From seasoned worms to vertical farms, there are plenty of food trends to watch in 2021
Personalized nutrition bars, dried worms, and at-home vertical farms are just some of the products that ad agency McKinney is tracking as it keeps tabs on food trends that have the potential to break into the mainstream.
The agency, which works with brands such as Little Caesars and Stop & Shop, isn’t expecting any of these ideas to become ubiquitous in the U.S. anytime soon. It keeps tabs on food industry trends to better help it cater to the needs of clients inside and outside the sector.
McKinney’s latest annual food trends report, being released this week, is meant to highlight “really nascent or emerging trends,” says Jasmine Dadlani, the agency’s chief strategy officer.
The theme of the 2021 report, “getting primal,” shows some of the ways people returned to what is essential during the early months of the pandemic. “Last year, we all went to survival mode,” says Dadlani.
Some of the findings tie into pandemic-driven trends or issues exacerbated during 2020, such as food insecurity. The report doesn’t delve into food companies’ donations or the rising necessity of food banks during COVID-19. Instead, it points out some ways companies are trying to reduce food loss at the outset, aiming to lessen the amount that is wasted. Regenerative farming is also mentioned. “It at least gave me hope that we were trying to tackle this food insecurity issue in different ways,” says Dadlani.
The report also points out VertiVegies, an indoor vertical farm that can be used to grow produce where land is scarce. Companies such as Rise Gardens are also working on indoor vertical farming systems to be used at home.
“The big thesis of our food trends presentation is [that] food is a crystal ball,” says Dadlani, who has been looking at food trends for a dozen years.
Plenty of trends, as she points out, continue to come from Asia. Worms are slowly starting to catch on in snacking in the U.S. Brands highlighted in the report include Larvets, which sells dried, seasoned mealworms; Hey Planet, the maker of Dare Squares that include buffalo worm flour; and Thailand Unique, which sells salted Sago worms.
Personalized products are also highlighted, such as myAir nutrition bars, a brand that uses an AI-based algorithm to suggest the right product for a person. And while snacking during gaming has long been a trend, now performance enhancers are part of the discussion. Mars Wrigley’s 5 brand worked with gaming hardware brand Razer on a gum called Respawn by 5 that may help gamers maintain their mental focus.
One of the products mentioned in this year’s report is Driftwell, an enhanced water with L-theanine that’s meant to help promote relaxation and better sleep, which comes from PepsiCo, home to plenty of caffeinated soft drinks.
Dadlani says she has a healthy skepticism about a lot of these things. “You never know what’s going to take off and what’s not.”
It can be years before a trend goes mainstream. It was more than eight years ago that McKinney put plant-based burgers on the list. And then, in 2013, a section of the report called “revenge of the root” looked at plants taking more of a center stage on the plate. Now, they’ve gone from a niche play to becoming common enough that they’re sold by Walmart, Kroger, Burger King and Starbucks, among others.
Meanwhile, Robots and drones are being tested for delivery in more places. And robots have increasingly also made their way into the kitchen, handling tasks from prepping one-pot meals to making boba tea, the report notes.
The ideas Dadlani keeps tabs on sometimes translate into work for clients. Seeing how restaurant chains have offered apparel and accessories that come across more like items from lifestyle brands, not giveaways, sparked the “play with your food” trend that was highlighted in a report that came out toward the end of 2019. Soon after, the agency worked with Little Caesars on a unique item tied to its 2020 Super Bowl campaign: box seats made from its pizza boxes.
Hear from Jasmine Dadlani and others about emerging trends in the industry at Ad Age Next: Food & Beverage on March 23. Tickets to this half-day event are available here.