top of page

What can millions of online conversations tell us about the latest food and beverage trends?

Written by Jaroslav Guzanic

Reviewed by Wanja Nyaga and Matheus Abrantes


The last few years have greatly impacted consumers' eating habits and grocery shopping. Consumers experimented in the kitchen during the pandemic, and food delivery became popular. What trends are staying, and what new trends are emerging in the food and drink industry? The Brandwatch, a digital consumer intelligence company that specialises in social media monitoring and analytics, has come up with this thesis question and conducted research in 2023 aiming to analyse more than 165 global online data-driven conversations to explore current culinary trends, consumer eating and drinking habits, restaurant experiences, and food delivery insights. The goal was to appraise and evaluate the results and key findings and summarise the food and consumer trends in 2020-2023, outlining further developing predictions for 2024 and beyond.


Methodology


This report analysed public online consumer conversations around food and beverages among English, French, German, and Spanish speakers between June 1, 2022, and May 31, 2023. Generational data was gathered with ready-to-use Social Panels in Consumer Research. On average, the audience of the analysed food accounts is 64% female and 31% male. More than half of the audience is 24 years old or younger. 33% are between 25 and 34 years old. The audience on TikTok is younger than on Instagram, where over 60% are younger than 24 years. Followers are mainly from the US, UK, and India. Interests of Instagram followers show that besides food, they are also interested in relationships, fashion, and photography.


How are we talking about food online? 


Generally, compared to 2021, people were talking less about food online. From June 1, 2022, to May 31, 2023, mentions are down by 16% compared to the previous 12 months. Especially positive mentions are down by a staggering 45%. With inflation and higher food prices, it may not be surprising that food is becoming more of a struggle for more consumers.  Disgust is the most prominent emotion in online conversations about food, followed by joy and anger. Some consumers complain that they can't eat certain foods due to allergies or illnesses or that they've eliminated certain foods from their diets to improve their eating habits. Taste is another significant factor. Consumers express disgust with foods they don't like or share bad experiences with certain products. On the other hand, consumers enjoy positive experiences and share them online. Some of the most popular positive activities are eating at restaurants, sharing meals with family and friends, or discussing food from their travel destinations. The most positively discussed meal is brunch. Conversations around brunch have the highest number of positive mentions.


Hashtags are another important means of communication online. They provide a quick glimpse into the post and make it easier for social media users who do not follow the account but are interested in the topic to find the post. Of the hashtags used in food-related conversations, #vegan is at the top. The top 10 include hashtags that promote healthy and vegan lifestyles. Interestingly, the second most popular hashtag is travel, a hashtag not directly related to food. It's also the hashtag that grew the most over the period analysed. The pandemic impacted here, as consumers obviously couldn’t travel much in 2021. This changed in 2022, and there are notably more social media posts related to food and travel. Prepared foods, meats, vegetables, desserts, and baked goods are the most photographed foods. Pictures of prepared foods most often include vegetables, fruit, or salad. Meat dishes most often have fried foods on the side.


Top Food Trends


Like all trends, food trends come and go, and social media is increasingly influencing which trends go viral and are picked up and tried by consumers. TikTok plays a bigger role in setting these trends than it did a few years ago. Food trends that go viral on TikTok don't take long to spread to other social networks. Aesthetics still play an important role in how tasty we find a dish. So, it’s no surprise that bowls lead the list of food trends. Bowls are not a specific type of food but the presentation of food in a bowl. It can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They can be sweet or savoury. There are smoothie bowls, oatmeal, poke, burrito, or Buddha bowls. The options are endless, which might be why bowls are a food trend that shows no signs of slowing down. While bowls are the top food trend in consumers' online conversations in the US, UK, and French-speaking countries, appetizers are number one in German-speaking and APAC countries. Ramen is a favourite in Spanish-speaking countries, and consumers in the UK talk more about porridge than in other countries, making it the second most discussed food trend in their conversation. Appetisers are the second most talked about food trend after bowls. Appetizers and hors d'oeuvres are popular choices at restaurants and parties. Appetizers are nothing new in the food world, but why are appetizers so popular in consumers' food conversations these days? The top appetizers mentioned in their online conversations are appetizers with chicken, bread, or cheese. Cheese boards and cheese plates are among the most popular choices. Charcuterie boards were big in 2022-2023 and are still a big trend in 2024.


Mentions of butter boards have increased by over 180%, and dessert boards have increased by 136%. Butter boards feature a variety of butter, often flavoured with garlic or herbs, served with bread or crackers. Chocolate and various fruits and cookies are the go-to food for dessert boards. Mushrooms are an important part of a healthy diet. This is also seen in online conversations where consumers talk about mushrooms as part of vegan dishes or in combination with chicken, potatoes, or rice. Oyster mushrooms are a popular meat substitute, and enoki mushrooms are popular on TikTok, especially in (people eating large amounts of food) or featuring the sound of chewing, chopping, and crunching mushrooms.


Another trend that has recently gained traction is mushroom coffee. Consumers are switching from regular to mushroom coffee to try something new or for health benefits. According to Google Trends, it increased in late 2022 and reached a 5-year high in March 2023. With 52% of sentiment-categorised mentions being positive and 48% negative, the topic is still polarizing. In positive conversations, consumers say they drink mushroom coffee for health reasons or to reduce their caffeine intake while still wanting an energy boost. Not all consumers appreciate the taste, a prominent topic in negative conversations. The remaining group says that mushroom coffee has nothing to do with coffee. Like bowls, fermentation is a food trend that has been around for a few years. Online conversations around fermentation are seeing the resurgence of longstanding fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi (but also tempeh, kefir, sourdough, miso and others), along with entirely new dishes. In 2023, for example, pickled garlic became one of the most popular fermented ingredients/foods.


A recent trend gaining traction is gochujang, a Korean chilli paste made from fermented soybeans. K-pop and Korean movies and TV shows have also fuelled the popularity of Korean cuisine, and dishes like bibimbap (mixed rice with veggies) or tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) are spreading outside of Korea. According to Google Trends, this reached a 5-year high in April 2023, and the use of tteokbokki increased by 450% in the past year. The number of people talking about gochujang online has increased by 18% since the beginning of this year. Joy is the number one emotion expressed in these conversations. Consumers enjoy trying traditional Korean dishes or experimenting with infusing chilli paste into other regional cuisines, creating a fusion.


According to online conversations, people most love stirring their gochujang into rice, chicken, garlic, kimchi, sesame oil, and tofu. Using gochujang in pasta or BBQ sauce or punching up soups are popular examples of how consumers adapt to thick, sticky condiments. There's even a gochujang caramel cookie recipe that's gone viral. Consumers love to experiment in the kitchen, and gochujang allows them to add a kick and depth of flavour to their dishes. There will most likely be more experimentation with it going forward in 2024.


The meal situation in 2023


Overall, dinner is the most popular meal in food conversations. Following dinner, breakfast and lunch are the second and third most popular meals. Brunch is also one of the most discussed meal topics. More than 64% of emotionally categorised brunch mentions are happy. Several people love going out for brunch, enjoying bottomless brunch specials, or hosting brunch with family and friends at home. When they have a great restaurant experience, they are eager to share the excellent service and great food online. Popular brunch foods include chicken, waffles, pancakes, eggs, French toast, and cheeses. In terms of drinks, mimosa is the most popular brunch cocktail. The location with the most brunch conversation is New York.


Globally, there are some differences in meal conversations. While dinner is the number one meal in food conversations, German-speaking people talk the most about breakfast, and Spanish-speaking people post the most about lunch.  As online food conversations, in general, have decreased, all meal conversations have slowed down. Except for one: The snack conversation. Mentions of snacks remain at the same level. Snacking increased during the pandemic. Probably because staying home meant getting bored and, therefore, being more easily tempted. A 2020 survey, before the pandemic, seeks to explore if snacking evolved. Consumers are talking less positively about snacking. Positive mentions of snacking have decreased by 10%, and 42% of all conversations are negative.


In negative conversations, consumers talk about trying to snack less, snacking healthier, and craving certain types of food. Around 88% of consumers said they snacked more or the same amount. When consumers talk positively about snacking, they say they love snacks and how delicious they are. They say they snack at home or at work, and the most common foods mentioned in snacking conversations are fruit, cheese, and vegan options.


Consumer insights on restaurant habits 


Positive restaurant experiences are on the decline. Restaurants faced tough times during the pandemic and lockdowns, and consumers were reluctant to return after the restrictions were lifted. With exploding energy prices, rising inflation, and lacking staff, restaurants have faced another round of challenges. Online conversations about restaurants and dining out from June 1, 2022, to May 31, 2023, declined by 33% compared to the previous 12 months. Looking at the sentiment, positive mentions decreased even more. Over the same period, positive mentions decreased by nearly 50%.


Higher prices play a significant role in negative conversations. Consumers say that eating out is too expensive or that they expect better food and service for their money. Time was another issue in negative conversations. Waiting too long for their order doesn't make consumers happy. In these mentions, consumers also talked about trying a new restaurant for the first time or eating out after a long time and how disappointing their experience was. However, restaurants meeting their guests’ high expectations can look forward to customers going online to discuss their positive experiences. Delicious food is the most frequently cited, followed by good service, prime location, and a nice atmosphere. As consumers become more price-sensitive, they expect a certain level of quality.


The rise of solo dining is on the rise. Consumers are increasingly more comfortable eating out alone - for business or pleasure. This trend is also influenced by Korean culture. More and more people in Korea live alone and embrace a single life. The trend is called the honjok lifestyle, which covers activities usually done with others alone, such as going out to restaurants. Korean culture has become quite popular in Western countries lately, so it's no wonder certain lifestyle trends are also becoming more popular.


From June 1, 2022, to May 31, 2023, the number of people talking online about eating alone and eating solo increased by 7% compared to the previous 12 months, and the number of online mentions increased by 9%. Different regions have some differences: While the number of German- and French-speaking people talking about eating alone has increased, fewer people in Asia-Pacific countries are talking about the topic. In positive conversations, people talk about their positive experiences eating alone in a restaurant and the benefits of going out alone, such as not being forced to socialise or leave whenever they want.


Others have a less positive experience, adding to the negative conversations that they feel awkward and uncomfortable eating alone in a restaurant or are unsure where to sit if the restaurant doesn't have a bar. In fact, negative mentions of solo dining increased by 24%, indicating that the experience doesn’t live up to expectations.


Trends in diet 


Plant-based diets have become increasingly popular in recent years. Especially during the pandemic, it seems like consumers were more open to experimenting with new foods during the lockdown. Online conversations about plant-based foods from June 1, 2022, to May 31, 2023, are down 7% compared to the previous 12 months. But this doesn't mean that consumers have lost interest in plant-based products. Quite the opposite: as more products flooded the market, it’s become normal to see plant-based products in grocery stores. Overall, online conversations about plant-based foods are more positive than negative. 62% of all sentiment-categorised mentions are positive, while 38% are negative.


Though it might seem counterintuitive, meat is the most discussed food in plant-based conversations, followed by pizza and chocolate. Conversations about plant-based meats decreased by 27%, and conversations about plant-based burgers decreased by 57%. Plant-based meats were also the product with the highest negative mentions of all the foods analysed. The topics most concern consumers in conversations about plant-based meats are taste, ethics, and price. Topics with the highest negative mentions revolve around smell, texture, and price. Smell, taste, and texture are important product attributes that significantly impact the eating experience. If a plant-based product is lacking in either one of these areas, consumers will not buy the product again and will switch to another brand. On the other hand, there's more interest in plant-based chocolate. Online conversations are up 64%. This makes sense as the global vegan chocolate market is expected to grow. In vegan chocolate conversations, consumers mention chocolate bars, using them in cakes, for breakfast, or as part of a healthy lifestyle.


Regional differences in consumer conversations about plant-based foods Plant-based consumer preferences vary from region to region. We broke down online conversations about plant-based foods by location and language. Here are some interesting insights for global food companies to consider. Online mentions of plant-based diets decreased in all regions, except in German- and Spanish-speaking conversations, where the number of conversations increased. German-speaking consumers talk the most positively about plant-based foods, whereas, on the flip side, UK consumers talk about it the least positively. Meat is the number one food in all regions analysed, except for French and Spanish–speaking consumers. The top food in French conversations is baked goods.


In Spanish conversations, it's chocolate. French- and German-speaking consumers talk more about ethics than the other languages analysed. While Spanish-speaking and US consumers talk more about taste, UK and Asian-Pacific consumers talk more about price. Consumers favour protein-rich products, and they have gained popularity in recent years. However, they show no signs of slowing down in 2024. Search interest for "high protein" has remained high ever since. The number of people talking about high protein online increased by 32% from June 1, 2022, to May 31, 2023, compared to the previous twelve months. Snacks, chocolate, and beverages are the most mentioned high-protein products. 52% of all generation-categorised mentions around "high-protein" come from millennials. 


What topics of conversation express disgust? Consumers complain that they want to eat more protein-rich foods but can't stand the smell of certain products. Another negative issue is price. High-protein foods, such as eggs or high-protein shake powder, often cost more than other foods. With inflation and higher prices, price is a pain point in conversations with consumers struggling to manage the budget needed for a high-protein diet.


Final Thoughts


Food and beverage industry trends can emerge quickly and spread like wildfire through social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Staying ahead of these trends and adapting to changing consumer preferences is crucial for brands to retain customers. By leveraging demographic insights, brands gain a deeper understanding of how consumer preferences and behaviours vary across demographics, such as location or generation. This capability, combined with sound public health and nutrition knowledge, can provide another effective lever to move dietary trends towards patterns and better health outcomes.


References


Brandwatch. (2023, September 11) Food and Beverage Trends 2023. https://www.brandwatch.com/de/reports/food-beverage-report-2023/view/

 

Disclaimer: we used the Brandwatch report as an example and do not endorse or seek to promote any particular company or provider.

33 views0 comments

Kommentare


bottom of page