Banana bread, stress baking, and comfort food dominated 2020. See what the future of food might look like with industry pros’ predictions for the top food trends of 2021.
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In fashion, sometimes what’s old is new. Take 1970’s high-waisted jeans or 1980’s hair scrunchies ... they’re back with a vengeance. Same holds true with food. Sometimes “old” things that were previously en vogue return anew, especially when we’re craving nostalgia—as many of us have during the often-uncertain days of 2020. Along the way, sourdough starters, warm-from-the-oven cookies, and classic egg salad sandwiches returned to favor as a source of comfort, as the 2020 Google Year in Search trends bear out.

With that in mind, there’s always plenty new (truly new) to add to the culinary lexicon, especially as more of us get extra comfortable cooking at home. We tapped food industry pros and dove into brand reports to predict the seven food trends you’ll likely be seeing more than ever before during 2021.

The Top 7 Food Trends of 2021

Speaking of cooking more at home, 47% of Americans surveyed in November by Instacart and Harris Poll report that they plan to continue cooking more themselves for the foreseeable future until the coronavirus pandemic calms down. Here’s what we anticipate shopping for and whipping up.

overhead of charcuterie board
Credit: bhofack2/Getty Images

Next-Level Charcuterie

Hot on the heels of jarcuterie, mail-order charcuterie boards, and charcuterie chalets, Pinterest predicts that fancy boards with unique toppings will continue to rise in popularity throughout 2021. It’s no longer about just cured meats and cheeses: Bagel or pancake-topped breakfast charcuterie boards, colorful candy charcuterie boards, and taco bar-like Mexican charcuterie boards will be the casual family meal du jour.

“Charcuterie has taken off for many reasons, but one reason is because it’s highly visual. It’s all over social media and the internet, and Millennials in particular reported even more impact on their diets from influencers and social media over the course of the pandemic,” says Sarah Marion, Ph.D., a Seattle, Washington-based director of syndicated research for the market research company Murphy Research. “Back in January a little more than a quarter of Millennials rated influencers and social media networks very influential on their eating habits. As social lives moved online, this number went up, hitting a high point of 41% in September and is currently sitting around 37%.”

Prioritizing Plant-Based Eating

Instead of beef, pork, or poultry, even carnivorous Americans are picking more plant protein sources, including beans, legumes, whole grains, and plant-based meat substitutes. About 28% of people surveyed by IFIC say they’re eating more plant proteins than they did a year ago.

This was boosted by new research that proved replacing red meat with plant proteins may lower risk for heart disease. Referring to the increased availability and improvements in the market for plant-based beef and seafood replacements, Meyer says, “there’s innovation that is happening around this style of eating and it feeds into other important issues such as sustainability and overall health.”

Marion adds that “restricting animal products has become fairly common,” even among those who are more flexitarian than vegan dieters. “What's fascinating is that the number of nutrition-engaged consumers restricting animal products seems to align with the ebbs and flows of the pandemic, hitting a high point in November with 32% of nutrition-engaged consumers avoiding meat, dairy, or animal products. This is a significant increase from January, when 25% were avoiding these things.”

Spicy Barbecue Sauce
Credit: Andy Lyons

Spicy Sauces, Seasonings, and Condiments

This pantry staple trend is hot. Literally. Instead of seasoning with plain ol’ salt and pepper or drizzling recipes with olive oil, expect to see snappy spices and flavor-boosted sauces, including hot honey, which has seen substantial growth in Yelp review mentions and Pinterest searches throughout 2020. Whole Foods Market and Instacart trend experts explain that this could be a way for home cooks to ensure their basics don't taste boring. More than one in five Americans (21%) polled by Instacart say they've tried exotic spices and flavors to add more excitement to their homemade meals. From piri piri sauce (aka peri-peri sauce, a style of Portuguese hot sauce made from peri-peri peppers) to za’atar spice blend, this is not your typical American pantry.

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Shopping for Mother Nature

With the economic impact of the pandemic so strong—and a desire to support our friends, neighbors, and the world at large during this transformational time—more Americans report they’re investing their dollars into brands that support their values. Upcycled products (foods that use neglected or underused parts of an ingredient to reduce food waste) and sustainable sourcing are rising priorities.

“There's been an uptick in consumers buying environmentally-friendly food products, driven by millennials and Gen X,” Marion explains. “From the beginning of 2020 to the end, approximately 50% more Millennial and Gen X consumers rated ‘environmentally-friendly’ among their top four food-purchasing criteria.”

Shopping with Diverse Populations

In light of the racial justice movement and other equality initiatives, supporting female- and BIPOC-owned businesses seems to be more of a consideration than ever before.

“People are now selectively choosing where they spend their money and who they choose to support. As we've seen the collapse of small businesses, many people want to help small businesses get back on their feet so they choose a mom and pop shop over a big corporation to get the owners through this pandemic,” says Mee McCormick, the author of My Pinewood Kitchen and the chef and founder of Pinewood Kitchen & Mercantile in Nunnelly, Tennessee.

An Instacart survey found that 14% of Americans report they’ve sought out brands run or owned by women (including Yes Way Rosé, Noosa Yoghurt, and Simple Mills) and 14% have also prioritized shopping with BIPOC-run or owned brands this year (such as Partake Foods, Pipcorn, and Glory Foods).

Boosted Kombucha

This effervescent, fermented beverage has been taking over an increased amount of refrigerator aisle real estate at health food stores and supermarkets over the course of the past decade. Food brands are taking the gut-friendly drink to new levels of creativity and flavor with soda-like fizzy tonics and booze-infused kombucha.

“As a microbiologist, I’m very excited about this trend. It speaks to peoples’ continued interest in fermented foods, the microbiome, and gut health,” says Megan Meyer, Ph.D., the director of science communications at the International Food Information Council (IFIC).

Mediterranean Breakfast Sandwiches
Credit: Jason Donnelly

Hot Breakfasts, Even on Weekdays

As Americans spent more time at home throughout 2020, fewer of us were living on-the-fly. Meals, including weekday breakfasts that were previously rushed, became a mini occasion worth upgrading and lingering over. With a shorter or no commute, we’ve had the opportunity to upgrade from a granola bar and coffee on the go to a warmer, more substantial breakfast such as fully-loaded omelets, protein-packed pancake stacks, keto-friendly egg bites, and Instagrammable breakfast sandwiches

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“When it comes to meal planning, breakfast varies quite a bit by generation," says Marion. "Boomers and Gen Z have shown stable habits, while Gen X has been increasingly likely to plan breakfast. It's feasible to assume that this trend is related to having more people at home on any given day." “As young adults have moved back in with their parents, Gen X households have grown, which may be leading to bigger and more planned breakfasts. Similarly, among Millennials, having children around the house all day would likewise prompt an increase in more planned breakfasts.” However, Marion predicts both of these trends will likely change dramatically next year as schools and universities open back up and grown children move out once again.

Few of us could have predicted, or would have asked for, the adventures 2020 had in store for us 12 months ago. Still, these tasty food trends for 2021 make us grateful for the lessons we learned along the way—and the delicious foods and drinks we can take with us into the new year.


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