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What's next for 2021?

Eight food-related trends for grocers to watch for in the coming year

As we prepare to bid adieu to this extraordinary, unpredictable year, we thought it only fitting that we turn our attention to what might come next. From big breakfasts to upcycled foods, here are eight food-related trends expected to make a mark in 2021.

Home for dinner (and breakfast, lunch, snacks...)

A sharp increase in cooking and eating at home was a defining characteristic of 2020, and this will continue through 2021. “At-home eating will be the name of the game in 2021,” says Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, global food analyst at Mintel and member of the Specialty Food Association’s Trendspotter Panel, which had “eating/cooking at home” on its top trends list for 2021. “We will see consumers looking to brighten and enliven the monotony of preparing so many meals in a row.” To that end, there will undoubtedly be an increase in demand for meal solutions for consumers who may be running out of ideas, whether that means innovative home meal replacement items, a greater offering of different types of meal kits or simply helping consumers with easy and interesting meal ideas via clever merchandising and recipe suggestions.

Big breakfasts are back

With a large segment of the population working or schooling from home thanks to COVID-19, Canadians have more time to devote to their morning meal. It’s no longer about grabbing a granola bar in the mad rush to get to the office—the work-from-home crowd can now spend a little more time getting creative with heartier breakfasts. Food Network Canada included big breakfasts in its 2021 trend predictions, while “epic breakfast every day” was on Whole Foods Market’s Top 10 Food Trends for 2021, with the retailer explaining there’s a whole new lineup of innovative products out there “tailored to people paying more attention to what they eat in the morning. Think pancakes on weekdays, sous vide egg bites and even ‘eggs’ made from mung beans.”

Plant-based pushes forward

Plant-based foods are everywhere and, it seems, aren’t going anywhere. The trend, propelled by popular alternative meat and milk brands, has reached mainstream status. Plant-based eating, of course, has been developing for some time and Innova Market Insights forecast we would see a “plant-based revolution” in 2020; next year, the research firm predicts the trend will evolve as mainstream appeal drives expansion and innovation to more categories and more indulgent products. “Now we really see marching forward,” said Lu Ann Williams, Innova’s director of insights and innovation in a recent presentation on Innova’s top trends for 2021. “It’s just a phenomenal trend that’s going to go from strength to strength.” The diversification of plant-based foods is illustrated, she said, by interesting developments in fish alternatives, egg alternatives (ie. made with aquafaba) and even plant-based probiotic beverages. As the trend evolves, however, plant-based products will come under greater scrutiny from consumers, warned The Hartman Group in its The Insatiable Appetite podcast earlier this year. Specifically, there will be more questions about the nutritional profiles and ethical claims of some plant-based products. Melissa Abbott, vice-president of culinary insights at Hartman, said companies competing in this space need to “tread cautiously to avoid that ‘greenwashing effect’ plant-based is actually having” over some of the highly processed food and beverage products in the category.

Immunity boosters & health helpers

With the pandemic persisting, functional food will be more prevalent than ever in 2021, and the lines between food and supplements will continue to blur. According to Whole Foods Market’s Top 10 Food Trends for 2021, this means things like “superfoods, probiotics, broths and sauerkrauts will take off. Suppliers are incorporating functional ingredients like vitamin C, mushrooms and adaptogens to foster a calm headspace and support the immune system.” Innova also included “in tune with immune” on its list of trends for 2021, noting that in its Innova Consumer Survey 2020, six out of 10 global consumers indicated they “are increasingly looking for food and beverage products that support their immune health.” Innova predicts immunity-boosting ingredients will play a significant role in the coming year, “while research and interest in the role of the microbiome and personalized nutrition as ways to strengthen immunity will accelerate.”

Private label 2.0

Last year in this space we included “private brand momentum” in our list of trends to watch, and it’s sticking around in 2021. In recent years, younger shoppers (who tend to be less brand loyal than their elders) and value-seeking consumers have helped fuel sales growth in private-label products, and have even seen them outpacing national brands. According to Nielsen, private-label products now have a market share of more than 18%. “But I do think the pandemic will accelerate that shift and it will almost be a private label 2.0,” said Mark Petrie, analyst at CIBC World Markets, during a presentation at Grocery Innovations Canada (GIC) in November. Petrie said 93% of grocers say private label is either extremely or very important to them, and they are looking to grow this part of the business. “I would expect to see it reaching further away from centre store,” he said, extending to deli, bakery and plant-based items. “I think these are areas where grocers will be pushing even more aggressively.” Petrie added that e-commerce is a huge opportunity for grocers given the influence they have over the customer journey and the shopping experience, and is another way they’ll be able to “push hard with their private-label offerings.”

Channel blurring

As foodservice and food retail continue to overlap, Innova Market Insights has identified “new omnichannel eating” as a trend to watch in 2021. “There are a lot of ways to take advantage of this trend,” said Innova’s Williams. One way is with restaurants making their food available through retail channels. “Consumers <46% of those Innova surveyed> told us that restaurant-branded products are a convenient way to get the restaurant experience and flavours at home.” Williams said she doesn’t see this desire going away as consumers “are definitely going to expect more access to the food they want anytime, anywhere.” Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, speaking at GIC in November, said the lines between foodservice and retail had moved beyond a blurring of the lines. He pointed to Loblaw’s PC Chef platform as an example. Through the PC Chef website, consumers can order a range of meal kits, including those from popular Toronto-area restaurants like The Burger's Priest. “Loblaw has decided to be not just a grocer, but a broker between foodservice and consumers—selling meal kits they don’t necessarily design," he said. "For grocers, that’s an interesting avenue.”

Demand for transparency ramps up

While transparency has been a growing consumer demand for several years now, its importance is expected to ramp up even more in 2021. Transparency tops Innova Market Insights’ list of trends for 2021, with the research firm noting that six in 10 global consumers are interested in learning more about where foods come from (as indicated in the Innova Consumer Survey 2020). According to Innova: “Increasing transparency to meet evolving ethical, environmental and clean label consumer demands is key. Brands adopting and pairing new packaging technologies such as invisible barcodes and near-field communication technology with creative, meaningful storytelling will be successful.” Key transparency issues for consumers will include human/animal welfare, supply chain transparency and sustainable sourcing.

Upcycled foods on an upswing

According to the year-old Upcycled Food Association (UFA), the industry around reducing food waste is worth more than $46 billion and will experience a 5% CAGR over the next decade. The UFA, whose membership has grown from 10 to more than 100 companies over the past year, says the appeal of upcycled food—foods made from ingredients that would otherwise be wasted—is that it is a consumer-based solution to a soaring food waste problem. And big players like Whole Foods Market are taking notice. The grocer included upcycled foods on its Top 10 Foods Trends for 2021. “We’re seeing a large number of products launching recently and not just in food and beverage, but in things like pet food and cosmetics—it’s such a growing movement that we clearly notice its importance,” Christopher Davila, Whole Foods’ innovation program manager told attendees of a recent UFA meeting, explaining why upcycled foods landed on the retailer’s list of trends set to take off. Davila said Whole Foods already carries a number of upcycled food products, but that he expects to see even more. But for upcycled foods to be successful at retail, he said, two “important” things need to be addressed. First, messaging and education—“does the consumer understand what these products are and that they’re safe?” And secondly, execution—does the product taste good, and does it meet consumer expectations? Addressing these two things will “really cast upcycled foods into a very successful future,” he said.

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