Food Trends Netherlands – In Humbleness lies Respect

Food Trends Netherlands – In Humbleness lies Respect

TheCoCreators, November 2015

The world is changing and shifting in many ways, creating unsettlement, insecurity, and fear; yet at the same time hope, solidarity, and an intensifying quest for better. There is no area of life that remains untouched by the world’s growing awareness that change is necessary for us to survive on planet Earth. This has huge consequences for all industries, including the food industry – our focus of this article.

In our daily co-creation practice with consumers from all walks of life we see that the mega-trends durability, fair trade, and do-it-yourself are here to stay, changing the rules for all industries. Furthermore, food-specific mega-trends are: health, purity, local, and seasonal. Smaller food-related trends are: increasing allergies and sensitivities (with gluten and dairy leading the chart) and limiting meat. Finally, organic has surpassed the hippy-status and is considered to be a credible claim, yet with unpopular price consequences

Three general mega-trends: sustainability and fair trade

Producing in a sustainable way has become a hygiene factor that should not be bragged about, but simply put into practice by any industry from a general concern for our planet. Using this in communication for a ‘new generation’ of products can be dangerous, since it may cause people to question the non-durability of the current products. Moreover, since the concept of durability is multi-interpretable, using it in communication is tricky. Consumers may not interpret it as it was meant.

More and more consumers, no longer just the high SES ones, expect manufacturers to adhere to the principles of fair trade. This means that whereas not too long ago, fair trade would be experienced as a plus, nowadays it is mostly a hygiene factor. Information about unfair trading makes its way to the end-user faster than ever before and may result – on a group level, as well as on the level of individual consumers – in a spontaneous boycott of organizations perceived to be unfair traders. The fair trade label helps to believe that a product was manufactured according to the principles of fair trade, but is not necessary per se when the organization at large is open about their trading style. “It’s just wrong that big companies earn tons of money while the farmers live in poverty. I do pay extra for fair trade products.”

After decades of moving towards prefab solutions marketed as time-savers, do-it-yourself has been on a steady rise over the past years, bringing along an explosion of DIY TV-programs on all kinds of topics – from gardening, repairing, and building to cooking. On a large scale, consumers are (re)-discovering that it is usually cheaper, more enjoyable, and hugely rewarding to make something from scratch. Moreover, they appreciate how DIY gives them full insight in the entire production process and the quality of each of the components that make up the end-result.

Four food-related mega-trends: health, purity, local, and seasonal

food trendsThe health trend is big in The Netherlands. Throughout all social classes (except the lowest) people are looking for ways to become healthier. Health stands for having lots of positive life energy, avoiding illness, living a long life, staying attractive and strong. The need to feel healthy drives people to follow certain diets such as the paleo diet, practice yoga and mindfulness, visit wellness centers, and/or go on retreats. “Once you start reading packages, it’s just scary, the amount of crap in our food.”

The food industry is expected to continuously evolve towards purity, e.g. abandoning unhealthy additives (lumped together as “E-numbers”), as well as bad fats, salt, and sugar. Again, this is nothing to brag about, but something the whole industry should work on, simply out of a general concern for the health of the population. Since consumers link purity to great taste (e.g. “non-chemical”, “real”), it may work in a product’s or brand’s favor to use it in communication.

Sourcing local means that more and more people prefer to eat food that was grown and processed on Dutch or European soil. The more exotic the origin of a food, the more it is suspicious, with people believing that the rules for food processing are much stricter in The Netherlands and Europe than elsewhere in the world. Also, people are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of transporting foods all over the world, which plays a role in the local foods trend. Finally, people believe that local food caters to the physical needs of the people in that area. E.g. we in The Netherlands need to eat a lot of nutrient dense foods like tubers and cabbage to stay healthy and energetic in this cold and damp climate, whereas people in tropical climates need juicy, easy to digest foods to stay fit and hydrated.

The sourcing local trend inspired the come-back of ‘forgotten vegetables’ such as the parsnip and Jerusalem artichokes. It has also contributed to the rise of many atmospheric small and bigger farmer’s markets throughout the country, as well as other formulas which allow consumers to buy their produce, meat, dairy, and eggs directly from local farmers. “When I lived in the countryside I used to buy almost everything directly from local farms. Now that I live in the city that has become more difficult, but I try buying as much as I can at farmer’s markets.”

The trend of eating seasonal is closely linked to the trend of sourcing local. An increasing number of people seek to consume mostly foods that are in season, in part because these tend to be cheapest, but also because they are usually the most flavorful foods, locally grown, and believed to cater the most to our physical needs.

Food allergies and sensitivities are on the rise in The Netherlands. More and more people claim to be intolerant for certain foods or food compounds such as wheat, gluten, lactose or soy. When they experiment with eliminating these compounds from their diet they feel a lot better and stick to the diet. At that point they will start reading labels and avoid products that have the ‘forbidden’ compound, even though for most, consuming a little bit of this forbidden ingredient won’t hurt immediately.

food trends cowThe trend of limiting meat has been going on for years, inspiring the rise of a huge vegetarian meat alternatives category. The recent WHO-guideline which categorizes processed meat as carcinogenic is likely to further fuel the vegetarian movement. While most consumers will not become 100% vegetarians or vegans, many are turning into ‘flexitarians’ who limit their meat intake, for instance by integrating meat-free days in their week. This makes vegetarian options interesting, especially when they contain a different form of protein (preferably not soy, but for instance sea weed, legumes or nuts). Not only is limiting meat considered healthy, it is also thought to be good for the planet, since the production of meat is known to be wasteful. “I don’t need to eat meat every day. It’s not good for the environment, and it gets expensive because I only want to eat organic meat.”

Organic has surpassed the alternative hippy-status. Most people trust that the organic label is hard to get and involves rigorous scrutiny. Although there are skeptics who do not believe that everything claimed to be organic really is organic, most consumers perceive organic as the only credible claim. In contrast, “natural”, “healthy”, and “sustainable” are considered empty marketing terms – unclear ‘baskets’ for a bunch of different things that often go unexplained. Moreover, organic foods are generally perceived as healthier than non-organic foods, since they should be limited in chemical compounds, close to nature, and grown without pesticides. At the same time, most people believe that products from Dutch soil are produced in a clean way. Since eating organic is considered to be expensive, most consumers often choose the non-organic (preferably local) variety. “With dairy and meat, I only eat organic, because I really don’t want to eat antibiotics, but with fruits and vegetables I choose local, not always organic.”

What do these trends mean for the food industry? Our take on the implications

The combination of a growing skepticism towards once blindly trusted A-brands, an exponentially expanding open source of knowledge about food and food manufacturers, and the ever growing availability and accessibility of retail-evading options has profound implications for the food industry.

First, all of this means that the industry needs to open up. Openness about production methods, ingredients, trading style, and work climate is necessary to keep or gain the consumer’s trust and loyalty.

Second, consistency is important. The positioning of a certain line of products as sustainable raises questions about the other lines. It is best to consequently adhere to an organization-wide focus on – at a minimum –sustainability and fair trade. Ideally, some or all of the other trends are added as topics of focus. Once adopted (some of) these trends as organizational principles, it is then important not to stray away from them. In this age of social media, some critical blogger WILL find out and negative news travels fast.

Third, honesty is huge. Again, a lie is quickly caught and will be shared on social platforms faster than one can count to three.

Fourth, realism is important. Publishing real data about one’s goals versus the current status of affairs will add to an organization’s credibility. If the goals are in line with the public’s ethics and if the organization can show proof that it is really working on attaining them, it will be liked, even when it still has a ways to go.

Finally, in humbleness lies respect. Organizations need to give up the bragging and start showing respect to the Earth and its inhabitants, positioning themselves as servants to the greater good. In doing this, they will attract end-users and other parties as co-creators of solutions to their business issues, allowing them to add sustainable value on the level of the organization, the end-user, and the planet.

To discover how TheCoCreators can help you with Food related challenges please contact Stefanie Jansen or Maarten Pieters. See below for contact details.

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