Top 2021 Food Trends — From Sensational to Sensible

2021 Food and Beverage Industry Trends

Every fall, foodies and leaders in the food industry release their predictions on next year’s food trends. Often, these food and flavor trends offer little value to the average food and beverage manufacturer because of their inability to scale for the masses.

While exotic ingredients and sensational flavor profiles may make for click-worthy headlines, they’re also often impractical for the average consumer who simply wants a satisfying meal or snack at a price point they can afford.  

It might explain all those 2020 food trends that weren’t. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic turned everything on its head, and its influence on food trends for 2021 is expected to persist.

We’ve gathered the data, researched what other influencers in the food and beverage industry are saying, and added our own conclusions to give you our take on 2021 food trends.

Food Delivery

While already a trend in the sense that people have adopted food delivery and takeout out of sheer necessity, these actions will become a regular habit in 2021. Restaurant chains that had the foresight to offer delivery options and contactless pick-up prior to the onset of the pandemic have an upper hand. 

Emerging on the scene are ghost kitchens. These creative restaurant concepts do not have a public location for patrons to dine or pick up orders and are modeled entirely on the delivery concept. Operators establish a brand and menu, then promote their openings on social media and elsewhere. They typically rent kitchen facilities to prepare their meals and register with popular delivery apps in hopes of getting orders.

Of concern to the restaurant industry are those business models built around the buffet line. In many regions across the U.S., self-serve buffets are temporarily shut down or prohibited in an effort to stave off the coronavirus. Whether they’ll be able to ride out the virus is one thing; whether skittish patrons will return afterwards is another.

Meal Kits

Related to the food delivery trend is a surge in meal kits. The pandemic helped the market for “meals in a box” rebound when millions of Americans found themselves under stay-at-home orders with more time on their hands to prepare meals. Seeing how other food delivery services have flourished may have given consumers more confidence in the meal kit subscription model which is expected to become a $20 billion industry by 2027.

Meal kit companies will offer a broader range of options to customers, from traditional comfort foods, to ethnically inspired dishes, to those that cater to alternative diets such as gluten-free, Paleo, Keto and others.

Food Transparency

Where food is sourced is increasingly of interest to consumers, and they’re catching on to marketing messages and labeling practices that conveniently omit certain information. As an example, while a label may state that a food product is manufactured in the U.S., the ingredients may actually be imported from other countries, not all of which uphold the strict food safety regulations that have been established stateside. 

Consumers want to know where their food comes from, how it was produced and how it was sourced, making ingredient transparency and a strict chain of custody more important than ever.

Sustainable Food Options

Not only do consumers want to know where their food comes from; they also want to know its impact on the environment and whether it contributes to climate change. These concerns are leading some consumers to reach for renewable food sources like grains, legumes and even algae and seaweed. Foods that help minimize waste are also on trend, including using misshapen fruits and vegetables that aren’t Instagram-worthy in appearance. 

Whey is another sustainable food ingredient sought after by consumers, especially those on Keto and other trending diets. At one time, whey was discarded as part of the cheesemaking process, but is now “upcycled” into functional and nutritious ingredients for soups, sauces, dressings, meal replacement bars, protein supplements, beverages and more.

Reduced Sodium and Sugar

Remember when clean labels were a trend? The clean label trend doesn’t get as much air time these days because it’s become the expectation. Consumers are now scrutinizing the health benefits of two of those clean label ingredients, in particular. While salt and sugar are recognizable and generally considered all-natural, excessive amounts of these two ingredients are a red flag for consumers. Low-sodium formulations that still taste great and those that contain reduced sugar will have an upper hand. 

Unusual Flavor Combinations

Each year, there are some radical or exotic flavor trends that make the list. Not surprisingly, most fade as quickly as they burst on the scene. Foods that feature the fifth flavor sensation of umami, however, have been on trend for a few years. Now, innovative chefs are trending toward combining those full-bodied, satisfyingly rich notes of umami with sweet flavor profiles such as fruit, custard and even caramel corn. 

While some exotic flavors may make their mark, without question, consumers are creatures of comfort and reach for the familiar. That was never more true than during the pandemic when classic comfort foods like soups, savory snacks and mac and cheese were among the favorites.

High-Protein

Among the questionable and sensational food trend predictions for 2021 is a high-protein alternative to meat: insects. Despite having been popular in Asian diets, they never caught on in the U.S. and European countries. But some manufacturers are trying to change that with the introduction of cricket protein bars. They’ll have a long, uphill battle to gain market share against one of the world’s leading high-protein ingredients — whey protein isolate — used in protein bars and nutritional products. 

Undeniably, plant-based proteins are growing in popularity as an alternative to meat, but the latest research shows that whey protein is growing its market share in stride. Whether plant-based bacon will convince consumers of its virtues over the real thing is yet to be seen.

Continued Supply Chain Disruption

On the heels of major supply chain and distribution channel disruptions in spring 2020, some concern remains. In addition to reduced availability of some types of produce, meat production challenges may continue to be hampered by the ongoing and potential after-effects of COVID-19. Although supplies of these products are generally back to normal, the availability of skilled labor is still lacking. This could present a challenge to already stressed restaurants and retailers. 

Take-Aways for Food and Beverage Manufacturing

Ensuring availability of wholesome and flavorful ingredients that align with consumer preferences is a top priority. As producers of functional whey protein ingredients, Grande Custom Ingredients Group can ensure its products are ethically sourced and manufactured right here in the United States under a strict chain of custody. Consider how the following dried whey protein products can improve nutrition, flavor and cost savings in your formulations:

  • Grande Bravo — replaces milk, butter, cream, eggs and oil in soups, sauces, fillings and more
  • Grande Gusto — replaces fresh or processed cheese in cheese sauces and soups and reduces sodium
  • Grande Ultra — whey protein isolate for use in high-protein sports nutrition, protein bars, clear beverages, etc.
  • WPCrisp — a light, crunchy protein crisp for use in protein bars and snack applications
  • Grande Primo — real dried yogurt that adds its signature tang and nutritional benefits to your creamy applications and smoothies

Request a sample of any of these whey protein products and discuss how to incorporate them into your application and food system. Contact us today. Also check out our guide below illustrating additional reasons to use whey protein.Top 10 Reasons to Use Whey Protein - Tip Sheet