Trends Driving Innovation in 2021

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Andy Wardlaw, Chief Ideas Officer

15 Dec, 2020 | 4 minute read

Amidst a tidal wave of trends predictions, here’s my own take on sure-fire demand spaces for the year ahead.

News just in - over half of global brands are busy rewriting their 2021 strategies to service people’s more home-based lifestyles, according to the latest global marketing survey for WARC.

It is now accepted that the events of 2020 will have lasting impacts across multiple consumer-packaged goods sectors. Innovation must therefore support people’s adjusted priorities.

So, without further ado, I give you the trends that have been buoyed up by this pandemic and will almost certainly outlast it.



Incidence of home working will remain at historically high levels for years to come. 2020 may have seen a pause in the war against sugar, but in 2021 people will pay attention to their waistlines.

Products that offer comfort and reward to home workers whilst acknowledging growing anxiety about weight gain means that high intensity treating in miniature is worth some serious thought.

In the alcohol sector, expect more activity in micro-cocktails.



Covid has hastened the next era of functional food, beverage and personal care. Consideration of dietary products supporting sleep, anxiety and mental focus have eclipsed established areas such as heart health. Long term success of these new generation products will depend upon their ability to convince consumers of the benefit at the moment of consumption. Credibility will mean everything.



CBD is out there, but it remains on a very tight leash. Which is why adaptogens, a class of ingredients said to help our bodies resist stress – and nootropics, which are said to support cognitive function will start to fizz as people seek out new ways to be resilient against a toughened world. More exposure to Ashwagandha, Holy Basil and Rhodiola on packaging will create a tipping point in acceptance.

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Guarding against unwanted infection is now a daily priority. COVID-19 has provided the world’s biggest ever advertising campaign for the immune system, and more home-based lifestyles will add to anxieties about being in public spaces for years to come. Immunity could become the most prolific health space of all – beyond the breakfast occasion, breaking into skincare (below), chocolate and even fabric conditioner.



The swing towards more natural configurations is not over, but it will no longer be a prime directive. Consumers will be seeking more from their supermarket haul and will be more ready to accept added L-Theanine, Magnesium and Vitamin D if it helps them achieve greater perceived value. It’s worth noting that younger consumers are far more embracing of fortified foods.



As a result of a global pandemic, Kraft-Heinz, Unilever and Pepsi Co – among many others - have established highly credible direct-to-consumer platforms on the web. With supermarkets backing a more rationalized approach to ranging, brands will increasingly launch new products online. This creates an opportunity for fast-tracked innovation to optimise and build kudos ahead of wider roll-out.




We’ve already seen premium sectors surge in 2020, and this will continue for innovation that satisfies demand for new experiences in the comfort of the home. With economic pressures ahead, line extensions and new ranges must up the ante – or give way to bolder, more intense propositions that put much of the pre-pandemic premium into a more mediocre space.



It’s no surprise to learn that people are gravitating towards packaging that safeguards the integrity of the product inside. Loose produce is being shunned in favour of pre-packed, despite the war on plastic. Pack innovation that reconciles this tension between safety and sustainability is likely to be one of the highlights of the year ahead. In some cases, pack innovation could provide serious competitive edge.



Anyone who has tried THIS, OUMPH and BEYOND BURGER will know that plant-based meat alternatives have come on leaps and bounds in a very short time. 2021 will witness further improvements, and there will be many ‘I can’t believe it’s not meat’ stories to generate new interest. As demand increases, economies of scale will kick in and prices will fall. Plant-based will get seriously big!

This bacon



Even when this pandemic is over, airlines are bracing themselves for a period of subdued global travel for years to come. The World Foods aisle will witness some new entrants as people genuinely pine for foreign lands. Expect more regional Italian, Asian noodles dishes and South American flavors. Kit propositions that may not have worked in the past, could finally find their place in the sun.


In summary...

The simple act of people staying at home more and going out less is not considered to be a short-term dynamic, so please consider each of the areas above as jumping off points for brand brainstorming.

And do let us know if you’d like us to moderate.

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