Transparency and Sustainability: 2019's Top 10 Food Trends

Cooking meets technology
From automated “grab and go” stores to more smart mobile, home appliance, and even artificial intelligence solutions, food convenience will get an upgrade in 2019. (Image: demaerre/iStock/GettyImages)

Every year, food and drink brands are hard at work deciphering the new hot trends and how to deliver more of what we as consumers look for in our food. Many trends you'll see in the coming year are an extension of products we already use — meal kits, probiotics, and plant proteins — but with elevated options touted to be quicker, healthier, tastier, and more sustainable.

From innovative plant-based options like pulled "pork" made from jackfruit, to ancient African grains that are naturally gluten-free or "speed scratch" solutions you can order from your smart watch, here are ten top food trends you will see in 2019.

1. Sustainability: A 360-Degree Approach

As much as consumers are motivated by their own health when making food choices, their decision-making is also being driven by how these products influence the health of the earth.

Reusable grocery bags and water bottles have become ubiquitous, and consumers have begun to look more critically at the overall sustainability of their purchases. According to the “Global Food and Drink Trends 2019” report by Mintel, a market intelligence agency, there is a global push towards reducing the environmental impact of packaging by using bio-based materials — non-plastic options that are often made from plant-based components.

Companies are working to further reduce food waste by looking for different ways to utilize some of the food supply that might not be “ready for prime time.” The so-called “ugly” produce is now available to consumers through home-delivery options, as well as in beverages. A UK-based retailer, Tesco, has launched Waste Not cold-pressed juices, and a US-based company launched Ugly Juice cold-pressed juices; both juice lines are made from oddly shaped produce that would otherwise go to waste.

Trendy ugly organic carrot
Companies are working to further reduce food waste by looking for different ways to utilize "ugly" produce. (Image: moisseyev/iStock/GettyImages)

2. Plant-Based Innovations

It's no surprise that in a year where sustainability is trending, plant-based eating is front and center. According to the "2019 Food & Nutrition Trends" report by KIND Healthy Snacks, you can expect to see more plant-based innovations highlighting nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and algae across categories such as snack bars, chips, meat-free burgers or sausages and dairy-free yogurts and cheeses in the new year.

Whether someone is vegan, vegetarian, or just looking to reduce their intake of meat, it is no longer the case that a token veggie burger is the sole option on the menu. The blended burger movement is growing, offering non-vegetarians a tasty way to eat more plant-based: Chefs are blending finely chopped mushrooms with meat for burgers that are more flavorful, healthy and sustainable. In 2018, more than 350 restaurants in the U.S. served their take on a blended burger, and the movement will continue to grow.

In addition, fast casual chains have made meat-free fare tasty and convenient, while meal kits and direct-to-consumer products allow people to experiment with plant-based proteins at home, including such products as vegan pulled “pork” made from jackfruit.

Organic Fresh Mushrooms in Market, New York City
Embracing a plant-centric movement, grocery buyers are opening their shopping carts up for more mushrooms. Sales have increased every year over the past five years, up 4.2 percent last year alone. (Image: Onfokus/iStock/GettyImages)

3. Elevated Convenience

While environmental concerns are driving some food trends for 2019, convenience continues to dictate many of the choices consumers are making when it comes to what's on their plates. According to the Mintel report, food and drink convenience will get an upgrade in 2019 as manufacturers respond to rising healthy-eating priorities, quests for foodie-inspired flavors, and interests in personalization and competition from speedy delivery services.

Meal-kit options and “speed scratch” solutions will expand, with retail chains offering either their own in-house kits for purchase, or stocking options from companies previously only available through delivery. Advances in technology will elevate expectations of convenience even further, from automated “grab and go” stores, like Amazon Go, to more smart mobile, home appliance, and even artificial intelligence solutions.

To meet consumer needs, these technologies will aim to streamline food and drink planning, shopping, and preparation to help consumers save time while at the same time elevating the taste, wholesomeness, and quality of their food.

Woman shopping online on tablet
2019 technologies will aim to streamline food and drink planning, shopping, and preparation to help consumers save time while meeting their high standards for food. (Image: Rawpixel Ltd/iStock/GettyImages)

4. Transparency 2.0

With more aspects of the food system being scrutinized, companies will continue to be held accountable to act with the transparency the modern consumer demands. In addition to transparency recently making its way onto the nutrition label, ingredient list, and even marketing claims, more and more packaging will be literally transparent — allowing the consumer to see the food inside the box or bag they are purchasing.

According to the KIND report, in 2019 this theme will extend to the individual companies, cultures, hiring practices, and inclusion measures. Social media has allowed consumers to organize like never before, enabling people to publicly call out companies and show that where they spend money is increasingly values-driven. For 2019, consumers want more than just an environmentally sustainable production model for their food; they want it from a company that treats its employees with dignity.

Consumers are also scrutinizing where companies are doing their spending. Brands have been under pressure to pull advertising from controversial programming, sometimes using social media or news outlets to issue statements that the decision was made based on company values. In 2019, people are voting with their wallets, and they are demanding ethics from the barn to the boardroom.

Making sure it's organic....
Transparency has made its way onto the nutrition label, ingredient list, and even marketing claims. (Image: Mikolette/iStock/GettyImages)

5. Gut-Healthy Foods

Digestive health has emerged as a core component of today's view of health and wellness, with new appreciation of the powerful impact of the microbiome, the trillions of bacteria and other microbes that live in our intestinal tract.

Fermented foods and drinks (like kimchi, kombucha, and kefir), long consumed in other cultures, have become more widely available in the U.S. with items appealing to wider audiences. The convenience trend can also be seen here, with many gut-healthy items on the market coming in single-serving options that could easily be consumed on the go.

Everyday staples like cereal and juice are also embracing the gut-healthy trend. Kellogg’s recently released Happy Inside, a cereal designed to pack a 3-in-1 punch for a healthy gut, combining fiber, prebiotics and probiotics for full digestive health in a morning cereal. In 2019, look for Tropicana Probiotics to release a lower-sugar functional juice drink, offering 50 percent less sugar while delivering one billion live and active cultures per eight-ounce serving to your gut.

Intestines Sketch with Guts Bacteria
In 2019, look for even more products to tout the gut health trio of fiber, prebiotics and probiotics. (Image: TLFurrer/iStock/GettyImages)

6. African Spices and Ingredients

Consumers will continue to explore flavors that are staples in different global cuisines but not necessarily well-known outside of certain communities. Middle Eastern-inspired food was a big hit in 2018, with spices such as turmeric, cardamom and za’atar taking front-row seats.

While African-inspired culinary influences have been ever-present in the American restaurant scene, according to the KIND report, 2019 marks the year that these spices and superfoods will make their way into more conventional formats. The report forecasts flavors and ingredients like harissa, berbere, dukkah, ras el hanout and tiger nuts will make their way into U.S. pantries in items such as condiments, grain snacks and protein rubs.

According to Chef Joshua Korn, executive chef at Cultivation Kitchen in Southern California, fonio, a naturally gluten-free grain sourced from Africa, has been voted as the next quinoa by many chefs. This ancient grain is easy to cook and has a pleasant, slightly nutty flavor that works well with both sweet and savory dishes.

Marrakech Spice Market
2019 marks the year that African spices and super foods will make their way into more conventional formats. (Image: ThomasFluegge/E+/GettyImages)

7. Seed Butters

While alternative nut butters — such as almond butter, cashew butter and walnut butter — have become mainstream spreads over the past year, new offerings will hit the scene in 2019: seed butters. Keep an eye out for sunflower, pumpkin and even watermelon seed butters, which share the same good-fat profile of nut butters, but may offer an alternative for those with nut allergies.

Although sesame seed butter, also known as tahini, is a familiar ingredient in hummus, most Americans do not have it on their pantry shelf — but that could change. For consumers who like to experiment with global ingredients, seed butters could become popular additions to breakfast bowls, soups and homemade salad dressings.

Sunflower seed butter
In 2019, keep an eye out for sunflower, pumpkin and watermelon seed butters — which share the same good fat profile of nut butters, but may offer an alternative for those with nut allergies. (Image: MSPhotographic/iStock/GettyImages)

8. Functional Foods Through the Ages

While trends often center around younger consumers, as the proportion of the global population aged 60 and older continues to grow, this group has the purchasing power and interest in functional foods to drive the production of food and drink designed to help support health while aging.

According to the Mintel report, food and drink manufacturers will take inspiration from beauty and personal care, which has successfully established a model for healthy aging by designing products that are marketed with positive language to people of all ages, rejecting terms like “anti-aging” for its negative connotations, and addressing longevity-related health concerns.

Food and supplement products with EPA and DHA — the primary omega-3s needed to support heart health, brain health, eye health and maternal health — will be on the rise. In addition, according to the KIND report, CBD (a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant), already found within lotions and oils touted to aid folks with chronic conditions, will makes its way into the food and beverage industries in 2019.

Ingredients for cooking healthy dinner. Raw salmon filet, spinach, tomatoes
EPA and DHA, found in marine foods, algae, and supplements, are the primary omega-3s needed to support heart health, brain health, eye health and maternal health. (Image: Foxys_forest_manufacture/iStock/GettyImages)

9. “Anti-Sugar” and “Anti-Added Sugar”

With the new requirement that companies distinguish between added and naturally-occurring sugars on food labels, consumers are becoming more aware that not all sugars are created equal, and manufacturers are responding. Added sugars (with names such as corn syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, honey, molasses, and more) are those not naturally found in foods or beverages and are added during manufacturing.

While the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day for women and no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar a day for men, the average American consumes two to three times that amount. Once a consumer can easily see on the new food labels that a juice drink contains 20 grams of added sugar, while a 100-percent juice contains no added sugar, his or her choice may be clearer.

Regardless of the degree that added sugar consumption will decrease based on the new food labels, greater specificity in consumer information is another piece of the transparency trend that is leading to a closer examination of multiple aspects of the food system.

Glass of pomegranate juice and wooden spoon with pomegranate seed on wooden tray
100-percent pomegranate juice provides potassium with no added sugar. (Image: Westend61/Westend61/GettyImages)

10. Foods First, Vitamins Second

The food industry has worked tirelessly to meet the consumer demand for convenience, but in 2019, people are pushing back against the idea that this means meeting their needs through processed and fortified options. The KIND report refers to this as a “food-first” mindset, in which consuming a variety of whole foods is the preferred method to ingest the micronutrients needed for optimal health.

Other trends such as plant-based eating and utilizing flavors and dishes from different cultures — many of which feature a greater variety and amount of fruits, vegetables, and legumes than the typical “American” diet — could be useful in increasing overall vitamin and mineral intake. Paradoxically, some of the convenience aspects such as upscale grab-and-go options and food delivery services have the potential to increase consumption of nutrient-rich whole foods as well.

With the efficacy of certain supplements that have become staples of the American medicine cabinet called into question, increasing the intentionality of food choices to include some of the less common nutrients might be just what the doctor ordered.

Pistachio nuts
“Simple” one-ingredient, plant-based sources of micronutrients, foods like pistachios offer consumers the "food first" approach they crave. (Image: Aniko Hobel/Moment/GettyImages)
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