The specialty foods sector has become the crazy aunt of the grocery store, with fun and sometimes startling products—such as candy made from insects and plant-based burgers that “bleed”—making the store a more interesting place.
With the fun comes an acute social consciousness that has prompted the rapid growth of sustainable and upcycled products. Shoppers who once cringed at the thought of crunching on a cricket or having spent beer grains in their granola bar are now embracing these concepts.
Also, the continued gravitation toward better-for-you products has led many consumers to munch on freeze-dried avocado instead of potato chips and dig into a nice pint of cookie-flavored hummus for dessert.
Today’s consumers also appear to be widening their tastes to crave global flavors, with Asian-inspired snacks and meals and Middle Eastern spices at the forefront of this year’s demand.
WGB takes a closer look at some of the most creative, delicious and unexpected trends that are shaping the specialty segment.
Tummy-friendly beverages such as kombucha, kefir and probiotic yogurt drinks have been gaining steam, and consumers have even started using these drinks as better-for-you cocktail mixers. Also, drinking vinegar has been quickly entering the scene; “the funkier the better” seems to be increasingly at the top of consumers’ minds when it comes to refreshments.
Asian Street Food-Inspired Products
Ramen, bibimbap, bao and other Asian-inspired snacks and meals are gaining favor, and more and more manufacturers and retail foodservice sections are cooking up this mouthwatering fare. For example, Trader Joe’s offers frozen soup dumplings that can be microwaved in only a few minutes, and Whole Foods’ 365 has devoted its Asian Box foodservice banner to Asian street food.
Middle Eastern Essence
Beyond the expected falafel, consumers are getting more adventurous with Middle Eastern flavors, prompting an increase in demand for spices such as harissa and za’atar. Middle East-inspired snacks such as crispy baked chickpeas and dates are also taking over conventional potato chip shelves, and traditional meals such as Shakshuka are being served for both breakfast and dinner.
Hummus for Dessert
Middle Eastern flavors are winning 2018, but hummus deserves its own category because it has done what most savory snacks cannot do: cross over into the dessert category. The chickpea dip can now be eaten almost like cookie dough in flavors that surpass even chocolate and vanilla, such as chocolate mint and snickerdoodle.
The days of dry veggie burgers and soggy tofu dogs are far behind us, with plant-based burgers that “bleed” with beet juice and artisanal vegan cheese made from nuts tantalizing even carnivores’ taste buds. Also, produce posing as meat has hit the scene, with jackfruit being subbed in for pulled pork and mushrooms being stuffed into tacos.
Many consumers are concerned about healthy eating, but the temptation of a salty chip is often what does them in. Luckily, an onslaught of better-for-you chips made from everything from beets, kale and seaweed to freeze-dried avocados have been reinventing crunchy snacking to meet consumers’ increasingly strict diets and fitness standards.
A concept that may have once made consumers grimace is gaining acceptance as food made from insects is pushed as a healthy and more sustainable protein option. The trend has materialized in forms such as cricket protein powder, nacho-spiced creepy crawlers and even lollipops that ask how many licks it takes to get to the scorpion.
With food waste an important concern, numerous manufacturers are winning consumer loyalty by upcycling ingredients. Among some of the winners are granola bars made with spent beer grains, sparkling water infused with coffee-brewing waste product cascara, and even retailers being urged to turn end-of-life produce into ice cream and chips.
Algae species spirulina has been touted as having multiple health benefits, but its appeal has now gone deeper than the typical jars of powder. The ingredient is being infused into all types of products, such as better-for-you beverages;of particular note, its blue variety is being used to turn products such as instant oatmeal an eye-catching color.
Fancy Alternative Nut Butters
Consumers who were tired of peanut butter once had little more to turn to than the almond variety, but those days are far behind. All types of legumes are now being transformed into savory spreads, including coconuts, soybeans and pistachios. Chocolate hazelnut spreads have also expanded beyond the usual suspects, with fancier alternatives hitting shelves.