2020 was a year like no other. The pandemic halted activity around the globe and changed life for everyone. Businesses had to adapt to the difficulties COVID-19 brought and consumer behavior was significantly impacted as well.
In the food and beverage industry, more consumers began cooking at home and demanding ingredients to support overall health. Food trends from 2020 are expected to continue through 2021, with a strong focus on health and immunity. But with the pandemic possibly turning a corner, consumer demands are also changing. This year, consumers are shifting away from comforting options and moving toward more adventurous and unique flavors.
Food and beverage trends to watch in 2021 include new plant-based options, immunity boosters, food with global flavors, hard seltzers, and unique flavor combinations.
For the last several years, plant-based food has been a major trend in the food industry. The trend only continues to grow and is rapidly establishing itself as a global phenomenon. Global growth of plant-based food is projected to increase from $4.6 billion in 2018 to $85 billion in 2030. Amid the pandemic last year, meat alternatives were high in demand with sales increasing by 129%.
Propelling the market forward is the increasing amount of consumers shifting toward plant-based diets. More and more consumers are identifying as vegetarian or vegan, with many eliminating or limiting their meat consumption for health reasons. In a recent study, 52% of US consumers reported that they are consuming more plant-based foods.
Considering the rising mainstream demand for plant-based options, food selections are becoming more innovative and diverse. Plant-based trends to watch in 2021 include plant-based seafood, whole food mushroom meat, plant-based egg products, and plant-based ice cream.
Immunity & Mood Boosters
Due to ongoing anxiety from COVID-19, a majority of consumers are making health and immunity a top priority this year. According to the Innova Consumer Survey 2020, six out of 10 global consumers are partial to products that support immune health, and one-third reported their concerns regarding immunity increasing in the past year.
Immunity-supporting ingredients are predicted to be a key theme for 2021, with superfoods that are naturally rich in immune-boosting ingredients gaining popularity. Ingredients like elderberry, acerola cherry, apple cider vinegar, ginger, and turmeric are performing well and becoming increasingly sought-after.
Stress is also a top concern for consumers this year, and shoppers will be looking for products that promote relaxation and mental clarity, and improve sleep. Ingredients with mood boosters like adaptogens, CBD, and l-theanine are also predicted to be on the rise for 2021.
Globally Inspired Flavors
Following the quarantine, many consumers have started cooking more sophisticated meals at home. Globally inspired products and flavors are predicted to be preferred, replacing consumers’ desires of vacationing abroad.
“Global flavors have been an upward trend the last few years, but I expect this trend to accelerate because of the pandemic,” said Holly McHugh, marketing associate of Imbibe Inc., Niles, Ill.
Flavors from the Mediterranean like blood orange, orange blossom, bergamot, figs, and dates are expected to gain popularity this year. There will also be growth for Latin American flavors such as guava, chamoy, and mango chili lime. And with the Olympics being held in Japan this summer, expect to see the tastes of savory umami and kokumi rise in demand.
Hard seltzers have been gaining massive popularity within the beverage industry, and they aren’t slowing down anytime soon. Last year, Americans drank over $4 billion worth of hard seltzer, and people in the industry are predicting even more growth for the market.
Matt Escalante, senior director of marketing at Molson Coors, which released Topo Chico Hard Seltzer this year said, “You’ve got all kinds of entrants [to the market]. A lot of craft brewers that are more local, regional are getting in… People see the growth and want to take advantage of it.”
This summer, a remarkable number of new hard seltzers are hitting the shelves including options from Sonic, Mike’s Hard, and Michelob Ultra. Even celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is joining in on the action and launching his own line called Hell’s Seltzers.
The trend toward healthier diets is certainly benefiting the market for hard seltzers and additional better-for-you options such as alcoholic kombucha are expected to be entering the market as well.
Unique Flavor Combinations
According to a 2021 Innova Flavor Survey, one-third of consumers agreed that interesting/exotic combinations influence their flavor choices in food and beverages. Hybrid flavor innovation is progressively being used to create new sensory experiences as consumers become more adventurous.
Marie Wright, president of creation, design and development and chief global flavorist at Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago, said, “We anticipate consumers will be more adventurous with their food and beverage choices. We expect product developers to combine comfort foods with exotic ingredients, such as frozen desserts that pair chocolate with heat-inducing spices like cayenne or ginger.”
Following this trend is San Francisco-based company Aura Bora with its new and unique flavors of sparkling water, including lavender cucumber, peppermint watermelon, basil berry, and lemongrass coconut. Many other brands are also hopping on the bandwagon and creating unique flavor combinations including soda goliath Coca-Cola, which earlier this year, made its prominent debut with Coca-Cola with Coffee, a new drink combining its classic soda flavor with the richer flavors of coffee.
Last year brought many changes for manufacturers and consumers, as the pandemic reshaped the way people shop and live. It’s important to consider how these new behaviors will impact the food and beverage industry in 2021 and for years to come.