Oct 13, 2015

UK Food & Drink trends (part 2)

Following last week’s post with insights from ‘drinkpreneur live’, a workshop (and contest) to help find the next big thing in soft drinks, this article reports on the new drinks (and foods) being offered to the UK’s retailers, as they try to satisfy workers’ insatiable appetite for a quick (but healthy) midday bite.

Conveniently all this innovation was contained under one roof in London, at the second annual trade show called simply: ‘lunch’.

There was certainly no excuse for leaving this show hungry, but the food on display reflected the fact that most working people in the UK now take their lunch on-the-hoof or at their desks: A large proportion of the brands on display were actually snacks.

Given this trend any food wishing to stay relevant in this lunchtime slot needs to redefine itself, hence Yorkshire Provender’s ‘Heat & Eat’ soups are one-portion, microwaveable, insulated cups that invite you to pick them up despite (or maybe because of?) the cartoon ingredient images.


Standing out by name and shape ‘Square Pies’ were also available in mini-versions called ‘Canapies’. Cute, and foody.

The health trend was of course well-represented, with protein-rich, lower sugar and low salt foods, but taste rightly remains the main attraction. The codes that pair these previously incompatible bedfellows are now well established: simple flat graphics on brown paper or white space, representing a handmade image and a clean ingredients list.

Built as an office-delivery brand, Graze has become established enough to venture onto supermarket shelves. Its branding and graphics have been subtly tuned up in volume and colour to get noticed, without sacrificing its signature brown card wholesomeness (see title image).

urban fruit stand at Lunch event

I’ve blogged lyrical about Urban Fruit before, but I’ll repeat my point that it’s used a great name and witty design to make dried fruit cool, leaving more traditional brands wondering what happened.

Ten years ago this kind of exhibition would have featured sackloads of artisan crisp (for non-Brits: chip) entrepreneurs, and it was nice to see a pioneer of that trend, Burt’s, offering a really attractive range of new flavours. Rather than extend an already replete range, they have partnered with ‘celebrity’ brands that have their own signature flavours, such as Guinness and Levi Roots.


I loved the fact that Burt’s have relegated their brand to the role of Impresario, creating crisp packs that fully adopt the guest category codes and therefore stand out brilliantly.

But the really big trend in bagged snacks today is popcorn. With a light product and a light-hearted image, low-calorie gourmet-flavoured popcorn is, er, popping up everywhere. The usual rules apply: Passionate founder, kitchen experiments, better ingredients and innovative flavours and there you have it – the new crisp. Banging my ‘name is vital’ drum again, Proper Corn trips effortlessly off the tongue and tells a delightful story that the packaging can’t help but follow.

proper corn stand at Lunch event

But this brand goes further, with a delightful yet highly functional SRP in the form of a jolly suitcase; this enriches the story in all kinds of highly relevant ways, creating a 3-dimensional world of joyful fantasy adventure. Willy Wonka couldn’t have done it better.

Finally a shout-out to Nutmeg and Hive whose delicious low-sugar fruity yogurt came with ‘Dieline-pretty’ packaging and a truly awesome unexpected ingredient: A customer survey.


Naturally I added a design critique in the ‘further comments’ space on the iPad Survey Monkey, but the survey itself was probably my favourite innovation of the whole show.

Something to drink with that?
At ‘lunch’ there was no shortage of drinks either, but a large number of them didn’t get much further than natural ingredients and no added sugar. If that’s all you’ve got then you need to add a large helping of brand story, and Cawston Press delivers this in spades with its ‘shabby-chic table top’ cans and labels, instantly transporting you to a rustic nirvana of freshly-pressed fruit.

All of this began a few years ago when a brand positioning genius (I know not whether at the client or the design agency) changed the name from Cawston Vale (a place with no obvious symbolism) to Cawston Press (a place and a process rich in storytelling potential). Pressed fruit = handmade drinks, and after you work that out the brand practically designs itself.


As at drinkpreneur there were plenty of drinks with a more overt claim to healthiness. Several brands of vegetable juices and smoothies were present (most of them already stocked at Waitrose), but even after a couple of years of this category coming into being, none have managed to tell a story any more motivating than ‘vegetables are good for you’. Yes, we’ve all known that since we started pushing cabbage to the edge of our plates at the age of five, so tell me again why I’d enjoy drinking this?


Actually I do know the answer to this question, because we created several really cool concepts that could own this category, when we had a quiet patch about 18 months ago. Just looking for the right production partner and the world is ours.

But leaving ‘Titchmarsh’s allotment’ aside, the real health story of the moment is sugar, or rather the lack of it. Full-sugar carbonated drinks and juices are really hurting in the wake of the obesity epidemic and the resulting demonisation of sugar. Artificial or even natural sugar substitutes (aka sweeteners) are only part of the answer, so we are seeing a trickle (soon to become a flood, I predict) of drinks that taste really great at a lower level of sweetness.


A local Doctor’s surgery got some attention recently by creating this graphic representation of the levels of sugar in well-known drinks brands. Consumers, retailers and legislators are crying out for good-tasting, naturally low sugar alternatives (without artificial sweeteners), but with the market having grown up (and grown very rich) on these brightly-coloured sweet-tasting concoctions, it’s going to take some really clever thinking to perfect the low(er) sugar brand that’s cool enough to turn that supertanker around.

But markets don’t evolve like that anyway. The ‘solution’ won’t be a new low sugar megabrand, but 100 niche players finding an audience in the delis, gyms, yoga studios and foodie convenience stores of the world, as well as the growing ‘alternative’ soft drinks aisle in enlightened supermarkets. Green tea and other brewed soft drinks could feature strongly in this list, judging by the number of excellent tasting products I sampled across these two days, like this range of green teas from Tg (‘T to the power of g’)…

green tea

Drinks brand of the show for me was Coco Face, a range of pure coconut drinks from a company already expert in importing the best-tasting Thai coconuts (so as with all successful markets, segments are happening). The raw nut sleeve totally aced the branding of a fresh, natural product, and the neon sign on the stand was a powerful signal of the street food trend that adds welcome depth to a product story that other brands have been known to make look a bit, well, made-up.


Originally published on LinkedIn.