Time: 3 mins read

Since the beginning of life, food has been a basic necessity for every human being’s nourishment and vitality. Food is an extraordinarily simple, yet complex commodity that transcends every layer of society. Whether you are rich or less well-off, food is a common denominator in the world.

The significance of food cannot be underplayed, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic impacting the world’s views on food consumption. Basic survival instincts are on display worldwide, where people are clamouring to get their hands on food, home essentials, and cleaning products to brace themselves for an “inevitable” lockdown. This widespread panic casts a spotlight on the changing consumer needs of food.

AI Palette’s proprietary technologies in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning uncovered some fascinating insights into behavioural changes in food due to the global pandemic. The Chinese market is a perfect example to look into, since the pandemic started there we have relevant data collected over the past three months. Patterns emerging from China will also be expected to be represented in other markets. Here are the top three trends predicted by Artificial Intelligence:

  1. Consumers craving for food typically consumed outside
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Here we analysed data in the Chinese beverage market, to uncover what people in China are talking about regarding their consumption amidst the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. AI Palette’s Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology analysed online conversations in Mandarin on publicly available data and discovered that while “health” is a big driver and motivation for food consumption, “taste” is also a key driver in this period.

As the COVID-19 outbreak confined people to stay indoors, this led to increased home consumption of popular products like tea, and more specifically, milk tea. Some of the reasons include a change in behaviour to make milk tea at home as restrictions in going out limited their consumption at cafes and restaurants. The nationwide isolation at home clearly does not stop people from consuming their favourite beverage, which may explain an upturn in certain popular milk tea ingredients during the emergence of COVID-19.

The engagement trend identified by AI Palette’s Artificial Intelligence in the graph above shows that ingredients like Black Tea, White Tea, and Brown Sugar have improved significantly during the last four months. While there are varying reasons why there is a large uptick in these ingredients, we take a look at more reasons why people are consuming them.

2. Consumption in immunity boosting ingredients

As people are starting to look at different ways to maintain their health and boost their immune systems, health benefits proved to be the biggest driver and motivation for products like Chinese Jujube, Soy Milk, with consumption rising during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Netizens in China have specifically mentioned the health properties of Chinese Jujube, stating that the ingredient “improves immune function”, “reduces blood pressure”, and even “increases red blood cells.” The same applies to beverages like Soy Milk, with netizens raving about how it “strengthens the skin”, “protects the cardiovascular system”, and “enhances immune function.”

Brown Sugar has also seen a rise in engagement in the past few months, as people are looking for healthier ways to sweeten their beverages, compared to considerably less healthy options like cane sugar. This is an interesting point to note as Brown Sugar is a complementary ingredient used to enhance the flavour of food and beverage.

This is a clear indicator that the health benefits of food is still considered one of the most important priorities in consumption.

3. Drop in consumption of socialising products

Because of the lockdown there is a drop in F&B items which people typically consume in a social setting like coffee and also products which are consumed for an active lifestyle. The graph below shows the consumer engagement in downward trending ingredients in the China beverage market.

Mainstream and popular ingredients like Coffee, Lemon, Coconut, and Mango are losing momentum, analysis of granular conversations revealed that people generally consume these ingredients in a social setting or after a physical activity. Limitations in outside activities in the region due to COVID-19 caused consumption of such ingredients to go down, leading to a downturn of such ingredients.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly impacted the lives of every single person in the world. The most important takeaway is the fact that food trends will continue to see a big change with people looking at alternatives, based on health or otherwise.

While there is a high demand for immunity boosting ingredients, FMCG companies would find it beneficial to look at the types of food that people typically consumed indoors. The ongoing pandemic has led to a large part of society either isolating themselves, or taking precautions not to go outside for non-essential activities. This would lead to a higher demand of converting food that is typically consumed outdoors, like Milk Tea, into something that can be easily consumed at home. However, given that there is a significant interest in immunity boosting ingredients like Chinese Jujube and Rice Bean, there are still not enough products in the market to match consumer demand.

It will be an exciting prospect to see how FMCG companies respond to rapidly changing consumer needs in this turbulent time.