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Plant-Based, Regenerative Farming Highlight Whole Foods' Top Trends for 2020

5th trends report complied by 50 influencers
Photograph courtesy of Whole Foods Market

Regenerative agriculture, West African foods, meat-plant blends and new varieties of flour are among the top food trends to watch in 2020, according to Whole Foods Markets, which recently released its fifth annual trends prediction report.

The Austin, Texas-based retailer said the list was based on input from more than 50 Whole Foods team members that include local foragers, regional and global buyers, and culinary experts. While certain 2019 trends are not slowing down, like a rise in hemp-infused and topical cannabidiol (CBD) products, faux meat snacks and eco-conscious packaging, the 2020 trends represent a new crop of flavors and products.

Whole Foods Market’s Top 10 Food Trend Predictions for 2020:

  • Regenerative Agriculture
    Farmers, producers, academics, government agencies, retailers and more are taking a closer look at how to use land and animal management practices to improve soil health and sequester carbon. While the term “regenerative agriculture” can have many definitions, in general, it describes farming and grazing practices that restore degraded soil, improve biodiversity and increase carbon capture to create long-lasting environmental benefits, such as positively impacting climate change. You can help by seeking out brands that support regenerative practices.
  • Flour Power
    As seasoned and amateur bakers alike look to scratch a creative itch in the kitchen, an array of interesting flours are entering the market making baking more inclusive and adventurous. Consumers on the baking bandwagon are seeking out ingredients used in traditional dishes, such as teff flour used for Ethiopian injera. Next year will bring more interesting fruit and vegetable flours (like banana) into home pantries, with products such as cauliflower flour in bulk and baking aisles, rather than already baked into crusts and snack products. Consumer packaged goods are getting in on the trend by replacing traditional alternative flours with tigernut flour in chips and snack foods, and tasty pastries made with seed flour blends. As consumers look for more ways to boost their bake, “super” flours delivering protein and fiber join the trend. 
  • Foods From West Africa
    From indigenous superfoods to rich, earthy dishes, traditional West African flavors are popping up everywhere in food and beverage. Tomatoes, onions and chile peppers form a base for many West African dishes, and peanuts, ginger and lemongrass are all common additions. The 16 nations within West Africa share similar foods, but each have their own specialties based on subtle influences from the Middle East and Western Europe. Brands are looking to West Africa for its superfoods too, such as moringa and tamarind, and lesser known cereal grains such as sorghum, fonio, teff and millet. Chefs like Pierre Thiam are embracing the region too. His new Harlem restaurant, Teranga, is an ode to African culture through food.
  • Out-of-the-Box, Into-the-Fridge Snacking
    Life isn’t slowing down, but snack options are more than keeping up. The keyword is “fresh” in this new generation of grabbing and going—gone are the days when the only options were granola bars and mini pretzel bags. The refrigerated section is filling up with the kind of wholesome, fresh snacks typically prepared and portioned in advance at home: hard-boiled eggs with savory toppings, pickled vegetables, drinkable soups and mini dips and dippers of all kinds, all perfectly portioned and in convenient single-serve packaging. Even nutrition bars have made their way from the shelves to the chiller, thanks to the addition of fresh fruits and vegetables. These snacking innovations mean ingredients lists are shrinking and there’s a lot less guesswork in picking up a quick snack you can feel better about.
  • Plant-Based, Beyond Soy
    Tofu scrambles may always have a place at the vegan breakfast table, but in 2020 the trendiest brands are slowing down on soy, which has traditionally dominated the plant-based protein space. Some of the products touting “no soy” will be replaced in the next year with innovative blends (such as grains and mung beans) to mimic the creamy textures of yogurts and other dairy products. In the supplement aisle, brands are swapping soy for mung bean, hempseed, pumpkin, avocado, watermelon seed and golden chlorella, maintaining the smooth textures in vegan protein powders and bringing a spectrum of plant-based amino acids to the table. As the plant-based movement gains traction with flexitarian eaters, brands are looking to avoid as many of the top allergens as possible, so look for plant-based prepared foods (especially meat alternatives) and traditionally soy-based condiments going soy-less.
  • Everything Butters and Spreads
    Has (insert nut, seed, snack) been made into a butter yet? It’s likely to happen in 2020. Think seed butters beyond tahini—such as watermelon seed butter—and seasonal products like pumpkin butter year-round. Nut butters beyond cashew, almond and peanut (hello, macadamia) and even chickpea butters (no, it’s not a new name for hummus). Look for creamy vegan spreads perfect for toast, crackers, bagels and celery sticks that get their full flavors from trending superfoods such as pili. It helps the trend that spreads and butters are touting paleo- and keto-friendly attributes, but transparency is also a key player in this trend. Many brands are looking to either eliminate the use of palm oil or promote a Responsibly Sourced Palm Oil certification and use nuts that are grown in ways with less likelihood for environmental impact.
  • Rethinking the Kids Menu
    Are the days of picky eaters numbered? Judging from the number of kids cooking and baking competitions on TV, kids are kitchen-savvier than ever. By 2026, 80% of millennials will have children, and many parents are introducing their kids to more adventurous foods—with great results. Food brands are taking notice for the next generation—possibly our first true “foodies”—expanding the menu beyond nostalgic foods with better-for-you ingredients and organic chicken nuggets. They’re bridging the gap from old-school basic kids menus and taking more sophisticated younger palates into consideration. Think non-breaded salmon fish sticks. Foods that are fermented, spiced or rich in umami flavors. Colorful pastas in fun shapes made from alternative flours. Maybe it’s time adults start taking some cues from the kids menu.
  • Not-So-Simple Sugars
    Sure, there’s sugar. But for those seeking sweetness outside of the usual suspects (sugar, stevia, honey and maple syrup), there’s lots more to choose from for your cooking, baking and tea- or coffee-stirring needs. Syrupy reductions from fruit sources such as monk fruit, pomegranates, coconut and dates are one way to add concentrated, unique flavors into recipes for desserts, meat glazes and marinades. Sweet syrups made from starches such as sorghum and sweet potato can be compared to the deep flavors of molasses or honey, and can be used for baking and sweetening beverages. Swerve, a cup-for-cup zero-calorie non-glycemic replacement for sugar, combines erythritol with ingredients from fruit and starchy root vegetables to produce a sweetener that’s available in granular, confectioners and brown versions.
  • Meat-Plant Blends
    Butchers and meat brands won’t be left out of the “plant-based” craze in 2020, but they’re not going vegetarian. Chefs across the country have been on board with the trend for years through James Beard Foundation’s The Blended Burger Project, a movement that strives to make the iconic burger “better for customers and for the planet” by blending in at least 25% fresh mushrooms. For the health-conscious at-home chef, adding plant-based ingredients to meatballs and burgers has an added bonus—it’s budget-friendly. Major brands such as Applegate are seeing if meat-eating consumers will swap a traditional beef burger for one with 30% plant-based ingredients, touting benefits of less fat and cholesterol when compared to U.S. Department of Agriculture data for regular ground beef (check out Applegate’s website for nutritional comparison information). And other brands are taking note too, with products such as the Lika Plus Burger made with 75% ground beef blended with 25% Lika Plus (wheat, mushroom, barley yeast and water) showing up at meat counters in Whole Foods Market’s Southwest region. Flexitarians looking to strike a tasty balance between meats and plants can expect more blended products in their future.
  • Zero-Proof Drinks
    With so many consumers seeking out alternatives to alcohol, unique nonalcohol options are popping up everywhere, from menus at the world’s most acclaimed bars to specialty stores. Many of these beverages seek to re-create classic cocktail flavors using distilling methods typically reserved for alcohol, creating an alternative to liquor meant to be used with a mixer rather than a drink on its own. Think alt-gin for gin and tonics and botanical-infused faux spirits for a faux martini. Add to that options that can enjoyed straight from the bottle or can, like hops-infused sparkling waters and zero-proof apertifs, and you can be sure guests avoiding the bar cart will never get bored.

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