The growth of the $158.4 billion specialty food category is positioned to fill consumers' needs in 2021.
Consumers next year will continue to eat at home — and eat restaurant meals at home — according to a new report from the Specialty Food Association (SFA) Trendspotter Panel.
With the continuing coronavirus pandemic keeping record numbers of people close to home, growing social awareness affecting purchasing decisions, and a maturing Gen Z population, the growth of the $158.4 billion specialty food category is positioned to fill consumers' needs, the SFA said.
"COVID-19 has a massive impact on trend predictions heading into 2021, as consumers cook and eat at home more, turning to everyday meals and special treats to comfort and support their mental and physical well-being," says Denise Purcell, director of content for the Specialty Food Association. "We're seeing several trends around experimenting with flavors and ingredients, as well as turning to functional or plant-based foods and twists on classic products to avoid menu fatigue."
The Trendspotter Panel, composed of professionals representing diverse segments in the culinary world, have identified the following trends for 2021. Several members of the panel also trendspotted at the SFA's recent Specialty Food Live! virtual marketplace and identified food and beverage examples from that event for trends.
Eating/Cooking at Home. The reality of at-home meal preparation and consumption will stay with us in 2021 but has also brought about several sub-trends. "At-home eating will be the name of the game in 2021," says Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, global food analyst at Mintel and member of the Trendspotter Panel. "We will see consumers looking to brighten and enliven the monotony of preparing so many meals in a row."
Restaurant Food in the Home Kitchen. With economic concerns not easing and the potential for more lockdowns during the upcoming winter, consumers are looking to replicate restaurant experiences in the home kitchen. We'll see more restaurant-quality condiments, cooking sauces, and cocktail mixes, say the Trendspotters.
Twists on Classics. Reimagining traditional recipes and products will keep consumers from becoming bored with their meals and snacks in the coming year. At Specialty Food Live!, exhibitors were showcasing products like vodka and tomato ketchup, a twist on vodka sauce; aged cheddar granola; everything bagel broccoli bites; sheep's milk chocolate; mint-flavored pasta; and beetroot-flavored drinking chocolate powder.
Eatertainment. The events of 2020 left no one unscathed. "These are serious times and with some areas still experiencing closures in theaters, stadiums, concert halls, and other entertainment venues, we are looking to have fun at home," says Trendspotter Jonathan Deutsch of Drexel Food Core Lab at Drexel University. Novelty products are bringing some whimsy and entertainment to the home kitchen. At Specialty Food Live!, Trendspotters saw maple syrup with edible glitter; pretzel bread mix; a unicorn s'mores skillet kit; hot chocolate on a stick; edible spoons in sweet and savory flavors; and reusable lunch box packaging with llamas and unicorns.
Values-Based Buying. Consumers are becoming more conscious shoppers when choosing which brands to support with their food dollars. They are seeking out companies owned by women, Black people, people of color, B Corps, sustainability-focused brands, and those with ethical labor practices.
Global Travels Without Leaving Home. With consumers sticking closer to home, global flavors offer culinary adventure in lieu of traveling, especially from less-familiar countries and regions.
Functional Ingredients. The pandemic also has put health concerns front and center and consumers will seek functional ingredients and benefits in their foods and beverages. Products that boost immunity and manage stress will be particularly in demand.
Plant-Based Continuing Revolution. More a movement than a trend, plant-based earns a spot on this year's list for its burgeoning growth during COVID-19 and for new formats that continue to transform the food and beverage market. During surge shopping in the spring, plant-based enjoyed a boost in most categories, especially milk and other dairy and meat alternatives.
Less Sugar and Natural Sugar. Tied to attention to health, consumers are counterbalancing their desires to treat themselves with products that offer low sugar or natural sugar.
Halva 'Bout It. Following consumers' growing interest over the past few years in tahini sauce, then black sesame flavoring ice creams and lattes, halva is re-emerging in the spotlight. This 3000-year-old, sesame seed-based Middle Eastern confection was touted in 2020 by Ruth Reichl as good-for-you candy, thanks to its abundance of iron.