An overarching 2021 food industry trend is “getting back to basics,” according to a new 2021 Food Trends report from McKinney. Companies are cutting marginal products and focusing on core, most-in-demand offerings. “The brands that will excel in 2021 will…roll up their sleeves and zero in on what they do best and what people really need from them,” states the report.

Examples of companies discontinuing products are easy to find. Coca-Cola is cutting a number of products, including the Tab soft drink and Zico coconut water. General Mills reduced Progresso soup flavors by almost half, and Kellogg Co., ConAgra Brands, and Campbell Soup Co. have all cut products.

Beyond getting back to basics, the report focuses on trends in four other areas: social responsibility, technology, wellness, and culture.

Social responsibility

The closed-loop supply chain — or circular economy — in the food industry is becoming more intentional. More companies are using upcycling, regenerative agriculture, and reusable packaging. Companies will reinvent their packaging with a more environmentally conscious consumer in mind, finding both functional and practical solutions that last and have a real effect. 

Reducing food waste is important for many consumers. New research from Proagrica found 76% of consumers say they are likely to shop more often and buy smaller quantities to avoid throwing away unwanted or spoiled food. However, the McKinney report focuses on an often overlooked part of food waste: spoilage early in the supply chain before food reaches grocery stores. McKinney believes brands will develop innovative ways to reduce food loss, including finding new transportation methods.


AI-driven technologies are beginning to guide food preferences and the development of new food products. As this trend develops, more companies will use similar technology to personalize foods and identify new sources of nutrients. In addition, more farmers will embrace cutting-edge technology to increase capabilities and production. 

Technology is also growing in food delivery with robots, drones, lock boxes, and dark grocers, and in foodservice with the use of kitchen robots. A December 2020 Restaurant Business article explored how machines are changing restaurant kitchens and offering labor savings, operational efficiency, and better data.


The pandemic has taken a toll on mental health and created more focus on wellness. Brands increasingly offer new wellness products, especially ones targeting relaxation, sleep, and immunity. As consumers look for more ways to boost immunity, McKinney expects companies to discover new ways to promote lactic acid, the basic bacteria of fermentation, in both beverages and at-home products. 


McKinney sees three culture-related trends in the food industry:

  • To leverage the almost three billion gamers in the world, companies have studied their habits and are finding ways to offer food products based on gamers’ daily regimens, gaming schedules, and snacking habits.
  • The increase in home alcohol consumption will continue strong, as sales of canned cocktails skyrocket and, in many states, relaxed regulations let bars sell take-home alcoholic drinks. 

Home cooking will thrive, supported by social media that offers support, exposure, and approachability for people who want to cook. Supporting a strong home cooking trend is a Hunter PR survey that found 71% of people who started cooking more after the pandemic started will continue to do so after it ends.

Related reading: Cooking at Home Is Here to Stay and How CPG Companies Can Adapt: Insights from Deloitte Research

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