The wellness world is a many splendid thing these days, and supermarkets are primary benefactors of the rapid stream of futuristic innovations and interesting ingredients that are often sparked by viral trends.
Indeed, consumers’ demand for ingredients they can pronounce; functional foods and beverages that do more than fill their stomachs or quench their thirsts; items that are free from potential irritants such as gluten and dairy; and foods that fit into their on-the-go lifestyles have been the primary drivers in the wellness domain. In turn, these heightened demands have driven the wellness category to adapt and change more dramatically than arguably any category in the past few decades.
Wellness has reached mainstream, with more and more retailers prominently showcasing the items both next to their conventional counterparts, as well via boutique-style, store-within-a-store departments. The more sophisticated approaches are transforming stores’ appearance and appeal with shoppers, who are able to view the center aisles in similar fashion to the specialty health food stores of the early 2000s.
With the wellness landscape changing so rapidly, it can be difficult to keep up with the latest innovations and what consumers are looking for in grocery. To help retailers keep tabs on the brilliant – and occasionally bizarre – entrants hitting the wellness category, Grocery Headquarters staff rounded up some of the hottest and most prevalent trends to keep an eye on in the months ahead.
Be it worried parents trying to fuel their children’s brains or active Millennials scrambling for convenient ways to get a boost, today’s consumers have become protein addicts. Manufacturers have picked up on this demand, and are sneaking protein into unexpected items such as pasta, cookies and even water. Innovations in the category have moved far past spooning protein powder into a smoothie; shoppers can now expect to find protein-enhanced products in almost every aisle of the store. Plant protein has been blowing up this year, with vegetarian and environmentally conscious attitudes on the rise. Alternative protein sources, such as cricket protein, are surprisingly starting to sneak their way onto the scene, slowly introducing consumers to this unconventional food source with unexpected innovations such as paleo cricket protein granola. Retailers have picked up on the protein boom and have used it to their advantage. As consumers move away from non-functional sugary sweets, a number of retailers have started replacing the chocolate bars and other candies usually found in the checkout lanes with protein bars and other quick protein pick-me-ups.
2. Alternative Flours and Ancient Grains
A few years ago, the words “teff” and “sorghum” might as well have been from a foreign language, but today they are on the tip of many health-minded consumers’ tongues. Teff and sorghum flours have invaded the marketplace and have even made their way into products like cookies, snack bars and pizza crusts. These alternative flours boast health benefits such as the ability to fight potentially cancer-causing inflammation to aid in digestion, but the move towards these flours has been largely fueled the gluten-free movement. Consumers who are gluten-sensitive, intolerant or have cut out gluten as a lifestyle choice are turning to products made with alternative flours and ancient grains to still enjoy their Sunday morning pancakes without guilt or pain. Quinoa was one of the first alternative ancient grains to hit the wellness scene, but as more exciting new options reach the market, the pearly grain has been largely forgotten about. Manufacturers are working to bring quinoa back by sneaking it into unexpected places such as chocolate, baby food and even whiskey. Some products are giving consumers it all on the ancient grains front, such as waffles made with brown rice flour, millet, teff, buckwheat, sorghum, amaranth and quinoa.
3. Seltzers and Sparkling Waters
It’s no secret that consumers are moving away from conventional sodas, but many have had a hard time kicking the habit. That’s where seltzers and other sparkling waters come in. The fizzy drinks can be used as a satisfying way to kick a soda craving while avoiding added sugars, artificial sweeteners and other less favorable ingredients. The sparkling water category has responded to these demands by offering a palette of flavors such as coconut, passionfruit and apricot. One manufacturer recently took seltzer flavors to new heights by adorning the cans with playful flavor names such as Unicorn Kisses and Yeti Mischief. The fizzy refreshers now come in family-sized bottles, resealable single-serve bottles, cans, “junior” cans and many other formats. Consumers are also using these bubbly beverages to make “skinny” cocktails, instead of adding insult to injury by loading up their alcoholic drinks with sugary juices, syrups and sodas. Manufacturers have unsurprisingly picked up on this drink-night hack by rolling out alcoholic versions of seltzer and sparkling water. These beer and sweet cocktail alternatives woo seltzer-loving consumers with qualities such as zero sugar added, low carb and gluten-free.
4. Meat Alternatives
Meat alternatives once meant soggy tofu dogs and dry veggie patties packed with fillers, but they have evolved to become a much larger animal. Consumers have been moving away from soy-based vegetarian and vegan options, forcing food manufacturers to innovate with alternatives such as grains and pea protein. Jackfruit has been one of the hottest new trends. Yes, it’s a fruit, but its starchy quality makes it a viable alternative for pulled pork or other shredded meats. Vegetarians are smothering it in barbecue sauce and throwing it on a potato roll for a delicious, satisfying snack that is animal welfare-friendly. Jackfruit can not only be found in the produce aisle, but also in the refrigerated sections as a pre-packaged sandwich stuffer that comes in creative and on-trend flavors like Thai Curry and Chili Lime Carnitas. This year also saw the rise of plant-based burgers, which use ingredients such as beet juice to create a “bloody” burger that runs down your arms while you eat it. Similarly, consumers can now enjoy vegan eggs made with an ingredient derived algae that can be baked, scrambled and even made into omelets that resemble those made with chicken eggs.
5. Drinking Vinegars
The idea of drinking vinegar may sound sour, but it has become all the rage in the wellness world. Drinking vinegar, or switchel, is nothing new; it was originally invented by farmers looking for ideal hydration after a long day in the field, but it has only recently hit the mainstream beverage market. Manufacturers have taken the trend further than the traditional honey, lemon, water and apple cider vinegar drink and have created flavors such as Strawberry Balsamic and Hibiscus Ancho Chili. Sparkling drinking vinegars have also hit the market, touching multiple hot trends at once by offering trendy flavors like blueberry and ginger. Trendy bars are even adding alcohol to their drinking vinegars to create a boozy yet healthy libation. The out-there trend comes on the heels of the kombucha craze, but instead of reaping the health benefits of kombucha’s probiotic scoby, or “mother,” consumers instead get their healthy digestion kick from a few shots of raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, which also contains probiotics. Drinking vinegar is also believed to help control weight and blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and fight colds.
6. Turmeric and Other Spices
Homeopathic treatments have ancient roots, but modern consumers are rediscovering their benefits. Throughout history, humans have used herbs, spices, health boosters and natural remedies for whatever ailed them, but these plant-based treatments had lost some of their love over the past few decades. Now, in the age of Google, it is easier for consumers to discover at-home remedies, which have been reinvigorated by the power of plants. Turmeric has been the hottest homeopathic spice on the market in 2017 by far. The bright orange spice is typically used in Indian curries and other dishes, but it has quickly made its way into American products such as tea, a turmeric-infused drink called “golden milk,” honey and gummy supplements. Ginger has been another favorite because of its ability to quickly soothe upset stomachs and other digestion problems. Manufacturers have created mouthwatering candies, organic juices, gum, tea and other elixirs using the healthy root. Sumac may be the spice world’s next shining star. While it’s not yet well known in the mainstream market, the world is starting to learn about its antioxidant properties and ability to fight diabetes and lower cholesterol. Industry experts have predicted the tart spice may be invading pantries very soon.
7. Milk and Dairy Alternatives
When soy milk sales started to dwindle, the next big thing on the market was almond milk. While almond milk still holds its own, the dairy-alternative aisles are booming with innovation in what may be the fastest-changing category on supermarket shelves. Alongside soy and almond milks, consumers can find milks made from cashews, coconuts, hazelnuts, walnuts and pistachios. The category has moved past just milks made from soy and nuts, creating milk alternatives made from grains like brown rice and even hemp. The dairy milk-alternative market has also picked up on the cold brew coffee craze and created ready-to-drink coffee products that incorporate nut milk for a dairy-free pick-me-up. Coffee-loving vegan or lactose intolerant consumers can also now enjoy rich morning brews with innovations like coconut cream and almond milk creamers that come in popular flavors like vanilla and hazelnut. Consumers have also found plenty of alternative uses for nut milks from simply pouring it in their morning cereal or creating healthy overnight oats to baking with it, mixing it into creamed spinach or whipping it into mashed potatoes.
8. Ugly Produce
Once shunned for their imperfect appearance, ugly pieces of produce are finding refuge in retail programs nationwide. Fruits and vegetables with bruises and discoloring, or those of undesirable shapes and sizes, typically go unsold due to the produce industry’s beauty standards. But as of late, grocers are finding fresh ways to combat food waste, and consumers are following suit. Retailers like Hy-Vee, Hannaford and Meijer have partnered with Robinson Fresh to carry its line of “Misfits,” offering customers ugly fruits and veggies—like peppers, cucumbers, squash, apples and tomatoes—at an average price discount of 30 percent. Manufacturers are also utilizing unfavorable fruits and vegetables in creative ways. For instance, WTRMLN WTR is a juiced watermelon beverage that is packed with electrolytes and vitamins, made with juice from “waste watermelons” that would have otherwise been tossed because of their cosmetic defects. On National Watermelon Day on Aug. 3, Whole Foods Market held a four-day sale on all WTRMLN WTR beverages to encourage shoppers to combat food waste all while reminding them that appearance is not everything—it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
9. Carb Alternatives
Produce has come a long way in the eyes of the consumer. Fruits and vegetables are no longer viewed as simply a side dish or “diet” food, but rather have become the focus of the meal for many consumers. Carb alternatives, like the “zoodle” and cauliflower “rice,” have exploded in popularity—it’s almost hard to image a world without them. The internet is bursting with recipes from manufacturers, retailers and bloggers, like Orange chicken with cauliflower fried rice or Thai peanut zoodles. Veggie spirals, noodles, ribbons and crumbles not only provide a fun and healthy alternative to carbohydrates, they also satisfy consumers’ demand for convenience by eliminating all the prep work. Mann Packing Co. offers an entire line of Culinary Cuts, featuring Butternut Squash Zig Zags, Cauliflower Cauliettes, Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Sweet Potato Ribbons, and retailers are starting to offer their own fresh-cut veggie lines, like Wegmans’ EZ Meals. Last year, Whole Foods introduced a frozen cauliflower rice that quickly became the grocer’s No. 4 top-selling frozen vegetable, and Trader Joe’s actually had to enforce a two-bag limit per customer on its frozen organic riced cauliflower at select stores.
10. Homeopathic Essential Oils
Consumer demand for food made from all-natural ingredients is ever-growing, but the demand for all-natural products extends beyond just food. Rather than using pharmaceutical medications, consumers are turning to natural, alternative remedies for their ailments. Essential oils have been used for thousands of years for various benefits, including cosmetic and dietary uses, as well as physical and emotional health. For instance, Lavender oil is said to be calming, while peppermint is invigorating, and tea tree oil can be applied to the skin to treat rashes and infections. These highly concentrated, all-natural plant extracts are derived through distillation, resin tapping and cold pressing, and are said to contain antibacterial healing properties. Retailers, like Walmart, Wegmans and Whole Foods, are stocking up their wellness destinations with different varieties of the product, including liquid oils and diffusers. Sprouts Farmers Market even offers oil blend recipes and descriptions on its website to educate and inspire consumers on the all-natural remedies. For a good night’s sleep, the grocer recommends two drops of sage oil, one drop of ylang ylang and 20 drops of neroli oil.