At the beginning of 2021 Kalsec predicted six food industry trends that we expected to grow over the year: functional food and beverages, celebrating culture with cuisine, a force for good, innovations in prepared and takeout meals, specific spices and ingredients 2.0 and classics with a modern twist. A lot has changed throughout the globe since January 2021 as people and companies continued to adjust to an ongoing global pandemic. The way people eat, what they eat, and how they eat or purchase foods continues to evolve as new trends develop. We reviewed each of the trends we predicted to see in 2021, and provide some data and insights.

An analysis of Kalsec’s top food trend predictions for 2021:

Functional Food and Beverages

PREDICTION: The pandemic has ‘fast-tracked’ many consumers to take a higher interest in the nutrition of their food, and the health benefits of ingredients and specific ‘functional’ foods. As consumers had more down time in 2020, we saw them use this time to understand what they eat. Functional foods does not necessarily mean new ingredients being added to a food or beverage, although this may be the case as well, but the repositioning of products to include new health and label claims. For example, ingredients that provide immunity boosting, a beverage that also works as a sleep aid, and kombucha as a functional beverage.

functional claims

One of the biggest functional categories that we expect food and beverages to incorporate more in 2021 is those with a focus on mental health and mood modifying ingredients. We also expect repositioning around food and beverages that are not always deemed healthy. For example, beers for running, hard seltzers, and fermented foods that provide probiotic benefits.

ANALYSIS: We saw functional claims in food and beverages grow 11.5% in 2021 (Source: Mintel GNPD). The top claims within the category were for energy (31.1%), digestive (17.3%), immune system (17.1%), cardiovascular (13.7%), brain & nervous system (11.9%), bone health (10.2%), and slimming (9.0%). We expect to continue to see this trend grow and evolve in 2022, as more consumers are taking holistic approaches to their health. Many returned to their offices after a significant hiatus, and turned to healthy yet energetic forms of functional foods and beverages to get them through the changes.

A few key ingredients reigned supreme in the trend for functional food and beverages, with turmeric, ginger and garlic near the top of the list. We expect this trend to continue as more people consider their overall health.

Celebrating Culture with Cuisine

PREDICTION: Each year we typically see a new global focus on specific regional flavors. With limited travel in 2020, we saw many cultures celebrating their heritage with food. For example, in the U.S. we saw an increase in African American cuisine and businesses as people delve into these tastes, and we expect to see this continue and expand in 2021. We also predict an increase in Latin American foods and flavors like chimichurri, horchata and salsa macha following the global trend for Mexican flavors.

latin american flavors

In the Asia-Pacific, we are seeing a localized fusion of specific country flavors that are being adopted into other country’s cuisines; for example, Mala, which originated in Sichuan China. “Mala” is composed of the Chinese characters ‘numbing’ and ‘spicy.’ Mala cuisine became popular in China and other countries in Asia, and as a number of Asian cuisines now incorporate the pungent spice, it is now spreading throughout the rest of Asia in the form of snacks and instant noodles.

ANALYSIS: We saw Latin American flavors grow on U.S. menus in 2021, and Caribbean flavors grew by 12.9% in social discussion throughout 2021.

A Force for Good

PREDICTION: Consumers continue to want more out of companies than just products. They want alignment with their core values, and there is an increased interest in supporting people and the planet. We see this expanding beyond premium options to mainstream aisles as brands adopt a sustainable mindset. In some ways we may see the food system sustainably reinvented.

Many companies made large climate change and carbon footprint goals recently, and we can expect to see further results as companies work toward these goals. This also means improving supply chains, and in many cases making supply chains as local as possible. This ties into the macro trend for transparency across the supply chain. With global economies down and many consumers forced to stay and eat local, we expect an increase in support for local businesses and local supply chains. From sustainable supply chain practices to transparency and driving local economies, the food industry is focused on becoming stewards for good.

ANALYSIS: Ethical and environmental claims continue to maintain their overall performance in new product launches throughout 2021 and 2022. Consumers and companies alike continue to prioritize sustainable and environmentally responsible products. For example, the number of Certified B Corporations grew by approximately 20% in 2021. We expect to see the trend grow into 2022 as well, as more companies aim to meet sustainability targets.

Innovations in Prepared and Takeout Meals

PREDICTION: In 2020 we saw businesses and restaurants adapting their operations and as a result, an unprecedented increase in prepared and takeout food innovation. Some consumers gained new disposable income from saving money on their work commute, and were looking to support their local restaurants. We expect to see this continue in the form of premiumization, such as specialty to-go cocktails and meal kits from your favorite restaurants to make at home. This will expand by taking traditional flavors and evolving them into other applications, such as snacks. We expect to see more prepared meals trying to give the sit-down experience in a packaged and/or processed meal.

Adapting takeout and food hand-off with consumers has also seen innovation that we expect to continue into 2021. This may be in the form of better packaging for delivery or outside eating, and understanding new factors to maintaining freshness in those foods. Technology will also continue to play a large role in the ease for consumer, with online ordering, social media profiles and mobile applications becoming imperative to success.

ANALYSIS: We saw many restaurants and retailers who previously did not have a method for takeout or delivery, evolve their business models to include such an offering. This spanned to more complex food and beverages as well, like ice cream and alcoholic beverages. While some did so temporarily in 2020 to evolve with the global pandemic, many have continued to embrace the function as an essential part of their business model in 2021. This also includes custom meal kits for signature items, eliminating the need for restaurants to even cook or prepare the meals.

Specific Spices and Ingredients 2.0

PREDICTION: In previous years we have predicted spicy specificity as a trend. This meant adding pungency to foods and beverages with specificity, beyond ‘mild,’ ‘medium,’ and ‘hot.’ Now, the trend for specific spices and ingredients has expanded into front of pack claims for other spices, alliums, fruits and vegetables, like black garlic rather than just garlic. The desire for specific ingredients ties into the macro trend for transparency across the supply chain as consumers want to know more about the foods and flavors they are eating and the craving for uniqueness.

specific spices

Consumers have an increased interest in their consumption habits, and the storytelling of the products they purchase. This story may include twists on traditional flavors, understanding the cooking techniques that add depth of flavor, or stories built for specific transparency in the products. Examples from Europe include roasted jalapeno chips and sundried tomato toast, and go as far as yogurt brands including the names of the cows that produced the yogurt.

ANALYSIS: Specific pepper flavoring and labeling grew by 4.36% in new products launched in 2021 from 2020 (Source: Mintel GNPD). Products with “hot” on the front of packs plateaued and had only a slight increase from the previous year, as consumers likely desire more information on packaging regarding the source of the heat. From both a category and surveyed taste perspective, we can note growth for specific pepper flavors like ancho, cayenne, chipotle, and pasilla peppers.

Classics with a Modern Twist

PREDICTION: Classic flavors and comfort foods have been on the rise, but with consumers cooking at home for extended periods of time, they want to add a twist and experiment. This includes adding non-traditional ingredients to their favorite comfort foods, and specialized culinary techniques, like roasting, toasting, caramelizing and smoking that add complexity to the flavors. We also expect to see an increase in consumers trying plant-based proteins and vegetarian diets, whether it is in the form of groceries or meal kits. A trending example of a classic with a twist is non-traditional charcuterie; whether it is made from candy or snack foods, there are many colorful and flavorful possibilities.

Another illustration of adding a popular flavor to comfort foods in Asia is wok hei, which translates to “breath of a wok.” It refers to a smoky flavor imparted by cooking the fresh ingredients in a hot wok under conditions of intense heat during stir frying.

ANALYSIS: Many culinary chefs took to social media and other platforms to stay relevant during times when they could not have customers eating in. This means they also became more accessible to the everyday consumer in 2021. As a result, many consumers took to their kitchens to experiment with recipes they are already familiar with, while adding new flavors and cooking techniques that they were learning about from top chefs.

Coming Soon: 2022 Trend Predictions

As our experts continue to closely monitor the industry and consumer habits, we will continue to share our findings with our customers and make fair predictions. Be on the lookout for our top food trend predictions for 2022, where we will provide a comprehensive list of the top food trend lists with short summaries, as well as our own 2022 trend predictions based on what we are seeing.

For more global food trends visit our collection of food trend content.

View Kalsec’s Top Food Trend Predictions for 2021.

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