Authenticity, holistic health, and customization top Innova Market Insights’ list of 2020 food trends.

More than half of global consumers said a brand’s or product’s story influences their purchasing decision, Innova Market Insights says. Demand for transparency extends beyond product labels.

“This is not only an ingredients trend,” says Lu Ann Williams, director of insight and innovation at Innova. “I think a lot of companies have the opportunity to talk about why they do something, like why you add preservatives or why you don’t add preservatives. Consumers are quite smart. They just want honesty and transparency, but also authenticity. Small brands have really done that well. Now is the time for everyone to do it.”

Plant-based is here to stay

Food and beverage products featuring a plant-based claim posted an average annual growth rate of 68 percent over the past five years, according to Innova. The market research firm expects the momentum to carry into the year ahead.

“Plant-based eating is moving from trend to food revolution status,” Williams says.

Interest in plant-based foods and beverages goes hand in hand with sustainability, another top trend for 2020.

“We put sustainability on our trends list 10 years ago, but I think it was very much a Wall Street issue then,” Williams says. “I think it’s taken a very long time for people and companies to figure out what their metrics are, what they can do. Now we see consumers absolutely expect that companies will do the best they can.”

Close to 90 percent of global consumers say they expect companies to invest in sustainability, up 22 percent from last year, according to Innova.

“There’s been a massive shift, and there’s a lot of nuance and a lot of fragmentation in terms of who cares about what,” Williams says. “We know that older consumers care more about food waste and younger consumers care more about plastic waste.”

Focusing on feeling good 

When it comes to health and wellness, Innova says mental and emotional well-being will take center stage.

“Over the past few years we’ve talked a lot about holistic health,” Williams says. “We’ve talked about the mindful consumer. This is a continuation of that trend. Mental health is now part of that agenda. It’s been very taboo for many years to talk about, but that is disappearing really, really fast.”

Innova expects increased interest in mood-enhancing food and drinks next year, as consumers look to “star” ingredients like cannabidiol (CBD) or ashwagandha to treat stress and anxiety.

“Ingredients have become the stars of many products,” Williams says. “But you have to look at familiarity and acceptance because that’s the only way you’re going to make something mainstream.”

Consumers’ evolving perceptions of macronutrients also will play a big role in shaping health and wellness trends. Purchasing decisions will continue to be influenced by low- or no-sugar claims, along with low-fat, high-fiber, and high-protein.

“Typically, there is only one demon at a time, and right now it definitely is sugar,” Williams says.

Interest in holistic health could have consequences that extend beyond product reformulation, according to Innova.

“Look at what has happened with ice cream,” Williams says. “We’ve gone from super-indulgent, all dairy-based ice cream to a lot of plant-based ice creams and protein-based ice creams. Halo Top definitely changed the industry there. The category really has flipped.”

Unlocking new experiences

Consumer demand for unique experiences will move beyond flavor to include texture. Seventy percent of consumers say texture gives food a more interesting experience, according to Innova, and young people are beginning to care more about a product’s texture experience than ingredient list. 

Williams points to fluffy pancakes, known for their extra light and bouncy texture, as an example. Innova found that 80 percent of global consumers want to try fluffy pancakes, which are seen as more indulgent, higher quality, and tastier than traditional pancakes.

“You can imagine using this on another product, maybe a fluffy pancake inclusion or dessert based on a fluffy texture,” she says.

Adventurous consumers also are highly receptive to hybrid products, from Coca-Cola coffee and energy drinks to a sweet and salty Snickers bar.

There is also opportunity for hybrid products that combine plant-based ingredients with animals-based dairy and protein, according to Williams.

“Consumers find these very exciting,” she says. “This is a big opportunity; it’s almost like mass-customization. The end goal is helping consumers find the perfect product that meets whatever need they have at that moment.”

Food launches with a limited-batch claim have increased by 36 percent over the past several years, according to Innova. Expect to see more brands meet in-the-moment needs with highly personalized, limited-time releases.

“There’s a ton of stuff around nostalgia,” Williams says. “That is a great way to connect with consumer, and it goes right back to that storytelling trend.”