January/February 2021

Eyeing food trends for 2021
By Zeke Jennings, managing editor

If there was an on-trend word for 2020, it would have been “unprecedented.” The word was often used by on-air talking heads and writers to describe the events we witnessed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Frozen produce was already trending up in retail prior to the pandemic, but really saw a spike since the start of COVID. Photo: Green Giant

The unprecedented times led to a shift from eating out to eating in due to foodservice restrictions and work-from-home situations, which not only threw a wrench into the food supply chain, but also altered the types of food people were consuming. Shopping online and fewer trips to the grocery store led shoppers to lean on old produce department standbys, such as potatoes, bananas and berries, but also the shelf-stable and frozen categories, which were up double-digit percentages in sales most of 2020.

“Even pre-pandemic, frozen produce was up double-digit percentages, and that’s only increased since” said Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, CEO and president, The Produce for Better Health Foundation, during a Potato Expo session in early January. She noted that the Mediterranean diet, a supposed heart-healthy regiment that calls for seven to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, is gaining in popularity. “The situation has never aligned better to stress fruits and vegetables as the most important diet decision you can make.”

Jonna Parker, Principal of IRI’s Fresh Center of Excellence, said consumers who suddenly had kids at home instead of at school wanted to do right by their families by eating healthy, but also wanted to do right by their sanity by eating easy-to-prepare food.

Saverne is just one of several long-standing GLK Foods brands that makes sauerkraut and pickles, which are on-trend with consumers looking for gut health and healthy snacking.

“Healthful and ease were the two biggest factors during the final months of 2020,” Parker said during Potato Expo. “Those really won out during the pandemic.”

What sort of trends will we see for food consumption in 2021? Food producers are in the situation of having not only to think about what people will want to eat, but where and how they’ll get their food.

Now that COVID vaccines are being distributed, we can expect to see a slow foodservice reopening during 2021, with a stress on “slow.” “Food producers should look at the five final months of 2020 to predict what the first of half of 2021 will be like,” Parker said.

“A lot of people are still a little skittish about eating at restaurants right now,” said Jack Li of Datassential, a food and beverage data firm, of elevated COVID numbers during late fall and early winter. “But if 2021 is anything like 2020, we should see that recede (as weather warms and vaccines become more widely available).”

Trending produce items

Produce-based snacks. Snacking in place of meals is a rising trend among young consumers with their always-on-the-go lifestyles. Keeping in line with a focus on healthier diets, produce-based snack food is a growing category, including fruit chips, especially tropical fruit, such as bananas and plantains.

In addition, fruit- and vegetable-based jerkies are included in Whole Foods’ recent “Top 10 Food Trends for 2021.”

“Jerky isn’t just for meat lovers anymore. Now all kinds of produce from mushrooms to jackfruit are being served jerky-style, providing a new, shelf-stable way to enjoy fruits and veggies. ​The produce is dried at the peak freshness to preserve nutrients and yumminess. If that’s not enough, suppliers are literally spicing things up with finishes of chili, salt, ginger and cacao drizzle,” WholeFoodsMarket.com reported.

Wise Goat Organics, established in 2013, makes handcrafted fermented cabbage products in a wide range of flavors.

Fermented cabbage. While the Mediterranean diet tends to be associated with heart health, gut health is another area of focus among health-conscious consumers these days. Pre- and probiotics have been on their radar for numerous years, but now look for postbiotics to gain more attention. Pre-, pro- and postbiotics are present in fermented foods, which is good news for cabbage producers, as sauerkraut and kimchi top the lists of readily available fermented foods.

“Now we’re learning about postbiotics — the metabolites (or end products) of the fermentation that goes on in the gut by probiotics,” wrote registered dietician Frances Largeman-Roth in a December 2020 USA Today article. “Postbiotics are being studied for anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits and may also help bolster the immune system and improve the gut barrier.”

Microgreens. Microgreens is an ongoing trend that is expected to continue with 7.5% growth during the period of 2020-25, according to Mordor Intelligence. They’re popular with consumers because they’re visually appealing additions to salads and other dishes, but more so because of their extremely high nutrient content. For producers, they have a quick growing cycle and can be produced through vertical farming.

Implementing microgreens into ready-to-eat salad products or health-focused smoothie drinks for on-the-go consumers could be a good marketing tool for food producers.

Consumers will look to spice things up with hot pepper-infused foods and international flavors in the coming months and years.

Hot peppers. When the crisis hit, we saw consumers gravitate toward what they know and are used to in the produce department. After nearly a year of this, people are likely going to be looking to spice up their daily intake, literally spice up. Based on recipe searches, Pinterest Predicts reported that “spicy is the new umami” in 2021. For produce producers, that can come in the way of ready-to-eat options with spicy and international flavor combinations — such as African, Latin and Asian — as well as hot condiments, like jalapeno jellies or sweet-and-spicy salsas. In addition, according to the University of Pennsylvania, capsaicin, which gives hot peppers their heat, has been shown to help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, boost metabolism and promote gut health.

In foodservice, Li said innovation has been lacking during the pandemic and producers and chefs should work together to spice up menus to stand out as consumers start to look for new offerings.

“People are tired of eating what they’ve been eating for the past nine months,” Li said.

Top photo: Hippie Snacks makes a variety of produce-based snack foods, including cauliflower crisps, avocado crisps, coconut clusters and, most recently, almond crisps. 

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