The SFA Trendspotter Panel -- which includes market analysts, food researchers, professional chefs, and culinary arts professors -- met virtually over the course of three digital SFA shows to research thousands of specialty food and beverage products from around the world.
After analyzing the data and the group's findings, five clear trends emerged, said Denise Purcell, vice president, content and education for the SFA.
"As we head into a second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, comfort is an overriding theme," said Purcell.
"The events of the past 18 months have consumers seeking out familiar and comforting foods and beverages, but often with a twist for some excitement, or with specific diets and health concerns in mind."
How are consumers interpreting comfort in their specialty food and drink choices?
Pasta stages a comeback
According to the Trendspotter Panel, consumers' idea of comfort foods with a twist could be as simple as picking up pasta made with black rice, red lentils, or purple carrots instead of traditional wheat.
"The COVID-influenced comfort food surge has revived the pasta category. We're seeing shapes that are less familiar to the US market, or brand new," noted the panel.
Plant-based comfort food
More plant-based options of nostalgic comfort foods are coming to market, making these types of products more accessible to those following alternative diets.
SOMOS, a brand launched by three KIND Snacks alumni, has reinterpreted the Mexican cuisine for the US consumer audience with a line of traditional plant-based Mexican entrées and sides available in the frozen section.
Plant-based patties, pea-protein based crumbles to use in tacos, and tenders and nuggets made with Chilean seaweed were among the latest innovations seen at SFA digital events, noted the SFA Trendspotter Panel.
Reducing food waste through upcycled food ingredients
Outside of twists on classic comfort foods, SFA identified a strong consumer interest in brands that support sustainability efforts, particularly in the area of reducing food waste.
"Innovations in products made with upcycled ingredients that would otherwise go to waste, are especially prevalent," said SFA.
CaPao, a snack innovation from Mondelez International's SnackFutures, is using cacao fruit as the main ingredient for its line of packaged snacks creating a new market for an ingredient that typically goes to waste during the chocolate-making process.
Global world of snacking
There's no question consumers are snacking throughout the day and as a result, products offering global flavors and culinary adventure have taken off, according to SFA.
"Fancy Food 24/7 revealed snack bars that deliver Thai flavors while being keto-friendly and high in prebiotic fiber; potato chips from Spain in foie gras flavor; and peanuts flavored with turmeric and chili, 'like the spicy peanut snack from hawkers on street corners in Bangkok that I relished as a child,'" noted Trendspotter Kantha Shelke, Ph.D., CFS, IFT Fellow, principal, Corvus Blue LLC.
On the sweet side, SFA has spotted a number of global flavors appearing in more snack items such as a white chocolate moringa-infused bar topped with pinipig, a traditional ingredient of pounded and toasted young glutinous rice from the Philippines.
Additionally, twists on chocolate classics is an adjacent and continuing trend, noted SFA, noting the rise in creative and innovative chocolate products such as dark-chocolate honeycomb candies and decaf chocolate-coffee combos.
Peppers take off
Consumers are becoming more acquainted with different varieties of peppers ranging in heat and incorporating peppers into recipes, snacking, and condiments "thanks to a preponderance of regional chili peppers, chili crisps, dried peppers, and pepper flakes hitting the market," observed SFA.
"Ajvar is a lesser-known red pepper and eggplant condiment that's made in Turkey and is vegan," said Trendspotter Jenn de la Vega, author, recipe developer, and editor at large of Put A Egg On It.
Foods with benefits
Taking immune system health seriously in the wake of the pandemic, foods touting antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties have become increasingly sought after by consumers.
"Fancy Food 24/7 revealed functional gummies; oils marketed as cosmetics; oils to drink or use topically for the complexion; drinks that paired mango with collagen for protein and potential beauty benefits, and turmeric for anti-inflammation; and a butterfly pea flower extract, high in anthocyanins, which are linked to anti-aging for the skin," SFA noted in its findings.