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What's Next in Food and Beverage

Published: February 2021


Do you know what your guests will be ordering next 

You don’t need a crystal ball to predict what consumers will be craving this year. In fact, all you have to do is look back to 2020 – because until COVID-19 is in the rearview, the pandemic will still have an outsize effect on what (and how) we eat and drink. 

Lucky for you, we’ve rounded up some of the top trends that will continue to dominate the foodservice industry all year long. Use these insights to advantage as you plan mouthwatering dishes and creative cocktails that bring in new guests, promote your brand and help you recover profits in 2021.


Comfort foods 

It’s not an understatement to say that we were stressed in 2020. And when we’re stressed, we eat. Badly. Comfort foods saw a huge spike in 2020 as consumers sought the nostalgic flavors of childhood that transported them to a safer, simpler, more stable time.  

At home, they indulged in boxed mac and cheese and pastas, and caused flour shortages with all of the bread and sweets they were baking. In restaurants, comfort food translated to family-style meals and bigger sales of sandwiches (with a 21% increase), burgers (10%) and pizza (9%). Operators – from quick-service restaurants to fine dining – can expect that appetite for rib-sticking fare to stick around in 2021. 


Global flavors 

With international travel at a standstill in 2020, diners craved the fun and adventure of global flavors. According to a National Restaurant Association Survey, 80% of consumers eat at least one international cuisine each month – perhaps because authentic sushi, Mexican and Chinese dishes are difficult to recreate at home. 

We’ve already seen flavors like gochujang, harissa and, of course, sriracha become household names over the past 10 years – and foods from the Caribbean, Middle East and Southeast Asia are on the rise, too. Incorporating this trend is as simple as adding global flavors to dishes your guests already know and love – think Asian-spiced chicken wings, fusion tacos and pasta. 

Healthy choices  

The trend toward clean eating isn’t new, but with the risk of catching a deadly disease ever-present, 2020 saw more of us turning to fresh, immunity-boosting foods. In a recent study by ADM, 57% of respondents said they were more concerned about immunity, guzzling turmeric lattes, kombucha and bone broth for their gut-healthy, anti-inflammatory properties.  

Consumers are more educated than ever when it comes to what’s in their food – so be sure your staff is ready to answer questions about their sources and ingredients. On the menu, bowls – more substantial than salads to many consumers – will be big in 2021.  

With an increased awareness and perception of the benefits of a plant-based diet, 30% of consumers are also eschewing meat at least some of the time. The meat-alternative trend isn’t slowing down any time soon, with even major chains like TGI Friday’s offering Beyond Meat products on the menu. Expect to see more local and regional plant-based brands, as well as alternative cheeses and shellfish. 

Changing tastes in alcohol 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also changed how we drink. On-premise sales saw a huge hit in 2020, while new innovations like the to-go cocktail and alcohol delivery services spiked. Medical journal JAMA reported that Americans are drinking 14% more overall.  

But just as with food, we’re watching what we order at the bar, with no- and low-alcohol cocktails popping up as ready-to-drink products and on menus. Mixologists are taking note, creating complex, inventive cocktails with the style and sophistication of their alcoholic counterparts. 

Brands have also begun experimenting with mood-boosting additives, from CBD to stress-relieving adaptogens like ginseng, turmeric and holy basil. An antidote to the energy drinks of the early 2000s, these calming, comforting beverages are poised to take off in 2021. 

Ready to drink  

Sugary-sweet ready-to-drink products have also had a healthy makeover, with light, low-calorie hard seltzers still bubbling to the top. Sales of hard seltzers are predicted to be worth $14.5 billion by 2027. For bartenders and mixologists, the challenge will be to elevate these beverages, creating high-end cocktails with fresh juices and herbs and brilliant glassware. 

Elsewhere in the ready-to-drink space, canned wine is seeing a surge as on-premise sales slump. But for cautious drinkers who may not want to share a bottle, canned wine could be a “safer” option when dining in-person. 

Spirits are up … 

Despite a down year overall for bars, liquor sales are projected for continued growth through 2024. With limited opportunities for a night out, consumers are seeking premium experiences with inventive cocktails and top-shelf liquors – good news for operators who can command a premium price. 

While whiskey and vodka are perennial favorites, tequila and gin are the current “up and comers” behind the bar, driven by drinkers’ growing appreciation for the origin and culture behind these spirits. For bartenders, they’re best served simply, with just one or two ingredients, to let flavors shine. 

… But beer is down  

While retail sales of beer were up overall in 2020, craft breweries, which rely heavily on in-person sales, took a huge hit. When surveyed in mid-2020 by the Brewers Association, just over 50% were confident they would be in business in a year. But amid the uncertainty, many breweries pivoted production to kombucha, tea and hard seltzers, while others pushed growlers to go, virtual beer tastings and free delivery for survival.  

Reinvention will be key as the industry fights its way back in 2021 – a trend that everyone in foodservice can take to heart. 

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