Better for you, better for the environment, and a better selection of plant-based alternatives — these culinary trends are leading the way into 2020, according to this year’s “What’s Hot” report

The National Restaurant Association surveyed over 600 American Culinary Federation chefs for the report, asking them to predict the top industry trends of 2020. Though many of these picks will look familiar, others may inspire new products and boost sales this year.

Better for the environment

Culinary experts ranked “eco-friendly” trends highly, but it was packaging in particular that topped the list. Changing eating habits are to thank for this.  

According to the report, takeout, delivery, and other off-site dining options account for 60% of restaurant traffic. More Americans are too busy working or traveling to and from work to enjoy a sit-down meal. Ordering out and grab-and-go food products are time-saving, convenient options for this lifestyle. 

As this practice continues to grow, so, too, does the demand for to-go packaging that is recyclable, reusable, or biodegradable. We’ve already seen this trend emerge among packaged goods — in response, brands are developing packaging that’s easier to recycle and switching to edible or compostable materials.

Consumers are also paying more attention to other sustainable practices — such as cutting down on food waste — when choosing where and what to eat.  

Plant-based and alternative proteins

This one should come as no surprise. Plant-based food is the star of several other 2020 trend predictions

Many quick-service restaurant companies debuted plant-based protein or meat alternative menu items in 2019. Manufacturers looking to incorporate new plant-based ingredients into their products should turn to culinary trends like mushrooms, vegetable noodles/rice, and new chili peppers. However, ingredients like insect protein, whey protein, and seaweed may be falling out of favor.

Over the next decade, the National Restaurant Association anticipates that plant-based products will continue to experience growth

Healthful meal options

Healthy bowls came in first among new menu items. Bowls have become extremely popular over the years, and for good reason. They’re easy to eat on the go and are often customizable to suit various dietary needs or preferences. Food manufacturers can take advantage of this trend by adding a variety of frozen, microwavable, or fresh bowls to grocery store shelves.

Additionally, chefs reported that parents are seeking out healthier meal options for their kids. The easiest answer to this demand may be to reimagine classics like pizza, mac and cheese, and chicken fingers. Because, as every parent knows, getting children to try new foods is a struggle. 

Other high-ranking trends from the survey include: 

  • Scratch-made menu items
  • Revamped versions of classic cocktails
  • Foods that include stress-relieving ingredients
  • Blended burgers (e.g. mushroom-beef burgers)
  • Unique cuts of beef and pork
  • CBD snacks and sweets
  • Sweet heat flavors 

Check out the full report for more insight into 2020’s culinary trend forecast.