Kate Williams, RDN
At the end of every year, our team at Campbell reflects on new and familiar food trends. We share what we learned from trade shows and trends presentations from the past year and consider what they mean for the future of the industry. Plant-based eating, food and beverages that support mental and emotional health and sustainable nutrition are three trends we saw repeatedly. How do food industry experts interpret these trends, apply them to their work and consider the implications on the future of food? I reached out to the team to learn how these popular trends impact their work and their predictions for the future.
Plant-based protein and meat alternatives
The plant-based food trend officially hit the mainstream market but shows up in unexpected ways. However, as Alexandria Hast, PhD, RDN, Campbell Senior Nutrition Manager, notes, “It’s not about becoming a vegetarian or vegan, it’s about getting more plants into the diet in flexible ways.” How consumers do this varies greatly. While some want minimally processed beans and legumes, others want a meat alternative that tastes and looks like meat but without the animal protein. What does this mean for the food industry? “This is an aspect of the trend we are evaluating across our portfolio. It comes down to who is the target consumer for that product and what does plant-based mean to them,” Hast explains.
How will the plant-based trend show up on shelves and away from home eating occasions? Consumers often experiment with food trends in the snacking and beverage space before investing in full meals, so expect to see new versions of plant-based foods in these categories first. We also see this trend popping up on non-commercial foodservice menus. “Plant-based options have even spread to some of the largest school systems in the country as participation in Meatless Monday is growing,” notes Anita Shaffer, RDN, Campbell Senior Nutrition Manager. This early introduction of plant-based foods may continue to shape how we see the trend evolve in the future. The food industry needs to be prepared with both plant-based product innovation and plant-based substitutions for existing products and recipes that provide convenient, nutritious ways to meet consumer needs.
Mental and emotional well-being through food
Consumers seek solutions in food and beverage to help them regulate stress, anxiety, alertness and sleep. Many consumers want functional ingredients in foods that work well with their body and mind. As Elise Deming, MS, RDN, Campbell Nutrition Scientist, notes, “Cultures around the world have used herbs, tonics, and natural remedies to complement their well-being and overall body function for thousands of years. Some traditional remedies like vapor rub or aloe are already accepted in mainstream markets. But now, we see the resurgence of traditional ingredients like holy basil and ashwagandha moving from over the counter treatments to functional ingredients in food and beverages.” Who wouldn’t eat a snack that may help you feel more focused, or a drink that may ease your stress before a big presentation? Research and product development in the food industry may have a renewed focus on food as medicine as the potential payoff could be huge.
Many consumers shifted their definition of health by considering sustainability in their purchasing decisions. While not mainstream yet, consumer interest in food choices that are healthy for me and healthy for the planet increased. Dr. Daniel Sonke, Campbell’s Director of Sustainable Agriculture notes, “There is an overlap in some consumer trends we see and their potential positive impact on the environment.” For example, interest in gut heath and plant-based diets, will increase the demand for farms to grow beans, peas and lentil crops which helps build healthier soil. Dr. Sonke explains, “These plants can produce their own fertilizer under the right conditions, so they are good for the soil.” He predicts more advocates for the relationship between human health and soil health in the future.
This trend shows up in foodservice spaces, too. Even minor shifts towards plant-based eating in the foodservice space could have a meaningful impact on the food supply. Shaffer notes, “If an animal-based entrée were replaced with a plant-based entrée in as little as 0.1% of school lunches nationwide, that would reduce animal protein in the school lunch program by about 6 million pounds per year.” Over time this adds up.
Food and nutrition trends may remain steady for a few years at a time, but they evolve. The plant-based trend will be molded and more clearly defined in the future based on consumers’ wants and the food industry’s response. We will see what impact ancient ingredients will have on our mental and emotional health as product innovation expands and effects monitored. And finally, food choices based on the good for me, good for the environment mentality could put the health of our planet in a better direction.
Kate’s BioKate received her bachelor's degree in dietetics from the University of Delaware and completed her dietetic internship at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. She has over ten years of experience in a variety of nutrition-related practice areas including clinical nutrition, weight management counseling, health and wellness and nutrition education. Kate has worked as a nutrition consultant to the Campbell Soup Company since 2005.