The specialty food category is certainly no stranger to unique and unusual ingredients and flavor profiles, from insect protein powder to activated charcoal and pickle ice cream. (Yes, you read that right.) But for retailers, whose mission is to drive sales by offering products that their shoppers truly want and need, distinguishing between a fleeting fad and a solid staple is essential.
While consumers are continuously enthusiastic about diverse flavors and multicultural cuisines, the year ahead will see a return to the basics, with the quality of food taking precedent over the quantity of ingredients and flavors. Better-for-you and plant-based foods are continuing to grow and, with that, are revealing an evolved consumer expectation of what they represent—encompassing not only nutritional value but also social and environmental well-being. WGB has taken the temperature of specialty trends old and new, determining which are heating up for the years to come and which are cooling down to make way for fresh innovations.
1. Keepin’ It Real (Simple)
Despite the photo-fueled frenzy of bizarre and extravagant items such as unicorn lattes or “sushi burgers,” consumers most crave simplicity and quality in the foods they eat, as evidenced by the free-from and clean-label movement. After an age of ingredient overload, retailers and manufacturers are reformulating their product lines back to the basics, featuring natural, plant-based and wholesome components.
2. Bold Flavored Condiments
In the year of Mayochup, it’s clear consumers are still crazy over adventurous flavored condiments, sauces and dressings. Asian-inspired flavors such as sesame ginger soy sauce, Sriracha aioli and wasabi ranch, as well as Hispanic-influenced cilantro lime vinaigrette, pineapple salsa and green chile habanero sauce, offer a bold dynamic to a simple dish while satisfying consumers’ taste for multicultural flavors.
3. Call for Collagen
The health-conscious consumer is here to stay, as is the demand for functional ingredients, particularly those that aid in digestive health. While probiotic-rich kombucha dominated 2018, manufacturers are now heeding consumers’ call for collagen—known to promote skin elasticity and strengthen the protective lining of the digestive tract—creatively concealing it in everything from juices to meat bars.
4. Craft Beer Craze
Not long ago, it was all about the hops. Today, it’s grapes. While the craft beer craze has reduced to a simmer, consumers’ desire for creative, local and authentic alcohol beverages is still sizzling. Retailers are making way for exciting wines from unanticipated states, such as New Jersey and even Michigan, which some say is evolving into the Sonoma of the Midwest.
The use of wasteful packaging is over. With consumers increasingly conscious of the social and environmental impact of the foods they eat, shoppers are paying attention to not just a product’s ingredients but also the packaging it comes in to determine its health attributes. Minimalistic, recyclable and compostable packaging made from paper, cardboard or plant fiber is becoming the new norm.
6. Misleading Labeling
Misleading labeling misses the mark. Once easily convinced that items touting claims such as “non-GMO” or “no sugar added” meant they were inherently healthier, consumers today are savvier and more informed, and they demand deeper product transparency. It’s no longer enough to highlight what’s missing from a product. Food companies must now reveal everything from where a product was produced to its ingredients’ health impact.