Global trends and COVID-19


The food and beverage market has an inherent strength – people need to eat and drink. Within that, a number of major global trends are shaping our industry, many of which have been accelerated by the pandemic.

Masked shopper

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused major changes to the way we live, as well as having a direct impact on our health. We still don’t know how permanent these changes will be, but the increase in online shopping, more flexible working practices and a greater awareness of personal hygiene and health are just some of the trends expected to stay.

Some of the factors which were driving changes in people’s lifestyles before the pandemic, such as population growth, urbanisation, climate change and the greater use of technology, are still with us and in some ways been accelerated by it. Lockdown measures have also had a major impact on the way we eat and drink.

The majority of people have been eating their meals at home, whereas previously many visited cafés, pubs or restaurants for snacks and meals. While some of the lockdown measures have now been relaxed either partially or wholly, the change in behaviour due to lockdowns has the potential to have a longer-term impact on our lives and our understanding of the relationship between diet and health.

Changing diets and lifestyles

No matter where you look, societies and governments are facing significant food and health‑related challenges. In today’s more urbanised world, people are leading less active ways of life, a situation made worse by lockdowns. People are generally eating too much and moving too little, and these progressively unbalanced lifestyles are affecting their health. The incidence of obesity and diabetes, and concerns about digestive health, are increasing rapidly. It is estimated that there are approximately 463 million adults in the world living with diabetes, growing to 700 million by 20451.

Healthcare costs are rising over the longer term, placing health services in many countries under increased pressure. In the UK, for example, the government estimates that the costs for the National Health Service attributable to overweight and obesity will increase from £6.1 billion to £9.7 billion by 2050, with wider costs to society estimated to reach £49.9 billion per year3. Over-consumption of sugar is seen as a major concern, and around 40 national governments have already introduced a ‘sugar tax’3. And yet, while obesity is now responsible for more deaths than hunger, one in nine people in the world still struggle to find enough nutritious food to eat every day4. And this is likely to rise as the economic consequences of the pandemic play out over the next few years.

Convenience and home cooking

Before the pandemic, the growth in the middle class, especially in Asia Pacific, and people’s more hectic lifestyles, were causing a long‑term shift towards greater convenience and time‑saving ways of eating. As the world emerges from the pandemic, convenience will remain important, but the pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact on food purchasing and consumption behaviour.

Healthy meal with green beans broccoli and other vegetables

For example, people are snacking 50% more often than before lockdown across the UK, Spain, Brazil and France5. And home cooking has increased dramatically, causing the reversal of a long-term trend away from eating desserts5. There has clearly been a shift in behaviour but as the world opens up the extent to which these changes will be adopted permanently is yet to be seen.

Climate change and plant-based foods

The global pandemic has shone a light on the inter-connectivity between maintaining a healthy natural world and living in thriving societies. Concern for our planet and its natural resources, particularly the need to tackle climate change, is increasing rapidly and this concern is affecting people’s food choices in many ways. Demand for plant-based alternatives is growing, as people adopt vegan, vegetarian or ‘flexitarian’ diets, cutting back on meat amid concerns for their health and the effects of animal farming on the environment. And they’re also wanting to know exactly what goes into the food they eat and where it comes from, examining labels more closely and looking for simpler or ‘more natural’ ingredients. And it’s not just the food that’s important – environmental concerns mean that the packaging needs to be sustainable too.


For food companies like Tate & Lyle, these global trends present both opportunities and risks. This year, we have had to be agile to adapt to changing consumer needs as people moved away from eating in restaurants and bars to buying more food from retail outlets to eat at home.

As a plant-based ingredients business, the combination of increasing awareness of climate change and the recognition of the importance of a healthy lifestyle is a particular opportunity. Inspired by our purpose of Improving Lives for Generations, we work to create ingredients and solutions that give people healthier and tastier choices when they eat and drink and help them to lead more balanced lifestyles.

At the same time, we are working to take care of our planet and helping to protect its natural resources. Whether through health and wellness ingredients in a new generation of popular brands, nutritive sweeteners at an affordable price, or stabilising systems that allow food to travel over long distances, our goal is not just to feed people, but to feed them well.

1 International Diabetes Federation, 2019 (age 20 – 79 years).
3 Obesity Evidence Hub, 2019.
4 FAO: The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019.
5 Kantar, 2020.
6 Population Reference Bureau, 2020.

Laughing woman eating cerea and bowl close-up

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