What will be trending in the local food and drink scene in 2024?

Produced in Kent, an organisation which champions the county’s finest producers and products, has curated a special trends list for 2024. Eileen Leahy savours a taste of what it believes will be big news for our tastebuds this year…

The leading local food and drink trade organisation, Produced in Kent, is at the forefront of supporting and highlighting the food and drink produced in the Garden of England.

The group is also behind the successful Taste of Kent Awards – dubbed the food and drink Oscars of our county. Now in its 20th year, the awards are dedicated to showcasing the tastiest produce the county has to offer while shining a spotlight on the many hard-working businesses behind all our wonderful food, drink and hospitality hubs.

Previous local Taste of Kent winners include the Pig & Porter brewery in Tunbridge Wells, The Small Holding in Kilndown, Cellar Head Brewing Company near Wadhurst, Kingcott Dairy in Staplehurst, Must Chup sauces in Rusthall and Groombridge Place Farm Shop.

Here, Produced in Kent’s CEO Floortje Hoette shares some of her industry insight and trend predictions for 2024, as well as top tips on how independent food and drink businesses can capitalise on these in their marketing…

Less ultra-processed foods

In recent times, we have seen a backlash against ultra-processed foods, with leading specialists including Chris van Tulleken highlighting the fact that ultra-processed foods are damaging our physical and mental health.

Floortje says: “Consumers want convenience but also transparency – we want to know what goes in our food and where it comes from. Most of us don’t have the time to cook everything from scratch and so I think we will see more products that fit in that middle zone – processed for our convenience but not ultra-processed with a long list of indistinguishable ingredients.

“There are some really innovative independent businesses using ingredients where quality takes precedence and processing is considered to ensure maximum taste and minimum additives. For example, Freddies Farm, the winners of TV show Aldi’s Next Big Thing, is making tasty children’s snacks using British fresh fruit and veg with no added sugar and minimal processing, so parents can appreciate the convenience without worrying about nasty additives.” 

Small treats

While the cost of living is still at the forefront of our minds, restricting the purse strings altogether is too much for most of us to maintain, so small treats are just what we need to boost morale and feel good into 2024. Food and drink sits at the centre of the self-care and treats market, with either guilt-free pleasures like fresh local fruit or more indulgent moments like a shared bottle of wine. 2024 will be about the perfect balance of cost and enjoyment. 

Floortje explains: “Artisan brands are perfectly positioned to be able to offer people those small moments of joy – a box of chocolates, a local jar of honey or a hand-decorated cake from a bakery are affordable treats that can brighten the day.”

Functional foods

In recent times, we have seen how technology can improve our food, either by saving us time in preparing meals or by improving the nutrition of our usual favourites. Consumers are demanding more from their food and it now must be functional as well as tasty. The recent rise in protein-packed products and gut-friendly foods has demonstrated how we are looking for specific functions and benefits.

Floortje predicts that we will continue to demand more of our food and the winners will be those keeping up with technology capabilities. “Kent-based Ro-Gro specialise in growing microgreens. They are leading the way in employing technology and renewable farming practices, showcasing a vertical farm powered by 40 per cent solar energy. But not only are they making use of tech to maximise production, they are also focusing on growing salad which provides the consumer with maximum health benefits, as microgreens have more minerals and micronutrients than fully grown plants.”

Gut health

Consumers are increasingly recognising the link between gut health and overall wellbeing, driving demand for probiotic-rich options and creating a surge in gut health awareness. Floortje sees a rising demand for these local gems, stating: “Kent-based Zak’s Kombucha and Wasted Kitchen offer both flavour and health benefits. Zak’s Kombucha offers probiotic-packed kombucha, while Wasted Kitchen tackles food waste with diverse, gut-friendly fermented products. As gut health gains prominence, these local producers emerge as go-to choices for both taste and well-being.”

Eating out

There is no doubt that the pandemic shook the hospitality sector to its core, and while this has undoubtedly influenced an increase in home delivery and takeaway habits, eating out at restaurants and pubs is finally beginning to bounce back.

“In 2024 I think we will see more eating out, but customers will prioritise quality over quantity, in other words they may eat out less than pre-covid but will spend more when they do, maximising those occasions. The traditional English pub now competes with fine dining restaurants, with many picking up AA Rosette awards for their locally-sourced menus,” adds Floortje.

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