Stepping into the year 2024, the food market will continue to evolve driven by consumer preferences, emerging technologies, and social changes. In this context, staying ahead of the curve is essential for food companies to thrive. To shed light on the path forward, ChemLinked sorts out the top 8 possible food market trends in 2024.
1. Health remains a top priority
As consumers' living standards improve and health awareness rises, maintaining a healthy diet has become a shared pursuit. Consumers are willing to spend more time and effort looking for healthy food options. In 2022, 43% consumers check the labels attached to food packaging when purchasing food products, especially the ingredient list and nutrition information, comparing to 36% in 2020. 
The food categories that are known to be helpful for health, such as organic food, low GI food and health-preservation snacks, also witnesses significant growth in recent years. For instance, low GI foods are favoured by consumers since it can promote cardiovascular health and prevent diabetes through maintaining blood sugar stability, and control weight by increasing satiety. According to JD’s statistics, in 2022, the sales value of low GI food in JD supermarkets increased by 10 times year-on-year (YoY) with consumers risen by 8 times YoY. In 2023, the number of certificated low GI brands is estimated to grow by 3 times.
In 2024, resulted from consumers’ increasing health consciousness, ChemLinked expects that consumers will pay more attention to the food products they consume and have more health-related demands. Brands can cater to these evolving health preferences by utilising natural and high-quality food ingredients, increasing transparency in labeling, etc.
2. Rational consumption and emotional consumption coexist
On the one hand, as the economic pressure and life uncertainty intensified in the post-COVID-19 period, consumers are increasingly rational and realistic in their consumption concepts and behaviours. They purchase products based on their needs and reduce impulsive consumption. A survey conducted by the China Youth Daily Social Survey Center indicated that even during the 618 Shopping Festival of 2022 and 2023, 60% consumers bought products according to their demands, comparing to stocking up goods in the previous years. Besides, consumers place great emphasis on product cost-effectiveness. They are good at taking advantage of promotional campaigns and comparing prices among different channels to purchase commodities at cost-effective prices. Deloitte’s research in 2022 suggested that more than 90% investigated consumers were enthusiastic about comparing prices and approximately 80% would actively searching for coupons before paying the bills.
On the other hand, consumers start to notice commodities offering emotional value and prefer to purchase products that can bring them happiness. An illustrative example is the popularity of "dopamine trend" in 2023, where brightly coloured food items are designed to deliver positive emotions to consumers. Many food brands capitalized on this trend by introducing dopamine-coloured products. For instance, Starbucks launched a series of Starbucks Refreshers in vibrant colours like pink and purple, while Luckin unveiled iced coffee, added with different juices in orange, purple and green.
Left: Starbucks’ Refreshers Right: Luckin’s Drinks
In light of this trend, brands can employ various strategies to cater to consumer preferences. Firstly, they can enhance the cost-effectiveness of their products by offering competitive prices, discounts, and value-added promotions. Additionally, brands can introduce new commodities that evoke positive emotions, leveraging colour psychology or other sensory elements to create emotional connection with consumers.
3. The convenience of food still matters
Currently, considering food safety and product’s cost-effectiveness, many consumers prefer to dine at home. But due to the fast-paced lifestyle, most of them do not have sufficient time to cook meals themselves. In this condition, food categories that can enhance cooking efficiency develop rapidly.
Compound condiments, for example, are favoured by consumers as they can be prepared swiftly and improve people’s daily dietary experience through combining different flavours. Its market size totaled CNY178.6 billion in 2022, and was estimated to reach CNY 336.7 billion in 2027, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.46%, surpassing the growth rate of the overall condiment market.  A wide range of compound seasoning products also emerges on the market, like Kung Pao chicken seasoning, twice-cooked pork seasoning, Mapo tofu seasoning, etc. Moreover, in order to cater for consumers' growing focus on health, brands also rolled out low-calorie compound condiment products. For example, 50g sour soup beef seasoning of TasteMatters, a Chinese compound condiment brand, contains only 20 kcal.
Left: Taitaile’s Kung Pao Chicken Seasoning Middle: Mapo Tofu Seasoning Right: Sour Soup Beef Seasoning
As more and more people may choose to cook at home, brands can seize the opportunity to innovate and introduce products that offer greater convenience for consumers' dining experiences. This may involve developing ready-to-cook meal kits, pre-cut and pre-prepared ingredients, and convenient packaging solutions that simplify cooking process.
4. More sustainable products appear
Nowadays, the sustainability of products is increasingly affecting consumers’ purchasing behaviours. According to the 2022 Sustainable Consumption Report, if consumers become aware of the significant energy and resource waste in the manufacturing process, 84.78% of them would refrain from purchasing it.  Furthermore, many consumers are willing to pay a premium for environmentally-friendly products. Deloitte’s survey in 2022 indicated that 70% of the interviewed consumers expressed their willingness to accept higher prices for sustainable food products.
Many food enterprises have continuously carried out actions to increase the sustainability of their products. For instance, Yili introduced a new low-carbon packaging for its 200ml dairy product, eliminating the aluminum foil layer and decreasing the amount of printing ink used , achieving a reduction of 11.12gCO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) in emissions per product. Mars Wrigley China upgraded the bowl packaging’s lid of its crispy chocolate Cui Xiang Mi (CXM), to 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET), expecting to reduce the use of virgin plastic by 300 tons per year. (More information of enterprises’ sustainable campaigns on ChemLinked.)
Left: 100% rPET Used in the Lid of Mars Wrigley China’s Cui Xiang Mi (CXM) Right: Yili’s Poster for the Low-carbon Packaging for Its Milk Product
Looking ahead, as consumers' awareness and concern for sustainability continuously grows, food brands are expected to launch more sustainable products to cater to this trend, which can include using eco-friendly materials, reducing carbon emissions throughout the supply chain, adopting renewable energy sources, etc. Brands can also communicate their sustainability efforts transparently to build trust and resonate with environmentally-conscious consumers.
5. Great potential to explore in “Silver Economy”
According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs of China, the number of elderly people aged 60 and above was 280 million, accounting for 19.8% of the total population. National Health Commission estimated that its number would exceed 300 million in the 14th Five-year Plan period (2021-2025), taking up more than 20% and entering the "moderate aging stage". The constantly rising aging population prompted senior people to be one of the major consumption groups in China.
Recognising this trend, many well-known food companies have introduced brands tailored specifically for the aging population. For instance, Nestlé and Yili rolled out elderly milk powder brands Yiyang and Xinhuo, respectively. Danone also unveiled a nutritional food brand Ganmai. Besides, nutrition supplement products targeting senior people experienced remarkable growth. Taking the elderly goat milk powder as an example, its sales value reached 728 million yuan on Taobao and Tmall platforms from July 2022 to June 2023, with a YoY increase of 21.8%. 
Given the continuously growing elderly population in China, ChemLinked believes that there will be an increasing demand for nutritional products for senior citizens in the future. Food and beverage brands can seize this opportunity to support healthy aging by offering more affordable products enriched with essential nutrients. These products are expected to address specific nutritional needs, such as providing adequate protein, calcium, and vitamins, with factors like texture preferences and ease of consumption also considered.
6. Marketing campaigns need to be more innovative
Marketing campaigns play a pivotal role in boosting brand awareness and driving product sales. However, as the number of campaigns increases, simply relying on traditional approaches has become less effective in capturing consumers' attention. In order to stand out in the competitive market, brands must embrace innovation to create truly captivating campaigns.
For instance, after brands continuously launch co-branded products, they are no longer as attractive to consumers as before. To achieve significant success, brands need to explore unexpected collaborations that beyond consumers' imagination. A remarkable example of this is the partnership between Chinese baijiu giant Moutai and coffee brand Luckin. Moutai, known for its high price, collaborated with Luckin, creating a Moutai-flavored latte priced at an affordable price—CNY 19. The possibility of savouring Moutai at a low price entices many consumers. On the first day of the product launch, over 5.42 million cups were sold, generating more than CNY 100 million sales value.
In 2024, as the competition among brands intensifies, brands are supposed to push the boundaries of creativity to captivate consumers continuously. Innovation can take various forms, such as leveraging emerging technologies, telling unique stories that resonate with consumers on a deeper level, etc.
7. Artificial intelligence (AI) drives innovation
The rise of AI technology, exemplified by the emergence of ChatGPT, has spurred food and beverage brands to harness its power for innovation. AI is being applied across various aspects of operations, including product development, packaging, marketing, and advanced market analysis, which lead to enhanced efficiency and improved user experiences.
One instance of AI-driven innovation was showcased by Yili. It introduced six types of AI-generated packaging for its dairy products, with AI playing a significant role in the conceptualization and visual design process. Similarly, Coca-Cola leveraged AI in its pursuit of innovation. It introduced a product for which AI was used in the process of flavour R&D, packaging design and product promotion.
Coca-Cola’s New Drink Co-created with AI
Recognizing the innovative potential of AI, food enterprises are actively investing in strengthening their AI capabilities. For instance, Starbucks has made a substantial investment of CNY 220 million to establish Starbucks (China) Innovation Technology Co., Ltd, whose business covers the development of basic AI software and AI application software. Looking ahead, AI will definitely integrate into the food industry deeper, and make more contributions to innovation.
8. Active expansion in lower-tier cities
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the population of cities below the third-tier in China was approximately 1 billion, occupying 70% of the total population. Additionally, benefiting from the economic development and less mortgage pressure, consumers in lower-tier cities enjoy comparatively relaxed pace of life and have more time for consumption. Therefore, many food and beverage brands are actively exploring opportunities there. For instance, Starbucks has opened offline stores in more than 800 counties in China. In the following years, it will continue to expand its business to China’s approximately 3,000 counties. As the competition among the first- and second-tier cities intensifies and market becomes increasingly saturated, lower-tier cities might offer better opportunities for the development of food and beverage companies.
However, the characteristics of consumers in the lower-tier cities are distinctive from first- and second-tier cities. Enterprises should have a deep understanding of their consumption demands and behaviours so as to achieve success in these areas. For example, consumers in lower-tier cities attach more importance to the cost-effectiveness of products and have a relatively low willingness to purchase commodities to exhibit social status. Besides, they prefer to buy food and beverage products through offline channels for consumption frequency and after-sales service. 
Disclaimer: All pictures used in the article are from the Internet.