Global Food Trends: Consumer Insights and Preferences

Explore the current category growth drivers in the food and beverage industry

June 20, 2024 –  Consumer preferences, global trends, and technological advancements are constantly impacting the food and beverage industry. Here we provide a comprehensive 360 analysis of five overarching food and beverage categories: beverages, everyday staples, meal preparation, snacks and treats, and plant-based and special diets. Our extensive research offers insights into the factors influencing each unique category’s growth. We delve into the motivations behind purchasing decisions, exploring key food trends across regions and generations.

Global Beverage Trends

Beverage consumption trends differ among the generations. Younger generations (Gen Z and Millennials) are more likely to purchase soft drinks, such as energy drinks, iced coffee, and tea compared to older generations (Gen X and Boomers). Older generations prefer alcoholic beverages, hot drinks, and some traditional soft drinks, such as bottled water and juices.

In general, consumers are expressing interest in cutting back on alcohol consumption. While consumption of alcoholic drinks remains popular, non-alcoholic alternative beverages are growing in popularity. However, penetration of alcoholic drinks is still much higher than non-alcoholic alternatives, with 44% of consumers purchasing these products in the past year compared to 24% of consumers for non-alcoholic beverages. Premium and indulgence claims are key purchase drivers for alcoholic beverages, while alcohol-free consumers are drawn to health-related claims.

In soft drinks, health is the top driver of both increased and decreased consumption. Consumers are increasing their intake of bottled water and juices for health, and are decreasing consumption of carbonates for the same reason. Health claims, such as low/no/reduced sugar, made with real ingredients, and no artificial colors or flavors, are also common in soft drinks. Consumers in the Middle East/Africa and Asia express the most positive attitudes towards soft drinks, with a 15% and 21% increase in consumption respectively.

Coffee and tea consumption are on the rise, with 21.3% and 22.6% of consumers increasing their intake, respectively. The primary drivers for increasing coffee consumption are taste and lifestyle changes, and for tea, health is the top driver cited. Claims of traditional, premium and indulgent are of interest for coffee drinkers, while tea drinkers prefer claims of naturalness and healthy formulations.

Global Food Trends in Everyday Staples

Everyday staples, such as bread, dairy, fish and seafood, and meat and poultry, are all more often purchased by older generations. Breakfast cereals is the one outlier, with Millennials and Gen X purchasing them the most.

Global food trend research indicates that freshness is the most important attribute that consumers consider when buying bread products. For breakfast cereals, consumers that are increasing their intake cite health as the top reason. Taste is also highly influential for cereal consumers. For both bread and cereal products, consumers are most interested in fiber and wholegrains.

For dairy products, around one in six consumers are increasing their intake, but health was the main driver for around half of the increasers. This global food trend reflects positive health perceptions attached to dairy. The most influential attributes that dairy consumers consider for purchases are taste, cost, and freshness. However, while taste is most important for yogurt and cheese, cost is most important for milk purchases. Claims of naturalness and protein are most valued by dairy consumers.

With meat and fish products, more consumers increased their fish intake compared to meat. However, overall meat and poultry purchasing still outweighs fish and seafood. Again, health is a popular driver for increasing their intake of these products, but freshness is the most influential attribute in general. Claims related to sourcing, and health qualities like omega 3/6 source and protein source are most important.

food trend

Meal Preparation Food Trends

Younger generations are most drawn to ready meals, such as instant noodles, prepared pasta, pizza, and meal kits. Additionally, in ready meals, Gen Z considers taste as almost equal in importance to convenience – while older generations value the convenience factor substantially more. Sweet spreads skew towards Gen X and Millennials, with 30% penetration for households with children. Older generations slightly over-index for sauce and seasoning purchases.

Within meal solutions, such as sauces and spreads, taste is the predominant consideration for consumers, and with each category changing taste preferences were the top reason for consumers to be increasing their intake. Additionally, as many as 31% of increasers in this category named increased variety on the shelf as a reason for buying more.

Naturalness is a key claim for meal preparation consumers, as well as no artificial flavors or colors. By region, Asia and the Middle East/Africa consumers have increased their consumption of meal preparation products the most.

Snacks and Treats Trends

Generally, Boomers are least likely to purchase snacks and treats. On the other hand, global food trend research shows that Millennials over-index on bakery, confectionery, and cereal bar purchases.

Health is the most important consumer consideration when purchasing snacks and treats. When decreasing their consumption of snacks and treats, the top reason cited is “because it is unhealthy.” However, budgetary considerations also had a big influence, as treats can be considered unnecessary expenses. For consumers increasing their intake of snacks and treats, changing taste preferences and increased variety were the most commonly chose reasons.

More than one in five consumers purchasing snacks and treats increased their intake of specifically cereal bars. Health is an especially important global food trend driving cereal bar purchases, with claims of protein content, fiber content, low sugar, and made with natural ingredients as the most influential positionings. In contrast, the other subcategories of snacks and treats see consumer interest in premium quality, indulgence, and tradition, although health is still important.

Eating times vary for snacks and treats subcategories. Between-meals occasions dominate for cakes, confectionery and salty snacks, with lunch the most likely of the main meals to feature these foods. Breakfast is important for sweet biscuits and cookies, as well as cereal and energy bars. Dinner and lunch are significant for desserts and ice creams.

Plant-Based and Special Diets Trends

Younger consumers are driving the uptake of special diets. Around 25% of Gen Z and Millennials have consumed dairy and meat alternatives in the past year, and 34% have consumed sports and functional nutrition products in the same window.

A substantially larger percentage of consumers are increasing their uptake of plant-based and special diet foods compared to decreasing. Health is the dominant driver of plant-based and special nutrition food purchases. Also, more variety on the shelf, as well as greater awareness of products is helping increase consumer interest. Taste is additionally a highly important attribute of plant-based products.

In dairy alternatives, the most influential claims can differ across subcategories. In non-dairy cheese, organic and low/no/reduced fat are at the top, in non-dairy milk and non-dairy milk drinks, plant-based and low/no/reduced sugar are at the top, and in non-dairy spoonable/drinkable yogurt, low/no/reduced sugar and organic are most important.

In both meat substitutes, and sports and functional nutrition, source of protein is the most influential claim for consumers. However, in meat substitutes, plant-based, made with natural ingredients, and organic are next most important claims, while in sport and functional nutrition products, low sugar, and functional ingredients are top claims.

What’s Next in Global Food Trends?

Taste remains paramount to consumers. While health considerations are important, consumers will soon walk away if the eating experience is less than satisfactory. Companies should focus on delivering high-quality flavor experiences that complement health benefits.

Additionally, health claims need to be clear and substantiated. Consumers are increasingly informed about health, so companies should be transparent about the benefits of their products. This includes focusing on key concerns like sugar reduction and protein provision. Naturalness is also a key selling point within foods. Companies can emphasize the naturalness of their products and minimize additives and ultra-processing.

Plant-based eating is on trend, and consumers are associating these products with health benefits. Companies can lean into these associations by reducing the content of additives or levels of ultra processing in their products. At the same time, plant-based can be extended to a wider range of food or drinks.

Finally, cost-of-living is a key trend impacting consumers around the globe. Brands can identify spaces where consumers are open to spending a little more, such as small treats or occasional indulgences. However, price still matters very much in everyday foods and beverages, so brands should explore every possible way to add value to their products without adding cost.


This article is based on our report, “Global Category Growth Drivers​.” If you are interested in reading this report, feel free to request a demo.
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