Wellness Drinks, Probiotics and Plant-Based Are on Trend

Health will be top of mind for Americans, but there also could be confusion around food labeling.

January 10, 2023

WASHINGTON—Healthful beverages, demands for probiotics and protein, a focus on food labels and a lens on diversity in food systems is what is on the docket for food trends in 2023, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC).

Wellness still will be top of mind for consumers in 2023, said the IFIC, but they will increasingly seek health benefits in liquid form. Added benefits that will be popular include more energy, as well as mental health and gut health support.

A 2022 IFIC survey found that 37% of American want “more energy and less fatigue” as a benefit from food and beverage. For Gen Z respondents, “emotional/mental health” was among the top three sought-after food benefits.

“You can expect to see options that cater to those wishes multiply, such as ‘alt caffeine’ choices to old standbys like coffee and tea,” wrote IFIC in a news release. “Along with yerba mate, keep an eye out for more yaupon tea, a lower caffeine alternative with a sweet flavor profile, which is derived from a species of holly native to the deep South.”

Also, nonalcoholic beverage options are growing in popularity as more consumers abstain from alcohol for reasons varying from physical health to emotional wellbeing to spiritual. “Sober curious” is trending on social media, and IFIC says to be prepared to see a growing wave of nonalcoholic options not just during Dry January and Sober October.

Probiotics have been steadily growing in popularity, with digestive/gut health being the third most commonly sought-after benefit among Americans, the IFIC says. According to the council’s 2022 Consumer Insights on Gut Health and Probiotics Survey, of those who try to consume probiotics, 25% say they commonly seek them out in wellness drinks. Similarly, among those who try prebiotics, 23% seek them out in wellness drinks.

“Don’t expect that interest to wane in the coming year, and expect to see them more and more beyond the yogurt section, as probiotics are increasingly being added to non-traditional foods like chocolate, ice cream, juices, sauces and even nutrition bars,” wrote IFIC.

Plant-based alternatives have been trending for the past few years, but plant-based pasta, rice and snacks will be a growing trend in 2023, says IFIC. Consumers are open to innovative, plant-based food alternatives, a trend that should continue in 2023. In fact, an IFIC survey found that 28% of respondents would be interested in trying sea-green-based products (e.g., algae- or kelp-based foods).

“These products point a new lens on sustainability and innovation, often relying on ‘upcycling,’ which takes plant-based food components that ordinarily would have gone to waste and processes them for use in other products—such as pulp and spent grain from soy milk or oat milk being added to flour,” writes IFIC.

The council also says to keep an eye out for food innovations featuring mushrooms, seaweed and jackfruit.

IFIC expects there to be clarity, as well as confusion on food packaging this year.

“Expect to see more jostling in 2023 for the finite space on food labels. In a similar vein, greater consensus will begin emerging around nomenclature, as well as some of the terms and marketing claims that will be vying for more of the labels’ real estate,” writes IFIC.

“Natural” and “clean” foods, which consumers associate with healthfulness, will continue to be at the forefront. According to IFIC’s 2022 Food and Health Survey, more Americans in 2022 versus 2021 say they regularly buy products labeled as “natural” (39% vs. 33% in 2021) or “clean ingredients” (27% vs. 20% in 2021).

When asked about which types of diets or eating patterns they’re following, clean eating was the top choice. More respondents said they followed clean eating in 2022 (16%) than in 2021 (9%). The most common attributes they believe define a healthy food are “fresh” (37%), “low in sugar” (32%) and “good source of protein” (29%), according to the survey.

Additionally, IFIC points out that recent actions by the Food and Drug Administration are bringing Americans closer to an updated definition of “healthy” foods.

IFIC predicts that more consumers will view the food system through a DEI lens. According to the 2022 Food and Health Survey, 45% of U.S. consumers say that fair and equitable treatment of workers is important in their purchasing decisions.

“We saw this focus play out at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this past fall, which brought together stakeholders across multiple sectors to address food insecurity and diet-related diseases. The ripples from the conference will be seen into 2023 and beyond,” writes IFIC.

Finally, IFIC writes that consumers will begin thinking about food and beverages from a global standpoint.

“Americans have become much more conversant about global supply chains and what happens when they are disrupted by factors like the pandemic and war. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted many of us to reconsider how the products we take for granted every day don’t just appear on the shelves magically,” writes the IFIC.

NACS Magazine asked c-store foodservice pros to share their predictions about what lies ahead for foodservice operations in 2023 (Think: value, simplicity, local, LTOs, coffee) in the January issue.

Also, here are 10 predictions for restaurants and food this year that are out of this world.