Exclusive insights: FMCG Gurus World Confectionery Conference preview interview

Decoding the latest detail in major and micro trends across the confectionery and wider food market is no mean technical feat. Neill Barston discusses the pandemic and its impacts with Mike Hughes (pictured), head of research and insight at FMCG Gurus, ahead of his keynote appearance at our World Confectionery Conference

Having spent many years tracking consumers behavioural patterns, it seems there’s clearly one thing that remains constant, in that the FMCG space rarely, if ever stands still.

From year-to-year product trends can quickly fall out of favour with markets, with this summer’s most wanted piece of indulgence, may soon end on the pile of yesterday’s innovations.

Clearly, the confectionery sector is far from immune to such challenges, which has given rise in recent years to the proliferation of plant-based options, vegan specialities, and Keto offerings to name but several categories that have, and they are continuing to make their mark on global territories.

Indeed, with the sector’s international market valued at around $206 billion last year, and in the region of $584bn and growing rapidly for the broader snacks category, maintaining market share and driving innovation continue to prove hot topics across the industry.

As UK-based analyst Mike Hughes explained, it’s certainly a fascinating industry to be involved with, and he’s keenly awaiting the chance to share his knowledge with visitors to this year’s World Confectionery Conference taking place on 5 October at the Harrogate Convention Centre, Yorkshire.

“We are absolutely delighted to be involved in the conference again, and as a company, we are seeing continued evolution in snacking habits from health, sustainability and quality perspective.

“While last year we were looking at the cost of living, we’re starting to see the full impact of that now, so I think the WCC event is going to be really dynamic, talking about the context of snacking, not just talking about the consumer-centric attributes that need satisfying, but also how we do this in a recessionary environment,” notes Mike, as he observes the key fact that the UK, as with many other areas of Europe, is facing the prospect of continued comparatively lean economic times in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, as Confectionery Production has previously reported, despite the past couple of years being marked by a period of general restraint from consumers, markets for snacks, including premium confectionery segments, remained notably buoyant.

Whether that trend continues to persist as we move further into 2023 is hard to predict, but it’s a theme that is likely to form a topic of conversation for our event this autumn.
“We can’t underestimate the seriousness of the present situation, with consumers having less financial confidence than they did a couple of years ago, as well rising costs impacting on production methods from the manufacturing side.

“But the one thing that we are seeing in a number of snacking categories at the moment is resilience. One of the reasons for this is that consumers can often adopt an ‘attitude behaviour gap’ when it comes to less healthy items when talking about budgeting.

“They are actively trying to cut down on what they are spending on food and drink – and when they do so, it tends to be inherently in categories that are associated with indulgence.

“There’s a psychology of budgeting here, as if consumers feel that they are making these cuts for health gains as well as saving money, they feel more in control of their decisions,” explains the expert of some of the choices that many families are now faced with amid a period of extended wage stagnation and food soaring food costs – with many categories in the UK for example, having seen prices rise by more than 20 per cent in the past year alone. This equates to the near 40-year inflation highs that are undoubtedly impacting all spheres of the market.

pic: Shutterstock

Hope on the horizon
Despite such background tests, the Manchester-based specialist, who holds a business degree that has proved invaluable in his market analysis, notes that despite these proving to be fairly lean economic times, consumers still place a high value on having their favourite treats. It may well just be that they’re in a more compact or alternate form.

As for his own experiences, he enthuses that there have been some notable changes to the entire FMCG sector since his organisation first began nearly a decade ago.

In terms of its approach, he acknowledges that while at its core, the business remains data-driven its outlook, providing genuine insights and strategic thought leadership is equally significant as it evaluates these extremely busy market segments.

“I’ve been in the industry for 16 years, and with FMCG Gurus for nine years now. Trends are constantly evolving, there’s rarely one that comes along in which everything changes overnight – they tend to be very broad, and it’s the insights and fads that keep them relevant.

“The one thing that has really changed is in how much consumer behaviour has changed in the wake of Covid-19.

“While fears surrounding the pandemic have subsided, people now have other concerns including the cost of living crisis, and uncertainties over the situation in Ukraine, there have been some longer-lasting impacts in the way that consumers think about health and re-prioritised what is important to them. So, the pandemic has fundamentally changed their behaviour.”

Clearly, the confectionery industry is not immune to such issues, as consumer behaviour evolves, as Mike notes, shoppers are increasingly more savvy about their product choices, placing health concerns, and traceability and sustainability as core factors in their major shopping decisions. These topics and plenty more besides are destined to form part of wider discussions at this year’s World Confectionery Conference, which we anticipate will offer a fine forum for debate across the industry.

Contact our advertising manager, Chris Meer, at chris@bellpublishing with the code Earlybird23 to register and make the most of our final reduced subscriber earlybird ticket offer for the 2023 edition of the World Confectionery Conference taking place on 5 October at the Harrogate Convention Centre. Our offer runs until 5 August 2023, delivering £30 off the standard prices, so registering early is of great assistance in our show planning, so please do make contact as a priority.

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