More Restaurant Meal Kits, Values-Based Buying Among 2021 Food Trends

Anna Wolfe
Senior Editor - Restaurants
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Replicating restaurant and travel experience in the home kitchen; values-based shopping; and functional ingredients to support and maintain health top the list of 2021 trend predictions from the Specialty Food Association (SFA) Trendspotter Panel.

With the continuing coronavirus pandemic keeping record numbers of people close to home, growing social awareness affecting purchasing decisions, and a maturing Gen Z population, the growth of the $158.4 billion specialty food category is positioned to fill consumers' needs.

The Trendspotter Panel, composed of professionals representing diverse segments in the culinary world, have identified trends including the following for 2021. 

Eating/Cooking at Home . The reality of at-home meal preparation and consumption will stay with us in 2021 but has also brought about several sub-trends. "At-home eating will be the name of the game in 2021," says Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, global food analyst at Mintel and member of the Trendspotter Panel. "We will see consumers looking to brighten and enliven the monotony of preparing so many meals in a row."
Restaurant Food in the Home Kitchen. With economic concerns not easing and the potential for more lockdowns during the upcoming winter, consumers are looking to replicate restaurant experiences in the home kitchen. Expect more restaurant-quality condiments, cooking sauces, and cocktail mixes. Restaurants are expected to create more meal kits and other aids to help consumers re-create an on-premise dining experience at home. Restaurant brands sold groceries (Panera Bread, Just Salad, select Subways to name a few) during the early days of the pandemic, and many added liquor and cocktails to their to-go menus.  Dickey's Barbecue, which has a branded grocery line, recently expanded its line of At Home items.  

Values-Based Buying. Consumers are becoming more conscious shoppers when choosing which brands to support with their food dollars. They are seeking out companies owned by women, Black people, people of color, B Corps, sustainability-focused brands, and those with ethical labor practices. "For me, 2020 highlighted topics amongst all brands: cultural appropriation, community impact, ethical practices. More than ever, brands are focused on these three categories and trying to align their messaging with this," says Chef Tu David Phu, a Trendspotter Panel member.

Panera Bread is on track with its Climate Friendly meals, and Chipotle launched Real Foodprint, a sustainability impact tracker.

Plant-Based Continuing Revolution. More a movement than a trend, plant-based earns a spot on this year's list for its burgeoning growth during COVID-19 and for new formats that continue to transform the food and beverage market. According to SFA, the segment has a huge runway for growth, increasing 10-20 percent annually through 2024.