F&B Hotlist
Evolving food stories around the world

F&B stories around the world are developing according to the changing cultural climate, from laws and politics to new customer preferences.

This month’s F&B Hotlist explores new influences shaping the F&B industry in the US, UK and across Asia.

Cannabis: The US’s new must have ingredient


Thanks to cannabis legalisation making the product more accessible, CBD has become the ingredient of the moment. In the US, interest in CBD has more than doubled in the past year (Google Trends, 2019). In the light of this growing accessibility, innovators are integrating this product into new sectors, with many F&B brands aiming to capture a piece of the growing market. However, this raises the question, do CBD infused foods have a function or are they just a fad?
Brands are increasingly tapping into the medical properties of CBD, which vary from acting as natural pain relief to fighting cancer. However, even though its use is medicinal, brands are aiming to create an experience that is not clinical. Licensed producer of medical cannabis, 48 North has created an online platform to empower female cannabis users. The brand prides itself on being a trusted ally for women as a purveyor of quality products and a source of knowledge about the positive effect of cannabis on health and wellbeing.

Beyond medicinal uses, brands are tapping into the lifestyle appeal of CBD infused foods. The James Hotel, NYC has introduced CBD products into its minibar offer, from a freshly prepared ice cream sundae, to granola, chocolate bars and even beauty products. Although items have to be ordered direct to the room rather than being immediately accessible, it’s interesting to see how a lifestyle hotel is introducing CBD-infused products into its offer. The use of CBD F&B offerings is not restricted to premium brands;  Vegan fast food chain By Chloe has already introduced CBD-infused sweet treats to its NYC locations, making the product economically viable and accessible to all dietary needs.

Although the current level of hype around CBD is unlikely to last, we predict the drug will stick around and continue to disrupt mainstream F&B. This will be especially true if cannabis continues to be legalised around the world. As it breaks into new markets a key challenge will be marketing, and the claims brands can make about products. As the sector establishes itself it will figure out the right stories to tell. Dosage allowance is an important feature and educating customers properly will be key to building trust in product benefits.

A return to seasonal as Britain faces Brexit

‘Nobody mention Brexit’ seems to be the sentiment of the moment in the F&B industry, as the UK’s departure from the EU looms. With the future uncertain, F&B companies are quietly preparing for the threat of a no deal. With the date fast approaching it can be seen that Brexit is affecting two key areas: the restaurant industry and food offerings in supermarkets.

One of the most predominant issues the restaurant sector faces post Brexit is staff shortages. Three million workers in the hospitality industry are EU citizens (KPMG, 2017) and due to uncertainty about the future, these citizens have been migrating back to their home countries. With a lack of staff willing to work in the labour-intensive industry, the UK restaurant industry will need to evolve to accommodate this. Restaurant brands have started to take an innovative approach to retaining staff by improving working conditions and focusing on staff wellness. Where The Lights Gets In, in Stockport aims to foster creativity among staff by providing facilities besides a well-designed kitchen, such as a library and staff room. The brand aims to empower staff by allowing them to manage their own time and continually looks at ways to improve efficiency so its chefs do not have to work 60-hour weeks.

In 2018 the number of restaurants in the UK fell by 2% (CGA and AlixPartners, 2018), with Moore Stephens finding that 20% of the UK’s restaurants may close due to Brexit (Eater, 2017). However, it’s not just staff shortages affecting this, but also price inflation and lack of footfall. Brexit is having a personal impact on customers too, as the fall of the pound has led to more conscious consumption. Going forward brands will have to work harder to get people through the doors, offering more than just a meal but a complete food experience.

In the grocery sector, uncertainty around food imports has led to brands increasing their prices and even customers stockpiling food. The ongoing trend for shrinkflation continues as 206 food and drink products shrank between September 2015 and June 2017 (ONS, 2019). Last year the number of Jaffa Cakes in McVities’ Christmas tube decreased by 16.7% (The Guardian, 2018). Although Brexit is taking a lot of the heat, this is not the sole cause, but rather ongoing pressure from health authorities to reduce sugar and fat consumption in their products.

Only time will tell what the real impact will be for farmers, suppliers, supermarkets and customers alike. We predict seasonal eating will grow in importance to overcome access issues and be a more budget-friendly option for customers. Abel & Cole has already begun marketing their veg boxes as ‘All British’ and ‘Seasonal Soup Recipes’ and we will see F&B brands continue to focus on seasonal British produce.

Expanding tastes in Asia create new food experiences that challenge tradition


The industrialisation and subsequent urbanisation seen in Asian countries over the last decade has contributed to social and economic change in the F&B industry. The working population has greater economic security and with the opportunity to travel more, eating behaviour and taste preferences have evolved.

In Asia the appetite for meat and seafood protein is expected to rise to 78% by 2050 (ARE, 2018), driven by a growing population with increased disposable income. This new taste preference is challenging traditional food dishes and supermarket experiences. Alibaba’s HEMA stores in Beijing engage customers in retail theatre, letting them pick their own seafood live in store. This trend contrasts to Western countries where meat and dairy consumption is declining – vegans now make 1.16% of the UK population (Glamour, 2018). As demand for meat and seafood grows in Asia, tackling the environmental impact of unsustainable farming on a global scale will be a key challenge.

In India, rapid economic growth has altered meal-time culture. The tradition around preparing and eating homemade food is changing as younger customers are more time restricted and demand convenience from F&B services. Similar to what we’ve seen in Western countries, the use of food apps is continuing to revolutionise the restaurant industry in India. The food delivery sector is expected to grow to 202 million customers by 2023 (Statista, 2019) and will be increasingly important for brands to reach new customers. Tea brand Chai Point delivers online orders in 30 minutes, resulting in a 50-70% repeat purchase monthly, and 2-3x a week in store (Your Story, 2018). For western brands, the increased use of food delivery apps may make it easier to infiltrate the Indian market. Uber Eats partnered with India’s largest coffee chain, Café Coffee Day, to offer an exclusive menu from its virtual restaurant and McDonalds reports that 70% of its deliveries come from online offerings (Quartz India, 2019).
Even though food apps are making F&B brands more accessible to customers in India, the large economic disparity within the population restricts some groups from accessing these services. To succeed in this rapidly changing market, brands will need to ensure consistency in all food offerings, from restaurants to online.

As economic, cultural and political forces continue to impact the preferences and behaviours of people all around the world, global food stories will continue to evolve. Accessibility to products will play a key role in shaping countries’ food identities now and in the future.

Images Courtesy of  by CHLOE., and Unsplash.

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