Behavioral and societal changes spurred by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will impact the way consumers eat and drink in the new year, according to Archer Daniels Midland Co.

Drawing on research from its OutsideVoice consumer insights platform, the company’s top trends for 2021 are shaped by heightened stress and anxiety, shifting priorities, changes in social connectivity and more holistic approaches to health and wellness.

“We are seeing a heightened demand for foods and beverages that support immune systems, enhance our mood and reduce our environmental impact, driven in part by emerging human tensions,” says Vincent F. Macciocchi, president of nutrition at ADM. “This has provided a unique opportunity for brands to develop disruptive new products that will forever change the way we eat and drink. It’s going to be a year of innovation, marked by significant breakthroughs in nutrition.” 

With 31% of consumers purchasing more products tailored for their health and 50% seeking naturally beneficial ingredients, ADM predicts consumers will continue taking a proactive approach to nourishing their bodies and mind. Opportunities exist for nutrient-dense products with functional benefits aimed at supporting immune systems, enhancing moods and sustaining energy.

Sensory factors like flavor and color will play an increasingly important role as more consumers gravitate to products with colors indicating citrus flavors for their perceived immune benefits. Consumers also will seek products featuring familiar, nostalgic flavors to help cope with stress, ADM says.

The gut microbiome is another gateway to wellness. A quarter of global consumers suffer from digestive health issues, and half said it has a moderate to severe impact on their overall health, ADM finds. Products targeting the microbiome may address issues relating to weight management, immune support and emotional well-being, providing opportunities for functional solutions like prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics, the company says.

Whole-muscle products, including lunch meat, bacon, steak and chicken breast are on the horizon as the plant-based boom expands beyond burger analogs. Dairy alternatives also will continue expanding to other formats like yogurt, ice cream, butter, spreads and creamers, ADM predicts. Those products will need to deliver more protein than traditional dairy and feature nutritional labels fortified with vitamins and other functional ingredients to stand out, the company said.

More than two thirds of consumers said they want to have a positive impact on the environment through everyday actions, ADM finds, meaning sustainability will continue to be front-and-center. As awareness about the collective environmental impact grows, companies will need to demonstrate sustainability commitments beyond the end product to issues surrounding responsible sourcing and operating standards.

Specialized feed to reduce methane emissions in livestock is one way companies may address consumer interest in eco-friendly protein, ADM says. New farming practices like regenerative agriculture may enrich soil and lower carbon emissions, and renewable plant-based packaging materials like seaweed and cornstarch may help reduce landfill waste.

Consumers also are demanding food labels provide greater transparency around the entire product life cycle, ADM says. Demand for locally sourced products is expected to grow, with 26% of consumers saying they look for the country-of-origin on packages.

The trend extends to flavors and colors, with more consumers seeking natural alternatives, including elderberries and mint, ADM says. Sweeteners like monk fruit and stevia also are expected to grow as more people seek natural ways to reduce sugar intake.