As last year came to a close, I (like many others, I’m sure) expressed my hopes that 2023 would bring better news than the recent chain of events that have befallen us (2020 onwards).
Unfortunately, times have remained tough. Yet, we’ve muddled on. The teachings of the last few years have indeed offered us valuable lessons of resilience within our industry, which we’ve brought into 2023.
These lessons have not just been in the form of supply chain robustness driven by the pandemic or the unsteady geopolitical climate, however; they have also been from incidences such as the Salmonella chocolate outbreaks of earlier years.
Looking at the economic climate, the UK has performed better than some forecasts initially predicted, and food inflation is thankfully continuing to drop, with food and non-alcoholic beverages falling to 10.1% in October 2023. But with inflationary pressures lingering, we’re not out of the woods yet.
Overall, costs are still high, and businesses (and consumers) continue to be impacted by the cost-of-living crisis, along with the effects of labour shortages and supply chain difficulties fuelled by Brexit red tape, climate change and conflict.
Whilst high costs will have contributed to the market consolidation we’ve been seeing this last year, this has, on the whole, been acknowledged as a natural progression. Manufacturers are refining their processes and products, and those which deliver on all fronts – most importantly taste – have and will triumph.
Closures, redundancies and acquisitions have littered our headlines throughout 2023, with many of our top stories focused on such subjects.
But our number one story (most read) for 2023 is around processed foods – an indicator that not only are consumers becoming more interested in what goes into food – just because it’s labelled plant-based doesn’t automatically make it good for you – but also that the narrative around ultra processed (UPF) and ‘processed’ is under heated debate.
As our story highlighted, there is this (consumer) idea that ‘processed’ means ‘bad’, but most food is processed! Furthermore, some research has argued that certain ultra processed foods can still be part of a healthy diet.
The term ultra processed is based on the NOVA system, but this has been criticised for grouping foods in a very blazé fashion.
It’s evident that further research is required to understand what exactly is meant by UPF and their impacts on health. Perhaps a deeper dive into ingredients and their levels would be helpful?
We’re seeing similar debates centred on HFSS, as a divide in the industry has emerged, with some questioning whether this is unfairly focused on retail (how many calories does a takeaway contribute), and others asking whether the metrics on which we measure are the right ones.
Delays to additional rules with HFSS have been postponed by the current Government and it’ll be interesting to see whether these actually end up happening. We’re awaiting Rishi Sunak to call a general election next year – and on shaky ground already, who knows if the poll predictions will turn back in the Conservative’s favour and what a new political power may bring to the table.
As always, our Business Leaders’ Forum shed some interesting light on the perspectives of the sector’s most influential voices – and what is clear is that whoever is in charge needs to offer clearer guidance in response to the rush of regulation 2024 and beyond will bring.
But whatever happens, here’s wishing for a kinder 2024. I wish you a happy and prosperous new year.