Whole Foods Market’s global buyers and experts have revealed their take on the most anticipated and innovative food trends for 2020. According to the Austin, Texas, USA-headquartered retailer’s fifth annual trends predictions report regenerative agriculture, West African foods, meat-plant blends and new varieties of flour are among the movements and culinary influences poised to take off in a major way during the coming year.
Each year, more than 50 Whole Foods Market employees including local foragers, regional and global buyers and culinary experts compile the report based on decades of experience and expertise in product sourcing, studying consumer preferences and participating in food and wellness industry exhibitions worldwide.
While the retailer’s 2019 forecasted trends, including a rise in hemp-infused and topical CBD products, faux meat snacks and eco-conscious packaging, show no signs of slowing down, the 2020 trends represent a new crop of flavors and products for consumers to watch out for both in and outside the aisles of their local grocery stores.
Farmers, producers, academics, government agencies, retailers and others are taking a closer look at how to use land and animal management practices to improve soil health and sequester carbon. While the term “regenerative agriculture” can have many definitions, in general it describes farming and grazing practices that restore degraded soil, improve biodiversity and increase carbon capture to create long-lasting environmental benefits, such as positively impacting climate change.
Butchers and meat brands won’t be left out of the “plant-based” craze in 2020, but they’re not going vegetarian. Chefs across the United States have been on board with the trend for years through James Beard Foundation’s The Blended Burger Project, a movement that strives to make the iconic hamburger “better for customers and for the planet” by blending in at least 25% mushrooms.
For the health-conscious at-home chef, adding plant-based ingredients to meatballs and burgers has an added bonus, as it’s budget-friendly. Major brands like Applegate are seeing if meat-eating consumers will swap a traditional beef burger for one with 30% plant-based ingredients, touting benefits of less fat and cholesterol when compared to USDA data for regular ground beef. Its Great Organic Blend Burger, distributed frozen in 454-gram four-packs, features organic turkey blended with organic mushrooms.
And other brands are taking note, too, with products like the Lika Plus Burger made using 75% ground beef blended with 25% Lika Plus (wheat, mushroom, barley yeast and water), showing up at meat counters in Whole Foods Market’s Southwest region. Flexitarians looking to strike a tasty balance between meats and plants can expect more blended products in their future.
Foods from West Africa
From indigenous superfoods to rich, earthy dishes, traditional West African flavors are popping up more and more in food and beverages. The trio of tomatoes, onions and chili peppers form a base for many dishes originating from that part of the world, and peanuts, ginger and lemongrass are all common additions.
The 16 nations within West Africa share similar foods, but each has its own specialties based on subtle influences from the Middle East and Western Europe. Brands are looking to West Africa for superfoods including moringa and tamarind, and lesser known cereal grains sorghum, fonio, teff and millet.
Chefs like Pierre Thiam are embracing the region too. His new restaurant in the Harlem district of New York City, Teranga, is an ode to African culture through food.
As seasoned and amateur bakers alike look to scratch a creative itch in the kitchen, an array of interesting flours are entering the market. This makes baking more inclusive and adventurous.
Consumers on the baking bandwagon are seeking out ingredients found in traditional dishes, such as teff flour used for Ethiopian injera. The new year will bring more interesting fruit and vegetable flours (like banana!) into home pantries, with products such as cauliflower flour in bulk and baking aisles, rather than already baked into crusts and snack products.
Consumer packaged goods are getting in on the trend by replacing traditional alternative flours with tigernut flour in chips and snack foods, and tasty pastries made with seed flour blends. As consumers look for more ways to boost their bake, “super” flours delivering protein and fiber join the trend.
Out-of-the-Box, Into-the-Fridge Snacking
Life isn’t slowing down, but snack options are more than keeping up. The refrigerated section is filling up with the kind of wholesome snacks typically prepared and portioned in advance at home: hard-boiled eggs with savory toppings, pickled vegetables, drinkable soups and mini dips and dippers of all kinds, all perfectly portioned and in convenient single-serve packaging.
Even nutrition bars have made their way from the shelves to the fridge, thanks to the addition of healthy-eating fruits and vegetables. These snacking innovations mean ingredients lists are shrinking and there’s a lot less guesswork in picking up a quick snack you can feel better about.
Plant-Based, Beyond Soy
Tofu scrambles may always have a place at the vegan breakfast table, but in 2020 the trendiest brands are slowing down on soy, which has traditionally dominated the plant-based protein space. Some of the products touting “no soy” in the next year will be replacing it instead with innovative blends (like grains and mung beans) to mimic the creamy textures of yogurts and other dairy products.
In the supplement aisle, brands are swapping soy for mung bean, hempseed, pumpkin, avocado, watermelon seed and golden chlorella, maintaining the smooth textures in vegan protein powders and bringing a spectrum of plant-based amino acids to the table.
As the plant-based movement gains traction with flexitarian eaters, brands are looking to avoid as many of the top allergens as possible, so look for plant-based prepared foods (especially meat alternatives) and traditionally soy-based condiments going soy-less.
Everything Butters and Spreads
Think seed butters beyond tahini – like watermelon seed butter – and seasonal products like pumpkin butter year-round. Also think nut butters beyond cashew, almond, and peanut (hello, macadamia) and even chickpea butters (no, it’s not a new name for hummus).
Look for creamy vegan spreads ideal for toast, crackers, bagels, and celery sticks that get their full flavors from trending superfoods like pili. It helps the trend that spreads and butters are touting paleo- and keto-friendly attributes, but transparency is also a key player in this trend. Many brands are looking to either eliminate the use of palm oil or promote a Responsibly Sourced Palm Oil certification and use nuts that are grown in ways with less likelihood for environmental impact.
Rethinking the Kids’ Menu
Are the days of picky eaters numbered? Judging from the number of kids’ cooking and baking competitions on TV, kids are kitchen-savvier than ever. By 2026, the forecast is that 80% of millennials will have children, and many parents are introducing their kids to more adventurous foods – with great results. Indeed, seeing kids chowing down alongside parents at the Whole Foods Market sushi bar is a common sight.
Food brands are taking notice for the next generation, expanding the menu beyond nostalgic foods with better-for-you ingredients and organic chicken nuggets. They’re bridging the gap from old-school basic kids’ menus and taking more sophisticated younger palates into consideration. Think non-breaded salmon fish sticks and farmed salmon fish-shaped frozen salmon patties, as well as foods that are fermented, spiced or rich in umami flavors.
Sure, there’s sugar. But for those seeking sweetness outside of the usual suspects like sugar, stevia, honey and maple syrup, there are lots more to choose from to cater to cooking, baking and tea- or coffee-stirring needs.
Syrupy reductions from fruit sources like monk fruit, pomegranates, coconut and dates are one way to add concentrated, unique flavors into recipes for desserts, meat glazes and marinades. Sweet syrups made from starches like sorghum and sweet potato can be compared to the deep flavors of molasses or honey, and can be used for baking and sweetening beverages.
Swerve, a cup-for-cup zero-calorie non-glycemic replacement for sugar, combines erythritol with ingredients from fruit and starchy root vegetables to produce a sweetener that’s available in granular, confectioners’ and brown versions.
With many consumers seeking out alternatives to alcohol, unique non-alcoholic options are increasingly available, from menus at bars and nightclubs to specialty stores. Many of these beverages seek to re-create classic cocktail flavors using distilling methods typically reserved for alcohol, creating an alternative to liquor meant to be used with a mixer rather than a drink on its own. Think alt-gin for gin and tonics and botanical-infused faux spirits for a faux martini. Add to that options enjoyed straight from the bottle or can, like hops-infused sparkling waters and zero-proof apertifs, and one can be sure guests avoiding the bar cart will never get bored.