It’s that time of year again, when we start thinking about the trends and concepts that will impact the food industry in the next year. And after the year that we’ve had, the idea of a new year and a fresh start can’t come soon enough.
That doesn’t mean it will immediately be smooth sailing when we hit January 1. We’re still in the middle of another COVID-19 spike, it will take a while before a vaccine is fully distributed, and we’ll be dealing with the repercussions of 2020 for years to come. But at least there is an end in sight (knock on wood), and a vaccine means that things will return to some semblance of normalcy starting next year.
That means we have to be ready for consumers to head back to restaurants and other foodservice locations again, where they’ll be looking for the unique, exciting, innovative ingredients and dishes that they can only get from the food industry. From restaurants to supermarkets and beyond, trends will be back in a big way in 2021, as consumers seek out the foods, flavors, and experiences they missed in 2020.
So what should be on your radar as you begin planning for the year ahead? Here are 10 trends to know – 3 macro trends and 7 flavor and ingredient trends – that you should consider as you think about your 2021 plans:
Three macro trends to know: Big-picture factors will be even more important in the year ahead, from a new president to economic factors to the post-COVID era. Here are three macro factors specific to the food industry to consider:
- The future chef: The role of the chef has always been evolving, from the fine dining chefs leading the back-of-house brigade to the celebrity chefs with their own shows during the Food Network era. Now, as technology breaks down walls, the chef’s role will continue to evolve and become more personal. Chefs who used Zoom and Instagram to teach classes and answer questions during stay-at-home orders will continue to use technology to forge a connection with consumers. At a time when authenticity both matters more than ever before and is also often called into question, the chef’s background and history will also play a larger role. And as ghost kitchens and virtual brands expand, a chef may be called upon to develop entirely new concepts and lead multiple virtual “restaurants” operating out of one space.
- Modern comfort: If 2020 was all about comfort foods, 2021 is all about expanding your definition of comfort foods. For an upcoming generation of consumers, “comfort” can mean a lot more than mac & cheese and burgers – it can mean global flavors, new brands they grew up eating, and healthy options that make them feel better. Some of the comfort foods that Gen Z loves include ramen, baby carrots, tacos and avocados, options you might not find on a traditional “comfort food” menu. There are also some foods on the “endangered” list, which younger generations don’t have as much of an affinity for: think diet soda, bleu cheese dressing and meatloaf sandwiches.
- Plant-based evolves: After explosive growth before the pandemic, the plant-based and lab-grown meat industry spent 2020 gearing up for a big year in 2021. McDonald’s announced its McPlant burger will go on sale in the US next year, marking another milestone for the mainstreaming of plant-based meat. Expect plant-based chicken (the most-consumed protein in the U.S.) and pork (which will have big ramifications in the Chinese market) to make waves in the year ahead. This month Singapore also became the first country in the world to give regulatory approval to lab-grown meat, with Eat Just’s lab-grown chicken nuggets set to appear at a Singapore restaurant soon, with plans for a U.S. launch in the future.
Seven flavors and ingredients to know: Ever year we look at some of the early-stage flavors, ingredients and dishes that we think should be on your radar. These options are pretty new to US menus and retail products, but they have the potential to make it big:
- Fermented honey: Tangy and sweet, fermented honey takes a customer favorite (honey continues to grow on menus and at retail as consumers seek out natural sweeteners) in a new direction.
- Chicory root: You’ve probably heard of chicory, but its profile has been growing as consumers seek out caffeine-free coffee alternatives. A number of innovative brands have introduced chicory options to their menu or product line, which bodes well for future growth. Watch for it to show up in more baked goods and desserts in the future.
- Sudachi: This Japanese citrus fruit is like a next-level version of yuzu, showing up in drinks (particularly cocktails) or as an acidic finish to Asian-inspired meat and veggie dishes.
- Future produce: Speaking of produce trends, a number of brands are developing unique produce varieties to grab consumer attention in the age of plant-based cuisine and Instagram. Think options like Driscoll’s rosé strawberries and Del Monte’s PinkGlow pineapple.
- Carob: At one time carob was touted as a healthier replacement for chocolate, but now chefs and consumers are giving it new attention as they seek out more health-driven, natural, plant-based alternatives. Find everything from carob flour to carob molasses showing up in drinks, bars, baked goods, and beyond.
- Honeysuckle: Foragers have been using this wild plant/flower to make syrup for years, but now chefs and manufacturers are discovering it as a next-level take on floral flavors like elderflower and rose.
- Guisada: Move over carnitas, carne guisada is growing on menus as a rich, comforting taco or bowl protein. Typically made with beef, now “guisada-style” proteins made with chicken, pork, and seafood are being menued by chefs.
These are just a few of the trends on our radar for 2021, which promises to be a year of renewed innovation and growth. One thing is for certain: consumers love and miss their favorite restaurants and they can’t wait to experience the hospitality and creativity that the food industry is known for. Let’s make 2021 a year to remember for all the right reasons.
- 2020 year in review: The return of the great American grocery store
- Grocers innovate to make life easier for home cooks
- 5 alcoholic beverage trends to know in 2021
Mike Kostyo is the resident trendologist at Datassential, a food industry market research and insights firm.
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