Expectations for 2021 food trends have been highly messed up by the arrival of COVID-19, an unpredictable event that has discombobulated our whole lives. Even the dark art of culinary prognostication. During the lockdown we witnessed a real upheaval in eating habits. The closure of numerous restaurants lead to the devastation of an industry we love so much, the growth of food delivery, and a new-found interest in homemade food.
So, are you curious to know what’s in store for 2021? As many other things in life, what we eat this year will look very different from any pre-pandemic predictions. All the canonical themes that would have allowed us to make specific prognostic have skipped. But this does not mean that we cannot try to guess what the future of food holds, how we will like it, and what kind of consumers we are ready to become.
Between “ghostronomy”, an ecological and seasonal turn and bizarre new entries, a rather varied scenario looms on the horizon. More than just trends, these changes resemble small revolutions. Here are a few things we think you'll be seeing more of in 2021.
One of the most consistent repercussions of the health emergency is the closure of many restaurants and cafes. The chefs who lost their jobs had to reinvent themselves. This is why many of them - those who were able to - have turned their businesses to take-away and home delivery. The huge fixed costs (renting a place, having staff, etc) lead to the birth of new realities called dark or ghost kitchens, that have proliferated in recent months. They are restaurants without halls, hidden kitchens without windows and seats. They are ghost kitchens that churn out everything from tacos to spaghetti to noodles and serve their dishes at home with a rider system. These restaurants do not have rooms or waiters, you cannot talk with the chef, the order takes place online and the only human contact is the one with the delivery boy that brings the food to your door. The restaurant as we know it disappears and is replaced by a digital sign and a so-called "virtual brand", in which the communication of one's service and culinary philosophy takes place only on the product packaging.
Since 2018, there has been a huge reduction in the consumption of meat and animal products. The food industry witnessed an unprecedented increase in a new type of consumer: flexible vegetarians. In 2020, according to Vegan Society, this trend saw nearly every major UK supermarket investing in the production of vegan or plant-based ranges, as well as every one of the top UK restaurants/food-to-go outlets having a vegan (or plant-based) offering. In 2021, the number of vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians (traditional meat eater who makes a conscious effort to reduce their meat intake) is expected to increase. People are looking for a wider and even more delicious choice of meat-free products, and this has a notable impact on the market.
The mood had already been clear for some years, but the pandemic has accelerated the process: 2021 will focus on getting back a sense of balance. People just want to gather and socialise while feeling safe. They are looking for comfort, especially comfort food, because in a world filled with uncertainty, sometimes it’s familiar food that keeps us grounded.
In addition to comfort and quality, the values that will guide consumers’ choices are sustainability and a zero-waste approach. The consumption of food produced with natural methods that is less impacting on the environment, together with the fight against food waste has now become, more than a trend, the main theme for a better, fairer and cleaner future. This might seem particularly difficult given all the single-use packaging that we still use daily, but the COVID-19 pandemic has really shown us how much the Earth is exploited. That is exactly why we're expecting to see more eco-friendly packaging in 2021.
In addition to food, it is good to analyse what drinks will most likely be popular in 2021. With the WFH reality, homemade craft cocktails have been popular in 2020, but there will be a breakthrough this year. Consumers are reaching for more alcohol-free spirits, low-calorie alcoholic beverages, and boozy versions of popular healthy beverages ahead of 2021.
Discovering organic food (again)
Last, but not least, the re-discovery of organic food. The focus on food companies during this period has allowed many of us to pay attention to the product quality. Consumers found a new interest in organic foods, not artificially treated, and grown according to the 'ancient habits' of our ancestors. Technological discoveries have certainly improved the art of cultivation, but from a health point of view, simplicity is always the basis of everything. Therefore, because of the desire for healthy and natural 'organic' food, great attention is paid to whether products are treated with pesticides (in the case of vegetables) and antibiotics (in the case of animal products).
Written by Miriam Tagini