11 food and drink trends that will shape the F&B sector in 2024

We list the top trends that will be influencing how the UK eats and drinks this year; and why all are about bringing more value to the consumer.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

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Every year, hundreds of lifestyle and culture writers pick out the top food and drink trends for the months ahead. In 2024, leaving aside the usual threats of potato milk and buckwheat, a prevailing customer concern will trump every modish ingredient: value.

Today’s economy has set a stark table. Rising living costs have turned food receipts into a bitter read for customers. For food businesses desperate to salvage slim profits, dropping prices may seem beyond the pale.

Reassuringly, value for money doesn’t necessarily mean the cheapest price tag. Shoppers will often see value as getting the best quality within their budget. The eleven burgeoning trends we’ve identified in the food and beverage industry often come back to the timeless pursuit of a satisfying square meal. But, understanding what the customer is willing to pay for (as well as how they pay for it) will be key for hospitality business owners.

The shift aligns neatly with the next generation of eaters. New York Times food writer Kim Severson describes members of Gen Z as “sensible and sceptical cooks” who are aware of budget challenges, but still favour high-quality food and drink over doomsday-prepper cans.

Hospitality businesses, producers, and retailers must now feed into these trends with a value proposition that fills the customer’s stomach without emptying their wallet. Here’s what the rest of the year has in store:

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Food and Beverage industry trends for 2024 - Startups.co.uk

1. The ultra-processed pushback

Ultra-processed pushback food

Earlier this year the British Medical Journal published the world’s largest-ever review into the effects of ultra-processed food (UPF) on health. The results are damning. The review found that UPFs lead to a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, poor mental health and early death.

While food habits won’t change overnight, businesses need to prepare for serving a UK consumer who’s better informed about what is and isn’t a natural, healthy ingredient.

Fresh, natural and transparently sourced ingredients will be highly prized in 2024 as UK shoppers and diners wake up to the dangers of e-numbers, hidden sugars, and colourings.

Food businesses working with locally-sourced suppliers will likely win big, as will fibre-rich recipes servicing the gut health trend.

Meat isn’t off the menu, despite a rise in vegan eating (see below), but consumers will be reassured by restaurants, bars or food trucks offering quality meat that hasn’t been rendered unrecognisable by kitchens. Everything from the provenance to the cooking approach may need to be spelled out clearly on the menu – the more “as nature intended,” the better.

2. Cash is no longer King

Restaurant-Tablet (1)

How we buy our food and drink can be just as important as what we buy. Cash payments have been going out of fashion for consumers, and that will likely continue as shoppers emphasise secure, effortless transactions over carrying wads of notes.

Contactless has taken the payment crown. Research from Barclays shows that, while overall restaurant spending was down -6.7% in 2023, contactless spending fell only -2.9%; demonstrating how speed and convenience now trump cost as key customer concerns.

Wearable or mobile payments are set to reach 16 million users in the UK by 2026, driven primarily by Gen Z consumers, who have a preference for this format. Baby Boomers could find themselves left further behind in the cashless society, particularly as new technologies like fingerprint or facial recognition see wider adoption when paying for food and drink.

Most important is the need to reduce friction. A payment must be quick and intuitive, so all the customer’s attention remains on the food and service. Modern POS systems and mobile card readers can help, putting everything at the customer’s fingertips for instant payments.

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3. Snacks allowed


Lazy girl dinners” might have raised eyebrows last year, but low-maintenance, snacky meals are a genuine trend reshaping how we eat in 2024. Gusto Snacks and Olly’s Snacks are two of the top 100 startups in the UK. Meanwhile, Kellogg’s reported a staggering 80% of its sales now come from light bites, prompting it to build a dedicated “snacking division”.

Convenience and affordability are key drivers, with bulk-buy cereal bars offering a readily available and budget-friendly option.

Additionally, the rise of protein-rich snacks like almonds and pistachios provides a filling alternative to traditional grab-and-go treats, particularly for those following dietary trends such as keto, or seeking more control over their nutrient intake.

4. Loyalty reward for small businesses

Portrait of smiling young Caucasian woman pouring hot milk in coffee. Waitress holding white mug cup in cafe. Person at work, small business concept

Supermarkets aren’t in consumers’ good books at the moment. Big brands like Tesco and Asda have been criticised for profiting from the cost of living crisis by raising prices. This has prompted a search for a more mutually-beneficial shopping experience from consumers.

When Startups asked 546 SMEs what led to them “thriving” overall in 2023, 54% said strong consumer relationships. Small restaurants and cafes are well-placed to gain customer loyalty by offering better value than rival big grocers. Fortunately, for hospitality traders keeping a keen eye on their margins, this doesn’t have to mean lower prices.

Square’s 2024 Future of Commerce report found that most restaurateurs (89%) are planning to expand their businesses in the next year through offering new products or services. Think themed menus, ready-made meal kits, or tastings for a unique experience.

With big brands risking consumer loyalty through some cynical pricing strategies, it’s a great time for small hospitality firms to surprise and delight their customers, and show them a true value experience.

5. The fleximenu

The flexi menu (1)

Veganism is no longer the niche community it once was. Plant-based burgers and meatless kebabs have cemented their place in supermarket shelves, and 25 million people in the UK tried January’s plant-based diet challenge, ‘Veganuary’ at the start of this year.

With more Brits willing to integrate animal-free eating into diets, vendors who offer both vegetarian and meat dishes are set to triumph.

Consumers don’t want to seek out green food trucks with leafy logos to eat vegan. Brands should keep their menus flexible, with the option to substitute or swap out ingredients – crucially, at minimal cost to the buyer.

Remember, too, that ultra-processed pushback. Plant-based burgers have become a staple of supermarket shelves, food trucks and even pub menus. But, the epic-length ingredient list that creates a “beef-like patty” will increasingly put off a share of customers who are after a healthier, meat-free option. Which brings us to…

6. Beans means business

BEans means business (1)

For years, the world has been perplexed by Britain’s love of baked beans. But, while the Full English may never relinquish its watery tomato reservoir, our palates are at last evolving. 2024 is the year when the humble butter bean, cannellini, giant-sized chickpea and other legumes ignite the taste buds of UK foodies.

Spearheaded by innovative, customer-focused brands like Bold Bean Co, this trend is ticking all the right boxes. Beans are sustainable, packed with protein, and have a naturally long shelf life without harsh preservatives. This opens the door for them to become the next avocado toast – a delicious, healthy snack worth its price tag.

A pub, bar or restaurant that already has hummus and flatbread among its “sharing plates” shouldn’t consider the matter closed. With top quality beans and a little love from the kitchen, you can bulk out your menu with even more options that will appeal to health-conscious consumers, and keep your cost of goods sold (COGS) satisfyingly low.

7. Death knell for the meal deal

Meal deal (1)

Remote work had kept food costs down for office staff who were able to raid the fridge on their lunch breaks. But, with 40% of UK firms having returned to the office, workers are now feeling the office lunch crunch.

The cost of living crisis and food inflation hasn’t helped one bit. Food waste reduction app, Too Good To Go finds that 17% of us now spend more on lunch at work compared to 2023.

While commutes and early mornings have become the norm again, the era of the great value meal deal is over. Extortionate sandwich-snack-drink combos – Tesco and Sainsbury’s offerings have risen nearly £1 since 2020 – are now more “steal” than “deal.” They’ve even been caught playing fast and loose with portion sizes, with both now classifying yoghurt and fruit pots as main courses (to the ire of hangry shoppers).

Employees will be looking beyond the confines of their desks this year for lunchtime sustenance. This could involve exploring vibrant local food markets brimming with delicious world cuisines, or packing trendy adult lunch boxes with viral “office lunch” TikTok recipes.

8. Cuisine combos

Cuisine combos (1)

When you’re reading a list of food trends, you’d expect to find a section declaring “this year, it’s all about Peruvian cuisine,” or similar. But, 2024 is set to mix things up, and an authentic adherence to national recipe books looks set to go.

TikTok’s ‘FoodTok’ community has allowed amateur chefs from across the globe to share traditional and not-so-traditional home dishes.

Purists look away now. Broadening our cultural horizons has led to an experimental phase of questionable hybrid dishes. Some ideas (like shawarma crunch wraps) might stick, whereas others (we’re looking at you, carbonara ramen) might not.

Of course, fusion food is nothing new – Korean taco trucks were serving diners in Los Angeles as far back as 2008. But, while hybrid dishes can feel fleeting, the power of recipes for transcending barriers is here to stay, and the UK food business that cracks the code for the next great fusion cuisine will meet with rapturous applause on TikTok and beyond.

9. Automation


F&B automation has always had a healthy dose of scepticism attached. Visions of robots chopping up salads may seem like science fiction, but the sector is already undergoing a rapid transformation that buyers are readily embracing. The Square report shows 76% of UK diners would today welcome automation in restaurants that are short-staffed.

Prepare to be introduced to AI-powered kiosks that can suggest menu items based on preferences and diet restrictions – and, of course, take on-the-spot payment afterwards.

The trend starts even before the food reaches the restaurant. In agriculture, startups like Muddy Machines are automating precise farming techniques. Whether in the field, kitchen, or front of house, each advancement is designed to lower labour costs and minimise food waste, improving value for vendors and their customers.

10. No tricks, just treats

Cupcakes (1)

The Lipstick Index is an economic phenomenon that refers to how, in a downturn, shoppers will still splash out on small luxuries like chocolates and make-up to cheer themselves up. To the average consumer, it’s better known as “retail therapy.”

When it comes to food, this means leaning into tasty treats as the luxury spend that will defy the cost of living crisis.

Some commentators predict that this year, consumers will splurge on artisanal ice-cream. Others declare viennoiserie breads (or croissants, for the unpretentious) the latest opulence. Whichever shelf you’re drawn to, treats culture will tempt even the most frugal among us to have a moment of joy amid the economic gloom.

11. Lighter drinking

Lighter drinking (1)

Cutting back on alcohol is famously good for your health, but in the cost of living crisis, it’s even better for your wallet. In fact, according to a recent YouGov survey, 39% of 18-to-24 year olds now self-describe as being fully alcohol-free.

For bars and pubs, this is far from good news, as the sector is already reeling from a tough few years. In London alone, over 3,000 clubs, pubs and bars are reported to have closed since COVID first hit. Finding a way to appeal to a cash-strapped and health-conscious younger generation of customers is key for the survival of those left standing.

Innovative light alcohol brands have cropped up to help out, replacing the last generation of watered down beers with delicious and flavourful brews. The stigma of low-alcohol or no-alcohol options is diminishing, too, with pub punters increasingly happy to order from a vibrant, hangover-free selection.

Where there’s opportunity, there’s innovation. UK startup IMPOSSIBREW replaces ethanol with natural ingredients that replicate a booze-fuelled dopamine buzz. Drop Bear is Wales’ first no alcohol, carbon-neutral brewer for eco- and health-conscious drinkers.

Even for consumers still keen on a tipple, the traditional pint is being challenged by newcomer brands. Jubel’s fruit-infused beer, for instance, offers a peach-infused kick that has made it the best-selling craft beer at Sainsbury’s within five years of its launch.

Conclusion – food and drink in a sober age

Forget gimmicky cocktails and zeitgeisty ingredients. This year, Britain’s F&B scene is all about tightening belts. The challenge for UK customers is to find quality they can afford; which means the challenge for businesses is to offer it.

The hospitality industry is in for a tough 2024. Bars and restaurants are already struggling to pay staff, and fluctuating consumer demand has seen the money taps turned off for many SMEs.

Thankfully, the above trends translate into a clear set of rules. Fresh, filling ingredients are in, as buyers ditch ultra-processed fare for a disciplined approach to indulgence. Behavioural changes are also apparent as flexitarian and snacking diets cater to busy lifestyles and preferences, and convenient contactless and AI-powered payments are popularised.

In the current economy, these directives aren’t just fun novelties; they are key to business survival. A user-first approach to sales will improve the customer experience and drive profits, enabling F&B businesses to have their ketogenic, vegan-friendly cake, and eat it too.

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Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.
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