An opinion piece on New Zealand nutrition trends, both emerging and enduring, within the food and beverage sector.
In the ever-evolving realm of global nutrition, food and nutrition trends have a way of captivating the attention of shoppers and health-conscious individuals.
New Zealand is no exception. More and more individuals are becoming proactive about their wellbeing and that of the planet, leading to shifts in how we eat, shop and dine – aka the ‘conscious consumerism’ phenomenon.
Over the past few years, I’ve had the incredible privilege of serving as a food critic judge at the New Zealand Food Awards. Here, we critically and objectively review a breadth of products (100+!) at the forefront of excellence, innovation, and sustainability within the dynamic Kiwi food and beverage sector – with many aligned with food trends, both emerging and enduring.
From the popularity of plant-based and eating for gut health, to celebrating sustainable local ingredients, to the functional food boom, to the intersection where personalised nutrition meets tech, to the pressing issue of food affordability – here are six nutrition food trends gaining momentum.
New Zealand has been long renowned for exceptional meat and dairy products, which are deeply rooted in its food culture. However, a remarkable shift has been underway in the country’s culinary landscape.
Once a fringe movement, the plant food and beverage category has boomed, supported by the many eaters opting for plant-based alternatives as dietary preferences.
Research from the last few years estimates 1 in 3 Kiwi’s are actively reducing meat consumption, citing reasons of health, affordability, environmental concerns – and, of course, the growing availability of plant-based products (Food Frontier (2022)).
This has to led to a surge of dairy-free milks, cheeses and even butter (once hard to mimic, now being perfected), to meat substitutes that look, taste and ‘bleed’ like the real deal, to speedy ‘just add water’ and heat-and-eat meals – making it that much easier, delicious and sustainable to eat plant-forward.
Looking to the horizon, with the growth in demand for alternative foods, wilder technologies becoming accepted (lab grown meat anyone?), and the acceleration of biotechnology, eating plant-forward is one trend that’s future-proofed.
Over the last few years, the New Zealand Food Awards saw a number of innovative plant-based products take out finalist awards. This includes Let’s Eat’s Plant-Based Golden Nuggets for the Below Zero Award, Food Nation’s Magic Mince (great for larb, lasagne, moussaka, burgers, shepherd-free pies…) for the Health and Wellbeing Award, and Vince’s Just-Add-Water Vegetable Mince for the Pantry Award.
The known benefits of probiotic-rich foods are increasingly mainstream – and for good reason. Many more are reaching for fermented probiotic foods, like live yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha, in a bid to support gut health.
While fermented foods have a long-standing presence in the culinary traditions of countries like Japan, their history is not as deeply rooted locally. However, with its strong agricultural heritage, New Zealand has the foundation for exploring probiotic foods – like live yoghurt, already a household product in a dairy nation.
Yoghurt aside, a quick visit to the local supermarket shows the intensification of sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, and kombucha. Many brands now grace supermarket shelves, with increasingly creative and unique product formulations.
Despite its old-world charm, fermentation is also emerging as powerful technology to revolutionise future food production. As industrialised processes evolve, unique and beneficial products are being discovered, contributing to a more diverse, sustainable food system (Agresearch (2022)). Watch this space!
The Supreme Winner at the 2021 New Zealand Food Awards was The Wild Fermentary with their Smoky Kāpeti Sauerkraut. This small-batch ferment features green cabbage, chipotle, paprika and local sea salt. By fusing together the traditional art and modern science of fermentation, they added a unique BBQ flavour along with billions of gut-loving probiotics. Another notable product is Soochi, a finalist in the 2021 New Zealand Food Awards. Formulated by Margie Hunt, a Massey University Bachelor of Food Technology (Honours) graduate, Soochi is a soda with 5g of prebiotic fibre per serving – prebiotics being ‘food’ for probiotics.
Modern eaters are increasingly seeking transparency about their foods origins and impact, driven by a growing need for environmental sustainability (Ministry of Primary Industries (2023)).
With farmers and growers holding a pivotal position in New Zealand’s economy, the impact of 2023’s Cyclone Gabrielle, the most severe storm of the century, serves as a stark reminder of the environmental challenges faced in food production. Hawke’s Bay, fondly referred to as the fruit bowl of New Zealand, is a leading area for stone fruit and apple cultivation, boasting remarkable productivity per hectare on a global scale. The region had 25% of its harvest decimated (Consumer (2023)).
Crystal ball gazing ahead, ethical food production and sovereignty will continue to gain momentum. Here, it’s not just about what we eat, it’s also about the rights and wellbeing of all involved. This encompasses worker conditions and fair wages; animal welfare; cultural practices and implications around food; and the empowerment of communities to have more control over their own food systems – agriculture, livestock, fisheries and beyond (Ministry of Primary Industries (2023)).
The New Zealand Food Awards 2022 Supreme Winner was Poaka’s Salami Whole – Chorizo, after successfully winning both the Artisan and Primary Sector Awards. Their saddleback pigs are slow-grown on open pasture and finished on acorns and sweet chestnuts, delivering a ‘melt in your mouth’ texture traditionally found in European charcuterie. A key aspect of their success is the meticulous attention and thoughtful strategies implemented across the entire value chain. From animal production and feeding to the development of innovative drying techniques and facilities, they’re working to maintain sustainability and long-term resilience (Massey University (2022)).
Back in the day, when kale was outlandish and quinoa was just a tongue-twister, the concept of functional foods quietly brewed. However, the landscape shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and functional foods gained significant traction, especially those perceived to support immunity and gut health (ANZ Food Trends (2022)).
In the sometimes grey world of nutrition, functional foods can be poorly defined. A rational way to understand them are as ‘novel foods formulated to contain substances or live microorganisms with a possible health-enhancing or disease-preventing value, at a safe and sufficiently high concentration to achieve the intended benefit’ (Front Nutr.(2022)) – aka good bang for your nutrition buck.
Here specificity is the clincher. Consumers are looking to target specific health benefits from specific products with specific ingredients that do the job; whether that be skin, hair, immunity, digestion, ageing, cognitive function, energy support, joint health and more.
Of course, the regulatory environment is critical and, in New Zealand, functional foods are regulated under the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) code. This ensures any health claims are supported by scientific evidence, meet safety standards and provide transparent labelling for consumers (FSANZ (2022)).
The New Zealand Food Awards have seen a number of products with functional benefits coming through. In 2022, Good Sh*t Soda – a symbiotic prebiotic and probiotic soda, containing a third of the recommended daily fibre intake – won the Novel award.
Personalised nutrition is an exciting branch of nutrition science centred on customising advice to meet an individual’s specific dietary and lifestyle requirements – but wait, don’t we already do that?
Where this gets new and interesting is the rise in groundbreaking technologies, with tremendous potential to unlock personalised treatments based on one’s distinct DNA, health biomarkers, and even microbiome, unique as a fingerprint(!).
These tech advances make it easier to a) understand our unique health needs, and b) then target dietary and lifestyle interventions to address concerns or better health. Know better, do better.
What does this mean ahead? Along with the creation of more food and beverage products designed to address specific health needs, the line between food and medicine may begin to blur, as tailored nutrition approaches for addressing health concerns become integral to medical prevention and treatment strategies (Ministry of Primary Industries (2023)).
The New Zealand Food Awards 2019 Supreme Winner was The Pure Food Co, who develop premium textured-modified, protein-rich and nutritionally fortified products targeted at seniors or those with eating difficulties. Through innovative food technology and their unique intellectual property they’ve perfected the balance of the right nutrition and texture – making a product that’s nutritious, delicious and easy-to-swallow.
The cost of food is a pressing issue in New Zealand. Recent research indicates that food prices have risen by 12.5% in April 2023 compared to April 2022, marking this the most significant increase since 1986 (Stats NZ (2023)).
Global factors, like ongoing conflicts, erratic weather and the impact of COVID-19, have put pressure on food supplies and pricing. At home, local inflationary strains and rising living costs have created gaps between the desire for nutritious food and the ability to afford it – with lifestyle adjustments often needed to weather this.
This is especially challenging for vulnerable groups like low-income households and beneficiaries who may struggle to meet basic dietary needs.
Tackling this complex and multi-faceted problem is tough, and calls for collaboration and comprehensive systemic changes across different sector. The fundamental question arises: how we can make our food system more economically sustainable, while simultaneously maximising nutritional density and ensuring food affordability?
The New Zealand Food Awards 2022 Food Hero Award was Kiwi Harvest, who rescues 170,000-200,000kg of good quality surplus food every month, and diverts it back to people who are struggling or in need across New Zealand (Kiwi Harvest (2023)).
Consumers hold significant influence in shaping nutrition trends, wielding demand for specific foods, products and brands, simply by where they choose to spend their dollars. Changing tastes, along with dietary needs (and wants!), play a crucial role in determining what’s hot and what’s not in the ever-changing landscape of consumer behaviour.
However, our food system, both at the national and global level, is poised to face immense challenges ahead. While consumer preferences will continue to shape future food trends, factors like climate change, food geopolitics, the daunting task of feeding 10 billion people by 2050 (given our current food systems limitations, this seems impossible!), and the rapid advancements in technology and innovation will serve as pivotal drivers of change.
Thank you for taking the time to explore the realm of food and nutrition trends. I hope you enjoyed the read!