Each year, the Specialty Food Association invites a panel of experts from across the specialty food industry to help identify new and growing trends in the market. The Trendspotter panel includes foodservice professionals, retailers, chefs, researchers, and more, who help predict trends for the future, as well as at SFA events.
Two members of the SFA Trendspotter panel, Clara Park, corporate chef of culinary innovation at Chelten House Products, and Wendy Robinson, buyer at Market Hall Foods, joined Denise Purcell, director of content at the SFA to speak during an Ask the Experts webinar about the trends coming ahead in 2021. Some of next year’s trends include:
Cooking and eating at home. “This trend is a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Purcell. With many consumers following stay-at-home mandates, at-home dining has become more popular than ever. With this comes many sub-trends, as well as the need to avoid menu fatigue. Park sees this as opportunity for the specialty food industry; “It’s our job to increase the culinary knowledge of the customer and help them try new things,” she said.
Restaurant-quality food in the home kitchen. Similarly, consumers are looking to upgrade their home cooking with specialty ingredients and flavors to mimic what they might order at a restaurant. “People are drinking a lot more right now,” Robinson added. “People are wanting to use specialty ingredients to make cocktails like they would have at a bar.”
Twists on classics. “Everyone wants to be innovative, but if something is too far out of a customer’s comfort zone, they won’t want it,” Park noted. “Twists on classics provide customers with a familiar product or flavor with an exciting new element.” This trend also helps to combat boredom with the same old routine without adding too much work or stress to a consumer’s plate.
Eatertainment. As entertainment venues stay closed through the pandemic, consumers are looking for other ways to enjoy themselves. Products that make it fun to play with your food or add a whimsical element to a meal are increasingly popular. “Anything that makes dinner more fun is great,” said Park.
Values-based buying. Consumers are increasingly putting their dollars towards brands that align with their values. Gen Z consumers especially are interested in supporting brands that are sustainable, have ethical labor practices, and/or are women-, Black-, or People of Color-owned. “Being a small company, we work closely with small producers who may not be able to get on the shelves of larger retailers. Our customers are actively asking for these types of products,” said Robinson.
Global travels without leaving home. As an alternative to traveling, many consumers are seeking out the flavors of less familiar countries and regions like West Africa, Scandinavia, Cambodia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. “When I was growing up, when someone said ‘Asian food’ it meant it was either Chinese or Japanese,” Park said. “But now, these terms are growing to include a wider range of cuisines. It gives me hope that people are looking for more authentic flavors.”
Functional ingredients. Amid the pandemic, consumers are looking to food and beverage as a wellness solution more than ever. “We’re all thinking about health and wellness right now,” said Robinson. “Even though my store doesn’t focus on specifically wellness-related products, I’ve noticed a lot of food products that tout wellness claims have been out of stock, like garlic oil or manuka honey.” Park also noted that people are asking for healthier ingredient substitutions that can be seamlessly added to a recipe.
Plant-based continuing revolution. New formats and categories have led the plant-based category to grow exponentially, especially during the pandemic. “It’s not a trend anymore,” said Robinson. But, as Park noted, it is essential that plant-based foods taste good and give a good eating experience, or else consumers will not be interested.
Less sugar and natural sugar. Similar to the functional foods trend, many consumers are looking to decrease their sugar intake to be healthier. Alternative sweeteners provide a better-for-you option. Monkfruit, in particular, has been a popular option for customers, according to Robinson.