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COVID-19 and the accompanying recession have amplified and accelerated trends seen in pre-pandemic political and economic unease, according to Shifting Sands: Trends Shaping the Food Industry in 2021/22 from Culinary Tides.

With the world in flux, identifying trends that will resonate with consumers is difficult. Culinary Tides’ cross-analysis of 224 prediction lists for 2021/22 from 179 industry experts sorts through opinions and pinpoints five food and five beverage trends.

5 food trends

1. Settings, meal types, and experiences set the tone for food

Customers want an experience. Strong trends include outdoor dining, pre-packaged foods from grocers, and fresh-prep vending machines. Also important are heritage cooking, next-level charcuterie, and limited and delivery-only menus. Ghost kitchens offer many possibilities. The possible downside is recent research found consumers prefer to pick up food from locations where they can actually dine, but ghost kitchens can overcome this obstacle with a strong, grounding story.

2. Preps and seasonings act as the party dress

In prep, there’s focus on sheet-pan roasting and outdoor grilling and on the comfort of bowls and sous-vide. Comfort also includes pantry cooking and home baking. Seasonings and sauces are big. Popular ones include tamarind, rosemary, ginger, a variety of peppers, fermented honey, elderflower, and international spice blends and sauces with a strong sense of tradition and roots.

3. Plant and animal proteins quit their bickering

The plant protein trend continues but with the motto “let plants be plants.” Curious meat eaters who experimented with plant-based will return to eating meat. Plant proteins support the desire for more protein, flexitarian eating, and veggies. Expect the familiar (such as chickpeas, black beans, and lentils) and experimental (such as hemp, flours, and plant jerky).

4. Cuisines and clusters become nomads

Traditionally, cuisine trends mirror travel trends and are also tied to economics. Limited travel and poor economics means nomadic cuisine trends, with a focus on global comfort foods — dishes that seem exotic to us but are mainstream in their native country. Clusters consist of national and global comfort food, showcasing items that typically appear during a recession. U.S. regional dish trends include country fried steak, Detroit pizza, and seafood boils.

5. Desserts and snacks have a well-defined sense of self

Desserts with centered, calming, comforting traits include both historical/regional and global classics. Examples include French pastries, Italian gelato, and Mexican conchas. Regional U.S. items include carrot cake, key lime pie, and NY frozen custard. Snacks lean toward unusual versions of common items, such as fruit and veggie jerky and plant (not potato) chips.

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5 Beverage Trends

1. Settings and experiences set the tone for beverage

Outdoor breweries offer a safe setting that helps consumers reset and refresh. Amenities such as heat lamps, fire pits, or beer gardens can encourage guests to lose themselves in the experience. Tropical- and nautical-themed bars are more calming than festive Tiki. These settings support storytelling and experimentation with beverages and ingredients from coastal and island regions. Also looking to trend are cocktail bars — for example, martini bars, wine bars, and tequila bars — that focus on spirit-forward classics and offer automated, touchless stations.

2. Preps, add-ins, and mixers act as the party dress

Consumers aren’t in a risk-taking mood, so a familiar, approachable base drink dressed up with an add-in, mixer, or prep lets them experiment safely. Preps may include decadent textures, DIY kits, or Instagram-worthy presentations. Add-ins and mixers showcase items such as functional elements, florals, CBD, infused ice, and varietal vinegar.

3. Health focuses on the end game

The top two health drivers are immune and cognitive functions. The underlying beverage isn’t as important as the added benefit. Low- and no-alcohol offerings excel here. Lighter options include booze with functional benefits or bubbles with benefits, such as botanicals in sodas. Offerings can become therapeutic in the form of elixirs and tisanes.

4. Non-alcohol puts on her big girl pants

Plant milk and seltzers are big in non-alcohol drinks but have also crossed into cocktails. Also important in both alcohol and non-alcohol beverages are tea and coffee. Tea can be featured in kombucha or partnered with mushrooms, cascara, or butterfly pea flower. Coffee may appear as golden lattes or paired with CBD.

5. Spirits and cocktails scale back the crazy

Alcoholic beverages focus on classics with approachable, familiar elements. Retro cocktails calm consumers, assuring them better times will come. Cocktail styles showcase a single ingredient or preparation, such as a wine or floral base or an infused addition. Hard seltzer, with fewer calories and less alcohol than other spirits, is unstoppable. Other top players include hard sodas, rose cider, and shrubs. However, now isn’t the time for extreme experimentation, but some playfulness can give customers a welcome break.

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