Food Trends for 2021

Among the predictions are new flavors, a healthy focus, drinks in cans, calming foods and regional fare.

January 04, 2021

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—A new year is here, and foodservice professionals and retailers are looking ahead to what consumers will crave in the coming months. What’s in? Tacos and ramen. What’s out? Bleu cheese dressing and meatloaf.

According to Datassential, a provider of food trend data and consumer insights, there are three macro trends and seven flavor and ingredient trends that will stand out in 2021, reports SmartBrief.com.

The three macro trends include:

The Future Chef: The chef’s role is involving. As technology breaks down walls, the chef’s role will become more personal. Those chefs who used Zoom and Instagram to teach classes and answer questions during the pandemic will continue using technology to connect with consumers. As ghost kitchens and virtual brands expand, a chef may be called upon to develop entirely new concepts and lead multiple virtual “restaurants” operating out of one space. 

Modern Comfort: If 2020 was all about comfort foods, 2021 is about expanding the definition of comfort noshing. For an upcoming generation, “comfort” means a lot more than mac & cheese. It can mean global flavors, the brands they grew up eating and healthy offerings that make them feel good. Comfort foods that Gen Z loves include ramen, baby carrots, tacos and avocados. Three items on the “endangered” list, which younger generations don’t like, are diet soda, bleu cheese dressing and meatloaf sandwiches. 

Plant-Based Evolves: The plant-based and lab-grown meat industry is gearing up for a big year in 2021. McDonald’s has announced its McPlant burger will go on sale in the U.S. next year, marking another milestone for the mainstreaming of plant-based meat. In addition, plant-based chicken and pork are expected to make waves. Eat Just’s lab-grown chicken nuggets are set to appear in Singapore soon, with plans for a U.S. launch soon afterward.

Additionally, the following seven flavors, ingredients and dish trends are new to US. menus, but they have the potential to be big:

  • Fermented Honey: It’s tangy and sweet, and honey continues to appear on menus as consumers seek out natural sweeteners.
  • Chicory Root: The profile of chicory root has been growing as consumers seek out caffeine-free coffee alternatives. Expect it to show up in more baked goods and desserts.
  • Sudachi: This Japanese citrus fruit is appearing in drinks (particularly cocktails) or as an acidic finish to Asian-inspired meat and veggie dishes.
  • Future Produce: Several brands are developing unique produce offerings, such as Driscoll’s rosé strawberries and Del Monte’s PinkGlow pineapple.
  • Carob: At one time, carob was touted as a healthier replacement for chocolate. Now, it’s getting attention as a more health-driven, natural, plant-based alternative. Find it in everything from carob flour to carob molasses and in drinks, bars and baked goods.
  • Honeysuckle: This wild plant/flower has been used to make syrup for years, but now manufacturers are discovering the beauty of its floral flavors. 
  • Guisada: Carne guisada, a Latin beef stew simmered in beer with scallions, garlic, tomatoes, cumin and cilantro, is gaining traction. While typically made with beef, chefs are now substituting chicken, pork and seafood.
Meanwhile, the New York Times offered 11 predictions for 2021 food trends from forecasters, academics and market researchers.
  1. Chef-made meal kits. The pandemic had restaurants scrambling for new ways to connect with customers, and chef-inspired meal kits were one of them.
  2. Canned beverages. The craze for aluminum cans will continue. Fueled by craft beer, all kinds of drinks come in cans now, including hard kombucha and breakfast seltzer.
  3. No single vegetable of the year. Next year, any veggie will be good for us, with the emphasis on foods that help promote health and immunity still popular with consumers. “We’ve had an awakening about how our diets can impact our susceptibility to the disease,” said Jenny Zegler, associate director of food and drink for the global market research firm Mintel.
  4. Basque burnt cheesecake as flavor of the year. Chefs across the country are serving up this crustless cheesecake with a soft, jiggly inside. Originally from Spain in the 1990s, Basque burnt cheesecake has already become an ice cream flavor.
  5. Bedroom food. Food and beverages that help you relax or sleep have become very popular. PepsiCo’s Driftwell, Goodnight chocolate “sleepytime” snack, and Nightfood ice cream with drowse-inducing ingredients are just some examples of more soothing foods and drinks.
  6. Domestic flavors. Hyper-regional American food will have its moment. Fresh interest in state barbeque styles, local soda and cheeses, and regional fish will drive this trend.
  7. Interesting labels. Consumers want to see more than government mandated info on their food and drink labels. For example, Giant Foods is adding shelf talkers to indicate which products are from minority-owned companies.
  8. Less concern about waste. Concerns about packaging waste has been pushed to the back burner during the pandemic. But once the COVID-19 threat wanes, that trend should reverse itself.
  9. Evolving delivery. Foodservice operators will look even more to technology to enhance the diner experience both for carryout and delivery. More restaurants will launch their own online ordering systems to grab back some of the ground gained by third-party delivery companies.
  10. Lingering lockdown habits. Changes wrought by the pandemic that will continue into 2021 include online grocery shopping, ghost kitchens, direct-from-farm ordering, plant-based eating, and a return to culinary self-reliance, like canning, bread baking and gardening. “Even once restaurants reopen, the amount of food that is cooked and prepared at home will be higher by 30 percent than it would have otherwise have,” said Keith Knopf, president and chief executive officer of Raley’s.
  11. Taking up the hunger cause. Feeding America predicted a record deficit of eight billion meals over the next six months. Numerous food manufacturers and restaurants have been coming up with new ways to help get food to those who are hungry.
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