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Food Trends 2024: What Role Will Rice Play?

Amid fluctuating prices, economic uncertainties, and the emergence of new sensitivities to issues such as sustainability, wellness, and plant-based nutrition, it’s critical for food companies to understand which food trends will drive consumer choices in 2024. The landscape is changing rapidly, with consumers increasingly concerned about the environmental impact and quality of what they bring to the table.

One of the main sources to turn to for answers is Mintel’s Global Food and Drink Trends, which annually tracks future trends in the food market. For 2024, Mintel has identified three mega-trends revolving around seven key drivers: well-being, proximity, technology, rights, identity, value, and experiences. However, other important elements are also emerging alongside these main themes. For instance, the growing demand for organic, zero-mile, and environmentally-friendly products, as well as a growing interest in plant-based and gluten-free diets.

In this evolving scenario, rice could carve out a prominent role for itself, thanks to its properties as a healthy, sustainable food that can be widely used in dishes without animal products.

Food Trends Reported by Mintel

The first trend identified by the Mintel study is called “Trust the Process.” In an era when consumer trust in brands is a valuable asset, the focus shifts to how the food is processed. Consumers want to be informed and understand how to select foods and beverages based on the production methods used. According to Mintel, demand for plant-based meat and dairy products will grow, making processing central in guiding purchasing choices.

Similarly, special processes such as stone milling or cold pressing will add value to the products, but at the same time drive customers to want to learn more about whether it’s worth the possible extra cost. For example, 47% of fruit and vegetable shoppers in the US believe that processed products such as pre-cut fruit or canned vegetables can be a good substitute for fresh produce. While 47% of Thai consumers, 32% of Canadians, and 33% of Irish appreciate any food that helps them increase their intake of fruits and vegetables.

The Aging Population and its Influence on the Food Market

The second mega-trend identified by Mintel is “Age Reframed.” As Generation X ages, we can expect a fresh look at the aging process, dispelling the stigmas of the past that saw old age as a disease, focusing instead on prevention and maintaining health. This will open the door to new food products designed for alternative lifestyles, and no longer one-directional as in the past.

The focus of research and development will shift to functional foods that prevent ailments such as arthritis and rheumatic pain, high-energy foods, and products that promote relaxation and restful sleep. As the average life span lengthens, many of these “new seniors” will also be caregivers and decision-makers for food purchases for their aging parents. Brands and companies will need to rethink the information they provide to best guide these new consumer needs.

Convenience Food Becomes a Trend

The third mega-trend identified by Mintel is “Eating, Optimised,” which is based on the concept of convenience, meaning how convenient and easy food products are to use. In this context, technology will play a key role in helping with planning, organizing, and purchasing food, as well as in meal management.

This could lead to interesting opportunities for producers. For example, artificial intelligence could provide creative recipes to make the consumption of certain ingredients more varied and break the monotony. Or a form of smart packaging could be invented that optimizes preparation time or storage.

The Role of Rice in Food Trends for 2024

In the scenario identified by Mintel’s study, rice could carve out a prominent role.

First of all, it’s a plant-based product that can be perfectly integrated into a plant-based diet. What’s more, as a food that is healthy, easily digestible, and suited to the nutritional needs of the elderly population, it’s an ideal solution for consumers of an advanced age.

Whole-grain varieties or special processing such as stone milling might be preferred to preserve the properties of rice to the fullest. In addition, we could explore the option of enhancing the food or formulas aimed at addressing age-related issues, such as the addition of fiber or anti-inflammatory ingredients. Rice provides an excellent versatile base on which to build to create functional food products that can be easily integrated into the diet of the elderly.

Considering the growing popularity of food delivery, rice is an ideal ingredient for take-out dishes in relation to its versatility and ability to stay hot/cold.

In addition, if consumers want more convenience, but do not want to give up taste and quality, the possibilities of rice are endless. It’s not only convenient to prepare, but also to combine with numerous dishes. Already widely used in ready meals and the catering industry, rice could benefit from further advances to make it even more practical.

Why Rice Is an Interesting Food Solution

In addition to the three mega-trends identified by Mintel, rice also seems well-positioned to ride other important trends in the 2024 food landscape. First, the increasing focus on sustainability and environmental friendliness could encourage the consumption of organic and zero-mile rice, responding to the demand for genuine, traceable, and environmentally-friendly products.

Second, with the rise of plant-based and gluten-free diets, rice could be rediscovered as a viable alternative to animal protein and grains containing gluten. There are already recipes for plant-based “rice burgers” or desserts made from rice flour, but innovation in this field could explode to meet the growing demand.

Finally, the food-related aesthetic trend should not be underestimated, with dishes becoming true works of art to be shared on social media. With its many varieties in different colors and shapes, rice lends itself perfectly to endless creative reinterpretations and impactful presentations to satisfy the food aesthetic craze.