2020 Food Trends


It’s time again—every year for the past 31 years The Food Channel® has released a food trends report. We keep it simple, since there are a lot of reports out there with varying opinions, but we’ve also tracked this long enough to see the majority of our forecasts become reality.

The Food Trend Experts

Just take a look at past reports and you’ll see we called out some of the top things you’ve heard about this year. We’ve predicted the rise of cannabis in food, the interest in regional ethnic from places such as Africa and Appalachia, the rise of seafood and the importance of delivery. We’ve talked about probiotics and philanthropy and pets. We predicted restaurants would begin investing in their employees, and have seen better pay and tuition programs just within the last year. There’s been a lot over the past 31 years!

With that said, let’s take a look at our 2020 forecast of the Top Ten Trends in Food. The information is based on research conducted by the behavior science company CultureWaves® and identifies some of the significant shifts in behavior expected in 2020.

  1. CBD update. We’ve identified this before and a lot of innovation in food and beverage has been taking place, even with the legislative aspects up in the air. Some chefs have ventured out anyway—just look at the number of cannabis cafes that have opened in cities from Houston to Portland. In 2020 the legislative issues will likely come to a head and open the door to even more innovation. In fact, this top trend could be simply about regulation in general, as salt, sugar, CBD are only some of the things we’re going to find legislators pinning their attention on, under a “health of the nation” halo. If you thought food and politics were separate, think again.
  2. Plant-based continues to grow (pardon the pun). It’s inevitable as people search for a lifestyle that is easy to adopt and maintain. Beyond the health and diet aspects that come with healthier eating, though, will be a new transparency into the ingredients that may make people pause, as they learn plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean lower-calorie, or (dare we say it) healthy. Healthier may be enough, but the phrase “lab-grown” is going to give some people reason to think this through.
  3. The rise of data. We get that we are data nerds. Part of what we do is analyzing data that tells us how people are behaving, and why they are making the choices they make. The companies that manufacture the food products you buy rely on data to make their choices, too. They know a lot about the aggregated “you,” and they want to know even more. Sophisticated data exists that goes beyond demographics and into behavior—and more and more companies are learning what counts in all the data. So, if you find Twinkies cereal on your shelf, you’ll know the data showed people would buy it.
  4. Customer-led innovation. The consumer is in charge more than ever before. You thought you had a role in a restaurant’s success thanks to your online review? Well, try giving them one of your recipes. Some restaurants are now incorporating that level of personalization into their strategy, and we expect to see more of it. It just makes sense that now that social media opened up the conversation, we’d find more ways to learn from each other and create our own community. Restaurants are adopting an “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality and it probably bodes well for future success.
  5. Waste and sustainability. Food waste and disposable product waste go hand-in-hand, and while you can still get your to-go box in a pretty package with a bow, you can also find more recycling and biodegradable options than ever. Roadie, one of the many new delivery services, and Goodr, a real-time “food rescue “app (incidentally, built on blockchain, which we called out in last year’s report) have one of the more interesting innovations. Their app allows businesses and restaurants to donate surplus food to people and local charities in need. With the food packaging demand from delivery, and the disappointment in paper straws, this subject deserves a lot of attention and innovation.
  6. Customer service. We are among those who have ranted for years about restaurant customer service, or lack thereof…but there is a new effort underfoot. Now that restaurants know more about you (see data, above), they understand how important it is to close the loop when you have a problem. Domino’s offers a guarantee, and that’s just the tip of innovation. Behind the customer-facing part comes a big investment into employee retention and training. Shake Shack is testing a four day work week; Chick-fil-a and others are doing tuition reimbursement, and Hopdoddy is partnering to get its workers culinary degrees and certifications. A higher level of training has been shown to lead to a higher level of responsive service, so it’s a no brainer. Still, it took them long enough.
  7. The new sensitivity. #metoo woke a lot of people up, and shook up a number of policies that had grown dusty on the shelf. We’re watching the unintended effect, where the genders are just avoiding each other for the time being, but we believe 2020 will be spent reaching an understanding of how to work well with others. Respect will be part of the curriculum, along with the type of zero tolerance policies demonstrated by McDonald’s and other companies already. We may just be hopeful, but the conversation is well underway.
  8. Options. Oatmeal flour, almond flour, coconut flour. Oat milk, soy milk, almond milk. We have more specialty and organic options than ever before, and the prices are doable for those willing to pay a little extra.
  9. We’re always asked after we publish these reports: What are the hot flavors going to be? So, let’s just call them out. Marshmallow is showing a lot of innovation, both in flavored marshmallow but also in how marshmallow is incorporated into menu items. Maple is still showing up, as is mango, persimmon, ginger, and curry. Things that aren’t technically even flavors are now flavors, like churro-flavored. Global is going to play a huge role, and it’s a roll of the dice which new words we’ll learn— cotija, dukkah, and epazote are just early in the alphabet. Sambal, tajin, ube, vindaloo, watercress, xaolongbao bring up the rear (although we have plenty more). We’re also watching the food and flavors from Brazil and Portugal, and the regional influences rising from all areas of Asia and the Middle East. American flavors are getting noticed too; in fact, where it used to be North, South, East and West, expect flavor to be identified at least at the state level, if not even deeper—so more New Orleans, and less general South, or even Louisiana. Even Colorado is getting into the game with Colorado-cured becoming an interesting new standard.
  10. Finally, here’s one for the dreamers. Just as our nation is conquering putting flavor into plant-based foods, it’s looking at space food to see if it can become more viable as a way to feed the world—the one on this planet. This is exciting young chefs, as well as those who are working to solve the food sustainability issues, and is something we expect to see talked about more.

We have more, but ten is enough to feed your interest for this year. To read more about trends throughout the next year from our CultureWaves partner, check out the weekly blog at https://whysdom.com/blog/.

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