As 2004 begins, which new products can we expect to hit the shelves this year? There’s bad news for low-carb but good news for beauty foods and soy, while allergy sufferers can look forward to a raft of special new products. Convenience remains key, but we’re going to get busy customising our meals, apparently… Mintel shares an insight into its Global New Products Database.

Despite Atkins, low-carb foods unlikely to catch on in the UK

There has recently been a huge amount of interest (and controversy) surrounding low-carb foods. Most interest in Europe has focused on the UK, but low-carb dieters appear to be opting for regimes that are naturally low in carbohydrates, rather than buying foods that are specifically promoted as such. We will inevitably see more low-carb foods being introduced into key European markets, but recent negative media coverage is likely to limit future growth.

Rather than looking to the US, observers in Europe should perhaps consider an alternative trend that has developed in Australia. Glycemic Index (or GI) labelling measures the effect that carbohydrates have on blood glucose levels, and has become commonplace there on a range of packaged products. Some products in Europe have begun to carry prominent GI labelling, but these are mostly specialised health foods. As the issue gets more coverage and awareness of it grows among health-conscious European consumers, we should expect to see ‘GI’ cropping up on more mainstream food and beverage packages.

Beauty foods: Beauty comes from within

Collagen, ceramide, silk protein – ingredients that we are used to seeing in skincare and haircare products, will increasingly be found in food, beverages and healthcare products too. Japan has a sophisticated market for ‘beauty foods’, including cookies, confectionery and beverages from major players.

Although success in Japan by no means guarantees success in the West, this is one area that we think is likely to be popular over here as well.

People will be customising their convenience food

Expect to see developments in products that can be customised by the consumer – a form of ‘mass-market customisation’ where a regular product can be easily adapted or enhanced at the point of preparation, rather than the consumer putting up with what comes straight out of the pack.

Such products include meal kits and soup kits.

International cuisine

North African cuisine still has a long way to go in Europe, but the Olympic Games in Greece might spark renewed interest in Greek food – there’s a lot more to it than moussaka! Restaurants will run Greek-themed weeks, and that will rub off into the retail trade.

Noodles are surely due for a boost – they are fast-cooking, super-convenient, and go with a wide range of flavours and recipe-styles. There are also many forms of noodle in Asia that remain virtually unknown to non-foodie consumers in Europe.

Products that understand allergies

The reported prevalence of food intolerance and food allergy appears to be increasing, and there is certainly far greater awareness nowadays. Foods for allergy and intolerance sufferers represent a niche but growing market, which in the past has been largely supplied by specialist companies selling through health food stores. There is still plenty of scope for development, however, and we should expect to see more activity in this area in 2004, particularly in Europe.

But this is not just an issue for food products – in non-food markets we should expect to see more products designed to address concerns such as asthma, eczema and dermatitis.

Soy expected to take off

In Europe, soy has traditionally been seen as a substitute for something else – a lactose-free alternative to milk, or a meat-alternative. Even as a food ingredient it has suffered from negative associations with GMOs. But 2004 could be the year that it really takes off, when we begin to see soy touted far more prominently on supermarket shelves.

Food goes ‘au naturel’ and back to basics

Vitamin and mineral fortification remains important in food and beverages, but will only stay that way in certain types of product. The focus will be on products that are ‘naturally rich in’ key ingredients, and that is the sort of language that we should expect to see on packs.

This may also give rise to new health-related opportunities in some unusual categories. Some chocolate-based products, for example, will perhaps be marketed on the antioxidant benefits of cocoa. This has been common in Japan for several years.

Last year saw a good deal of activity in products flagged as ‘natural’, whether food or non-food products. But there is still room for more development, especially in more mainstream household and personal care products that contain active natural ingredients, or that contain ingredients that may be seen as being more natural. We are likely to see more botanical ingredients and certainly more food-inspired ingredients being used in the non-food segment. People should also look out for more traditional (even old-fashioned) ingredients in non-food products (bicarbonate, vinegar, coal tar soap?).

Within food, major players have largely switched away from organic but may opt for a ‘natural’ approach instead, launching products that are in some way ‘less processed’ or more traditional. This means that we may also see more large companies using locally produced or ethically sourced ingredients, free-range eggs etc in their packaged goods.

Convenience is key in packaging

We should expect to see more products in pouches, both food and non-food. Pouches are convenient for both producers and consumers, especially for use on-the-go.

We should also expect to see more products in dual-compartment packaging, food products that have two elements to mix or combine, (perhaps linked to the concept of customisation – see above). Also more non-food products – there have been several notable launches in recent months and these are bound to inspire more.