In a recent report, Nielsen lays out a clear picture of which food trends took hold last year — and which trends will continue to make an impact in the food industry.

Transparency and sustainability

Transparency has long been on the food industry’s radar as a driver for building trust and boosting sales. Today’s consumers want to know what’s in their food, where it comes from, and how it’s produced.

Further, sustainability continues to have an enormous influence on customer buying decisions.

In 2018, the following categories saw dollar sale growth:

  • Gluten-free bakery products: +18%
  • Fresh department organics: +9%
  • Produce UPC products: +4.1%

More findings:

  • Sustainable product sales are up 20% since 2014
  • Sustainable products accounted for 22% of all store sales in 2018
  • 4,000 new UPC produce products were introduced in 2018

Nielsen notes that sustainability isn’t just about food — people are paying attention to packaging, too.

Convenience

We live in a fast-paced world, and consumer demand for quick, convenient, and healthy options at the grocery store proves it.

Findings:

  • In-store foodservice rose 7% in dollar sales in 2018
  • 12% of households use meal kits, up from 9% in 2017

Health

If you feel like everyone around you is trying a vegan, keto, or paleo diet (and the list goes on), you’re not imagining things. Nielsen’s data shows that people are making a genuine effort to consume more vegetables, make more mindful meat purchasing decisions, and more.

In 2018, the following categories saw dollar sale growth:  

  • Deli items including vegetables: +6.2%
  • Low-fat meat: +5%

More findings:

  • 37% of people say they’re following a specific diet, up 6% from 2016
  • Chicken and salads are the biggest growth drivers for in-store foodservice

Snacks

While folks might be choosing salad over steak for dinner (or ditching supper altogether), tiny indulgences are still wildly popular with today’s consumers. That said, there’s also a growing demand for healthy snacking options.

In 2018, the following categories saw dollar sale growth:

  • Mini muffins: +8.4%  
  • Mini doughnuts: +5.3%
  • Mini muffins: +4.9%
  • Produce snacking: +1.2%

What’s next

So what’s next for food mega trends? First, Nielsen predicts that plants will continue to be on the radar. Jackfruit sales are skyrocketing (up 79% in dollar sales over last year), and corn is poised to be the “new cauliflower.” Further, ethnic flavors will continue to rise in popularity, so Nielsen says to expect Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern influences to ramp up in the food space.