Getty 2024

First up, Happy new year to you all! To be absolutely honest, I am not a big fan of this time of year – and it’s not especially about the weather, more the pressure to make changes in your life. However, one thing I do like is reading about all the predictions for the year. You know, those articles that say what we’re all likely to be buying and eating.

Mintel, for example, says that this year we can expect brands to help consumers “live longer, healthier lives, balance their needs for health and pleasure and unlock new conveniences from technology”. Wow – where can I buy this product that’s going to give me a longer and healthier life? Read on and you find it’s not as simple as that.

Apparently it’s all about brands helping consumers make informed decisions about how processed and ultra-processed food and drink fit into their diets. I know how well it fits into my diet, and by going into my local forecourt store I can see how well it fits into their customers’ diets too.

Every year I write articles about healthier food to go and healthier snacking and I know that many forecourt retailers are good at offering their customers alternatives but I also know that given the choice of a hot sausage roll or a pot of muesli, many people are going to go for the sausage roll. The proliferation of Greggs on forecourt sites proves that.

Mintel says that brands offering minimally processed products should share how processing improves their products, such as enhancing nutrition, increasing shelf life or reducing environmental impact. It all sounds very noble but such brands probably fit more in a Wholefoods store or an upmarket deli than a forecourt store. Although, upon saying that, an apple or banana ticks the unprocessed box so you could start labelling fruit as a minimally processed product.

Another trend that cannot be ignored is AI, and Mintel says it will help consumers with meal planning, shopping and cooking. As such the research firm describes AI as a “non-negotiable time saver in the kitchen”.

Mintel says retail developments will come in the form of real-time shopping assistance, such as push notifications, personalised alerts and AI that could help consumers find ingredients or products while in stores, in transit or shopping online. At this point, I am imagining a little robot directing me to the grocery aisle.

Obviously there are many more predictions for 2024, from companies other than Mintel. Euromonitor, for example, talks about ‘value hackers’ and the continued drive to try and save money. The company also talks about consumers being ‘Greenwashed out’. It says consumers want organisations to ‘step up’ and show proof of their eco pledges.

I know that many forecourts put up signs on their chillers saying doors have been added to them to save on energy use and costs. This is great but I wonder if it could go a step further. Perhaps give more detail. A notice saying that in this store we use X and Y to reduce our carbon emissions and that we have reduced our energy bills by Z, as a result. You might not want to go so far as to say you are passing all those savings onto your customers but a bit more meat on the bone might generate some good PR.