KANSAS CITY — Vegetable butchery, lab-grown burgers, seaweed and spirulina may be among the food trends of tomorrow. Concepts supporting sustainable nutrition and busy consumer lifestyles are set to emerge, said Kara Nielsen, manager of Sales and Engagement USA for Innova Market Insights.
During a June 6 presentation at the Sosland Publishing Purchasing Seminar in Kansas City, Ms. Nielsen discussed current and future food trends, including what’s next on the health and wellness horizon.
Protein may be peaking, she said, but a new focus on quality and customization has given rise to premium and plant-based sources, from pulses and grains to grass-fed meat and pastured dairy. Americans’ obsession with this nutrient may evolve into a greater interest in dietary fiber, Ms. Nielsen said.
“I think we’re going to start tuning into fiber a little bit more and looking for natural sources of fiber, such as fruits and vegetables and pulses, but also added fiber, especially for weight loss and satiety, in ingredients like inulin and chicory root,” she said.
Probiotic-enhanced foods continue expanding into the mainstream as digestive health remains a top priority for many consumers. This may lead to a deeper understanding and interest in prebiotics, Ms. Nielsen said.
“We know the food industry is already responding and have seen an increase in the number of products with prebiotics called out on labels,” she said. “At this point it’s still a little bit hidden, so you don’t see this promoted in a bigger way like you do with probiotics.”
So-called superfoods such as purple corn, moringa, matcha, turmeric and chia are surging in packaged food and beverage products. Spirulina and chlorella are two nutrient-dense ingredients predicted to capture the consumer’s attention in the future.
“Superfoods is a health topic that continues to fascinate American consumers,” Ms. Nielsen said. “Americans still believe in the silver bullet theory that ‘If I just take one little pill, it will solve all of my health problems.’”
More packaged food and beverages are featuring adaptogenic plants, such as ginseng, ashwaganda, reishi and chaga mushrooms and maca root. Popularized by traditional medicinal practices, such ingredients are associated with a host of health benefits.
“What’s interesting is they really meet consumer needs, not only millennials who are a little stressed out and looking for support, but also boomers who embrace and hang on to vitality and healthy lifestyles as long as possible,” Ms. Nielsen said.
Free-from foods also are evolving, with gluten-free options in the marketplace containing more nutrient-dense, real-food ingredients, such as coconut and almond flour and ancient grains, Ms. Nielsen said.
“How gluten-free food was made years ago, it’s very different now,” she said. “We also see more nutrients being added to these products to give them more substance and flavor.”
Grain-free is gaining ground as such concepts as almond flour tortillas, cauliflower pizza crust and zucchini noodles are arriving on the scene.
Vegans and vegetarians, still a small subset of the population, are inspiring new innovations using plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy. Jackfruit has emerged as a popular substitute for pork. Aquafaba, or chickpea water, has been embraced by the vegan community as a stand-in for eggs in products like a mayonnaise substitute from Sir Kensington’s, a brand recently acquired by Unilever.
“We’re starting to see a higher order notion of ‘reducetarian’… talking about reducing the amount of meat, dairy and eggs you consume, the idea being you don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian or flexitarian, but by simply reducing the amount of meat you enjoy throughout the year, you will be making an impact on the planet from a sustainability and environmental point of view as well as from a health point of view,” Ms. Nielsen said. “This brings more people into the equation.”
At a growing number of vegan delis and similar outlets, consumers may find faux meats made with wheat gluten or soy, nut-based cheeses and butter-free desserts. The Butcher’s Son in Berkeley, Calif., offers a product that mimics fried chicken in taste, texture and appearance.
“We will continue to see delicious, tasty, creative offerings coming from this space,” Ms. Nielsen said.
Meanwhile, meat and dairy products are becoming more premium, sustainable and functional. Milk, in particular, is seen in new specialty formats that claim to offer better nutrition and digestibility. Small dairy producers may sell varietal milk, sourced from Jersey or Guernsey cows, which has a higher fat content and delicious flavor, Ms. Nielsen said.
“Where are our meat and dairy going next?” she asked. “Into the lab.”
Cellular agriculture, while in its infancy, is advancing as a means to achieving efficient and sustainable production of milk, beef and eggs without animals. Start-ups in this space include Perfect Day, which is developing milk made from dairy yeast, sugars and fermentation, and Clara Foods, which is producing egg white protein using yeast. Yeast also is a key ingredient in a meatless burger offered by Impossible Foods.
Plant products, too, are gaining power and reach, paving the way for algae and seaweed.
“Seaweed may not be the next kale, but it’s certainly something we’ll be eating,” Ms. Nielsen said. “Algal oil is already in a number of foods … and seaweed is starting to make itself known from a culinary side as being part of Japanese cuisine and part of a healthful Asian diet, but also for its delicious umami flavor.”
Hemp also is being touted as a healthful and sustainably grown ingredient, featured in non-dairy beverages, nutrition bars and vegetable burgers. Similarly, cannabis is muscling into the agricultural space, Ms. Nielsen said.“From a food standpoint, the rise of cannabis in edibles has been tremendous,” she said. “It will be fascinating to watch the growth of this going forward.”