What will drive food trends for 2020?

Photo: Whole Foods
Oct 28, 2019

For the fifth straight year, Whole Foods Market has come out with its top 10 list of most anticipated and innovative food trends for the coming year. Regenerative agriculture, West African foods, meat-plant blends and new varieties of flour are among the influences and movements expected to take off.

  1. Regenerative agriculture: The term represents farming and grazing practices, including composting and crop rotation, designed to improve soil health and help fight climate change.
  2. Flour power: The gluten-free movement encouraged experimentation beyond wheat-based flour to almond and coconut and more flour alternatives (cauliflower, bananas, coconut, tigernuts) that are providing a protein and fiber boost.
  3. Foods from West Africa: The trio of tomatoes, onions and chili peppers form a base for many of the region’s dishes, with peanuts, ginger and lemongrass being common additions. Superfoods, such as moringa and tamarind, are expected to be seen more.
  4. Out-of-the-box, into-the-fridge snacking: “Hard-boiled eggs with savory toppings, pickled vegetables, drinkable soups and mini dips and dippers” as well as nutrition bars are all heading to the fridge as fresh grab-and-go options.
  5. Plant-based, beyond soy: Soy-based meat substitutes will be increasingly complemented by alternatives such as mung beans, hempseed, pumpkin, avocado, watermelon seed and golden chlorella (a type of algae).
  6. Everything butters and spreads: Non-peanut butter options like watermelon seed, pumpkin, chickpea and macadamia nuts are expected to gain popularity in part to eliminate the use of palm oil.
  7. Rethinking the kids’ menu: From organic chicken nuggets to non-breaded salmon fish sticks and pastas made from alternative flours, today’s kids are embracing adventurous diets with guidance from their Millennial parents.
  8. Not-so-simple sugars: Like flours, sweeteners are getting a makeover as syrupy reductions from monk fruit, pomegranates and coconut arrive to complement mainstays such as agave nectar, stevia and honey.
  9. Meat-plant blends: Mixing meat (mostly ground) with plants like mushrooms, wheat and barley yeast reduces fat and cholesterol and sneaks in additional nutrients while retaining the beefy taste.
  10. Zero-proof drinks: Hops-infused sparkling waters and alternatives to liquors meant to be used with a mixer, such as botanical-infused faux gin, are elevating non-alcoholic beverage options.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Which 2020 food trends on Whole Foods’ list offer the biggest opportunity for food retailers? Can you think of any trends that are missing? What will the changes mean for category merchandising and marketing?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Regenerative agriculture is the biggest trend we’ll see and the one that can benefit our world the most — literally. "
"From my conversations with many frozen/refrigerated manufacturers, plant-based is spurring a tremendous number of new products."
"Nothing about CBDs? That’s a huge miss in the list, as are cold-brew coffee and energy drinks."

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15 Comments on "What will drive food trends for 2020?"

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Neil Saunders

Some of these trends align with our consumer work. Quick, healthy snacking is still a massive growth area – with the emphasis being placed on the healthy part. Alcohol consumption is in decline among many younger cohorts so zero-proof drinks have enormous potential. What isn’t on this list is CBD. Like it or not, this is a massive growth area in terms of foods, confectionery and supplements.

Dr. Stephen Needel

These seem more like a list of growth trends at Whole Foods which, if we’ve learned anything, is never indicative of any trend anywhere else. I think we’ve only scratched the surface of providing food so that people can eat healthier. Until we take that baby step, most of these ideas strike me as pretty esoteric for the general population. And as a serious gin drinker, I find the idea of faux gin appalling. 🙂

Ron Margulis

Nothing about CBDs? That’s a huge miss in the list, as are cold-brew coffee and energy drinks. Maybe they were numbers 11-13 on the Whole Foods list, but certainly CBDs and probably all of them should have been higher.

Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Director, Main Street Markets
2 years 9 months ago

I believe I saw CBDs in foods as one of last year’s trend. I don’t know how much these options will be given space in regular Kroger or H-E-B stores. Most of these would be found in specialty POGs in a limited amount of stores.

Anne Howe

I’m voting for #1 and #4. Regenerative agriculture is long overdue in our Western society. We all have a way to own this, locally first and nationally by spending food dollars where these practices are in place. As for snacks, we all need to eat less to live longer, and snack portions of better food can be a way for this to be impactful at scale.

Michael La Kier

Regenerative agriculture is the biggest trend we’ll see and the one that can benefit our world the most — literally. How we raise livestock and plants must be done in a sustainable manner for us to be sustained as a society.

Andrew Blatherwick

Anyone with children or young adults living at home will tell you that their focus is on sustainability more than consumerism and that saving the planet is at the top of their agenda. The pressure on food retailers and individuals will increasingly be to reduce food wastage at the store and at home, and to reduce food miles by buying more product that is in season locally rather than imported. Certainly the Whole Foods list has some items in sympathy with this direction but some are almost contrary to it. Regenerative agriculture and meat-plant blends are very much in line while out-of-the-box-into-the-fridge snacking much less so.

The coming year will surely see yet more protests and international pressure groups forcing the ecology agenda and any retailer that does not give this serious consideration will eventually find people power working against them.

Ken Morris

For older adults, Baby Boomers for example, the movement to gluten free and low carbohydrate foods seem to be trending. This would include healthy sugar alternatives such as monk fruit and agave sweeteners and low carbohydrate wheat flour alternatives such as almond or coconut flour. Companies such as Bob’s Red Mill have been offering these products for years and are now on an upward trend.

For younger consumers the choices for child-friendly foods are in demand. Companies such as Serenity Kids have proven to be highly successful.

The new meatless burger trend is going mainstream but may be challenged by those who are concerned with genetically modified products.

There is a widening gap between the competing demands of price versus quality versus availability. There is no easy solution here.

Peter Charness

What will drive food trends in 2020 is the perception of healthiness, and fads that may become trends. Plant-based burgers, for example, are good for the environment but of dubious health benefit.

Lisa Goller

The macro trends of health and wellness, natural and organic and sustainability will continue to shape grocery strategy in 2020.

The explosive sales among plant-based meat alternatives suggests this trend will stay strong to give consumers more flexitarian options. Same for recipes with less sugar.

I would also add allergen-free (e.g. gluten- and dairy-free), hemp and CBD-infused products to this list.

Ralph Jacobson

Most of the “trends” listed are truly niche, driven primarily by the media and not impacted by the majority of actual shoppers. The majority-driven trends are, 1.) moving away from beef and pork, while bacon, specifically is increasing, 2.) Hyper-convenience. Remember “Home Meal Replacement”? Grocers have the opportunity to do it right this time, and compete against restaurant delivery/Grubhub, etc. and 3.) Sweetened sodas continue to decline, while specialty waters are still growing.

Bottom line, don’t chase the media-driven trends, just analyze your SKU movement versus last year and promote THOSE trends heavily.

Warren Thayer

From my conversations with many frozen/refrigerated manufacturers, plant-based is spurring a tremendous number of new products. These manufacturers don’t see the plant-based movement as niche or media-driven, and I don’t either. And from their continued and growing presence on supermarket shelves, in fast feeders and even c-stores, plant-based is a big deal. Not the whole ball of wax, but definitely more than niche.

James Tenser

It may be at the top of this list, but I wouldn’t pick “regenerative” agriculture as the top opportunity for food production.

Vertical agriculture — both macro and micro scale — is the real future. The key is to localize production close to where the population lives and consumes. Benefits include product freshness, food safety, less spoilage, and minimal land, water and fertilizer use.

There were numerous references to this innovation area at last month’s GroceryShop event. Ocado is erecting facilities adjacent to its U.K. fulfillment centers. Whole Foods has even experimented with rooftop hydroponic gardens to produce greens and herbs that can be sold downstairs.

My #1 trend is less concentrated, more localized food production.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Like others, I agree that CBD products are a big omission. Regenerative agriculture is spot on. Related is the trend of sustainability. Likewise, packaging innovations, less is more & true recyclable/compostable packaging materials will become more mainstream.

gordon arnold

Those new to the workforce are still required to work long hours with two or more jobs in order to be self sustaining and supportive. Prepared foods that use little or no additives will continue to prosper. Add to the wish list high amounts of nutrients and satiating results and you will stand in or close to the winner’s circle. With little time and money, meals are becoming a burdensome chore for the young leaving much opportunity for the grab and go’s willing to look into what the newer generations want.

"Regenerative agriculture is the biggest trend we’ll see and the one that can benefit our world the most — literally. "
"From my conversations with many frozen/refrigerated manufacturers, plant-based is spurring a tremendous number of new products."
"Nothing about CBDs? That’s a huge miss in the list, as are cold-brew coffee and energy drinks."

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