NEW YORK — Familiarity and comfort are key when it comes to the $170.4 billion specialty food industry, according to the Specialty Food Association’s (SFA) trendspotting panel.
Members of the panel researched thousands of specialty food and beverage products from across the globe. Denise Purcell, vice president of content and education for the SFA, used those findings to identify five trends that will drive growth in specialty foods consumption in 2022.
“As we head into a second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, comfort is an overriding theme,” Ms. Purcell said. “The events of the past 18 months have consumers seeking out familiar and comforting foods and beverages, but often with a twist for some excitement, or with specific diets and health concerns in mind.”
While keto and low-carb diets have slowed pasta sales in recent years, a pandemic-driven surge in comfort foods helped revive the category. The SFA expects pasta’s comeback will continue in the year ahead, with new shapes being introduced alongside gluten-free and alternative-grain options.
Black rice, pumpkin, red lentils and purple carrots also are bringing “new spins on traditional pasta in Instagram-friendly ways,” said Jonathan Deutsch, founding director of the Drexel Food Core Lab and a member of the SFA’s trendspotting panel.
More meat-free versions of nostalgic favorites are predicted to hit shelves in 2022, making comfort foods more accessible to consumers following alternative diets. Plant-based patties, pea-protein based crumbles to use in tacos, and nuggets made with Chilean seaweed were among the trending innovations highlighted at the SFA’s virtual Fancy Food 24/7 show, held Sept. 27 through Oct. 8.
Global flavors offered consumers culinary adventures in lieu of traveling during the pandemic, and their growing prominence may inspire innovation in snacks and treats categories in the year ahead, the SFA predicted. Examples from Fancy Food 24/7 include keto-friendly snack bars in Thai flavors, potato chips from Spain in foie gras flavor and peanuts flavored with turmeric and chili. Also on display at the digital event were Latin American-inspired ice cream flavors and white chocolate moringa-infused bars topped with pinipig, a traditional Filipino ingredient of pounded and toasted young glutinous rice.
Consumers are gaining knowledge about the right peppers for recipes, snacking and condiments, thanks to a growing number of regional chili peppers, chili crisps, dried peppers and pepper flakes hitting the market, according to the SFA. Flavor innovations like a cooking oil that paired coffee with spicy chilis were on display at Fancy Food 24/7.
Immune system health emerged as a key priority for consumers during the pandemic, but the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of some functional foods also are gaining traction for their purported anti-aging benefits. Functional gummies and drinkable cosmetic oils were on display at Fancy Food 24/7 alongside a butterfly pea flower extract and beverages pairing mango with collagen.
No-alcohol options and upcycled ingredients are two existing trends that will continue in 2022, according to the SFA. The trendspotting panel predicted nonalcoholic spirits, wines and mixers will continue helping non-drinkers imbibe without compromise in the year ahead.
“The low- and no-alcohol trend is booming, and one new area within it is de-alcoholised wine,” said Kara Nielsen, director of food and drink for WGSN and a member of the SFA’s trendspotting panel.
Other on-trend products include cocktail-flavor infusions in ice cubes, a pickle juice chaser, a cocktail mix that doubles as a recovery shot for runners and syrups flavored with turmeric and ginger.
Upcycled ingredients will continue gaining momentum as younger Gen Z shoppers increasingly look to support sustainable brands. Recent examples include ready-to-drink beverages made with avocado seeds, an upcycled vegetable broth concentrate and a cacao tea that uses leftover product from the chocolate-making process, according to the SFA.