Top 6 Predictions for the Food Industry in 2020

Food in 2020 will be tasty, healthy and increasingly compatible with the imperatives of sustainability. While food will look and feel similar to what is consumed today, it will come from radically different sources in radically different ways. Technology will revolutionize how food is made and distributed; a better understanding of agriculture and nutrition will enhance what’s in our food and its health benefits; and companies will communicate more with consumers directly and responsibly.

Health—of people and of the planet—will be the overarching trend in 2020. Health experts and environmentalists have been trying to make this happen for decades, but the unprecedented focus on health and the environment by consumers is significantly shaping the new landscape. The impact is visibly palpable from end to end across the value chain, from production to packaging to distribution and even disposal.

Overall, 2020 promises to be a “PARTTY” for the food industry as it will undergo these trends: Plant-Based, Alternatives, Responsible, Technologies, Transparency and Yummy. The following is a summary of each of the six trends and why they matter along with market opportunities.

Palatably Plant-Based

Plant-based, probably the top trend of 2019, will drive innovation in 2020.

What started originally to eliminate allergens in foods made from dairy and eggs and as alternatives for those seeking to consume less or no animal-based foods will become a necessity for every company that qualifies and will also develop to be truly healthful and palatable.

Why: Never before has food along with what it contains been so misunderstood and blamed for a lot of what ails the world today. Never before has the understanding of what should and should not be in food been more critical, not only to identify the problem, but also as solutions and as a path to health and wellness. Understanding how plant-based foods are made and what should go into them are critical imperatives today, particularly because of the rampant misinformation and propaganda in this sector.

Market Opportunities: Consumers believe “if it comes from a plant, then it must be good for me.” Vegetables will show up in practically every food format. Consumers will also seek out fruits and vegetables in their original formats because people are critically evaluating meat replacements and scrutinizing ingredient lists, supply chains, water usage, food safety along with renewing interest in plants as plants. This is not just about appealing to vegans, vegetarians and those seeking an option that doesn’t taste, look or bleed like real beef. The bigger opportunity is to get creative with vegetables, nuts, grains and legumes to meet the needs of this growing demographic.

Aligned Alternatives

Consumers will not be eating much differently in 2020 but what they are eating may be produced differently. Alternatives to practically every ingredient are appearing in the food supply chain. Expect to see alternate ingredients for health benefits, environmental sustainability, animal rights or even just affordability.

Why: People believe these alternatives are superior in health and environmental benefits to the traditional fare. Even the veritably vegetable plant-based will see alternatives: cauliflower for rice and for grain in pizza crusts, sweet potatoes for sugar and jackfruit for texturized vegetable proteins. New greens such as broccoli rabe, celtuce (a lettuce grown for its stem), kale hybrids and komatsuna (a variety of mustard spinach) will replace traditional greens in restaurants, produce aisles and packaged products. Ice creams may be made the traditional way—but with vegetables such as purple and sweet potatoes, and even spinach, cauliflower, carrot and peppers for a savory twist.

Market Opportunities: Almond and coconut flours have become mainstream and ushering alternatives from all parts of the world. The quest is not only for gluten-free or low-carb options, but also for viable alternatives such as tigernut flour, cauliflower flour and canaryseed flour and not merely in the flour or bakery section, but in practically every aisle. Agave and maple syrup are making room for sweet potato, date and pomegranate sweeteners. The beverage aisle has alternative alcohol-free drinks—zero-proof drinks, mocktails, faux spirits—for new experiences without the associated ills.

Responsible & Relevant

The year 2020 will see the term “responsibly” flash in practically every node of the food supply chain: responsibly grown and procured raw materials, responsibly manufactured and packaged and responsibly consumed and disposed of.

Why: Consumers care about how their food is procured and made. New business models are enabling a profound shift in the way food is grown, distributed and sold and more stakeholders are taking responsibility in quality, safety and cost. The implications will be as profound and relevant for agriculture, procurement and consumers as Netflix and Airbnb have been for movie and lodging sectors, respectively. New trading and delivery systems will shift responsibility to the grower, producer and retailer to make them more relevant to the consumer.

Market Opportunities: This increased responsibility brings a greater need for relevance. Companies will have the opportunity to invest in making their overall drive toward responsibility relevant to their customers and consumers. Safety is another facet of responsible food and beverage production and packaging. While the FDA has not yet mandated item-level traceability for food and beverage products, responsible companies will invest in food safety and quality that can be traced and verified, and consumers will value them even more.

Transformational Technologies

A sea of change is afoot as technologies disrupt business models and consumer behavior. “Disruption,” a leading buzzword today with a positive sense, refers to the transitioning of any given food or sector from traditional analog to a digital revolution. While the food and agriculture sector, a top five global industry worth approximately $5 trillion, has traditionally been a laggard in digital reinvention, new technologies (like biotechnology and digital enabled technologies) will transform how food is produced, distributed and procured at all levels.

Why: The food industry, facing increased pressure to search for economic differentiation, is reaching out to digitally enabled technologies for greater precision and autonomy, even though the food sector remains fundamentally not too different from what it was a century ago. Producers and manufacturers are compelled to squeeze the last bit of profit from their assets between rising costs and falling prices on the global marketplace—where food crops and ingredients have become commoditized and carrying the same price, regardless of where or how they were made.

Market Opportunities: The rise of digital platforms will disintermediate and allow for direct connections between the supplier and the buyer in industrial and also in consumer realms. This will mean better control of cost and quality.

It will also mean newer ways. For example, Indigo Agriculture, a microbiology firm is electronically connecting growers and buyers around the world to distribute microbially treated seeds, which research suggests has better yield with fewer chemical inputs, to improve sustainability, profits for growers and ultimately the health of consumers and the planet. Increasing opportunities will be available for small and large enterprises to take advantage of the shift in control and responsibility over selection, procurement, storage and logistics along with food traceability and safety.

True Transparency

The food industry supply chain is complex. Companies’ operational footprints—information about suppliers, processors and even processes—zealously guarded and historically considered as proprietary will go from behind-the-scenes to center-stage as topics for conversations with stakeholders.

Why: Food is socially very sensitive. Lack of transparency increases speculation and associated inaccuracies and distrust. Consumers, especially Gen Z, are values-oriented shoppers who scrutinize the company’s production methods when making purchasing decisions. Consequently, how a company sources and manufactures its products and even how it treats its stakeholders is transparently important to the market. The growth of online communities is increasingly disseminating information and misinformation. Not investing in sharing credible information about your organization or products brings a risk of someone else providing this information or misinformation, as the case may be, to the detriment of your brand.

Market Opportunities: The path to hell is said to be paved with the best of intentions. It follows then that the road to good intentions is paved with plaintiff lawyers. The path to controlling your message by increasing supply chain trust transparency will require commitment to transparency, connections to foster collaboration in good times and bad and contributing to enhance how the supply chain is viewed by B2C and B2B. It is more crucial today than ever before to rebuild trust in the food industry.

Expect to see more of products and practices motivated by regenerative agriculture, upcycled ingredients, reducing waste or even addressing climate change. For food manufacturers and marketers, this means understanding what matters most in the conversations around agriculture, climate control, honestly healthful ingredients and educating the market—from distributors to retailers to the end consumer—about the reason for the process and the product for better understanding that leads to acceptance and ultimately trust and loyalty.

Yummy & Yare

More tasty food options will be available in 2020 at the speed of thought. The continued emphasis on health, wellness and sustainability is driving innovations in taste for it is taste that keeps people returning for more. Additionally, delivery technologies are making these foods available in newer and faster ways.

Why: New formulation technologies are ushering ingredients like seaweed, kale and insects into tasty victuals in more aisles than imaginable, while social media and delivery technologies are toasting the beauty and taste of foods and drinks along with how quickly they can be obtained. Companies will focus on colorful and delicious foods in packages able to withstand new delivery modes. 5G will revolutionize the Internet of Things (IoT) for retail and as the IoT becomes a mainstream reality, it will provide consumers with access to tasty food with virtually no response delay.

Market Opportunities: The year 2020 will experience the continued global rise of affordable delicious and incredibly nutritious foods developed and delivered on even the most meager budgets, thanks to technology and biotechnology worldwide. New food production technologies and novel formulation technologies will turn ingredients like vegetables, which many shun because of their taste, into palatable and accessible foods and beverages. The future is already here with delivery drones being tested by enterprises like Uber Eats. This means anything from robots serving coffee and drinks at the bar (already happening in some hotels) to Sally the Robot (a fresh food robot) serving customized fresh salads or hot sandwiches in hospitals and on college campuses.

The future success of food companies is a matter of choice and not chance. Transparency will help educate consumers on what matters most so they choose wisely to avoid the consequences of a bad diet. Only the honestly healthful will survive.