The past year has brought major changes for both the foodservice and food retail industries. Looking ahead to 2021, many of the food trends predicted by chefs, retail executives and other experts reflect the changing way consumers eat both at and away from home.
The pandemic sparked a resurgence of home cooking that will continue into the new year, making ingredients, appliances and sources of inspiration for home cooks one of next year’s top trends. Many consumers will make a gradual return to restaurants over the next year, but dining out will look different as eateries struggle to rebound from the havoc of the pandemic while creating dining experiences that are both alluring and safe. As for what will be on our plates, experts predict the plant-based movement will continue to influence the way we eat, especially as more people choose foods with wellness in mind. Also on the menu for the year ahead: a greater emphasis on Black-owned restaurants and food businesses, and increased exposure for Black chefs.
Here’s a closer look at what experts predict will be on our plates and in our grocery carts in 2021:
Home cooking 2.0
Meals prepared and eaten at home will continue to be the norm for many people well into 2021, but for consumers who have been making every meal at home since March, cooking fatigue has taken its toll. Time-saving pantry staples and products that help home cooks shake up their routines are expected to be a major trend in the coming year, according to predictions from Instacart and Whole Foods Market. Instacart data show that shoppers have been turning to global condiments such as chili crisp and piri piri sauce to spice up meals, while Whole Foods predicts they will turn to pantry staples with a twist such as “hearts of palm pasta, applewood-smoked salt and ‘meaty’ vegan soup.”
Pantry staples also featured in the trend forecast by Andrea Graves of Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center, who predicted the air fryer will be the hot kitchen appliance of 2021 as consumers look for a way to create healthy and delicious meals at home.
Pinterest predicts flavorful recipes and chef-inspired plating and presentation will be among the top trends for home cooks, The Kitchn reported. Consumers who are looking to create restaurant-quality dishes at home will have some help from increasing direct-to-consumer sales by farmers and other suppliers who expanded their sales channels during the pandemic, according to FSR Magazine. More restaurants will also get into the grocery game, according to Baum + Whiteman consultants, who predict eateries will offer branded products such as proprietary spice mixes and packaged pasta sauces for consumers looking to mimic their favorite restaurant meals at home.
Private dining makes a splash
The return to restaurants will likely be gradual once dine-in restrictions are lifted, and many people will be on the lookout for eateries that prioritize safety and offer specialized experiences.
“When we do dine in, it will be memorable,” JoJo Ruiz, executive chef at Serea Coastal Cuisine and Lionfish in San Diego told Food & Wine. Ruiz predicted there will be “more exclusive types of dining experiences in the dining room — think tasting menus, private dining experiences that go above and beyond with ingredients and access. People will go out for a truly memorable dining experience where they feel safe and can expect an experience unlike anything they’ve had before.”
Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants proclaimed that “distanced, intimate and private dining is here to stay” in its 2021 Culinary & Cocktail Trend Forecast, which also included creative outdoor spaces and ambiance-boosters like lighting and sound in its predictions for the coming year. For diners who aren’t ready to dine in at a restaurant but still want an extravagant meal, experiences “curated to be delivered at home or in small settings or even via Zoom,” will bring the experience to them, according to FSR.
Eating for immunity
The pandemic has made health a top priority for many people this year, and the habit of making food choices through the lens of well-being will continue into the new year. Kroger, Whole Foods and Baum + Whiteman included the wellness trend in their forecasts. In its report, the food and beverage consultancy proclaimed “immunity is the new sustainability.”
Turmeric, zinc, ginger, green tea, CBD, mushroom extracts, chia seeds and fermented products are among the immunity-boosting foods that consumers are expected to pile on their plates in 2021.
Prioritizing health can go hand-in hand with sustainability, and Graves from Oklahoma State’s Food and Agricultural Products Center predicts we “will see a continued emphasis on foods that not only boost a body nutritionally, but also are deemed ‘better’ for the environment. From green and organic to superfoods, consumers are going to spend the upcoming year on the hunt for products that nourish both the body and mind.”
Plant-based options abound
Sales of plant-based products will continue to rise in 2021, fueled in large part by consumers who eat meat but are looking to reduce their animal product consumption for health or environmental reasons. We can expect “hundreds of new plant-based and even cell-based meals on supermarket shelves in 2021,” according to Baum + Whiteman. Plant-based and lab-grown meat alternatives also made Datassential’s list of the top 10 trends for 2021.
Health and sustainability are drivers for plant-based eating, but the category is increasingly leaning on taste as a selling point. FSR named “over-the-top vegan comfort food” among its menu trend predictions, writing that “[vegan] has jumped out of the animal cruelty space, into sustainability, and now just into the category of delicious.”
Celebrating heritage cooking
This year brought an outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and calls for racial equity across institutions and industries — including food and beverage. Interest in food brands run or owned by Black people and other people of color surged, and 14% of Americans said they researched such brands this year, according to Instacart.
In the restaurant world, “Black chefs are gaining access to capital, new media exposure, and more chances to open their own restaurants,” according to Baum + Whiteman, which predicts we will see a “bumper crop of Black chefs’ cookbooks, renewed focus on ingredients of Southern cookery, and an exploration of the cuisines of West Africa” in the year to come.
“I think the current state of the industry leaves the door wide open for more diverse voices and cultures from within the African Diaspora to thrive,” chef Cybille St.Aude-Tate of Earthseed Provisions and Honeysuckle Projects in Philadelphia told Food & Wine.
Restaurants can help amplify these voices by purchasing and promoting products from Black-owned companies, according to FSR, which suggested several Black-owned beverage brands including McBride Sisters Wine and Brooklyn Tea.
Cultivating true understanding and appreciation for Black foodways and the food of all cultures requires approaching these cuisines from a standpoint of authenticity, rather than appropriation.
“At a time when authenticity both matters more than ever before and is also often called into question, the chef’s background and history will also play a larger role,” Datassential’s Mike Kostyo wrote.
The coming year will hopefully bring more opportunities for chefs and other food professionals from diverse backgrounds to tell their stories in their own voices and showcase their heritage with dishes cooked in a way that is authentic to them.
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