SFA Trendspotter Panel Reveals Specialty Food Trends Predictions

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From environmentally friendly foods, alt seafood, nuanced heat and everything in between, the Specialty Food Association (SFA) Trendspotter Panel has predicted what will gain in popularity among menu makers in 2003.

“Specialty food consumers are looking to make their meal prep easy but exciting and that is driving many of this year’s trends regarding convenience, packaging improvements, and global flavors,” said Denise Purcell, SFA’s vice president for resource development. “At the same time, they continue to care about how their food is grown and the health benefits it offers, giving rise to evolving sustainability, plant-based, and better-for-you trends.”

Denise Purcell

Here are the nine trends the Trendspotter Panel anticipates for the year ahead:

 Convenience is King

After honing their skills during government-imposed stay-at-home mandates prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, many consumers have ambitions of continuing to cook, but collectively are tired. And people still want restaurant-quality food but without the price tag and the uncertainty associated with supply chain disruption and labor shortage.

“Brands will focus on helping consumers go simple in their preparation and cooking routines, and assure would-be cooks that taking shortcuts is nothing to be ashamed of,” said panelist Melani Bartelme of Mintel.

Melanie Bartelme

“The coming year will pave the way for curated meal kits with specialty foods that one can make and serve at home without sacrificing authenticity, convenience, and taste,” according to panelist Kantha Shelke of Corvus Blue LLC.

Kantha Shelke

Similarly, specialty food companies are making it easier for those who want to cook from scratch by cross promoting with the appropriate cooking tools and recipes.

“Authors and media personalities are filling the education gap between ready-to-cook food kits and ready-to-eat. They’re helping create artisanal products plus video tutorials, and cookbooks to go along with it,” said Jenn de la Vega of Put A Egg On It.

Jenn de la Vega

 Environmentally Friendly Foods

If convenience is top, sustainability and environmental concerns is a close runner up. “With growing unrest over climate issues and their impact on the future food supply, products that feature some aspect of sustainable ingredients, upcycled ingredients, or environment-friendly packaging, are leading the way,” said panelist Jonathan Deutsch of Drexel University.

Jonathan Deutsch

Bold brand names, engaging visuals, and purpose-driven messaging are differentiating these products in several categories. The continuing grown of plant-based foods plays a role here. Ingredients like mushrooms, seaweed, and jackfruit have been developed into different products and pasta’s pandemic-fueled comeback made room for more innovation with black rice, pumpkin, red lentils, lupini, and purple carrots. Expect to see more from visionary entrepreneurs engaging in regenerative agriculture who are creating seed-to-shelf future supply chains, funneling resources into the research and restoration of more localized, biodynamic food systems, carbon farming and indigenous farming practices, soil fertility, and seed diversity.

Alt Seafood

“The awareness of the meatless category is driving consumers to look for alternatives in seafood, too. Key to acceptance is aligning nutritional values, texture, and flavor to those of traditional fish,” said panelist Patsy Ramirez-Arroyo, a food and sustainability consultant.

Patsy Ramirez-Arroyo

New patents and technologies are populating the space, marine farming is rising as an option to traditional agriculture, and some specialty food brands are getting people to rethink seaweed and algae.

As consumers are lured by more sustainable options, they are catching on to seafood alternatives.

Health in Balance

Consumers will seek more balance between their desire for health and sheer indulgence. Functional foods won’t suffer as a result: with interest in immunity, gut health, memory and so many other health components, manufacturers are introducing functional ingredients into products anywhere they can. And “better-for-you snacks like dehydrated vegetables or mushroom chips continue to dominate,” said panelist Lindsay Leopold, a food stylist. Following stringent healthful routines can also be stressful and the past several years have jump started the need for joy. Look for overall well-being to take center stage, which includes making room for the desire to reward yourself for being so good.

Pantry without Borders

Globally inspired condiments, sauces, oils, and seasonings will champion approachable everyday culinary adventure. Increasingly clean-label and inherently convenient, these versatile meal starters and finishing touches invite consumers to experience regional comfort foods as new kitchen staples.

Victoria Ho

“Shared through the memory, influence and multi-generational heritage of immigrants, this wave of texture and flavor offers complex, nuanced blends of herbs, spice, specialty chiles, fruit, rich nuts and seeds and punches of umami,” said panelist Victoria Ho of SherpaCPG.

Think Sichuan fried chile crisp, West African shito sauce, Mexican salsa macha, Spanish romesco, Indian achaar, Filipino adobo and more. “From main dishes to condiments, in 2023 we will see a lot more international flavors,” said Osei Blackett (AKA Chef Picky), owner of Picky Eaters Restaurant, Ariapita Restaurant,and Chef Picky Events & Catering.

Osei Blackett

Nuanced Heat

For 2023, the desire for boldness and intensity in flavor experiences will increase as people continue to kickstart their lives or pursue new paths. “What began in the hot sauce category is exploding into honey, spreads, confections, beverages, and snacks, snagging new markets like younger consumers, especially, and inspiring specialty food companies to introduce heat and spice into existing product lines,” said panelist Mikel Cirkus of Firmenich.

Mikel Cirkus

The flavors are more nuanced, far from the days of hot or not, with food companies using specific chiles to add flavor and heat across a wide spectrum of products, from cheese to chocolate to chips.

“Brands are testing new flavors and combinations, increasingly in the form of flakes or ‘blends’ and not just sauces, which brings a new application into the mix to be able to use a little or a lot,” noted V. Sheree Williams of The Global Food & Drink Initiative, Cuisine Noir


V. Sheree Williams

Naturally Occurring Sweeteners

Real food ingredients that fulfill sweet cravings are pushing back against the health halo of natural sugar alternatives that undergo significant processing. Expect more dates in every shape and form, pure maple syrup, coconut sugar, fruit juices, and honey.

“Used across categories ranging from sparkling tonics to pasta sauce, to artisanal chocolate to classic bakery treats, natural sweeteners give brands a platform for differentiation as well as the appeal of a clean label,” said Ho.

International Fruits

Amid the tightening pressures of a global recession and a slowing economy, many consumers want to elicit feelings of escapism without travel or exorbitant cost.

“Enter international fruits – alternative citrus, melons and stone fruits wildly colorful and in extraordinary shapes and flavors – to invoke a sense of faraway destinations, new flavors, textures, colors, and possibilities,” said Cirkus. “Expect to see more as ingredients in beverages, sweets, snacks, and on their own.”

Packaging for New Forms and Functions

Trendspotters at the Summer Fancy Food Show in June highlighted innovative packaging meant to provide increased portability and decreased mess. Look for that trend to continue with “a heightened emphasis on packaging design to communicate sustainability, introduce creative ways to consume and decant well-established consumer products, and telegraph aspirational consumer values and price point,” said Stan Sagner, founder of We Work for Food, LLC.

Still Trending

Foods from Africa

The diversity and complexity of the cuisines of Africa are becoming more accessible to consumers in North America, who are becoming fluent in fonio, gari, berbere, shito, and harissa.

Cleaner, Broader plant-based

Plant-based options continue to expand into all corners of the frozen, refrigerated, dairy and protein sections of retail stores – seafood, poultry, deli, cream cheese, dips, frozen treats, and so on. Some are remarkably competitive with their conventional counterparts, some still have a ways to go. Clean ingredients will be a growing emphasis on products.

“It’s exciting to see the 2023 predictions unveiled,” said Bill Lynch, president of the Specialty Food Association. “All of these trends and more will be on display at the upcoming Winter Fancy Food Show in Las Vegas.” Scheduled to run from January 15-17, the largest B2B specialty food event in the western United States will feature thousands of specialty food and beverage products from around the world.