Trends like weather are forecasts. Some will shine through while others may get covered with a dark cloud. Regardless of what consumer surveys or noted chefs may predict,1 unexpected storms, like pandemic-related supply chain snafus, can alter the path. Looking back at the 2022 food and ag trends, I am intrigued how some are remaining top trends in 2023 while others are fading away.
Whether we consciously seek to follow the trends, or let our routine habits control what we eat, we all are influenced by what foods we see on menus or store shelves. But ultimately, what we buy or not will determine the fate of what food trends will shine for 2023.
Moving Beyond Sustainability to Regenerative Agriculture
As predicted, 2022, was a year packed with climate change and sustainability actions, policy discussions, and funding opportunities from the farm gate to the retail market. This year will be no different as climate consciousness and sustainability efforts2 highlight trends reports regardless of source.
But sustainability is not a really a trend in today’s environment — it’s an expectation. We have moved beyond sustainability to regenerative agriculture. A recent New York Times article stated that eating sustainability3 is a state of preserving what is — but this concept does not resonate with the younger generation. It’s now the expectation that companies should focus on foods and food production that actively promote planet health. In other words, regenerative agriculture.
Food companies have risen to the occasion as climate friendly grains, like Kernza, a perennial wheatgrass developed by The Land Institute, are appearing in cereals, pasta and flours. Other traditional grains like oats, barley, rye and spelt are regaining favor for their soil health capabilities as companies collaborate with the agricultural community on the production of these grains. The longevity of their benefit to planet and personal health will depend partially on the adoption of their use in our own kitchens.
Kelp, a key ingredient associated with “regenerative agriculture” globally, remains on the food trend list from 2022. 4 Kelp, along with other sea vegetables are seen as “climate heroes” due to their versatility in the kitchen, nutritional profile, and ability to permanently remove carbon dioxide from the environment. Whether kelp becomes more mainstream in 2023, will depend on us as consumers.
One final comment on regenerative agriculture, expect to see labels appearing on food products. Even though a standardized definition does not exist across the food space, there is one certification that is emerging with a clear framework: the Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC). With limited space on a food label, the use of a “regenerative ag” label is one to watch.
Reaching Back to Our Comfort Zone
While seeking the new, we’ll continue to find comfort in those familiar foods that remind us of our childhood or have staying power. With the recent uncertainties we’ve experienced, foods that bring us joy and comfort are high on the list.
It’s predicted foods like mac-n-cheese to traditional cereals will regain favor on the grocery shelf while restaurants will bring back desserts like Baked Alaska. Avocados continue to trend on toast but the rise of the avocado as an ingredient in desserts, like pudding or as an oil replacement for olive oil is predicted.
Foods like dates are predicted to emerge from their occasion use “cameo” role to center stage as a favorite natural sweetener.1 Whether as a paste or in its natural form, dates are being viewed as a “real food” option. And when it comes to real food, expect real butter to stay on the bread, and tinned (canned) fish — especially anchovies, sardines and mackerel — to continue its pandemic-driven rise in renewed popularity.
Power to the Plant (Protein)
In recent years, a discussion about food trends is not complete without noting the rise of plant-based or alternative proteins. 2023 is no exception. With mega dollar investments from start ups to well established meat companies seeking to produce “traditional meat-like” plant-based products, the availability of products has flooded grocery shelves and made its way onto restaurant menus from fast casual to fine dining.
This year, according to Forbes, the realm of synthetic biology is predicted to gain more visibility from cultivated meat to microbial dairy, oil and proteins through a process known as precision fermentation.5
With these recent investments and the rise of plant-based seafood manufacturing, the popularity of plant-based proteins is not fading away, but there have been a few clouds on the horizon. The overall environmental impacts of the plant-based alternate protein production6 and the “ultra-processed” final products have raised more questions over the past year.
Whole plant foods like mushrooms — a food that is predicted to be everywhere this year2 — beans, and seaweed are predicted to be winners in the plant-forward movement this year. It is expected that consumers will continue to seek real plant options for protein options, not just those that mimic meat. How far mainstream cultured meats and precision fermentation will go remains to be seen.
It’s Still About Trust and Transparency … and Affordability
Regardless of what food becomes the 2023 “darling,” it’s still about transparency. Our thirst for transparency about where and how our food is grown and the welfare of food workers and food animals will remain top of mind. The trend is not new, but the drumbeat will continue to grow.
The rise of food prices is predicted to slow in 2023 but the cost factor is reality. Private brands and being thriftier is on trend. As consumers, we have a role in creating a more sustainable food system. What we buy or not drives the sustainability of our food system and determines what foods will shine for 2023.
1. “New Food Trends for 2023,” by Janet Helm, MS, RDN, U.S. News & World Report, December 13, 2022.
2. “19 Food and Drink Trends That Are Going to Blow up in 2023,” by Christina Heiser, Parade, January 19, 2023.
3. “How Will We Eat in 2023? Here Are 10 Predictions,” by Kim Severson, New York Times, December 28, 2022.
4. “Tracking Trends for 2022 — It’s Vintage with a Technology Twist,” by Marianne Smith Edge, December 9, 2021.
5. “What Consumers Should Ask About Precision Fermentation,” by Errol Schweizer, Forbes, March 2, 2022.
6. “Why ‘Alt-Protein’ Won’t Save The Planet,” by Errol Schweizer, Forbes, April 19, 2022.