Every year, newspapers and blogs are quick to predict the forthcoming food trends for the next twelve months; by all accounts, 2018 will be the year of “gut friendly food, high-end no-alcohol drinks [and] veggie-centric cuisine.” The last twelve months have seen a marked rise in popularity for drink-based health products, from antioxidant-filled matcha tea and probiotic kombucha to Huel, a “nutritionally-complete” powdered blend of oats and rice protein, which has sold 10 million-plus units since it was founded in 2014.
Flashback fifty years, and it was canned pudding which was covering dinner tables, while a 1968 issue of the upmarket New York magazine was introducing readers to “elegant Japanese ‘sandwiches’ of rice and seafood” known as sushi. Of course, it didn’t take long for those “sandwiches” to move from being a delicacy to an ubiquitous snack, and that speaks to the ever-shifting trends in the way we eat. But what exactly causes these food fads, what is it that has encourages these evolutions in how we eat?
The rise of fast food
The most significant change to our eating habits in the last half-century came with the introduction of three types of food: frozen, convenience, and fast. As more households bought freezers (from 15% of Brits in 1974 to 90% in 2000), homes were increasingly inclined to buy their food in bulk, knowing they could keep it stored safely for weeks and months to come. Indeed, the seventies were something of a boom time for the frozen food and ready meal market, with the first branch of Iceland opening in 1970, and the first chilled ready meals arriving courtesy of Marks & Spencer towards the decade’s end.
British fast food, meanwhile, originated not with the eye-catching golden arches, but with the humble Wimpy, which opened in 1954, twenty years before McDonald’s first crossed the Atlantic. Not only that, but at the chain’s peak in the seventies, Wimpy had 500 branches nationwide, whereas it took the American giant until 1984 to even hit 100 stores. With Wimpy now barely a blip on the high street compared with 1200 McDonalds, and now nearly 1,700 branches of Greggs, fast food has become an unavoidable part of the high street.
The internet has brought food to the masses
As with most things, however, much of the change in eating habits has been brought about by the internet; it isn’t just down to the ease with which we can find recipes, restaurants, and retailers, but how we share our food with others. Our meals don’t just have to taste good, they have to look good for “the ‘gram”. The Independent recently cited a study which claims 69% of millennials photograph their food before tucking in, which is encouraging some restaurants to make their food look more worthy of sharing, whether on blogs or at the table.
Despite their shady business practices, apps like Deliveroo and UberEATS are also changing how we eat; the takeout food industry is worth 50% more than it was ten years ago, and demand has skyrocketed ten times greater than the demand for restaurants. Consequently, the internet hasn’t just impacted the way we look at our food, but how we acquire it in the first place.
We learned more about what’s good for us (and are happy to pay more for it)
While fast food and processed cuisine continues to dominate consumer culture, the last few decades have also seen a sharp rise in how government health departments make recommendations on what foods constitute a healthy diet. However, as science evolves, these guidelines often don’t; the Eatwell plate, the UK’s guidelines for a balanced diet, remained unaltered for twenty years since its introduction in 1994, even though our knowledge of what makes a healthy diet altered dramatically.
In recent years, most products have evolved low-fat, low-calorie or low-sugar options, and 72% of consumers have taken advantage of these products, while others have take matters into their own hands. The last decade has seen a 360% rise in the number of vegans in Britain, and lifestyle trends such as clean eating have led 88% of consumers to be willing to pay more for healthier or organic products.