Plant-Based Meat, Vegan Chocolate Among Trends Poised for 2021 Growth

Denise Purcell | 20 Nov 2020

Three trends driven by consumer demands for health, sustainability, and indulgence are poised to grow even further in the new year, according to a recent webinar, Tracking Tomorrow’s Hottest Food and Drink Trends, from consumer and designer trend authority WGSN (World Global Style Network) and Edge by Ascential.

Kara Nielsen, WGSN director of food & drink, and Chris Elliot, insights manager at Edge by Ascential, outlined the forces driving trends that are “rising in 2020 and that will be exceptionally important in 2021,” said moderator Carla Buzasi, WGSN president and CEO.

“None of us have ever been through anything as monumental as 2020 and the experience has changed behavior around food, eating, drinking, and shopping,” said Nielsen. “The things we believed in and trends we were watching in early 2020, exploded.”

Core drivers like health and wellness are felt deeply by consumers who are hyper-aware of food safety, asking themselves not only is our food safe but is it the food we want to eat to stay healthy, she said. Sustainability concerns are also magnified by global warming and fires in Australia and Northern California, with consumers doubling down on their commitment to products that align with sustainable values.

Here are the trends expected to grow in the new year:

Plant-based meat. Plant-based is a global activity with exciting products coming to market in countries around the world. Choices are booming in both fresh prepared and frozen, said Nielsen. New and growing innovations include products made of pulled oats in Finland, New Zealand products made with soy and hemp that mimic ground meat, and soy and sunflower oil combinations coming out of Spain. “Plant-based meats are fitting into lifestyles globally,” said Nielsen. Next year will see more cellular agriculture moving into the marketplace.

Vegan chocolates. The vegan chocolate niche is expanding with consumers wanting comfort food and indulgences as they contend with COVID-19. “Milk chocolate is the backbone of confections, but if you are a brand wanting to offer vegan options or making a statement on sustainability, milk alternatives are key,” said Nielsen. Oat milk as an ingredient is starting to impact the category as the sugars and carbs in the oats create a creamy mouthfeel that mimics milk chocolate. Some producers like Endangered Species have begun offering vegan chocolate chips made with oat milk, and Barry Callebaut is developing a vegan line to be used by confectioners. The category is moving beyond bars and into baking ingredients, said Nielsen, something WGSN forecasts we’ll see more of in 2021. Nielsen noted we’ll see mainstream chocolate leaders like Lindt and Cadbury investing in vegan varieties.

Low- or no-alcohol beverages. These drinks have been trending since 2013 but are hitting the mainstream and gaining acceptance, said Nielsen, whether it is because people are watching their carb intake or wish to socialize but are not looking for the effects of alcohol. Zero-proof beers are more commonplace, including a Guinness version currently available in the UK and slated to hit the States next year. Hard seltzers have led to “hard everything in a can,” said Nielsen, including hard coffees, teas, and kombucha. And low- or zero-alcohol canned cocktails are growing as are craft spirit brands like Ritual that contain no alcohol. WGSN expects more RTD low- or no-alcohol products and zero-alcohol bitters coming to market next year.

The biggest trends carrying into 2021 are not brand new, said Nielsen, but “what’s new is how many brands are responding, how global these trends are, and how exciting the choices are.”

All three of these trends are set to expand and move into the mainstream, she adds, and driven by events and movements that are gaining increasing consumer attraction like post-holiday Veganuary or Dryuary, Nielsen expects to see growing engagement early in 2021.

Related: SFA Trendspotter Panel Reveals Top Trends for 2021; Labriculture, Brain Food Among Trends for 2021.