7 Meat Trends for 2021

spicy caramel chicken wings

Meat and meat alternative brands can create consumer-preferred products by aligning with new taste, format and ingredient trends

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KerryDigest Fast Facts:

  • Meat and alternative meat products continue to hold a strong market position.
  • Maintaining this will depend on how well brands innovate new products that meet consumer demand.
  • Our research identifies seven new trends that translate into areas of opportunity for meat and meat alternative brands, foodservice providers and more.

KerryDigest Full Scoop:

2020 proved to be a strong year for meat and meat alternative products. To keep consumers satisfied, brands in this space must create products that counteract the food boredom and comfort fatigue affecting people who have stayed home for months on end. For inspiration, we’ve cataloged seven meat and meat alternative trends we predict will fuel innovations across the protein landscape.

Plant-based seafood

If 2019 brought better plant-based burgers and 2020 was a big year for plant-based chicken, in 2021 seafood is set to become the focus of plant-based product development. According to Nielsen AOC 2021 data, plant-based seafood sales have increased +26% from a year ago and there are many emerging players in the plant-based retail seafood space offering products on the shelf, in the refrigerator and in the freezer. These alternates, ranging from tuna and shrimp to crab and salmon, are substrate agnostic and home to some of the most innovative protein sources on the market.

Chickpea is the new cauliflower

The versatility of chickpea has driven new plant-based launches across categories for years, including chickpea spreads, snacks, cereal, pasta, prepared meals and pizza. Now we are beginning to see this mighty legume enter the meat and meat alternative space in the following ways:

  • Crumbs and flours: Chickpea flours and crumbs can bring a healthier, higher protein coating system to chicken and appetizers.
  • Blended offerings: 50:50 blended meat-and-plant-based patties, sausages and meatballs are often a gateway for unsure plant-based consumers. Meat and veggie blends incorporating chickpeas grew significantly in 2020.
  • Plant-based: Chickpea has become an emerging protein substrate in tofu and alternative deli meat products, expecting to strengthen its presence in the wider plant-based protein market with an expected CAGR of 11% by 2027 according to 2020 Innova Market Insights.
Meat snacks

Consumers’ increased snacking habits are becoming more sophisticated and often include a need for more functional benefits. Technomic found 52% of consumers say it’s appealing for snacks to be high in protein, so meat snacks are proving to be a high-growth category.

Traditional meat snack items are reinventing themselves with more complex flavor combinations and formulation cleanups for a more natural product image.

savoury meat snacks on a panTraditional meat snack items are reinventing themselves with more complex flavor combinations and formulation cleanups for a more natural product image.

Introducing less-common protein sources, including turkey, seafood and game meats, and expanding offerings in the refrigerated case through power packs, bars and deli bites, is giving the category a new flare and opportunity for more snack occasions.

Plant-based meat snacks grew +56% from 2019 to 2020 according to Nielsen, giving way to dozens of different fruit- and veggie-based jerkies.

Next level charcuterie

Millennials and Gen Z aren’t settling for just your classic meats and cheeses—their creativity (and abundant social sharing) is expanding the definition of the “charcuterie board.” According to Pinterest data, searches for specialty charcuteries had explosive year-on-year search growth in 2020, with Mexican charcuteries featuring taco or nacho builds at +155%. Breakfast charcuteries, which feature breakfast meats, pastries and fruits, had five times as many searches in 2020 as in 2019.

As consumers on social media are inspired to share their own versions of “charcuterie,” we’re seeing things like loaded fry boards pop up, with different variations of French fries and dipping sauces, as well as fast food boards, which feature various menu items like nuggets, tenders, burgers, sandwiches and appetizers piled high.

Spicing things up

With taste preferences becoming more sophisticated, consumers are turning up the heat to find new flavor adventures. Our US 2021 Savory Taste Chart places peppers in the mainstream category, with the varieties of ancho and chile de arbol labeled as emerging and hatch valley, serrano, poblano and ghost in the up and coming category.

At home, online recipes for spicier dishes experienced increased traffic in 2020, with items like Cajun chicken pasta (+55%), tomatillo enchilada sauce (+75%) and hot honey (+155%) having significant year-on-year search increases on Pinterest.
Long live the breakfast

With more consumers working and learning from home in 2020, breakfast occasions have increased to every day of the week. Frozen breakfast sandwiches/handhelds and meals had a +45% sales percentage change from 2019 to 2020, and plant-based breakfast sausage in the fresh case grew +125% according to Nielsen.

Flex Jobs found that around 27% of Americans still expect to be working remotely through the end of 2021. With the lifestyle change of incorporating a more intentional morning meal back into diets, both meat and plant-based breakfast innovations will be of growing importance as consumers seek out new formats, flavors and ingredients to jumpstart the day.

Traditional meat snack items are reinventing themselves with more complex flavor combinations and formulation cleanups for a more natural product image.healthy breakfast food

Asian cuisine

COVID-19 restrictions and sales slumps hit Asian restaurants harder than any other mainstream global cuisine type in 2020. But a rebound is looking hopeful.

According to Datassential, 9 of the top 15 restaurant foods consumers are most excited for are of Asian influence, with Chinese, sushi and Korean BBQ indexing the highest. Additionally, with the rescheduled Tokyo Summer Olympics—currently planned for summer of 2021—there’s a high likelihood consumers will gravitate towards Asian dishes and profiles as the world comes together to celebrate and share the cultural phenomenon.

To learn more about trending tastes in the food and beverage industry, download the 2021 Kerry Taste Charts or contact Kerry to partner on your next meat innovation project.


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