Return to 'real fruits and vegetables' and 'unexpected protein' lead Specialty Food Association's top food trends for 2020

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Related tags trend spotting Specialty food association

The Specialty Food Association (SFA) predicts a 'meat replacement pushback' after a year of multiple plant-based meat product launches as well as consumer demand for 'fun' and functional foods and beverages in its 2020 food and beverage trends report.

The SFA​ Trendspotter Panel comprises industry professionals from all segments of the food industry, including restaurant owners, executive chefs, academics teaching culinary arts and food science, and market trend analysts.

"As the specialty food industry hits a record year of growth with $148.7bn in sales, we're seeing that health benefits and sustainability concerns will continue to drive more food and beverage trends in 2020. But, there's also room for fun, whether in the form of canned cocktails or global condiments,"​ said Denise Purcell, head of content for the SFA.

1. Plants as plants: Meat replacement pushback 

"Across retail and foodservice, plant-based meat alternatives are undeniably popular. Growth will continue, however some Trendspotters predict a consumer return to real fruits and vegetables,​" noted the trendspotting panel.

Consumers will begin to think critically about meat replacements, looking more closely at the ingredient lists, supply chains, water usage, and food safety, prompting renewed interest in plants as plants, according to the panel.

2. Sustainability-driven product development 

Values-oriented consumers are on the rise, especially among Gen Z consumers, and sustainability call-outs on packaging are factoring more and more into their food and beverage purchase decisions. 

"Upcycled products, those using ingredients that are normally discarded, are becoming more prevalent. Recent products to market have included tea made from discarded avocado leaves, frozen pizzas made with toppings from vegetable scraps, and whey beverages made from a left-over product from cheese-making. Biodynamic farming, a practice that helps sustain the biodiversity and health of the land, is coming more into focus for consumers,"​ noted the SFA Trendspotter Panel. 

Trendspotter panelist, Reem Assil, chef/owner of Reem's California added: "Whether it is motivated by regenerative agriculture, upcycled ingredients, or plant-based foods, products whose values center around sustainability are trending." 

3. Fermented condiments: Gochujang comes to the forefront

Fermented foods have been trending for a while, and have boosted broad consumer interest in the Korean condiment Gochujang, according to the panel. Trendspotters have predicted that the combined expanding interest in fermentation and Korean cuisine will converge to bring the fermented condiment gochujang to the forefront.

"One of the backbones of Korean cooking, this red chili paste is made with fermented soybeans, seasonings, and glutinous rice and is often used in marinades, dipping sauces, soups, and stews. Expect to see it show up on more foodservice menus and packaged at retail,"​ said the panel. 

4. Prebiotic foods gain awareness

More prebiotic-rich ingredients are expected to hit the market as consumers become more educated about gut health, said SFA.

"Probiotic-rich, fermented foods continue to flourish, but expect growing consumer awareness and product development around foods that contain prebiotics,"​ commented Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, SFA Trendspotter and global food analyst for Mintel.

5.​ Protein trend takes unexpected turns: anchovies and noodles

Consumers are seeking out alternative sources of protein and according to SFA trendspotters:"Anchovies are poised to take off, gaining ground as a sustainably caught, flavor-packed option, most notably on restaurant menus topping burgers or being used as an ingredient in butters, marinades, and even cookies. The trend could also bode well for other small jarred or tinned fish like herring or sardines.

"Protein-packed noodles also are on the rise but are moving beyond the lentil- and legume-based varieties that have been on the market,"​ added Trendspotters, who anticipate seeing more noodles made from seafood, or nutrient-packed noodles containing minerals and dietary fiber.

6. Convenient cocktails and mocktails 

The Trendspotter panel named Raising the Cocktail Game one of the top trends of the 2019 Summer Fancy Food Show thanks to a slew of new mixers, tonics, and garnishes to help consumers make bar-quality cocktails at home.

"Look for a continuation in 2020 with the trend expanding with more cocktails in cans and bottled mocktails that offer sophisticated alternatives for non-drinkers or curious consumers,"​ said Trendspotter Andrew Freeman, founder of af&co. In a related trend, canned beverages spiked with CBD are also expected to emerge.

Still trending: 

CBD:​  SFA trendspotters see continuing growth in CBD products.

Dairy-free products:​ Dairy alternatives, oat and nut-based milks in particular will continue to reign in yogurts, beverages, creamers and frozen desserts. 

Fermented beverages:​  Refrigerated, ready-to-drink functional beverages are showing double digit growth, according to SFA's State of the Specialty Food Industry research. Kombucha has led the charge, and more fermented functional beverages touting health, tradition, and flavor are on the horizon. Drinking vinegars, which are high in probiotics, amino acids, and antioxidants, will also continue to emerge. 

Regional cuisines of Asia, West Africa, and Latin America:​  A top trend of 2019, international flavors will continue in the new year as consumer knowledge grows. "Look for flavors and ingredients from these areas in spices, sauces, and bases,"​ noted SFA.

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