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Immunity foods, vegan bakery, elevated pies: top 2021 food trends

These foods just tip of iceberg in their categories

To say that 2020 has been a challenging year is an understatement. Restaurant operators have found themselves in a precarious position as they face increasing amounts of government regulation and take cautious approaches to help forestall transmission of the coronavirus in their communities.

(This article was originally published at the beginning of 2021.)

Along the continuum of food trends, consumers will still want to find new flavors and new experiences in the coming year, whether at home or dining out. According to global consultancy Alix Partners, some of the areas receiving the most consumer attention these days are health, hygiene, home, and habits.

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Immunity food and beverage

Foods promoted as boosting immunity are “booming,” says research firm Packaged Facts. Turmeric, ginger and orange juice have been highly sought-after as consumers seek to strengthen themselves amid the pandemic. In the beverage category, immunity has been a particularly hot topic.

Turmeric has long been believed to ward off disease and illness. It has also been identified as a top trend by the food practice of WGSN, a global trend forecaster based in the UK. It “contains the functional phytochemical curcumin, which may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-cancer properties,” according to its Immunity Supporting Ingredients report.

Turmeric has been perhaps the hottest ingredient to boost immunity in foods and beverages,” according to the US Beverage Market Outlook 2020 by Packaged Facts. Boathouse Farms, now a popular natural juice brand at the retail level, added a Carrot Ginger Turmeric Juice. True Food Kitchen, a chain featuring better-for-you foods built on a nutritional pyramid, offers an Ancient Grain Bowl, with miso sesame glazed sweet potato, turmeric, charred onion, snap pea, grilled portobello, avocado, and hemp seed.

Turmeric food and beverages are rising in popularity and their appeal extends far beyond the health food stores and smoothie shops
Turmeric food and beverages are rising in popularity and their appeal extends far beyond health food stores and smoothie shops. Photo by Charisse Kenion.

Sales of turmeric are set to grow 7.2 percent on a compounded annual growth-rate basis through 2026, according to ResearchandMarkets.com, a research report syndicator. Whether in food or drink, incorporating turmeric is a smart move for foodservice operators as consumers seek out immunity-boosting ingredients.

Ginger, which has long been a remedy for stomach ailments, is another popular perceived immunity booster. As the Beverage Market Outlook notes, Coca-Cola’s new AHA sparkling water is on trend with its Apple + Ginger beverages. As another example, sweetgreen offers a Cranberry Ginger Fresca and incorporates ginger into its Miso Sesame Ginger Dressing.

Orange juice sales have been going through the roof as consumers seek to boost their immune systems. Orange juice already accounts for 44 percent of the juice category. Following initial pandemic stay-at-home orders in several states, Citrus Industry reports that orange juice sales grew by another 44 percent in the four-week period ending April 11, compared to the prior year.

Restaurants can incorporate turmeric and ginger into more food and beverages; the easiest implementation is in beverages and proteins, but ongoing experimentation will yield further innovation. These ingredients will remain popular well beyond the pandemic. Orange juice’s resurgent popularity could be short-lived after 2021; but having orange juice available as a staple beverage this year can definitely reap short term rewards.

Vegan WOW and the vegan bakery

As the number of omnivores and flexitarians grow, the value proposition of vegan products has increased. A new trend popping up across menus and restaurants is craveable vegan, according to Kara Nielsen, director of Food & Drink, WGSN. Vegan is permeating menus across categories, popping up on American, Mexican and soul food. According to Packaged Facts’ Vegan Vegetarian and Flexitarian Consumers report, 17 percent of consumers are eating more plant-based meats than in 2019.

When thinking about the possibilities of vegan, one only needs to turn to Vegan MOB, a soul-food operation out of Oakland, Calif. The MOB Combo plate features plant-based brisket, ribs or fried BBQ shrimp. The MOB Gumbo Bread Bowl is prepared with a vegan shrimp and sausage in a rue, with Creole spices, and rice.

Chaia's vegan tacos are an example of creative and robust plant-based offerings
Chaia’s vegan tacos are an example of creative and robust plant-based offerings. Photo by Chaia Tacos.

As with the Kung Pao Cauliflower dish on Truluck’s menu in Chicago, which is increasingly a vegetarian and vegan option replacing the more traditional chicken version on menus nationwide, Nielsen notes there is much exploration yet to be had in global vegan dishes. Mexican, Chinese, Italian and Mediterranean cuisine can yield dishes that are ripe with flavor and unique vegan ingredients. The availability of plant-based meat alternatives expands the range of options.

Vegan tacos have been trending lately and some operators are getting on board without embracing meat alternatives. Chaia Tacos, a restaurant chain in Washington, DC, creates hearty vegetarian tacos with a flavorful combination of legumes, vegetables, fungi, root vegetables, and yogurt. A popular example is the Braised Mushroom Tacos, prepared with feta, salsa roja and cilantro. Chaia can easily make many of their other dishes vegan-style as well.

With so many plant-based products emulating eggs, cheese and meat, a complete vegan menu can easily be developed in today’s restaurants. The vegan bakery/baked goods category also presents a ripe opportunity. With a few adjustments, restaurants can tap a wide swath of consumers seeking plant-based options. According to Vegan, Vegetarian and Flexitarian Consumers, 28 percent of consumers are eating more protein from plant-based sources in 2020 than in 2019. In addition, 24 percent of consumers say they are eating more plant-based dairy.

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Nielsen notes a growing opportunity in chickenless egg products and vegan cheese. Chickenless eggs make it possible to prepare all types of baked goods and breakfast sandwiches without using normal eggs. Clara Foods and Just Egg are two mainstream brands that are helping foodservice providers create vegan egg menu items.

Dairy-free cheese is getting a boost from oat milk, which on its own is a popular plant-based product. Oat milk can improve the consistency, taste and texture of vegan cheese. Oatzarella is an oat milk-based dairy-free cheese made by Rucksack Foods in Mclean, Va. It has already been a star at food shows, and is said to melt for better utilization in recipes and taste more like cheese.

With an increasing improvement in the taste and texture of plant-based products, vegan is edging closer to mainstream. As with plant-based dairy beverages, vegan bakery and craveable vegan are sure to open up new opportunities for restaurant companies that want to broaden their consumer bases. As Starbucks has shown with its expanding use of plant-based milk creamers, restaurant operators will likely see the advantage of having more vegan options on their menus. Getting started is key; appetizers, sides, dressings and select baked goods can be the first step.

Low-alcohol and no-alcohol adult beverages

With Dry January just around the corner, it’s a fitting time to discuss the merits of the low-ABV (alcohol by volume)/no-ABV trend. Non-imbibers and those temporarily abstaining from alcohol want a taste experiences from restaurants and bars they patronize. When social settings resume post pandemic, they will want to partake in enjoyable dry options. WGSN’s Nielsen notes that there is a growing movement of “sober curious” individuals.

With major breweries investing in lower-alcohol and no-alcohol versions of beer, it’s clear to see the trend is here to stay. The Boston Beer Company, which produces Samuel Adams beer, recently announced the release of a non-alcoholic hazy IPA. “Just the Haze,” which is two years in the making, will be added to the Samuel Adams lineup in 2021, according to Beer Connoisseur.

The hard seltzer movement has also paved the way into exploring lower-alcohol drinks. White Claw is a top brand, and Bud Light and Corona have come out with their own versions. According to market-and-information company Nielsen, for the 15-week period ending June 13, 2020, hard seltzer sales quadrupled to $1.2B from $300M for the same period the prior year. Currently, hard seltzer is on track to account for 15 percent of its category, which includes beer, flavored malt beverages and cider. It has made gains not just within its category, but also at the expense of wine.

Gone are the days of plain-Jane mocktails made with an abundance of juice, too. Seedlip is a manufacturer that was ahead of the curve when it introduced its line of non-alcoholic spirits. The company produces three varieties that are gin alternatives, with varying degrees of spice and botanicals: Garden 108, Spice 94 and Grove 42. Others have followed, including Lyre’s, which produces a non-alcoholic Dry London Spirit, American Malt and Italian Orange. On its website, the company markets its products as low-alcohol and no-alcohol alternatives depending on the amounts used in drinks.

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Ritual produces a tequila alternative that has ranked high on flavor from the Beverage Tasting Institute, according to the company. This is another example of a non-alcoholic beverage bringing excitement to the low-ABV-no-ABV drinking experience. Customers wanting to enjoy a “virgin margarita” now they have tasty alternative, rather than a seemingly incomplete drink.

When restaurants and bars add choices that offer taste while keeping ABV low, they’ll help non-imbibers and low-imbibers enjoy social outings with ease. During the pandemic, restaurants that are allowed by law to have cocktails for pickup and delivery should consider having low-ABV/no-ABV selections to allow diners more choice. The beginning of the year, when more consumers may be refraining from alcohol, is a particularly crucial time to expand these options.

Elevated pizza pies

Pizza has become a staple during the health crisis; as borne out by their financials, pizza chains have fared well because of the time-honored ease of producing and delivering pies to hungry households. As pizza becomes over-commoditized, some pizza chains that have elevated their art are getting noticed. Elevated pies is a way that WGSN’s Key Trend 2021: Pizza report recommends restaurant operators stand out from the crowd.

Premium ingredients can certainly enhance a pie. The main ingredient—the dough—for starters can be an differentiator. L’Industrie Pizzeria in New York cold-ferments its dough for 3 days to enhance flavor, one of a few shops taking their dough very seriously to appeal to the discerning palate, notes WGSN.

Another example is Shackamaxon in Philadelphia, which serves up slices of pizza some have described as art. Its pepperoni pizza features Pilgrim Provisions pepperoni, First Field tomatoes, low moisture mozzarella, fontina, and pecorino romano; and is finished with house-dried oregano and olive oil. Due to high demand, Shackamaxon is not taking one-off pre-orders: currently, customers must come into the shop for orders of fewer than 4 pies.

WGSN recommends that operators tell the story of the origins and potential benefits of the premium ingredients they use. For those that are not primarily pizza restaurants, incorporating a distinctive pie on the menu can be a wise, strategic move throughout 2021 and beyond.

Cultured meat trend

The sustainable aspects of cultured meat make it a trend that will eventually take hold, but not necessarily within the next few months. Eat Just, Inc, producer of Just Eggs, announced that it had begun to sell cultured meat in a foodservice setting in Singapore. The restaurant debut of GOOD Meat Cultured Chicken, created from animal cells for human consumption, followed Singapore’s regulatory approval of the product in November. It’s a trend to which larger foodservice companies and restaurant chains will need to start paying attention.

Although there is a fair amount of diner reticence to laboratory-grown meat, many consumers are concerned about the impact of meat processing on the environment. But the sale and consumption of cultured chicken on December 19 at 1880’s restaurant dinner series was historic, and there is no turning back. The impact on food production, particularly in countries that cannot safely or consistently rely on animal farming, cannot be overstated. While any approvals will take longer here in the US, American restaurant chains operating or licensing their brands abroad will likely consider implementing cultured meat products on their menus in the near future.

According to Packaged Facts’ Vegan, Vegetarian and Flexitarian Consumers report, “Companies may tout many reasons they make their products as an alternative to meat, such as being better for animal welfare or lessening the environmental impact of raising animals for slaughter.” Impossible Foods, producer of meat-alternative Impossible Meat, and Eat Just, Inc., are doing just that: explaining the sustainable impact of their products while vilifying animal meat production.

Looking ahead

In 2021, those restaurants that have survived or even thrived will need to up their game. Pursuing and enhancing meaningful food trends will help them gain traction and visibility, and increase their likelihood of success. Diners will eventually return to the restaurant on-premise experience once the coronavirus has been subdued through the strategic rollout of vaccinations. This will take as long as it takes; meanwhile, COVID-19 still looms large in the United States and must be factored into any forecasts.

About the publisher of this restaurant news site.

This article was originally published in the winter issue of Restaurant C-Suite Magazine, part of the Eatery Pulse Network magazine portfolio. View the latest issue here.

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