food and beverage industry

December 04, 2023 •

13 min reading

What's trending in the food and beverage industry in 2024?

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The food and beverage industry has witnessed healthy growth over the past couple of years and with this trend there have been some significant shake-ups. The sector has evolved across all its component parts, from food preparation to packaging, restauration, home delivery, and homemade. Social media has become a powerful force that propels food trends to spread rapidly through our cultural consciousness. Whether it's those yawn-inducing people who only talk about their latest air-fryer inventions or the gorgeous gorgeous girlies of #SoupTok who proclaim their love for the velvety comfort health food (who doesn't?!).

On the other side of the coin, artificial intelligence (AI) has infiltrated the preparation side of F&B and is helping create efficiencies, make smarter business decisions and support a greener future. Whilst we don't have a crystal ball to see the future trends, ultimately all forecasts suggest that in 2024 consumers are looking for convenience, value for money, and -of course - taste like never before in relation to food and drink. 

We've scowered the latest F&B research and trends reports from the likes of Mintel, Wholefoods and The Specialty Food Association to name a few, paired with our internal expert opinions from EHL's Practical Arts Professors, to compile a comprehensive and balanced list of the this year's top trends in the Food and Beverage Industry.

 

Food and Beverage industry background

Before we jump into the top trends in F&B let's make sure we're all on the same page.

Food and drink trends are currently being shaped by two core drivers, firstly technology - namely AI - and secondly, consumer demands, for which both have experienced a big evolution. The following sections delve into those in more detail before we get to the much-anticipated trends!

Technology in F&B

As technological advances play an ever-important role in the industry, the next big thing is getting into consumer’s homes. Companies have begun connecting the dots when it comes to consumer convenience, so the quest for dominating the online grocery shopping is on.

Approaching technology from a new perspective will also reap some greatly promising benefits in the future. Metis co-founder David Richey, who had helped set the quality and service standards which became the industry benchmark, says technology has been disappointing so far.

The principle use has been for better slicing and dicing of customer data for history and preferences - and for better targeting and analyzing populations for marketing purposes. But why haven’t we used AI more as a management resource?

He cites the possibility of using weather, finance and population data to forecast beef prices up to 24 months in advance or buy cattle futures to hedge the market. Social media analysis could be used along with demographic data to predict wine trends which could then result in contracts with local producers.

Going cashless. Restaurateurs are beginning to phase out cash in their operations. This saves them time by avoiding bank deposits and also has obvious operational benefits: fewer handling errors and incidents of theft; and instead, greater transparency and liquidity. Either way, the industry is heading towards a cashless future with simplified payments made easy through PIN-less card contact payments or ApplePay. We could be looking at future payments through electronic fingerprints, retina scans or even facial recognition.

Changing consumer mindset

Continual exploration of global flavors is ongoing, with an increasing interest in diverse tastes worldwide. According to Trendspotters, consumers are not only embracing new flavors but also seeking deeper cultural connections through food. Trendspotter V. Sheree Williams predicts a rise in traditional heritage foods crafted by small producers globally, highlighting recipes rich in both flavor and personal narratives. This trend reflects a growing awareness and appreciation for obscure regional ingredients and culinary traditions. The evolving landscape of restaurants across the U.S. is introducing consumers to lesser-known cuisines and specific dishes within them, broadening their willingness to explore new culinary experiences. This shift underscores the recognition that cuisines are diverse and multifaceted, as observed particularly in the popularity of Asian packaged products catering to a wide consumer base. Additionally, there's a forecasted surge in interest in African pantry items, as brands aim to familiarize Western tastes with African flavors and ingredients, as mentioned by June.

Consumers' pursuit of elevated convenience remains prevalent, as they seek ways to enhance the flavor and quality of their meals while embracing shortcuts. Trendspotter Bartelme predicts a growing appreciation for pre-made mixes, sauces, and starters, indicating a departure from previous hesitations about using such products. This convenience extends beyond home meal preparation, influencing on-the-go food and drink choices, especially for those with busy lifestyles, as noted by Williams.

Despite inflationary pressures impacting restaurant dining, there's a trend toward elevating everyday experiences at home. Trendspotter Jonathan Deutsch emphasizes the use of premium ingredients like high-end truffle salts, specialty oils, spice blends, and artisanal butters to transform simple meals into restaurant-quality indulgences. For instance, the enduring popularity of charcuterie boards is attributed to their visual appeal, versatility, cost-effectiveness, and compatibility with diverse dietary preferences, contributing to the rising demand for sophisticated food presentations at gatherings.

The environmental impact of food remains a significant concern for consumers, with a growing focus on sustainability, carbon footprint reduction, and food waste management. Deutsch highlights the shift from buzzwords to keywords like "regenerative," "upcycled," and "sustainably packaged" in consumers' efforts to make ethical food choices. There's an anticipated emphasis on regenerative agriculture as the industry seeks solutions to combat climate change. This reflects a broader trend within the food industry toward environmentally conscious practices.

 

The top food and beverage trends revealed

Here are the top food and beverage trends curated by EHL based on industry research that will continue to challenge, disrupt, and entice producers and consumers – bon appétit!

Drinks segment leading growth

Beverages are having their moment, just take a look at all the beverage trends that we can expect to quench our thirst and cocktails to enjoy in 2024. According to the State of the Specialty Food Industry research by SFA, beverage sales have consistently outpaced food sales in recent years, driven by innovation. In the upcoming year, there will be a surge in the demand for sophisticated single-serve beverages that are both fizzy and non-fizzy, as well as functional coffees, teas, and broths infused with ingredients that provide an extra boost of energy, focus, clarity, or relaxation. These beverages will have minimal to no added sugar, salt, or synthetic ingredients, and will showcase tropical flavors, as well as herbs and botanicals from around the world.

Plant-based foods

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The veganism hype is still going strong with great market potential, as consumers are looking at healthier lifestyles.

We've all heard of Dry January, where people give up alcohol in January as a way to reset following the boozy festive period. Veganuary, is its plant-powered counterpart, which encourages people to give up or cut down animal products and give veganism a go for a month.

With many scientists such as Professor Tim Spector harping on about bio-diversity being good for the gut, and the gut being the main instrument for overall health, it’s no wonder that the plant-based food trend is back. But in 2024 it’s back to basics, scary meat substitutes are a thing of the past, replaced with genuinely plant-based ingredients, including veggies, pulses, seeds, and nuts offering a nutritionally dense alternative to meat.

The 2023 Global Consumer Trends report by ADM reveals that over half (52%) of global consumers identify as flexitarians. These individuals are a combination of "flexible" and "vegetarian" and they aim to include more plant-based options in their diet while also being mindful of their meat consumption. Consequently, many ingredient companies are now offering a wider range of options to cater to the growing demand for both animal and plant-based proteins.

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Functional health products

Functional beverages are gaining popularity as they go beyond simply quenching thirst. These refreshing drinks offer a range of health benefits, from boosting digestion to enhancing cognitive function. Currently valued at USD 110 billion, the functional beverages market is projected to have a compound annual growth rate of 8% over the next five years.

This year on social media, we have witnessed the popularity of hormonal remedy recipes, which specifically target women. These include raw carrot salad for estrogen management, seed cycling energy bites for each cycle phase, and "sleepy girl mocktails." We are now seeing more brands develop products that support women through various life stages, including periods, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause, as well as symptoms that have been historically ignored.

In their pursuit of health and wellness, consumers are increasingly relying on food to achieve their goals. Whether it's boosting energy, improving gut health, enhancing immunity, supporting cognitive function, or staying hydrated, consumers are actively seeking out products that contain specific functional ingredients with distinct health benefits. In fact, a staggering 85% of consumers, according to Mintel, are currently incorporating these types of products into their diets.

With a heightened focus on health and well-being, consumers are actively seeking out nutrient-rich foods that are packed with essential proteins, vitamins, and minerals to safeguard against chronic diseases and promote overall wellness.

The new fast-casual

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Á la minute cooking, fresh and healthy options, customer engagement and a variety of choices in the dish preparation process have proven to be successful in the fast-casual segment in recent years.

In order for these establishments to succeed in the future, however, relying solely on freshness, healthy options and great flavors and textures will not be enough. Consumers are increasingly demanding food anywhere and anytime.

That means that fast casual operators need to think about how to provide fast home delivery, or drive-throughs or self-serve kiosks, to position themselves for competition from new entrants such New York’s Green Summit Group of virtual restaurants, accessible only online. Self-order stations similar to those found at McDonalds are becoming more and more mainstream, and allow establishments to utilise customer data alongside contextual data to make upsell prompts at check-out. For example, if it’s snowing outside establishments might want to suggest a warming hot chocolate to finish off a meal.

Spice tolerance on the rise

The popularity of spicy food is on the rise, with a variety of hot peppers available in every grocery store. From Carolina Reapers to Scorpion Peppers, Guajillo and Hungarian Goathorn Peppers, these specialty varieties can be found fresh, whole, ground, or pickled. In addition, there is a new trend of botana sauces and chili oils that are becoming increasingly popular in condiment aisles.

The culinary world is always on the lookout for the next big flavor trend, and Calabrian chili peppers are poised to take the spotlight. While Sriracha and Gochujang have had their moment, marketers are now turning their attention to these vibrant and versatile peppers. Calabrian chili peppers are making their way into a wide range of products, from traditional pasta sauces and hot sauces to unconventional offerings like cured meats, snacks, relishes, and even hot honey. With their unique flavor profile and cultural alternative to the usual Asian and Latin peppers, Calabrian chili peppers are sure to captivate the imaginations and tastebuds of food enthusiasts everywhere.

Little treat culture

Thanks to TikTok creators, small indulgences have become a cultural phenomenon, and we're fully embracing it. We understand the transformative power of a delightful treat, whether it's an impulsive macaron purchase or a refreshing, functional, and bursting-with-flavor beverage like the bubble tea trend that is not going away anytime soon. Brands are now jumping on this trend by offering affordable and convenient individual serving packages that bring pure joy without breaking the bank.

What's more, 2024 is set to be the year multisensory options shape the food and beverage offering. "Little treats" that are unapologetic in the sheer volume of flavor and color combinations, that can be tailored to individual tastebuds.

One dish wonders or ODWs

Single-dish restaurants or one-dish wonders such as shawarma bars, hotpot, Burger and Lobster,the meatball shop have not yet hit their peak.

Single-dish restaurants are still up and coming. It’s all about specialization, finding, and exploring niches that few if any players have ventured into yet, staking a claim and providing for a unique experience while optimizing inventories and bringing about greater profitability.

Single dish restaurants are popping up all the time and there’s always room for another niche to be indulged. It’s all about specialization, finding, and exploring niches that few if any players have ventured into yet, staking a claim and providing for a unique experience while optimizing inventories and bringing about greater profitability.

This is not necessarily a new concept but perhaps it was a well-kept secret among certain restauranteurs in the know. Nowhere epitomises the success of the ODW more than L'Entrecote, the French steak-frites bistro chain founded in 1956 and still going strong today. The renowned restaurant is famed for its long queues which many deem worth the wait for their incredible steak-frite and mouthwatering secret sauce - simplicity at its finest.

L'entrecote queue

Image source: The Places of Bordeaux

Alternative caffeine boost

No matter what your preferred source of caffeine is, there are now innovative ways to maximize its benefits for your morning or afternoon energy boost. With the introduction of new coffee blends and energy drinks infused with mushrooms, probiotics, and other supplements, it has never been easier to combine a caffeine boost with additional health benefits. As a result, there's no better time than now to explore the world of "clean caffeine" and discover your next favorite pick-me-up.

Self-service kiosks and Grab and Go

Food needs to keep up with the pace of living and people's lives are getting busier and busier. Over the past years, we have seen the ‘grab and go’ trend develop and evolve into a new lifestyle. The mobile snacking trend is only getting started.

Today consumers are looking not only for health-conscious snacks allowing them to bypass lengthy meal times, but also expect fast snacks to be good for them. This has given rise to companies promoting slow cooking with traditional recipes

What’s new is that self-service kiosks, accessible 24/7, are becoming the new grab-and-go.

Japan has had, for decades, hot and cold F&B kiosks across its cities, providing consumer convenience while taking advantage of an immense marketing opportunity – the product here and now, at the right temperature. We should see more such kiosks popping up soon.

Combined with innovative design, such kiosks can become a source of revenue at a marginal distribution cost, resulting in a further threat to the already-challenged traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant model. Toutcru, a Lausanne self-serve kiosk concept that sells knife-cut tartare – a very sensitive dish from a food hygiene perspective – has already been around for several years so who knows what we can expect to find in self-service kiosks in 2024.

Consumers will be seeking value

With a focus on their finances, consumers are searching for value-driven products. Brands that can successfully engage with shoppers will showcase the benefits of their products, whether it's their versatility, low-stress flavor building, or longer shelf life. These attributes can help demonstrate to consumers that the products are worth the cost and can assist them in making informed purchasing decisions.

Tech can often provide solutions for businesses to streamline their operations. The customers' experience and quality of service will become increasingly important as they will have less tolerance for unsatisfactory experiences. According to predictions, growth in the restaurant industry will be largely driven by off-premise consumption, and technology can help restaurants not only improve their operations and service delivery but also reimagine and diversify their offerings. It's estimated that 50% of restaurant owners are exploring new revenue streams, such as grocery, retail, and meal kits.

To help you stay ahead of these growing trends, we’ve compiled a list of the top restaurant tech trends you might want to consider investing in in the coming year.

 

In summary, these trends are a logical sequel to the evolution of the sector in recent years. We should expect to find some astonishing new concepts around honest, transparent, highly customized and specialized F&B, while also being mindful of profitability in a traditionally low-margin industry driven by high labor costs. Such developments are greatly inspiring and provide momentum, calling for a paradigm shift in not only what we do and how we do things, but also why. The seeds sown over the last few years should produce a promising vintage in this exciting industry.

 
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