food exec team at desk

What 2021 Trends Keep Food Execs Awake at Night?

Things are looking up for the food industry in 2021. The end is in sight for unpredictable food purchasing behaviors, and new food trends are emerging. Here’s a look at some of the food business trends on the minds of food execs for 2021.

2021 Food Business Trends

New shopping patterns and fluctuating demands made last year a roller coaster ride for food execs everywhere. However, as things begin to settle down, food companies can look forward to not simply a return to normal but some key growth opportunities. Check out these food business trends for 2021:

1. E-Commerce

While steady growth was already underway for online food purchases, the COVID-19 lockdown accelerated this trend, pushing online sales years ahead of many companies’ projections. This change has impacted online marketplaces like Amazon, as well as grocers with online options and delivery services such as Instacart. According to our ongoing COVID-19 US consumer study, 42% of consumers purchased their groceries online and either picked them up themselves or had them delivered.1

grocery shopping online

The e-commerce surge also inspired a massive increase in direct-to-consumer offerings—from major food brands like Heinz and Frito-Lay, as well as start-ups. On the start-up front, food companies that have sprung up during the pandemic are selling everything from home-baked cookies to plant-based meats. Expect consumers to continue enjoying the convenience of shopping from home and being able to easily learn about products before buying.

2. Product Exploration Strategies

COVID-19 food trends like the shift from retail to online grocery shopping has been a mixed blessing for entrepreneurs. Some start-up founders are trying to figure out how product exploration by consumers might be affected by reduced traffic at food retailers. Demos and displays are traditionally an important strategy used by new brands to get noticed by consumers. 

Food entrepreneurs may need to reach for creative solutions until things return to normal. This might include a stronger reliance on social media, pursuing interview opportunities, or partnering with other brands to get the word out. In addition, low cost, direct-to-consumer trial offers, such as mini- or variety-packs, can let consumers demo a product without leaving home.

3. Plant-Based Meats

Last year was also a time of accelerated growth for plant-based meats. While 73% of surveyed US consumers indicated in January 2020 they would be willing to try plant-based meat alternative2, beef and pork shortages resulting from COVID-related meat processor shutdowns triggered a surge in first-time purchases of plant-based meats. The effects were felt in foodservice—where some fast food consumers had to temporarily switch to plant-based products (like a Beyond or Impossible burger)—and in retail.

plant-based burgers on table with sides

Retail plant-based meats helped families to continue making their favorite meals despite out-of-stock products or customer limits on certain meat items. Frozen plant-based burgers and breaded chicken products won on convenience, while “raw” plant-based ground beef became a valuable staple due to its versatility, with applications ranging from tacos to meatloaf.

4. Health Supporting

Another one of the major food trends resulting from the COVID situation is consumers’ interest in health-supporting foods and beverages. According to a survey conducted by FMCG Gurus in July 2020, 43% of US consumers indicate they sought fortified or functional food & beverages with added health-enhancing ingredients more frequently than the month before.3 While some consumers may look to supplements in the short term, “pill fatigue” is expected to make functional foods and beverages a more viable option in the long run.

Products already in high demand for immune support are probiotic foods, which includes yogurt (spoonable and drinkable), kombucha, water kefir, probiotic juices, and probiotic bars. Chobani’s recent launch of the Chobani Probiotic line for adults and Little Chobani Probiotic line for kids is an effort to meet this rising demand. Functional products for immune support can also contain vitamins C and D, zinc, and popular plant bioactives such as elderberry and echinacea.

Keeping Up with Trends

Food execs who keep an eye on these food trends during early 2021 will be able to seize some important growth opportunities. New ways of marketing and selling to consumers, along with new products that meet today’s needs, will be essential for coming out ahead in 2021.

We have the nutritional solutions to keep you up on the food business trends of today—from our plant-based proteins to immunity supporting bioactives and custom premix solutions. Contact us to learn more on how we can assist in you next new product development. 


1. Glanbia Nutrition COVID-19 US Consumer Survey, December 2020.
2. Glanbia Nutritional Proprietary Research, January 2020.
3. FMCG Gurus, COVID-19 Survey, July 2020.

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