The Future of Food: Top Trends in 2021

plating fresh grilled steak lettuce wrap

‘Instagrammable’ foods, health and wellness products and conscious consumption are gaining ground in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa and beyond

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KerryDigest Fast Facts:

  • With parts of Asia leading recovery from the effects of COVID-19, the region continues to be a barometer for the global food industry.
  • To predict 2021 food and beverage trends, we looked at global mega trends and macro trends specific to Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa (APMEA) to identify the themes that will define the future of the region’s food industry.
  • A rise in home cooks, aesthetic transformation, health and wellness and conscious consumption will gain momentum in 2021.
  • Kitchen ingredients that offer functional benefits, micro sensory foods and sustainable farming will also be popular in the coming year.

KerryDigest Full Scoop:

While COVID-19 had a strong influence on 2020 food trends, it was not the only factor behind changing consumer behaviours and preferences. To better understand the themes that will define the future of the food industry in 2021 and beyond, our sights once again turn to Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa (APMEA), which is further along in recovery efforts than many parts of the world.

Using Kerry Trendspotter, our artificial intelligence consumer listening tool, as well as interviews with food and beverage industry professionals across 14 markets and other research methods, Kerry APMEA’s local consumer insights and market research teams delved into the consumer needs and trends we can expect in 2021.

These efforts uncovered five global mega trends—including lifestyle evolution, wellness and cultural shifts—and identified 14 macro trends in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa (APMEA). We compiled our findings to identify emerging trends that will dominate 2021 in the region, and quite possibly food and beverage trends around the world. Here are our predictions.

More will practice conscious consumption


As consumers become increasingly aware of the impact their actions have on the environment, we will see more eco-conscious consumers who want food solutions that are sustainable from end-to-end, from sourcing and production to packaging, storage and waste disposal.

The urgency to be sustainable will have consumers turning to waste-free and planet-positive solutions in 2021. This shift will go beyond simply maximizing the use of an ingredient. It will mean embracing a complete change in mindset, from how chefs create dishes right down to zero-waste ethical kitchens.

school of fish swimming in circle formationAs the provenance of food becomes even more critical, there will be great potential for eco positive farming as consumers continue to demand for food and ingredients that are sourced sustainably and without harm to animals.

As the provenance of food becomes even more critical, there will be great potential for eco positive farming as consumers continue to demand for food and ingredients that are sourced sustainably and without harm to animals.

Farming or growing methods that conserve natural resources will be key. For example, farmers in Korea, Japan and Thailand are already practising aquaponic and hydroponic farming, which conserve water and reduce the use of pesticides. Also in Korea, sustainable aquaculture and fishery—where only adult fish are harvested—are practised. In desert climates like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the use of vertical gardens to grow micro-greens and leafy greens in a more sustainable manner is catching on. By educating consumers about innovative and sustainable farming methods, through videos and social media for instance, brands can build consumer awareness, trust and confidence in their products.

Direct-to-table and farm-to-table concepts will also be in greater demand to meet the focus on sourcing and quality. Direct-to-table can be seen in the rise of online food delivery, while farm-to-table concepts manifest in the growth of online farmer’s markets, where consumers can purchase their produce directly. This not only gives the assurance of quality and freshness but also reduces contact and transportation. This trend is picking up steam as more farmers and local suppliers start selling through platforms such as community groups on Facebook and WhatsApp.

There’s no place like home for cooking and eating

Staying in is the new going out. As people’s schedules become increasingly fluid, entertainment and work are becoming increasingly home-centric. As a result, how and when people consume their meals are also evolving. Even if they are dining at home, consumers still want to replicate the experience of dining at a restaurant; this includes food quality, variety and convenience as well as novelty and entertainment.

The pandemic has seen the emergence and rise of independent and experimental home cooks preparing meals at home for the first time. COVID-19 has given these home cooks an opportunity to explore and try out their cooking repertoire, turning home cooking into an outlet for healthy, creative meals. For 2021, we see a big space for curated solutions in time-efficient formats (ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat) that meet consumers’ taste and nutrition goals.

Meal kits are already abundant across APMEA with examples like Korea’s Beksul Cookit, Australia’s Hello Fresh, and India’s Chef’s Basket. These meal kits offer convenience, great taste and even diet-led meals curated by nutritionists and dietitians.

As the lines between 9-to-5 blur, consumers are also adjusting their schedules to their needs and eating meals outside of conventional mealtimes. On top of that, they’re not restricting themselves to having ‘breakfast food’ at breakfast, opting instead for foods and ingredients that can be consumed any time. They want food that not only packs the nutrients they need but is also convenient and fast. What this has led to is the growing popularity of nutrient-rich foods, intermittent diets or mini meals, and easy-to-hold food formats as seen in soups and ramen bowls in Korea, China, Japan and Southeast Asia; curry meals in a jar in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia; and mini meal plates in India and Japan.

asian egg noodle dishSpeed, aesthetics and the ability to maintain textural integrity and taste in home delivery will be key to success as the number of delivery options increase exponentially.

This need for adaptation has also led to the home delivery scene reinventing itself to meet the needs of consumers looking for efficient yet high-quality and wholesome food and beverage solutions. In Singapore, online food delivery revenue is projected to have an annual growth rate of 10.8% and is expected to hit US$541 million by 2021 and US$698 million by 2024. Speed, aesthetics and the ability to maintain textural integrity and taste in home delivery will be key to success as the number of delivery options increase exponentially. Notable today is the emergence of ghost kitchens operated by service providers focusing on online food delivery for fine-dining and quick-service restaurants, cafes and food courts.

During this decline in physical dining, there is high potential in simulated retail experiences in the form of menus, livestreaming of kitchens, digital edible food and limited time/edition items. We are already seeing this in Australia’s augmented reality restaurant ‘Fresh Hot & Delicious’ and Korea’s virtual reality start-up ‘Project Nourished’ which offers a virtual dining experience that replicates existing foods and invents new ones.

Food with sensory impact will lead the way

As consumers hunger for experiences that deliver emotional gratification, there will be a demand for meals or products that delight or excite the senses, from the use of premium ingredients and innovative taste experiences to aesthetic presentation or packaging.

Brands can benefit by placing greater emphasis on design to appeal to the ‘Instagrammable’ food trend. For example, they may look to modern additives or additional ingredients that enhance taste, status or visual appeal. This is already evident in the higher use of truffle in Korea and Thailand; caviar in Thailand, India and Korea; kale in the UAE; and chocolate in China and Japan.

For the experimental home chef, micro sensory ingredients that go beyond taste will be a draw. Consumers want foods that have visual, aromatic and textural appeal, and they may desire ingredients that can double up as colour enhancers, new garnishing, or aroma builders or that can add texture to enhance mouthfeel. These can include pandan leaves, beetroot or matcha powder for colouring; micro greens and edible flowers as garnishing; lemongrass, peppers, cumin or saffron for aroma; and grilled meats, blended beverages and crispy and fried foods to enhance texture.

Health and wellness will heavily influence decision making

Consumers will continue to prioritise health and wellness, placing greater emphasis on everyday wellbeing and caring for themselves not just when they are unwell but as part of their routine. Hence, the functional properties of food will trump other considerations.

One example is the emerging focus on mental health and the growing demand for food products that support a healthy brain. While the focus is mainly on the development of kids, there are other market segments that can also benefit, such as seniors who desire healthy aging. In addition, the general population is looking for food products with enhanced nutrition, perceived beauty and skin care benefits as well as ingredients that offer targeted nutrition.

The heightened need to support immunity will also drive consumers to focus on foods that are good sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Nutrient-dense foods—and those that are perceived as being full of micro-nutrients—are already experiencing popularity across the region.

In greater APMEA, consumers are feeling the pull of natural food products containing turmeric, ginger, lemongrass, flaxseeds, spirulina, yuzu lemon and soybean paste, among others. Believed to support health in myriad ways, from delivering powerful antioxidants, supporting digestive health to re-balancing the body. For example, food products with turmeric that are marketed as Ayurvedic tend to fly off the shelves in India; in Korea, anything with kombucha is a sure-fire hit.

Meanwhile, adaptogens such as Ayurvedic powders or liquids, Indonesian jamu herbal concoctions and ginseng are perceived to help support brain health and cognitive performance, as are Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs, extra virgin olive oil, Omega 3 supplements and fish oil. As consumers begin to view mental health and wellbeing as critical to quality of life and overall health, our research shows that China, India, Korea, Malaysia and Turkey are prime markets for foods that are perceived to improve these areas.

Our consumer insight teams will continue reporting on these trends and more throughout 2021. To receive updates on our latest articles, subscribe to KerryDigest. To find out about working with us on new launches or product reformulations, contact us.

 

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