I spend a lot of time scouring the food predictions every year, testing the waters on what other industry observers think consumers will gravitate toward over the next 12 months.
Some are easy to spot from an insider point of view, and some are way out there. I think of the strange and unusual things I see on lists from retailers like Whole Foods or Natural Grocers. I have yet to try tiger nut anything, despite Whole Foods picking it a couple of years in a row as a new and trendy food item.
I also try to come at this from a regular person perspective, and not a trendsetting foodie perspective. What do “real” people eat? What food trends are evolving to solve pain points for consumers?
On that note, here are five trends to watch:
1. Easy Food
After nearly two years of dealing with a global pandemic, consumers are tired. Tired of making food, tired of meal planning, tired of cleaning up messes, tired of eating the same thing…just generally tired of food.
I legitimately bought some Soylent shakes a few weeks ago because I just can’t be bothered to decide what to eat. I just want someone to make the decisions for me, and for my family.
Enter the resurgence of meal kits, more sophisticated and better tasting ready-made meals from a variety of outlets, food subscription boxes, and enhanced and easier-to-navigate online grocery.
Retailers are partnering with recipe sites, meal kit companies are partnering with chefs and brands with diet-specific or gourmet attributes, and there’s even a sports-specific meal delivery for “performance” eaters. If you’ve got a niche, there’s a food delivery tailored for you. Online grocery is getting faster, more accessible, and the software platforms retailers are using is more intuitive than ever.
2. Restaurant Evolution
Restaurants have been hit hard over the past two years. First with shutdowns and lower in-person dining, and now with lingering supply chain issues, higher food costs, and a strained labor force. These challenging conditions are pushing forward initiatives like robotic kitchens, ghost kitchens, smaller menus, more focused menus, outdoor seating, and even unmanned vending machines.
Expect fewer days open and reservations to be more common – and not just for fine dining.
This has also brought new life to a trend from several years ago: food truck parks. Everyone gets to choose their favorite style of food, with outdoor seating, and enjoy a night out. The restaurant operators are able to specialize with less labor and less overhead.
3. Packaging innovations
Consumers pulled back on demands for more sustainable packaging in 2020 and 2021, to certain degree. Expect those trends to reemerge in 2022, as Gen Z comes into greater purchase power, and people start taking a hard look at single-use plastic, and the shortcomings of municipal recycling systems again.
Paper straws, compostable trays and clamshells, compostable bags, and produce sold in bulk are all options, but I’m not sure which ones will make the cut when it comes to balancing cost, effectiveness, and availability.
4. Indoor farming
Billions of dollars have been invested in indoor, controlled environment agriculture over the past few years, and we’ll start seeing the fruits of that (more likely the lettuces of ) in-store in more locations very soon.
If there’s not a plethora of indoor-grown lettuce at your local grocer or local restaurant, it’s only a matter of time before there is. Look for more diversification of crops in the next year or so as CEA berry operations, and other high value, highly-perishable crops gain prominence.
Out of all the produce categories to pick as “trendy,” I think mushrooms are going to be the one that continues to gain popularity with consumers. From oyster mushrooms masquerading as scallops to consumer interest beyond buttons and criminis, consumers are looking for a meaty umami flavor without the meaty calorie load.
And for those looking for alternative snacks, there’s mushroom jerky, mushroom chips, mushroom tea, and a plethora of other new products on the market. The best thing I tried at a trade show in 2021 was a shredded mushroom product from Giorgio Mushrooms designed to go in menu items like Buddah bowls, barbeque sandwiches or ramen. Mushrooms are definitely the multitasker for food trends in 2022.
Honorable mention: Potato Milk
I don’t know who came up with the idea of making potatoes into milk, but it’s both absurd and intriguing.