Convenience in the Food & Beverage Space

August 13, 2021
Trends Innovation Convenience
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The nature of the pandemic – and with it, consumers’ lifestyles – over the past year and a half has redefined a lot of things, including the notion of convenience. Before the new decade, convenience was often about eating or drinking on the go or somehow cutting down on time or effort. Now, convenience not only encompasses more attributes -- access to healthier choices, ease of preparation, greater variety – but is quite personal. Bottom line: people want what they want – when, where and how they want it. We’re taking a look at how food and beverage manufacturers meet these expectations for personal convenience and how flavor plays a role in this ever-evolving concept. Read on to learn how you can cater to consumers’ diverse but personally important tastes.

Who Wants What – When and How?

Demographic-Based Convenience Trends

Although almost everyone is looking for solutions to make their own life better or easier in some way under the broadening umbrella of convenience, there are differences based on where people are at in their lives. Accordingly, this can impact the way foods and drinks are developed and marketed.
  • 29% of Millennials and 26% of Gen Z consumers are primarily buying convenience meals - Oracle Advertising
  • Adults who are married with children under 18 have a higher than average rate of using meal preparation kits, at 22 percent. - Gallup
  • Adults between the ages of 35 and 54 are also more frequent users of meal kits. - Gallup
  • Among families, the eat-at-home trend is expected to continue: 92% of families plan to keep eating together at home after the pandemic at least as often as or more often than they do now. - Acosta
  • An Innova Consumer Survey found that 64% of global consumers have found more ways to tailor their life and the products they buy to their individual needs, beliefs and style.

“Convenience is a new norm:  If tomorrow’s adults are used to instant service/gratification, are they facing the same lessons and challenges that older generations encountered? This level of convenience affords consumers the opportunity to focus on a lifestyle that suits them, rather than one they are forced into out of necessity.”  - Mintel

Mobility Ability

As food and beverage developers ponder new products, they should also bear in mind how products will be bought and brought to consumers. The likely permanence of the e-commerce marketplace, which hinges on convenience, can be an influence in how foods and beverages are made.
  • About 60% of consumers in the U.S. say they buy groceries online and an equal amount plan to take advantage of e-commerce at the same rate or more often when the pandemic truly eases. - Coresight Research
  • 65% of Americans report they'd rather give up social media than never be able to get an item delivered again. -DoorDash

New Forms of Convenience Take Shape

At one point in time, not too long ago, a product was considered convenient if it was pre-seasoned or came in a resealable, easy-open package. Of course, those items are still convenient, but as the definition of convenience expands, so do the forms of foods and beverages that make life easier, more enjoyable or personally relevant for the consumer.
“New convenience is about eating better, in alignment with one’s interests and aspirations, despite modern challenges, and deepening connections to food, not just making it easier to access.” - The Hartman Group

How Flavor Fits Into Convenience

There’s a reason it is rare for a food or beverage company to launch a product line with only one flavor or variety. Consumers’ pursuit of personal satisfaction – the endgame for modern convenience – is driving food and beverage manufacturers to unveil several flavor options for one product type, whether it’s plant-based jerky, frozen novelties or almost anything in between. Depending on the product, flavors can be spicy, indulgent, authentically ethnic, nostalgic, associated with health and wellness or unique in some other way.

Reimagined Meal Solutions

As consumers continue to eat at home instead of rushing back to pre-pandemic habits of dining out, they are seeking user-friendly ways to buy, prepare and serve meals. Meal solutions include grab-and-go boxes and bundles of heat-and-eat, ready-to-eat or ready-to-make dinners and with more people working from home, lunches and heavy snacks. To make their solutions stand out, providers including subscription delivery services, supermarkets prepared food areas, restaurants and specialty food companies tout the quality and range of their options, often focusing on flavor and how meals can be prepared or even adjusted to a consumer’s liking.

Help is On the Way

In addition to meal kits, prepared foods and value-added side dishes, products that allow home cooks to have a bit of ownership and a lot of assistance in the kitchen are also gaining traction in today’s marketplace. Consumers can choose from elevated “helpers”, like jarred etouffee sauces, seasoned fajita meat or pre-cut veggie spirals paired with seasoning packets.
  • 49% of U.S. adults say that they are cooking and preparing more of their own meals at home - FMI
  • When asked how their cooking habits have changed, 36% of consumers say they are cooking more simple foods - IFIC

Products of Note:

Trois Petits Cochons Uncured Bacon & Swiss Sous-Vide Egg Bites contain four easy-peel units and are described as a fully cooked modern quiche made with cage-free eggs, savory uncured bacon and hearty Swiss cheese.

HelloFresh Parmesan-Crusted Chicken with Lemony Cavatappi is said to be an easy-to-cook, microwaveable meal kit recipe with pre-measured ingredients including chicken breasts, fry seasoning, cavatappi pasta, garlic, grape tomatoes, Clovis dijon mustard, kosher certified Glenview Farms cream cheese spread and more.

28% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Tasteful Selections Season & Savor Country Skillet Bite-Size Potatoes are fresh bite-size microwaveable potatoes paired with robust flavors of pepper, sage and garlic. The product can be steamed in five and a half minutes in the tray that is easy to clean up.

53% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Savoring Mealtime

Dinnertime staples like pasta with marinara sauce or meatloaf and mashed potatoes are still part of many ready-made meals available at grocery stores and home delivery services, but meals made with flavorful and trending ingredients (think miso-ginger rice bowls with reishi mushrooms and steamed greens) help meal providers stand out in a growing crowd of competitors.  Ready-to-assemble meal kits from delivery services are often developed and marketed with attention-grabbing, tastebud-pleasing flavors, as are a growing number of heat-and-eat and ready-to-prepare meal offerings. With a diversification of proteins at the center of these meal plates, flavor takes on even more importance.
  • Six in 10 restaurants that currently offer meal kits and take-home heat-and-eat meals plan to continue those offerings after the pandemic. - Datassential

Products of Note

Home Chef Oven-Ready Coconut-Crusted Jalapeño Chicken with Mojito Lime Rice and Peppers is oven ready, does not require chopping, cooks in 30 to 40 minutes and retails in a 31.5-oz. recyclable pack, serving two.

18% of consumers said they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Realgood Mongolian Inspired Beef Bowl is made with tender seasoned beef strips with Mongolian inspired savory sauce, rice cauliflower and garlic. The microwavable, cook and serve product provides 8g of net carbs and 16g of protein per serving, and contains no gluten or grains.

27% of consumers said they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Old El Paso Barbacoa Beef Street Taco Kit includes 12 microwavable street taco flour tortillas, mild barbacoa seasoning mix and mild salsa verde. The product can be prepared by just adding beef, onion, vinegar and toppings.

Tyson Simply Roasted Fajita Chicken Breast Strips are fully cooked, seasoned, boneless and skinless, with 20g protein per serving. The microwaveable chicken retails in a resealable 9-oz. pack featuring heating instructions and a recipe suggestion.
“Ultimately, however, it will be important for retailers to remember, despite what appears to be a deepening appreciation for cooking and expanded skills for planning, consumers’ needs for efficient and sustainable ways to prepare food have not diminished.  Pandemic cooking fatigue is real, and home cooks continue to seek ways to save time and labor without sacrificing health and taste.” - FMI

Sizing Up Demand

For convenience-minded consumers, portions and packaging are almost as important as the product itself. As manufacturers develop foods and beverages, they are running a parallel track on how those items will be made available to consumers, whether in single-serve formats for individual or on-the-go consumption, larger packs for multiple eating occasions or families or somewhere in between.  Here, too, flavor can be a point of differentiation and scaled to complement portions and package types. Importantly, while consumers like to have choices for formats that meet their needs, they also appreciate being able to pick from flavor options.

A Side Note

Convenient side dishes are also having a moment, as a help to consumers who are preparing more meals at home but grappling with a bit of cooking fatigue as the novelty of making things from scratch wears off.

Products of Note:

Purely Elizabeth 5 Grain + Seed Oatmeal Single Serve Packets feature a pea and chickpea protein blend, oats, quinoa, amaranth, chia, and flax to provide optimal taste, texture and nutrition. The product comes in single-serve pouches for convenience at home or on the go, and are available in Classic Cinnamon and Banana Nut varieties.

Schuman Cheese now offers single-serve Cello Snack Packs with a personalized portion of Fontal and Copper Kettle cheeses in combination with dried fruit and roasted nuts.

Simple Truth Free from Mashed Avocado with Everything Bagel Seasoning is made with Hass avocados, contain 100 calories per pack and is free from GMO. The convenient spreadable plant-based product can to be used as a dip or addition to lunchboxes, and retails in a pack of four 2-oz. single serve on-the-go packs.

36% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product

Cracker Barrel Tex Mex Shredded Natural Cheese is sold in a 480-gram family size pack containing approximately four cups of cheese. The product comprises queso quesadilla, pizza mozzarella, cheddar and Monterey jack with jalapeno peppers.

Immediate Care

With health and wellness high on the priority list for many consumers, food and beverage products that conveniently deliver nutrition, immunity or other health-related attributes are appealing to many buyers. Making better-for-you products readily accessible aligns with the concurrent trends of holistic wellness, personalization and ease of use.

Healthy Dose of Flavor

As demand for better-for-you products and foods and beverages with medicinal properties stays strong, manufacturers can use flavor to boost the appeal of such products and to make it quicker and easier for people to reach for them.
  • One third of adults are more likely to buy a food or drink with multiple health benefits. and almost half want more functional foods for managing stress and anxiety. - IFT
  • About half of consumers say that a healthy lifestyle has become more important to them since the pandemic began. - Alix Partners

Products of Note

Vive Organic Immunity Boost Shot with Elderberry is described as doctor-crafted drink with ultimate proactive defense combo, and contains cold pressed ginger root, cold pressed turmeric root, elderberry and black pepper to activated turmeric.

23% of consumers said they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Remedy Organics Berry Immunity Plant Based Drink is a convenient single-serve 100% plant-based product made with elderberry, strawberry, camu , echinacea, and lion's mane for immune support, dragon fruit for immune and skin support, 10g of protein for muscle recovery, and prebiotics for gut health.

28% of consumers said they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Iconic Tumeric Ginger Protein Drink is naturally flavored drink made with milk from grass fed cows and lean, clean and premium ingredients, offering 20g of protein, 3g of sugar and 130 calories.

26% of consumers said they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Yum Butter Protein Almond Butter contains plant protein and probiotics, which are said to contribute to healthy gut flora. This kosher certified product is free from GMO, gluten and added sugar, and carefully produced in a gluten-free facility. It is suitable for vegans.

Convenient Indulgence

Especially at a time of uncertainty, consumers like to indulge in snacks and desserts as instant pick-me-ups. Some of these items are truly instant, available in convenient single-serve or portioned formats. Befitting the reward-like nature of such products, flavors are designed for satisfaction. Decadence and nostalgia play well in this space, as do items that balance satisfaction and health for a permissible indulgence claim.

Products of Note

Betty Crocker Birthday Cake Cookie Cups Kit includes sugar cookie mix, white frosting sprinkles and paper baking cups. Other Cookie Cups Kit varieties include Salted Caramel Pretzel and Chocolate Chip Fudge.

Philadelphia Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake Crumble has chocolate flavored sauce on the bottom, Philadelphia cheesecake in the middle, and rich cookie crumble on top; it is available in a 6.6-oz. pack with  two cheesecake desserts.

51% of consumers said they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Value Proposition: Responsible, Sustainable and Flavorful

If convenience means different things to different people, it’s also about meaning in the true sense of the word. Foods and beverages that exemplify values in some way, from the use of sustainably-sourced ingredients to earth-friendly packaging to culturally significant flavors, can be made, packaged and marketed to consumers who appreciate being able to have such options that resonate with both their palate and personal beliefs.

Earth-friendly products and earthy flavors are often complementary, for both appetite appeal and marketing. At a time when many consumers are seeking out products that are responsibly and/or sustainably sourced, flavors can be used for authenticity and to evoke certain desired attributes.

Products of Note

Eat the Change Teriyaki Ginger Mushroom Jerky is described as sweet and savory marinated and wood smoked. The manufacturer states to be committed to USDA organic ingredients that are plant/fungi based, supports biodiversity, upcycle imperfect produce, and commits to recyclable packaging.

Two Good Meyer Lemon Flavored Greek Low Fat Yogurt is said to be made with verified rescued fruit. It is said to be made in limited batches with Meyer lemons that would have otherwise gone to waste. The manufacturer is said to be proud to be part of the BCorp Movement, which is all about using business as a force of good in the world.

Endangered Species Oat Milk + Rick and Dark Chocolate Premium Baking Chips are described as bold dark chocolate morsels with oat milk for a premium baking experience. The product is said to be made with responsibly sourced 75% cocoa, vegan cane sugar and real American oats. The manufacturer states to donate 10%  of net profits to save the wildlife.

44% of consumers said they likely or definitely would buy this product.

GoMacro Macrobar Blissful Daybreak Blueberry + Cashew Butter High Protein Bar is a vegan and kosher-certified product, free from GMOs and gluten. The manufacturer states to give back, and to spread awareness for a balanced, plant-based lifestyle that inspires consumers to have a healthy body, sharp mind and bold spirit.

37% of consumers said they likely or definitely would buy this product.
  • More than 4 in 10 U.S. consumers say that their individual choices about food and beverage purchases have a moderate or significant impact on the environment. - IFIC
  • Half of today’s consumers say that the pandemic spurred them to reevaluate what’s important to them in life - Accenture

The Takeaways

When consumers say they want something that’s convenient, they mean a food or beverage product that makes their life easier and better and, increasingly, better for people and the planet. Beyond the table-stakes basics like resealable packaging and seasoned/pre-seasoned items, today’s convenient offerings allow consumers to make meals and snacks at home in a simple, enjoyable way. Flavor, already quite an individual attribute, elevates, distinguishes and personalizes fare that can be deemed convenient for today’s lifestyles.

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Sources in full report