As 2023 draws to a close, experts are putting forth their predictions for the trends that will shape what and how we eat in the coming year. Value will be a key driver in 2024 as consumers continue to watch their spending, and AI is anticipated to make an even bigger mark on the food world next year.
Here is a closer look at those predictions and three other 2024 food trends expected to make a splash, based on analysis of more than a dozen reports.
Cost-conscious consumers want value
Inflation caused consumers to be more mindful of their spending habits this year, and experts expect this trend to continue in the foodservice and food retail industries in 2024.
“Diners have always sought value in one form or another yet, amid stubborn historical inflation, the approach to stretching one’s foodservice dollar will differ from prior economically challenging periods,” Technomic wrote in its “What’s in Store for 2024” report. “In 2024, consumers will scale back their delivery spend in favor of more takeout and drive-thru. A breakfast boom during the work week will have guests treating themselves to foodservice in the morning rather than lunch – as a satisfying yet more affordable restaurant occasion. And on the weekends, brunch will become the new dinner thanks to its equally appealing social aspects, large adult beverage selections and lower average checks,” the report says.
Experts from Datassential also predict that consumers will cool off on restaurant delivery due to its high cost, with “half of consumers agreeing delivery is too expensive and 39% saying they’ve abandoned their cart when they saw the final price,” according to the market research company’s “2024 Food Trends Preview.”
Consumers will also be on the lookout for deals in the grocery store next year. Brands can engage shoppers by showing them “what their products bring to the table. This may be versatile uses, low-stress flavor building or longer shelf life (yes, longer shelf life!),” said Melanie Bartelme, a member of the Specialty Food Association Trendspotter Panel. Shoppers are also more open to “dupe” products that perform the same function of pricier items at a lower cost, according to the “2024 Flavor and Color Outlook” from Archer-Daniels-Midland. “With premium private label products paving a way for innovation, there is room to bring consumers great experiences without emptying their wallets. We will continue to see new solutions for cost sensitivities or raw material shortages,” the report says.
New applications for AI
AI-powered technologies proliferated in just about every industry this year, and food was no exception. Exploration and adoption of AI tools is expected to continue in 2024, with restaurants and food companies using them to communicate with customers, conceptualize new products and increase worker safety and efficiency.
The “2024 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast” from the National Restaurant Association named AI integration a top emerging trend and Technomic and Datassential also mentioned it in their forecasts. New restaurant technologies “will be increasingly supported by artificial intelligence, some of it generative in the case of drive-thru chatbots and some of it predictive in the form of labor, supply and marketing-mix management,” Technomic wrote.
Several restaurants touted AI-generated dishes this year, a trend that Food by Design expects to expand in the new year. The culinary consultancy cited examples in its 2024 trend predictions, including a Chat GPT-generated pizza recipe featured by international chain Dodo Pizza.
In addition to the applications of AI for food companies, experts predict that consumers will also integrate AI into their eating habits. “Technology like AI and AR as it relates to food preparation and consumption will exist on a spectrum, offering consumers the right solution for where they are. It will help them find their ideal balance between the occasions when they desire to create truly innovative and engaging dishes, drinks and snacks and when meal planning, shopping, cooking, or even eating can be put on autopilot,” Mintel wrote in its “2024 Global Food and Drink Trends” report.
Plant-based goes plant-forward
The recent influx of processed meat alternatives with long ingredient lists that seem to have more to do with a lab than a farm has some consumers seeking out plant-based products that put the emphasis on plants. Mintel predicts that transparency will be a top trend in 2024, writing that “concerns about ultra-processing in plant-based food and drink have caused consumers to reconsider their consumption of meat substitutes.”
Food by Design also noted the push for plant-forward plant-based items, predicting that “the strategy of mimicking meat one-to-one will diminish in importance, with a focus shifting towards the richness of edible flora. Recipes will be crafted from plant-based whole foods rather than isolates and concentrates. Recognizable ingredients such as vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, legumes, herbs, spices, seaweed, mosses, mushrooms (technically not plants), and blossoms will take center stage.”
Whole Foods Market refers to this category as the “OGs of plant-based cuisine” in its roundup of the top 10 food trends for 2024, noting the rise of “new and emerging protein-forward products with mushrooms, walnuts, tempeh and legumes in place of complex meat alternatives.”
Spice heats up
Whole Foods also named “complex heat” as one of its top trends for 2024, predicting that specialty peppers such as the scorpion, guajillo and Hungarian goathorn will show up in sauces, chile oils and even beverages. The guajillo is gearing up to be the most popular pepper of the year – AI platform Tastewise also named it in its trend roundup, calling it “the hottest of the hottest trends for 2024.”
The Specialty Food Association called out Calabrian chile peppers as a rising star. “As most peppers are of Asian or Latin origins, these offer a cultural alternative to what has become commonplace,” said Stan Sagner of the Association’s Trendspotter panel. “Additionally, Calabrian peppers have a bright flavor that is quite appealing and lends itself well to a variety of dishes.”
All three of the National Restaurant Association’s picks for 2024’s top condiments have a kick – chile crisp, tajin and chipotle ketchup are expected to be big. Datassential called out spicy ranch as an “ingredient to know” for next year.
Cooking across cultures
Another growing trend experts predict will make a big impact in 2024 is chefs showcasing their unique perspective on food with dishes that draw on the cuisines of multiple cultures.
“American food is a multi-ethnic melting pot and today’s restaurants are a reflection of that,” af&co. and Carbonate wrote in their annual “Hospitality Trends Report.” “Instead of hanging their hat on a slice of regional cooking, chefs in 2023 are rejecting the rigid idea of authenticity in exchange for something more reflective of the contemporary and diverse American experience, offering new combinations and menus that can’t be easily labeled or contained.”
The Institute of Food Technologists also called out this trend in its 2024 flavor trends outlook. “Third culture cuisine [the creation of new dishes and flavor combinations inspired by more than one culture] is unabashed, bold, tells a story, and creates an intercultural collaboration,” Soumya Nair, global consumer research and insights director for Kerry Group told IFT’s Food Technology Magazine.
Nair called out tikka sauce wings, za’atar wings, birria ramen and sashimi tostadas and as some of the cross-cultural dishes that exemplify this trend. Chicken is a particularly popular vehicle for international flavors – The National Restaurant Association called out global chicken wings as a hot trend and Baum + Whiteman named Szechuan fried chicken sandwiches and Thai fried chicken sandwiches as buzzwords for 2024.
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