015 which stressed that the UK needed to drastically cut down on sugar, blaming it for a myriad of health complaints and illnesses, was the key driver behind somewhat of a ‘war on sugar’. The UK was bombarded with statistics on obesity and tooth decay, a sugar tax was placed on soft drinks in 2018 and it was clear that the fight against sugar was on.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, this led to a huge boom in low/no added sugar as well as sugar-free products, a trend that spanned almost all categories.  With the UK launching the highest number of ‘no added sugar’ products in Europe (Mintel, 2021), and two out of three adults reporting that they are concerned about the amount of sugar they eat (Ginger Research Global, 2019), sugar is unlikely to be back in the good books anytime soon.

Fat & Salt Were Uninvited And Then Invited Back To The Party 

fat and saltAt the start of the decade the country was made to believe that fat, salt and sugar were a deadly triplet to be avoided at all costs as the government began its battle against obesity.

8 years later, however, research found that salt may not be as damaging to our health as we once thought (The Lancet, 2018), with similar notions starting to pop up about fats as well. People are starting to understand more the positive impacts both fat and salt can have for our health, rather than just the negatives.

 The UK Has A Gut Instinct

With 59% of the UK suffering from gut health conditions (Guts UK Charity, 2020), products which focus on a healthy gut have grown over the last 10 years.

Fermented food and drink products such as kefir, kombucha and kimchi are all winning from this trend. Kefir has seen huge growth, from an estimated £2million in 2017, to the now £40million (Daily Reporter, 2020). If ever there was a time to trust your gut with your probiotic product, it is now, especially as more people are looking for ways to boost their immunity due to the pandemic. We covered the topic of gut instinct: which diet is best?

Protein Goes Mainstream

The UK’s keen interest in health doesn’t end there – 60% of consumers are adding more protein to their diet than ever (The Grocer, 2020). This dramatic increase in protein consumption resulting from more of us exercising than ever (Business Gateway, 2018) has seen the target demographic for protein products expand from body building men to a wide range of genders, ages, and body types. This shift into the mainstream has led to a plethora of exciting NPD – consumers can now get a protein fix in the form of shakes, balls, bagels, cookies, bars and water. You name it, there’s a protein enhanced version of it! We covered the topic of protein goes mainstream in an article.

It certainly has been a diverse decade in terms of FMCG trends – with true success in the busy market lying in products and concepts which span multiple trends. If you’ve got a product to launch, or would simply like more information, please contact

Bring on the next 10 years!

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