2024 Food and Ag Trends — A Little Sweet and Some Heat

by | Dec 22, 2023 | Blog

Food trends for 2024In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” This centuries-old statement by Benjamin Franklin resonates equally as well in today’s food and ag trend space. While food trends are not as finite, there are “certain” themes that continue to bubble over the years. Protein, Plant-Based, Planet + Personal Sustainability — all unique on their own but interrelated — remain top of mind with a sprinkling of new flavors and product twists and turns. Whether it’s the heat of peppers or the benefit of buckwheat for the soil and soul, 2024 trends will provide a little sweet and some heat to your life in 2024.

Protein Is the Big Deal

Read the trend data and you will see that protein tops the list for “nutrient of demand” regardless of age. But the impact of protein’s importance on muscle strength and weight status is often clouded with the discussion of how much to consume and its source (plant or animal). For example, Innova’s global research reported that 42% of consumers said that ‘protein’ was the most important ingredient in 2023, noting the 12% annual growth of mushrooms as a main meal ingredient over the past five years.

While some will cite that developed countries like the U.S. eat too much protein, sources show that’s not always true with women or adults in their later decades. Likewise, in less developed countries, protein consumption, especially animal-based, is increasing with rising incomes. While often viewed as a status symbol, it is equally important in improving nutrition.

With the conclusion of the recent COP28 climate conference, the dialogue about animal-based versus plant-based protein will continue into 2024 and beyond. While the nutrient quality of animal proteins wins for personal health, its impact on climate change will continue to be challenged.

Likewise, some nutrition experts see fish as THE protein source for 2024. While the impact of methane is not an issue here, sourcing and over-fishing is. What will be the answer for this protein obsession in the coming year? Certainty, the continued rise of plant-based proteins. But for our personal health, go for quality protein that is balanced with variety and MODERATION.

Power to the Plant

Two bowls of saladAs noted, the rise of plant-based proteins will continue in 2024, but signs point to a return to real plants as “putting the P back into plant-based” will be trending. (Hallelujah!) The return of vegetables like lentils, beans and mushrooms, or nuts and seeds as main ingredients in plant-based burgers and products is a consistent theme. Despite the mega investments in alternative protein production by startups and established meat companies over the past several years, the consumer concern of eating ultra-processed foods may impact the continued growth of this booming industry.

Emphasizing whole plants over manufactured bean-based proteins can be the “best of both worlds” for personal and planet health. Despite the known health benefits of eating vegetables, the majority of us have remained at the lower level of the recommended 5-6 servings daily, consuming less than two servings. Adding more whole plant options to familiar and convenient foods may be the “sheath health” solution to improved health, both personally and for the planet.

Sustaining Planet and Personal Health

Our food decisions are no longer bound by our perceived personal health benefits. Trend data has shown over the years, that our food decisions are often influenced equally by their impact on planet health. In fact, Mintel identified that “nurturing nature” was the number two trend for 2024 but it’s more than a trend. It’s an expectation. Consumers expect companies to focus on foods and food production that actively promote planet health and look for brands that highlight a bond with nature and the environment; a bond that links back to the advancement of sustainable farming practices.

While a consumer’s perception of sustainable farming may only be from a label of a favorite brand, the trend goes much deeper. In fact, when you view the 2024 agricultural trends, the bond of “nurturing nature” is more advanced than most of us would know. Technological advances will continue to preserve natural resources while minimizing inputs for optimal product quality. The use of drones, artificial intelligence, precision agriculture, robotic technology, and mobile activated crop management along with the more familiar biotechnology, regenerative ag practices, and climate-controlled agriculture will be the backbone of preserving planet health.

The Lighter Side: Heat and Sweet

pepper sauces on a shelf in a New York City storeAmong the more overarching food trends are always the prediction of what foods or flavors may “top the chart” in the coming year. The complex heat of peppers from around the world will continue to fill the shelves as confirmed by my recent visit to the New York City food markets! From traditional sauces and oils to new offerings of heat infused smoothies, beverages and cold-pressed juices, the heat will be on!

When it comes to indulgence, the trend of “small” will continue. Known as “little luxuries,” these are individual servings or small quantities that we occasionally buy that bring joy without breaking the budget! While we may think of these as only sweets, tinned fish or specialty beverages also fit the description.

And finally, look for increased use of buckwheat as an ingredient, more botanical ingredients in food and less sweet beverage options.

What trends will last beyond the predictions? It will depend on what we choose to buy and can afford. While affordability is never a “trend,” it is a reality.

For 2024, I recommend:

  • Choose food wisely,
  • Make every bite count for nutrition and flavor, and
  • Waste less!

Simple guidelines that will bring more “sweet than heat” for 2024. Happy New Year!

People holding sign that reads 2024