But after 10 months of indulging in classics for comfort and researching ingredients to enhance health and well-being, most consumers will not settle for the same-old, same-old in 2021.
Rather, Symrise marketing and consumer insight specialist Dylan Thomas explains in this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast that shoppers will seek products that take each of these trends to the next level with new functional ingredients, elevated flavor combinations that put a new spin on the familiar and ingredients that allow them to explore the world from the safety of their homes. He also notes that consumer concerns about sustainability are quickly rising beyond the status of nice-to-have to become a must-have consideration for new product development.
Healthy lifestyle trend leads the pack
Of these three trends, Thomas predicts the most prominent in 2021 likely will be the same one that dominated 2020, which is a desire for flavors, ingredients and products that support a healthy lifestyle. In particular, he says consumers will look for age-old immunity boosting ingredients, foods and ingredients that blur lines with medicine, and products to boost energy or for foster relaxation.
“More and more people are worried about the pandemic and the uncertainty it brings,” and consumers “are looking for any sort of edge as far as food that can help them with immunity to help fight off illness,” Thomas said.
Digging deeper, Thomas said that Symrise identified at least three ways that this trend will continue to play out in 2021. The first is “back to the future,” which he says includes adopting “old time elements and techniques and things to help with their health,” such as therapeutic spices, adaptogens, and fermentation to support gut health.
“Another platform within healthy lifestyles is round blurring boundaries” of over-the-counter medicine, pharmacy and food, which is particularly popular among younger consumers hoping to avoid trips to their healthcare providers during the pandemic, Thomas said. Examples of ingredients in this space include CBD, green tea, collagen and “berry boosters,” he added.
A third part of this trend is around “natural power up,” which includes consumers looking for big energy boosts and mental clarity from nootropics and “psychoactive focus foods like gingko and Siberian ginseng,” Thomas said. He added the flip side of this is demand for ingredients that promote relaxation, such as chamomile or decaffeinated golden milk.
Comfort foods that expand boundaries, offer reminder of pre-COVID times
In addition to relaxation, consumers are looking for comfort from food that reminds them that there is life beyond the walls of their homes or their severely restricted area of travel. This includes classic dishes from other countries that offer a chance to learn about a different culture, or incorporating globally-inspired flavors and ingredients into more familiar recipes and products.
These include breakout ingredients, such as bagoong from the Philippines, which is made with anchovy, shrimp and other spices, and more familiar but still new flavor blends that have been sold more broadly for a few years, such as zhug.
As manufacturers and restaurants introduce globally-inspired flavors or dishes to an American audience that may be unfamiliar with their cultural significance, Thomas cautions them to do their research and provide accurate, respectful context that gives credit where it is due to avoid appropriation or misrepresentation.
While some consumers find comfort in discovery and exploration, others will seek out the familiar or nostalgic, but with modern updates and elevated twists.
“A lot’s been happening with pizza, for instance, around the country,” with high-end chefs blending familiar ingredients with new trending ingredients to create an accessible, but still new experience, Thomas said.
Other examples, include the addition of shrisheen togarashi and okonomiyaki to more traditional American comfort foods, like mac & cheese, or traditional flavor blends from Korea, Taiwan or Mexico to fried chicken.
Sustainability offers long runway for flavor development
The third flavor trend that Symrise is tracking for 2021 is less about consumers’ individual desires and more about their concern for the planet. Thomas explains that sustainability “is also not going away” in the new year, but it does open a conversation for introducing consumers to ingredients that might not be super-trendy now, but which have a long runway for development beyond 2021.
Three ways this trend is playing out, according to Thomas, is through “touching nature,” which includes a focus on herbs and floral ingredients, “second love,” which involves upcycling ingredients and reducing food waste and “climate war,” which looks at more sustainable ingredients.
While Symrise typically bases its insights and predictions on conversations with top chefs, mixologists, pastry chefs and other industry-insiders, Thomas notes that with more “regular people” cooking at home more, he is excited to see what home cooks come up with in the new year and beyond as they look for ways to keep eating at home exciting and to reduce food waste.