The editors at Food Technology magazine, published by the Institute of Food Technologists, have announced their predictions on hot food trends for 2020. Here’s what they’re forecasting for this year.
Carbon Labeling on Packaged Foods
Spurred by Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speech on the climate crisis at the UN and recent articles warning that the planet is perilously close to a tipping point for accelerated and irreversible global warming, 2020 will be the year of “climate calamity” due to unrelenting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. To ensure that they are part of the solution and not the problem, food companies will ramp up their efforts to publicize their carbon footprint goals and renewable energy efforts. For example, Maple Leaf Foods—a manufacturer of animal-based and plant-based meats—recently announced that it was the first major food company in the world to be carbon neutral. Look for other food and beverage marketers to add language on packaging touting their carbon footprint, carbon offset, zero carbon, etc.
—Bob Swientek, Editor-in-Chief
Meatless Burger Backlash
While there’s little doubt that plant-based meat alternatives will continue to increase in popularity in 2020, a certain segment of the population will begin scrutinizing their labels more carefully. Concerns about over processing and unfamiliar ingredients will give some health-conscious consumers pause despite their interest in adding more plant-based fare to their diets. Companies that offer products with the cleanest labels will be best positioned for marketplace success.
—Mary Ellen Kuhn, Executive Editor
Japanese Cuisine—Beyond Ramen
With the 2020 Summer Olympics set for Tokyo and a rise in travel to Japan, there will be an increased interest in Japanese food and flavors beyond the ramen that most Americans are already familiar with. Japanese soufflé pancakes—pancakes made especially fluffy and wobbly by the addition of extra egg whites—have become a growing trend in the United States with nearly 75,000 Instagram photos tagged #soufflepancake. In addition, ingredients such as yuzu and cherry blossom, which are relatively unfamiliar to those outside of Asia, will start to appear as flavors on U.S. menus and in foods and beverages on grocery stores’ shelves.
—Kelly Hensel, Senior Digital Editor
Accommodating Two Distinct Consumer Groups
In the new year, a difference of opinion among consumers will trigger the emergence of two distinct groups of food shoppers: those who want foods that are natural, simple, and minimally processed and those who embrace food processing and technologies if they are used to produce foods that reflect their philosophies on environmental conservation and animal welfare. This may put a greater burden on some food manufacturers as they try to develop and offer product portfolios that will appeal to both consumer factions.
—Toni Tarver, Senior Technical Editor
Bright & Bold
It’s said that we eat with our eyes. Expect manufacturers, foodservice operators, and chefs to entice people with foods and beverages in an array of colors –everything from bright and bold shades to soft pastels, earthy hues, and even glittery or shiny options.
—Karen Nachay, Senior Associate Editor
Nonalcoholic cocktails are making a name for themselves, not only among health-conscious consumers but with inventive bartenders and restaurants looking to attract “sober conscious” patrons. From no-proof wines and craft beers to mocktails that combine teas, tonic, and exotic craft mixers, the trend toward alcohol-free drinking is making its way across the globe. Look for new products and restaurant and bar menu items that combine aromatic herbal and floral blends with trendy flavors that appeal to consumers seeking healthful and sophisticated cocktail alternatives.
—Margaret Malochleb, Associate Editor
Boomers Seek Meal Solutions
Dramatic cutbacks in both everyday cooking and restaurant visits by America’s 76 million Baby Boomers have created a unique and unprecedented opportunity for a new generation of convenient meal solutions aimed at the taste preferences of those aged 55-plus. The number of Boomer meals which require some preparation has fallen from 5.3 per week in 2017 to 4.6 in 2019, per the Food Marketing Institute.
For the past 10 years, Boomers were the highest spenders at restaurants, per the National Restaurant Association; now only half visit a restaurant at least once per week. Wild trendy flavors won’t cut it! Chinese is the Boomers’ favorite ethnic cuisine. Boomers are the most likely to eat a balanced plate, with an entrée, vegetables, and side dish and to serve a side salad or bread with a meal. They’re most likely to eat dessert and breakfast. Seven in 10 are specialty food users.
—A. Elizabeth Sloan, Contributing Editor, Consumer Trends
No End to Sustainability Demands
While the interest and consumption of plant-based foods will continue to rise, expect to see consumers still wanting more in terms of sustainability. In addition to health benefits, consumers will increasingly want to know if what they are eating is also healthy for the environment. A growing number of consumers will want to know about minimal processing, decreasing carbon footprints, decreasing food waste, and upcycling of ingredients and by-products. Companies should be ready to share their sustainability stories.
—Linda Milo Ohr, Contributing Editor, Nutraceuticals
Dairy Will Innovate to Stay Relevant
Dairy producers will be forced to innovate to stay relevant with the American consumer. New products with both dairy and nondairy ingredients will combine the nutritional benefits of dairy with plant-based health and sustainability halos. Dairy will resume new marketing strategies like the successful, "Got Milk?" campaign to boost sales by exhibiting wholesomeness to a new generation. Expect to see more milk mustaches.
—Jane Caldwell, Contributing Editor, Food Safety & Quality
Clean Packaging Will Add Value
Clean packaging involves the use of “clean” materials that are known by consumers and are proven to not contain allergens and contaminants. Clean packaging will be driven by the need to restore confidence of consumers with packaging. Clean packaging will be enabled by track-and-trace technologies similar to and ideally linked with food products.
This ability to track and trace food packaging will assist in ensuring packaging does not contain indirect food additives that are not approved. It will also allow for more control over multi-step package converting operations, information on recycled content, and the number of times a container has been reused, and general chain-of-custody to provide much-needed information for a circular economy. There will be an abstract dividing line between “clean” packaging much like the division in food.
—Claire Koelsch Sand, Contributing Editor, Packaging
Waste to Worth
New processing technologies will continue to be developed to convert food waste into value-added foods and ingredients. This untapped source of nutrients will be mined heavily during 2020.
—Tara McHugh, Contributing Editor, Processing
The latest research from Mintel shows that after several years of growth, the foodservice industry is expected to decline by up to 30% from 2019 to 2020, following nationwide dine-in bans/restrictions, restaurant closures, job losses, and lowered consumer confidence.
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