Research firm Euromonitor shares its three top trend predictions for Australia's snacking, protein and sugar markets in the coming year.

A love of snack foods

Snacking is an important eating occasion in Australia, alongside the more traditional three meals a day. A number of major drivers are supporting this trend. These include the growing influence of millennials, a generation of consumers who snack regularly, for example to boost their protein intake, which has become increasingly popular due to the obsession with gym workouts and a need to “bulk up”.

Snacking is also socially driven, for example being commonplace when spending time with family or friends, as well as being a way to satiate hunger in between meals. There has been an increasing shift towards savoury snacking over sweet snacking.

Consumers’ aversion to sugar remained strong in 2017 due to its perceived negative effects on health, particularly in terms of obesity. Savoury snacking options also offer extra protein, such as pulse-based chips, snack bars and nuts.

Australians’ love of snacking is expected to remain strong in 2018. Traditional snack categories such as confectionery, sweet biscuits and snack bars are set to record modest growth, with consumers instead embracing the increasing versatility of other packaged foods as a healthy on-the-go snack.

In line with increasing concerns about health and wellness, consumers will seek better quality and healthier ingredients in their packaged food products, with snacking products being no exception.

Alternative sources of protein

Australian consumers are increasingly conscious about the food they are eating and its impact on their health and wellbeing. Australians are also adopting “flexitarian” lifestyles where they are consciously choosing to have less meat in their diets with “meat free” days.

Changing lifestyle trends and a steady rise in average incomes in Australia have also driven demand for fish and seafood, offering a premium alternative to meat as a rich protein source.

Although consumers desire healthy fresh food and have embraced many different forms of protein, convenience continues to be a main driver for many consumers leading them to look to packaged food. This has constrained growth of fresh food especially as consumers looking for meat alternatives are buying meat substitutes, tracked under packaged food.

Australian consumers will continue to demand a range of protein sources to add variety to their diets, although beef is expected to continue to be an important source of protein. As incomes continue to rise, fish and seafood will become an increasingly important part of Australian diets.

This will be spurred by greater awareness of the different types of fish and seafood available on the market. As meat substitutes continue to improve in taste, quality and convenience, consumers will embrace these as a mainstream alternative to meat especially as flexitarian lifestyles become more common.

This will be driven by trends in consumer foodservice, with outlets offering vegetarian alternatives regularly. In particular, mushroom patties in burgers have become a feature in popular burger chains including Grill’d and Burger Project owned by Rockpool Group.

Manufacturers continue to address sugary drinks

Health and wellness remains a key issue defining the soft drinks industry in Australia. While all major manufacturers offer low and sugar-free drinks to assuage these concerns, many consumers remain concerned about the safety of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, which has a sweetness rating 200 times that of sugar.

While the Australian government’s official stance is that the levels of aspartame used in diet beverages is too small to pose a health risk, media reports and some health advocates continue to suggest that consuming smaller quantities of regular ‘full strength’ soft drinks, such as regular Coca-Cola, may in fact be healthier than consuming artificial sweeteners.

The development of stevia and other natural sweeteners will remain a key focus for manufacturers in 2018. Drinks that are stevia-sweetened have the potential to become more widely adopted if the right combination of stevia is used so as to avoid a bad after taste.

In addition to manufacturing new combinations of stevia, manufacturers will also look to develop alternative sweeteners such as monk fruit. These new formulations have the potential to support growth within the soft drinks industry.

Another hindrance to the consumption of low sugar soft drink varieties is that there is still a proportion of the market that enjoys full-sugar varieties and will not make ‘the switch’ to low-sugar alternatives. This is especially true for consumers of soft drinks in on-trade venues, who are often looking to treat themselves.

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