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  • Industry Voices: Food and Beverage Trends in 2021 and Beyond


    Denise Purcell
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    Plant-based, brain health, stress support, and foods from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) makers are among the trends seen by the supply chain in this year’s State of the Specialty Food Industry report. Here is some of what they had to say:

    “Some of the macro trends that we’ve seen with COVID are going to last. Indulgence, taste exploration, restaurant quality, and having our type of item for retailers is a way to [show consumers that they] have the option for [them] to stay here. 
         For a meeting I had with Target [recently], indulgence was something that they focused on. In August it was SKU rationalization, now it’s ‘we need to play on indulgence. Better-for-you is important but we do want to cater more to like something that’s delicious and indulgent.’”
    -head of sales at a specialty dessert brand

    “Probably six months to a year ago it was all about why categories, brands, and products are relevant during COVID, and now it’s [buyers saying] ‘show that its relevant with COVID, but show that it’s relevant beyond COVID, and if you need to adjust the product, be ready to address it.’
         It’s kind of the horizon of the next 12-18 months, what those big categories and trends are, and how they’re going to surface, and how are customers going to adjust back to eating more away from home. Are they going to change their eating habits? How sensitive or not will they be to promotions, because obviously you didn’t have to promote a lot [during the height of COVID] and products would sell.”
    -head of sales for a specialty food maker

    “I’m hyper-focused on trying to figure out how the workplace, the office space, is going to function. We had a large B2B business selling to local firms, feeding their staff and that evaporated overnight. All of our events business evaporated overnight also, and I firmly believe that the quality of our food is going to get us back into the door when people step back in. I’m just trying to think of ways to improve upon the experience and improve upon the flexibility that they have with the experience, and the safety around it, so that we’re top of mind for them when they do return.”
    -founder, owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer and foodservice operator

    “What I’m seeing through sales is a lot of interest in exploring flavors, and in plant-based. We do a lot of cheese in the northwest U.S., and our marketing person in that area recently held up a plant-based cheese and said, ‘I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it tastes great.’ Also, the impact of cooking at home is evident in our numbers. The traditional categories of baking and grains and all related scratch cooking areas.”
    -VP vendor relations at a specialty distributor

    “When people are excited about doing the actual cooking, then they get excited about the quality of the ingredient that they’re using, and that’s the defining factor. That’s what is differentiating the products that we sell. Why go to [our stores] and not go to [big supermarket chains]? These are the reasons. We tell people how to actually make a Roman pizza dough and talk them through it. And those people can take those experiences home and share them with their children, the rest of their family, and that’s what people want.”
    -owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer

    “The majority of [my clients] who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) founders are so proud and really leaning into it, rightfully so, and seeing good responses from retailers. We’re seeing more of a call for diversity from all across the supply chain. They’re essentially sending BIPOC and female founders to the front. 
    And then the other side is that I have founders who are hesitant to do that. They’re in more conservative areas of the country … and they question if the retailers and consumers would respond to [BIPOC founders announcing themselves.]”
    -owner, founder of a specialty brand consultancy

    “Natural and specialty products will continue to gain share because of trends related to active lifestyle, stress support, brain health, gut health, and how to use food as medicine. Conventional retailers will continue to offer up space for those products.
         Brain health and stress support will emerge as strong categories, including things that feed into those like mood, sleep, and immunity. Other strong drivers are healthy fats, alternative sweeteners, and the Keto lifestyle—if not Keto specifically then the three  factors behind it: low carb, low sugar, and healthy fat.
         While family meals will continue, I do think people are getting worn out from scratch cooking, so baking sales have subsided slightly. Frozen or simmer sauces that can make at-home cooking easier will also continue to do well.”
    -SVP, category management and growth solutions for a specialty distributor

    “Private labels are continually being added by the retailers whom we work with and that volume continues to grow. I’m a big believer in private labels, both conventional and specialty food.”
    -VP vendor relations at a specialty distributor

    “Meat, produce, and baking items all continue to trend year-over-year at a higher rate than we would have normally expected. We’ve also seen an increase in our prepared foods. Not in our full-service deli prepared foods, but all the packaged foods, probably for the convenience of being grab-and-go versus having to wait, and maybe just the allure of it being packaged and being safer than something that’s on a platter and open.”
    -founder, owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer and foodservice operator

    You can learn more about market growth, fluctuations, and drivers, as well 10-year category tracking and forecasts by purchasing the State of the Specialty Food Industry, 2021-2022 Edition

    And weigh in on what you think are the pandemic-influenced consumer and food trends in our discussion in the Community Hub

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