The food industry changes constantly, driven by fickle consumer tastes, economic realities, and new scientific developments. It can be difficult to keep track of the latest movements and trends. That’s why ingredient and food application leader Cargill is introducing What’s Hot, a resource platform focused on the latest food and beverage trends.

“Our goal with the new site is to make it easy for customers to tap into our resources, insights, and expertise,” says Pam Stauffer, category and product marketing communications manager at Cargill. “It serves as a central platform to help brands stay on top of category-defining trends—while providing a space where customers can get to know our industry experts and reach out to us for additional support.”

What’s Hot, launched in July 2024, serves as an easy-to-use resource for anyone seeking out hot category trends, fresh ideas, and the latest innovative solutions. Organized by application categories, the site currently provides consumer insights, solutions, and innovations in six different food and beverage categories: bakery, beverages, confectionery, dairy, ready meals, and snacks.

Here’s a peek at what food and beverage professionals can find on What’s Hot, as well as a few trend insights from members of Cargill’s team.

Bakery

As inflation continues, “consumers view bakery items as affordable indulgences, fueling growth in the category,” says Courtney LeDrew, Cargill’s customer marketing manager. At the same time, many consumers are seeking permission to indulge, reflecting the health and wellness trends that are affecting many food and beverage categories.

In the bakery aisle, this trend is increasingly playing out with keto-friendly formulas that offer reduced sugar and higher protein. “As new products successively offer improvements in taste, texture, and overall quality, the keto-friendly, reduced-sugar, high-protein bakery space will continue to grow,” says Dave Lindhorst, technical service manager at Cargill.

Beverages

Similar to bakery products, consumers also want beverages that can help them manage health and wellness. They want beverages with reduced sugar and added protein, but that’s not all.

“The functional beverage space is really growing, and consumers are looking for all kinds of benefits,” says Janice Johnson, food technical advisor at Cargill. “Cognition. Mood. Sleep. Immune support. Digestive health. Energy. Enhanced hydration. The list goes on and on.”

Confectionery

Consumers are looking for healthier choices and plant-based options, even in confectionery. Sugar-free and low-sugar continue to be important approaches for chocolate and sweet treats.

However, consumers still want indulgences. “It’s all about ‘permissible indulgences,’” Johnson says. “Consumers want a confectionery treat they can feel good about enjoying—and ingredients can help shape that image. Think about sea salt and Pink Himalayan salt. Our IngredienTracker research shows that consumers value these salts more highly than traditional salt, and that translates to how they see the finished products made with these ingredients.”

And the words on the labels matter: Cargill’s recent ClaimTracker consumer research found that “made with real chocolate” is the most impactful claim for chocolate candy, and “natural flavors” tops the list for sugar confectionery. “Naturally sweetened” and “no artificial ingredients” landed in the top five for both confectionery segments.

Dairy and Dairy Alternatives

“In the world of dairy, the biggest trend is plant-based options,” says Mark Fahlin, Cargill’s category marketing manager – health & nutrition/dairy. And in the world of plant-based, “it’s trying to make them taste really good and be more nutritionally equivalent to conventional dairy,” he says.

There’s been a recent pullback in sales of plant-based milk alternatives, and while the dip in year-over-year sales is only about 7%, it’s significant because it’s the first downturn for the category in 25 years.

As with other categories, the health aspect remains a key theme in dairy. With plant-based products, consumers are most interested in protein fortification, and in the conventional dairy space, the focus is on added sugars. “Yogurts and flavored milks are nutritious and convenient products, but sugar is the Achilles’ heel,” Fahlin says.

In addition to plant-based and conventional milk, Fahlin recognizes a third sub-segment for milk that continues to perform well—superpremium, “designer” milk. “Whether it’s ultra-filtered, high-protein milks or lactose-free options, designer milk is delivering strong growth, with a three-year compound annual growth rate of around 10%,” he says.

Ready Meals

Once again, consumers are busy, on the go—and looking for convenient meal options. Among ready meals, some of the biggest trends include sodium reduction, sugar reduction, and protein fortification.

“Whether it’s animal-based or plant-based, consumers can’t seem to get enough protein, which explains why our research finds ‘good source of protein’ is the package claim with the greatest purchase impact,” Johnson observes.

Adding protein can be simpler than reducing sodium or sugar, because ready meals contain so many different ingredients. Reducing sodium in the meat, sauce, and pasta contained in a lasagna may negatively affect the overall taste or texture when the entire meal is assembled, for example. Reducing both sodium and sugar in the same ready meal is “doable, but will likely add to the timeline,” Johnson cautions.

Snacks

The “snackification” of the American diet continues, as snack foods currently account for 27% of all U.S. food and beverage sales. Savory snacks bring in $58.3 billion in annual sales, according to Circana data.

As consumers become increasingly likely to choose four or five snacks to replace lunch or dinner, the snack category is booming. Looking ahead, Cargill experts note a few trends to watch.

“Portability and convenience have always been key to our snacking culture,” Johnson says. “I think the new layer is nutrition. Snacks that also deliver higher protein, better fat choices, lower sugars and sodium, as well as added fiber, are set to win.”

Other trends focus on new flavors, especially those with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern tastes, like tahini and dates, LeDrew says. She also expects snack makers to focus on more-sustainable solutions to transform the current food system.

In-Depth InSIGHTS

What’s Hot visitors can expect to find cross-functional perspectives on category-specific food and beverage trends like these, with more to come. These perspectives will include in-depth roundtable interviews, product prototypes that bring current trends to life, and soon, short video stories with Cargill experts sharing their perspectives on category-shaping trends and innovations.

Why can food science professionals trust Cargill trend perspectives? “It comes down to our people, our resources, and our track record,” Stauffer says. “We have a long history of working collaboratively with customers to brainstorm ideas, solve complex challenges, and build distinctive value. We provide unparalleled support, leveraging our comprehensive tool kit that includes proprietary consumer research and insights, technical experts specializing in specific applications, industry-leading ingredients, state-of-the-art R&D and prototyping facilities, and our reliable global supply chain.”ft