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2021 Food Trend Predictions: Kroger vs. Whole Foods

The crystal ball sees foods to fight stress—go figure
Photograph: Shutterstock

Lots of coffee, lots of chocolate, flavored potato chips and sauvignon blanc: In a year that has truly been a year, these were among the top trending items at Kroger in 2020, the Cincinnati-based grocer announced in mid-December. But what will grocery shoppers seek in 2021?

Foods to support their immune system and stress management will be high on the list, according to both Kroger and Whole Foods. Cincinnati-based Kroger Co. and Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market are out with their respective predictions for food trends in 2021—what consumers will want and what they'll find more of on store shelves—and foods and beverages believed to provide a boost to the body's defenses are one notable area of common ground.

"The lines are blurring between the supplement and grocery aisles, and that trend will accelerate in 2021," Whole Foods predicts. Foods touted as rich in vitamin C, probiotics and adaptogens (stress-fighting plants and herbs such as ginseng) are expected to continue to gain interest. In its monthly sales report for November, market research firm IRI noted that citrus sales were up nearly 15% year over year. 

"Consumers are increasingly looking for flavor and functionality in their favorite foods and beverages, especially as the nation continues to navigate a public health crisis," Kroger's food-trends outlook states. "As 'futureproofing' and 'biohacking' trends continue to accelerate in 2021, shoppers can expect to see more foods with added benefits to support immune health, gut and brain health, energy levels and stress management." 

What does this look like in terms of SKUs? Anything with mushrooms (mushrooms have been a "retail powerhouse" since March, according to IRI); sauerkrauts and other fermented foods; foods and beverages that contain "superfood" ingredients (berries, dark leafy greens); elderberry galore; and more.

Kroger's and Whole Foods' lists also give a nod to growing (or renewed, after a disposable-products-intense 2020) supplier and consumer concern about sustainability. "We’re seeing a huge rise in packaged products that use neglected and underused parts of an ingredient as a path to reducing food waste," Whole Foods' Next Big Things list notes. "Upcycled foods, made from ingredients that would have otherwise been food waste, help to maximize the energy used to produce, transport and prepare that ingredient."

Kroger said in a recent survey that 35% of its shoppers strongly agreed they are more conscious of food waste since the onset of COVID-19, and more than half plan to make limiting food waste a priority post-pandemic. "In the coming year, consumers will find a growing selection of eco-friendly products that reduce their carbon footprint, including plant-based and plant-blended meats, sustainably packaged products and more," Kroger's food-trends projection states.

What follows are the top five items on the two grocery chains' respective lists. For the full lists and product examples, see Kroger's and Whole Foods' respective websites.

Kroger:

  1. Futureproof foods
  2. Easy-to-prepare comfort foods
  3. Plant-based, high-protein "ketotarian" foods
  4. Globally flavored meal kits, sauces and spice blends
  5. "Mushroom mania"


Whole Foods:

  1. Functional ingredients
  2. "Epic breakfast every day"
  3. Spiced-up pantry staples
  4. Coffee-infused and coffee-flavored foods and beverages
  5. Sophisticated flavors in squeeze pouches

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