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2021 Food Trends Carry Pandemic Baggage

1/21/2021  By Jeannie Swedberg

2021 Food Trends Carry Pandemic Baggage

Looking ahead is a sign of hope. So, it’s no surprise trend forecasts started turning up in my inbox earlier than usual this past year – some as early as September. But really, who could blame anyone for wanting to put 2020 in the rearview mirror? It was definitely a year that left us wanting.

As a whole, Americans are generally optimistic and look forward to taking on a new year. The annual tradition of making New Year resolutions – throwing out our old habits and ushering in new ones – is usually approached with gusto. Yet, in IFIC’s 2020 Year-End Survey, only 15% of Americans said they planned to make food or beverage resolutions in 2021. This is a substantial drop from the 43% of people who said they made changes to food and beverage habits in the beginning of 2020. Instead of joining a gym and embracing the latest fad diet, people are saying they want to maintain their overall health and wellbeing. And it’s not just physical wellbeing; emotional/mental wellbeing is part of it too.

Pandemic-influenced predictions

The pandemic profoundly influenced consumer behavior in 2020, and its effects are expected to persist well into this year if not beyond. Here’s a rundown of some of the trends on tap for 2021 with COVID connections.

Online shopping – more and more households are outsourcing their grocery shopping. In fact, in a recent Retailer Preference Index compiled by consulting firm, dunnhumby, Amazon ranked first as America’s favorite grocer displacing traditional brick and mortar retailers. Some pundits say online shopping has dampened innovation, but I’d argue there’s still plenty of innovation percolating. In some instances, new products may be hampered by supply shortages, production capacity or R&D space, but they’re still in the pipeline.   

Hygiene & safety – heightened awareness of hygiene and food safety resulting from COVID will not soon fade. Sure, people have become attached to online grocery shopping because of the convenience, but it also offers protection from the need for mixing with others. Restaurants/foodservice are also being profoundly impacted by this reluctance to mingle in public.

Immunity-boosting food and beverages – if you look back to 2020 immune-enhancing products were on trend lists although mostly only on the radar of health-focused consumers. The demand for them became more widespread as did COVID. Watch for more immune-enhancing ingredients called out on labels – e.g., elderberry, turmeric, apple/carrot/ginger.

More cooking/eating at home – although the deep dive into breadmaking, baking, canning, pickling and other time intensive culinary pursuits is tapering off, people are going to continue to eat and cook at home. The reality of making three meals a day, seven days a week has set in, so while people still want wholesome meals, they’re looking for convenient, affordable solutions.

Comfort foods/Nostalgia/Modern nostalgia – however it’s framed, the desire to eat familiar foods with common taste profiles remains strong among consumers. Some trendwatchers chalk it up to stress from life with COVID, others say it’s a rejection of overly complex flavor combinations. Whatever the reason, people want the comfort of familiar flavors and foods. 

Snacking – working from home has increased the American snacking habit. In April of last year, 26% of people reported snacking multiple times a day. By August, that number rose to 36%, according to IFIC. Moving forward as snacks continue to turn more into meals, people are going to reach for snacks that are healthier and more substantial – nutritionally sound.

Travel thru food – stuck at home, consumers are seeking travel adventures through different cuisines. The most popular carryout/delivery cuisines are Italian, Chinese and Mexican, because most people in a household can agree on one of them. Other cuisines heating up – West African, South American and Japanese flavor influences, which are expected to peak just in time for the Olympics in Tokyo this summer.   

Mood boosters – Mood enhancement was on multiple 2021 trend lists and is a carryover from 2020. Mintel referred to it as “Feeding the Mind” through functional food and beverages supporting both emotional and physical wellbeing. New stresses brought on by the pandemic have people reaching for products to reduce anxiety, help with sleeplessness, and provide energy and mental sharpness.

Plant-based prominence – the movement toward plant-based eating marches on. Innovation in this segment has not been dampened by the pandemic. Consumers consider plants to be healthy not only for themselves, but also for the environment. Under this banner, grocery chain, Whole Foods is predicting fruit & veggie jerky to captivate consumers in 2021. And chickpeas are poised to replace cauliflower as the next ‘it’ vegetable.

A fruitful 2021!

Here at Tree Top we’re ready to support you in a fruit-filled year. Whether you’re working on immune-boosting beverages, wholesome snacks, comfort foods or plant-based dairy alternatives, we have fruit ingredients and purees to enhance your new products.

Contact me to find out about adding the goodness of fruit to your product. Wishing you a healthy and fruitful 2021!