Remember when everyone was going paleo? It was all the rage for a while; as far back as 2011 the paleo diet featured in food trend predictions.
Paleo mania peaked around 2016, according to Google Trends, and has been on a slow decline ever since. Now, the online Countdown store holds just seven “paleo-friendly” products.
Searching now for “keto” – the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet – on the other hand, will turn up seventeen, and New World’s online shop shows 13 products with “keto” claims front and centre.
Google Trends shows steady interest in this diet over the past year, with an uptick post new year. Food trends come and go, and right now, keto is trending.
All weight loss diets, though, took a bit of a back seat during our national lockdown earlier in the year. Our interest in health was overcome, it seems, by our need to comfort eat. Lockdown changed our eating habits overnight, in both positive and negative ways.
We ate more vegetables; we cooked more at home. But we also baked more cakes, breads and treats, and got into the booze more regularly.
A lot of our lockdown habits have stuck, according to Countdown’s general manager of merchandise, Steve Mills. “Our customers are continuing to bake and cook at home – for instance baking chocolate has seen double-digit growth over the last 12 months.”
Online shopping also continues to increase in popularity. Between April and June alone, Mills says Countdown’s online shopping grew by just over 70 per cent, and the company has opened dedicated eStores in Auckland and Wellington to meet ongoing demand.
New World’s head of corporate affairs Antoinette Laird says online shopping was a habit that was quick to form during lockdown and “it’s here to stay”.
“The convenience of doing a quick top-up shop, or your big shop, and having groceries delivered to your house or bach, or ready for click & collect, enables time-poor customers to spend less time on life admin and more time with family and friends.”
Some of us are shopping a little differently, but what can we expect to see on our supermarket shelves and on our plates in 2021? And what’s driving this?
If the hype is to be believed, half the world is giving up meat and going vegan. There’s been a recent explosion of meat-like, non-meat proteins like the Beyond Burger, Sunfed Chicken, and plant-based mince and fish.
Dunedin company Sustainable Foods is planning to launch a hemp-based meat alternative in 2021. And the non-dairy shelves and chillers are packed with plant-based milk alternatives made from soy, oats, rice, hemp, almonds and macadamias.
Surveys show Kiwis appear to be increasingly embracing vegetarianism or veganism – the 2019 Bayer Food Focus Survey looking at Kiwis’ eating habits found 10 per cent of people said they had followed a vegan diet in the last 12 months, and the 2020 Colmar Brunton Better Futures Report found 15 per cent of people said they “always or mostly” go meat-free.
A wholesale shift towards veganism is not quite what’s happening, though, according to Julian Mellentin, an international food industry consultant who’s been in the trend forecasting game for 25 years. His clients in NZ include Fonterra, Sanitarium and Plant & Food Research.
True vegans are less than 5 per cent of the global population, he says.
“There are more former vegans than there are vegans, because it’s such a demanding lifestyle to follow.”
The growth of plant-based foods is actually being driven by the rest of us: omnivores looking to consume a bit less meat and a few more plants.
There’s a problem, though, with the current crop of meat-free “meat” offerings, says Mellentin, which while they fit with our desire to eat less meat, don’t necessarily fit with a parallel desire for natural, unprocessed foods with minimal ingredients lists.
“These [plant-based meats] are highly processed products,” he says.
Although that appeals to some, “we’ve certainly found dedicated vegetarian and plant-based people actually care about their health, and eating something with a long ingredient list is contrary to what they believe in.”
There’s often a problem with taste, too.
“The objective of people like Beyond Meat is to convert meat-eaters,” says Mellentin.
“That is understandable, but… they have a big taste and texture problem.”
That said, there’s no doubt there’s growth in animal food alternatives. The Great Dairy Collective has just launched a range of plant-based yoghurts made from oats, rice and coconut alongside its dairy options. Local brands of oat and hemp milk are popping up regularly.
And plant protein will get better.
“Pea and soy protein have dominated the plant protein world up until now,” says Mellentin. “That’s going to change in the coming years. There are more new sources of plant proteins coming through which are superior in terms of the nutritional quality, taste and texture.”
…And animal foods too
The pandemic may have given animal products a boost. In most countries in 2020, meat sales increased as people turned back to familiar whole foods. In the US, meat consumption is now is at its highest level since the early 1970s.
“It was what people did in the pandemic,” says Mellentin. “Thinking about looking after their budget; being stuck at home; they turned to the familiar, the reliable, the trustworthy.”
He puts meat into context: “The plant-based sector is worth at best US$1 billion. Whereas meat is at least $89 billion. And meat is a much lower price. Organic meat in the US is bigger than the whole of the plant-based sector and growing faster. So it gives you a clue as to what people really want.”
It seems people really want their meat here, too, with increased meat consumption during lockdown. There are signs this may have continued subsequently, with Countdown’s Mills noting larger pack sizes are still as popular as they were during lockdown, with customers continuing to purchase kilo-packs of mince or whole legs of lamb.
Veges in everything
Trendy cauliflower is already showing up in the form of pizza bases, schnitzel and “rice”.
This year we should keep an eye out for added vegetables in everything from bread to snack bars. Mellentin cites Finnish company Fazer’s “Root bread” made with carrot, turnip, beans and beetroot in place of a third of the flour, which has been a hit.
Even a small amount of vegetables is enough for us to perceive a health benefit, he says, and this also fits with our growing desire to eat less carbohydrate.
“As long as you give people permission to enjoy themselves… a lot of people want to eat chips. And if their chip has made with broccoli, that does make it a lot easier. They can give themselves permission to enjoy eating chips in front of the football game”.
Fat is in, carbs are out
Judging by the recent launch of Vogel’s keto-friendly bread, there’s continuing consumer demand – and marketing potential – in the keto diet, and our varying interpretations of it.
Even if we’re not going keto, we’re still avoiding sugar and some carbs, but not fat any more, with many of us heading back to full-fat milk, butter and cream.
In a turnaround from what we saw just a few years ago when “low-fat” was a selling point, we’re likely to start to see the exact opposite, with “good fats” the new marketing claim on the block.
Look out for “fat bombs” in the snack aisle, a trend that’s gone from Instagram to supermarket shelf. Catering to gym-goers and keto followers, a fat bomb is a small, energy-dense post-workout snack designed to keep us going and stave off overeating later.
Google searches reveal millions of fat bomb recipes as well as whole recipe books to help you make your own.
With the perceived rehabilitation of fat comes new full-fat dairy options, including creamier, fattier yoghurt. UK chain supermarkets now offer a 10 per cent fat yoghurt (regular yoghurt is between 1 and 5 per cent fat).
Expect to see even more full-cream milk, coconut and Greek yoghurt, and pimped-up butters in the chiller.
Provenance – where does my food come from?
Our interest in where our food comes from, and how it’s made, has been growing, and may have revved up in the pandemic year. Slow Food Auckland’s Anutosh Cusack says the organisation is seeing growing interest in its work on sustainability and food sovereignty.
“Some of that came out of lockdown,” she says. “Can we feed ourselves and how do we feed ourselves – and there were some surprises that the things that we thought were NZ foods, actually weren’t.”
She cites the panic around flour supplies during lockdown as an example, with distribution issues highlighting the fact that much of the flour on our shelves isn’t actually grown here.
Slow Food is dedicated to raising our consciousness around food provenance and to helping make it simpler for us to find food that’s “good, clean and fair”. Slow Food Auckland recently launched its “Snail of Approval” logo; a badge earned by food producers and outlets dedicated to producing food in fair, ethical and environmentally sound ways.
Mellentin agrees provenance is something consumers have long been interested in, but in pandemic times we’ve become more focused on it.
We’re unpredictable, though, he says, and our shopping behaviour is often contradictory. Even though we’re deeply concerned about sustainability, in the supermarket we’re not always consistent.
“Someone will pick up the organic, grass-fed, locally raised lamb,” he says, “and a litre of [imported] almond milk without any issues whatsoever.”
What will the restaurants of 2021 look like?
No-one would argue against 2020 having been a rough year for the hospitality industry. The pandemic has changed eating out permanently, according to the Restaurant Association’s Marisa Bidois, who says there’s been a shift away from the CBDs in our cities, driven by people working from home more.
“I don’t think we’ll ever go back to what we were prior to Covid as far as the workforce is concerned,” she says.
“We’ve seen that organisations can function very well or even better having remote workers. I think that’s something that will continue.”
That’s driven a shift to local eateries, some of whom have experienced a boom in 2020. In 2021, she says, we can expect to keep on keeping it local, though destination fine-dining establishments will still have a special place, too.
Crowd control has become a thing restaurants need to consider, so we’ll get used to sitting outside more often and making more bookings rather than just turning up at restaurants.
The shared table – and the shared plate – are likely on the way out, too, as distancing and safety come into play.
What we’ll be eating when we venture out is varied but a focus on fresh, hyper-local produce is trending, along with indigenous ingredients. Oh, and burgers – which “went off” during the lockdown, and are still going strong.
“There’s a huge following in the burger space,” says Bidois. “People just can’t seem to get enough of them.”
Trending now: watch for these in 2021 and beyond
People wanting to drink less or not at all is a growing group – and they’re looking for grown-up options beyond fizzy and juice. Kombucha has taken off; no-alcohol beer is huge and UK-based company Seedlip’s spirit alternatives have seen huge growth. Local entrepreneur Lisa King has just launched her AF Drinks for the “sober curious”, with a mission to normalise non-drinking. Expect to see more enticing booze-free booze hitting shelves this year.
Snacks made of meat are a high-protein, sugar-free and apparently guilt-free option that are trending worldwide. French supermarkets now have whole aisles of these, ranging from beef jerky to small salami sticks.
In France, says Mellentin, the biggest leap in consumption of meat snacks has been among women aged 18 to 25 who do sport. “It’s much better than having sugary snacks or bars.”
Even in pandemic-ravaged economies, fancy chilled coffee drinks are trending. Look for these in cans, bottles and mini takeout cup style packages.
International versions often feature plant-based milks like oat and almond, hitting two trends at once.
Many of us were probably not aware until lockdown that most of our grains and legumes come from offshore. But we grow these foods here, too, and it’s being looked at seriously by farmers and scientists alike.
We can already buy local wheat flour, oats and quinoa; expect to see other interesting and healthy crops like buckwheat, chickpeas and soy popping up.
Novel gut-friendy foods
Digestive wellbeing has been a long-growing trend over the past decade, and we can expect to see more foods featuring gut-boosting claims in the near future. Look for pre- and pro-biotic sodas; fermented milk drinks; cereals and breads featuring probiotics and prebiotics. And fermented foods – kimchi, sauerkruaut, kombucha, kefir – are not going anywhere.
Immune mood-boosting food
It’s long been important to shoppers in Asian countries, but the pandemic has driven an interest in anything that’s going to keep us healthy, from whole foods like NZ blackcurrants to foods and drinks with added vitamin C and D. Don’t expect bold, front-of-pack claims, though. Regulators and food marketers alike are very wary of claims on foods that anything can beat the virus; there are strict rules about health claims so you’re going to have to read between the lines to get a health boost.
Trends that didn’t stick
Food trends don’t always last. Some formerly hot product picks that haven’t gone the distance:
2016’s hot product, coconut water has been overtaken by kombucha, kefir and other low-sugar drinks in supermarket chillers and bar fridges. We now see more of its cousin, coconut milk, than we do coconut water.
A couple of years ago, we were told crickets were the future of sustainable protein. Although we are seeing cricket flour creeping into wraps, bars and breads, this one might be a bit of a slow burn; we’re more likely to see hemp as an ingredient than insects.
A hot pick of Business Insider’s 2015 food trends, yoghurt and icecream in savoury flavours was a brief flash in the dairy pan.
Southland-based Retro Organics launched tomato & basil, carrot & ginger and beetroot and cardamom yoghurts that same year, but the products (and the company) were gone two years later.