TUALATIN, ORE. — Expect to see several emerging food and beverage trends change course as consumers cope with the coronavirus crisis in the United States, said Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides Inc.
Prior to the pandemic, experts predicted momentum for meat alternatives, low- or no-alcohol beverages and sustainability-driven purchasing behaviors. The trajectory of these trends has been altered by the political and economic uncertainty created by COVID-19, Badaracco said in a new report.
“It can be difficult to know which trends are most likely to rise above the noise over the next 12 months as the situation is still very much in flux,” she said. “It can be even more confusing trying to decide which will resonate most with your brand and customers.”
Consumers may behave more conservatively and cautiously in the months to come, relying on food and beverages that provide comfort and familiarity. Such behavior does not bode well for plant-based meat alternatives, Badaracco noted.
“It is clear from research that faux plant-based meats are consumed by meat eaters, not vegetarians, with curiosity being their driver,” she said. “As sales numbers on these products continue to slide, COVID-19 will push meat eaters back to animal protein at an accelerated pace, while vegetarians will celebrate plants being plants.”
The dairy category, with its “winning combination of health attributes and comfort,” also may benefit from changing consumer attitudes, Badaracco said.
“A newer, more promising direction, which supports the current mood, is to hybridize the categories — an alliance between animal and vegetable protein, with vegetables maintaining their natural integrity and voice,” she added.
The sober-curious movement, another leading trend gaining ground months ago, will give way to a rise in classic cocktails, global ciders, wine and beer, Badaracco predicted. Hard seltzer also will remain popular.
“When times are difficult, consumers drink,” she said. “Overall, alcohol consumption is expected to rise — and the balance of which type of alcohol is consumed will shift between categories.”
Baby boomers, Gen X and older millennials will lead the shift back to booze, while younger millennials and Gen Z are more likely to remain steadfastly sober.
A third trend reversal expected to occur in a post-pandemic world is a de-escalation of sustainability spending while consumers regain financial footing. No- or low-cost sustainability solutions, such as composting or embracing ugly fruits and vegetables, may still continue, but purchases of organic food and beverages are expected to slide in the meantime.
“Sustainability spending will bounce back; however, its return will be linked directly to economic health and consumer confidence,” Badaracco said.