The 5 biggest food trend predictions for 2021

freshly harvested vegetable in a basket

Over the last decade, consumers have shifted their mindset around food in significant ways. While we once favoured convenient nutrition at low-cost, as the rates of chronic diseases rose, consumers began to place greater importance on clean labels and wholesome ingredients. Similarly, as the number of diagnosed food intolerances grew, an increasing number of people turned to modified eating plans and plant-based diets. The food technology industry responded by creating meat alternatives and products free from known allergens, such as dairy and gluten.

Then came 2020, a year that saw the world turned on its head and, for the food industry, presented a series of challenges, including limitations on supply chains, rapidly changing consumer demands and shifts in purchasing behaviours. For many people, this has been the first time in their lives they went into supermarkets and were unable to buy toilet paper, flour or milk, and this level of uncertainty is something that lingers, even when Australia’s number of active cases are currently at an all-time low.

There is little doubt that COVID-19 has dramatically changed consumer sentiment, and the forecast for 2021’s food technology trends reflect this. With this in mind, here are the five biggest predicted trends in the food and beverage industry in 2021.


Transparency and traceability

According to food trend specialist Innova Market Insights, transparency will be the number one food trend in the coming year, with six in 10 consumers interested in knowing where their food comes from. This is not only a result of the uncertainty around the pandemic, but also due to consumer’s growing concern around the environmental and ethical implications of their purchasing behaviours.

Brands adopting the likes of new packaging technologies such as invisible barcodes, QR codes and near-field communication technology, and pairing these with creative, meaningful storytelling are likely to be more successful when it comes to appealing to the wider consumer market.

According to CEO of Crop Enhancement Jean Pougnier, food traceability will expand beyond food safety and production methods and “will encompass aroma, flavour, texture, nutritional benefits, and other aspects of food quality.” Much of this will be done through the use of big data, that while has evolved, is predicted to take off in a big way in 2021.


Health and immunity

Though the trend towards healthier eating began some years ago, the fear and uncertainty around coronavirus has intensified the public’s demand for more nutrient-dense foods, particularly those that claim to possess immunity boosting properties. The same goes for vitamins, with a GlobalData survey in June of this year finding that 23 percent of respondents admitted to stockpiling more vitamins and supplements this year.

Immunity-boosting ingredients will play a significant role in the coming year, while research and interest in the role of the microbiome and personalised nutrition as ways to strengthen immunity are predicted to accelerate.

There is also an expected shift to the concept of “food as medicine” technology, which refers to any product or service that shifts power to food as a means of health. Such innovations include computational discovery platforms uncovering new nutrients to fortify our health significantly; bioprocessing methods to produce high-value nutrients at low-cost; novel chemistry that’s safe and reliable for farmers to use; and farming new crops that make our diets more biodiverse.


Mood food

Interestingly, consumers are not just more inclined to purchase food that they deem as more beneficial for their physical health, but also their mental wellbeing. It is predicted that our shelves will be overrun with food technology innovations designed to counter the higher than average levels of anxiety felt by consumers this year. PepsiCo has already made strides in this area, releasing its new drink Driftwell, which is meant to help consumers relax and unwind before bed. The enhanced water drink contains 200 milligrams of L-theanine and 10 percent of the daily value of magnesium. While it may seem strange that this product was created from a brand built on caffeine and high fructose corn syrup, it is a clever response to the overarching emotional impact of the pandemic.

Furthermore, a survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Sensodyne toothpaste, found 74 percent of respondents said cooking has been a successful coping mechanism for them as they deal with the stress of being home. We saw the results of this throughout the year, with staple baking ingredients such as flour flying off the shelves, as well as an increase in demand for healthy, quick meal kits and ready-made-meals that reduced stress around meal times and anxiety about grocery shopping. This trend towards home-cooked meals that give rise to fun and shareable food experiences that help ease stress are only predicted to grow in the coming year.


Carbon removal and sustainability

Technology around environmental sustainability is improving, and it’s predicted that the food technology industry will make leaps and bounds in this area in 2021 as a result of nature-based agricultural projects.

The food system accounts for approximately 26 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with livestock agriculture being the highest contributor. There is growing demand and need for technologies and farmers to begin to develop carbon removal techniques, including those such as vertical farms and grazing methods that follow regenerative strategies.


Plant-based and alternative meat proteins

While this is by no means a new trend, it is one that is continuously growing and showing no sign of slowing down. In fact, in Q1 2016, the sector received $30 million in investment worldwide, but four years later in Q1 2020, this had grown to $1.3 billion.

Whether it be plant-based meat, seafood, dairy and egg alternatives or lab-grown meat or seafood, 2021 is the year this food group will explode in terms of investment and sales. With an increasing number of food manufacturers and even fast food outlets adopting plant-based foods, the alternative meat industry is becoming less and less “alternative” and is moving mainstream.

Consumer adoption of plant-based diets is not only for the purported health benefits, but also due to the known impact on livestock and meat processing on the environment. For this reason, another meat alternative – insects – is predicted to come to the fore in 2021. Currently, 2.5 billion people worldwide regularly eat insects, but one of the biggest hurdles new start-ups in the food and beverage industry face is helping consumers overcome the “yuck” factor.

Though niche, the signs of this are growing, with at least one major supermarket in most European countries now selling insect-based products. And investors are getting on board too, with edible insect companies such as France’s Ynsect and Israel’s Hargol receiving millions to date.


If you’re looking for staff within the food technology industry, partner with an agency that understands the sector. At Techstaff, our consultants have specific industry experience that allows them to meet our client’s specific needs. Contact us today.

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