Specialty Food Live!, the SFA’s first virtual marketplace event, took place Sept. 21 - 25, with hundreds of buyers exploring thousands of products in SFA’s maker members’ showrooms. The event was originally slated for four days, but the exhibit portion was extended to five at the request of participants.
In addition to the exhibits, the event included virtual tastings and education panels. Here are some food and category trend takeaways from the sessions.
- The trend lifecycle. Trends can be mapped from inception, to adoption, to proliferation, to ubiquity, explained Mark Brandau and Carly Levin from Datassential. Kale is a good example. At inception, it’s a really early-stage trend that “consumers may be a little scared of,” said Brandau, and is found mostly at fine dining restaurants, specialty retailers, or farmers markets. Next comes the adoption stage. “This is when your obnoxious foodie friend says, ‘oh my gosh, you have to try this!’” Such foods can be found at gastropubs, fast-casual operators, and retailers such as Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. “When a trend hits proliferation, and this is where kale is right now, you’ll start to find it in chains since it’s been adapted for mass consumption,” said Levin. “But the difference between proliferation and ubiquity, the last stage, is that in proliferation you can’t expect to pull a random stranger off the street who knows what it is, but in ubiquity you can.” Such foods can be found at family restaurants, K-12 foodservice, drug stores, and dollar stores. Read more.
- Center store is center stage. “It’s the year of essentials,” said David Lockwood of Mintel, referring to an array of categories meant for at-home consumption and meal preparation. According to Lockwood, their gains contributed to the overall growth of specialty food this year. The segment totaled $29 billion in 2019 sales, comprising 41 percent of the total brick-and-mortar specialty market. The COVID-19 boost was undeniable for essentials, in particular baking mixes, frozen entrees, oils, vinegars, and sauces as consumers faced stay-at-home mandates and turned to cooking and baking. Mintel predicts the growth rate for sales of food at home in 2021 will be roughly twice what it would have been without the pandemic. Read more.
- Immunity-boosting foods are on the rise. COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on food as medicine, with functional food and beverages that deliver immunity and mental well-being benefits being most relevant, said Shelley Balanko of The Hartman Group. “Consumers have focused on immunity, such as the link between healthy digestion and reducing overall systemic inflammation in the body,” she said. “They are thinking more about high-quality sleep and effective stress-management techniques.” Many have been trying to eat and drink more immune-supporting ingredients such as vitamin C in citrus, green tea, garlic, turmeric, and ginger. More experimental and trend-forward consumers are trying things like prebiotic fiber from resistant starches, adaptogens, and medicinal mushrooms. Read more.
- CBD opportunity. Tied with the rise in functional foods and beverages, customers are increasingly seeking CBD as an ingredient. Food or beverage products that aim to fill a need state (like boosted immunity or sleep enhancement) are becoming increasingly popular among consumers. Before deciding to add CBD to a food or beverage product, experts advise makers to take the time to understand the regulatory repercussions and the trends of the category. Read more.
- Global and regional American “travel” through food. With consumers sticking closer to home, global flavors are of strong interest. Scandinavian or Nordic cuisine has been on the radar, said Melanie Bartelme of Mintel, one of the SFA Trendspotters at Specialty Food Live!, who noted ingredients at the event including sea buckthorn and birch crystals. Cambodian chile pastes and fonio, an ancient grain from Senegal, were other global flavors noted by the Trendspotters. “There is an effort to preserve culture through food and have that taste at home,” noted V. Sheree Williams of Cuisine Noir Magazine, a member of the Trendspotter panel. The trend extends to regional American as well, said Bartelme. The concept of road trips and discovering what’s here in your backyard is increasingly appealing in the wake of COVID-19. Read more.
- Integrating plant-based. “The COVID-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst to accelerate the shift from consumer demand of animal-based products to plant-based ones,” said Jans Tuider of ProVeg, who shared best practices for plant-based food makers, including categorizing plant-based products based on usage, not ingredients. ProVeg believes that the store of the future will shift towards a “protein aisle” rather than a specific aisle for meat and a separate one for plant-based offerings. Read more.
Recordings of the Specialty Food Live! sessions will be available at learning.specialtyfood.com within the next month.