Trends and Predictions 2020: Food and Grocery

Stephen DeAngelis

January 23, 2020

Food is one of the essential needs all humans have in common. In an extended essay entitled “A Room of One’s Own,” the late Virginia Woolf, wrote, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” One can only dine well if good food is available. Professionals in the food supply chain work hard to ensure good food finds its way from farm to fork. The variety of foodstuffs showing up on grocery store shelves often depends on current and predicted flavor preferences. Lauren Masur (@laurmasur) acknowledges trend-spotting is more of a sport than a science. She writes, “Trend-spotting should be an Olympic sport. You need the precision of a javelin thrower, the endurance of a heptathlete, the patience of a curler, the foresight of an ice hockey goalie — it’s truly an athletic feat.”[1] Nevertheless, there are a few brave souls willing to attempt the feat.

Food and grocery trends

Trend 1. Regenerative agriculture. Analysts from Whole Foods note, “Farmers, producers, academics, government agencies, retailers and more are taking a closer look at how to use land and animal management practices to improve soil health and sequester carbon. While the term ‘regenerative agriculture’ can have many definitions, in general, it describes farming and grazing practices that restore degraded soil, improve biodiversity and increase carbon capture to create long-lasting environmental benefits, such as positively impacting climate change.”[2]

Trend 2. Earth-Friendly Packaging. Keeping with the sustainability theme, Masur and her Kitchn colleagues, note, “In the past, if you were the kind of grocery shopper that cared about the environment (which should be all of us!), you’d have to do most of the heavy lifting yourself, like bringing your own shopping bags, avoiding excessive plastic packaging, and investing in sustainable food storage solutions like Bees Wrap or dishwasher-safe, reusable Stasher bags. Moving forward into the next decade, the onus is on big food companies to make sure that the food we consume (and the way that it’s packaged) is more sustainable than ever.”

Trend 3. Rethinking the kids’ menu. “By 2026,” note Whole Foods analysts, “80 percent of millennials will have children, and many parents are introducing their kids to more adventurous foods. Food brands are taking notice for the next generation, expanding the menu beyond nostalgic foods with better-for-you ingredients and organic chicken nuggets. They’re bridging the gap from old-school basic kids’ menus and taking more sophisticated younger palates into consideration, like non-breaded salmon fish sticks; foods that are fermented, spiced or rich in umami flavors; and shaped colorful pastas made from alternative flours.”

Trend 4. Grocery Delivery Wars. Masur writes, “Years ago, only a few grocery delivery services existed and were meant for people who either lived in big cities or those who had money to spare. Nowadays, there are more delivery services than ever. … Now that so many of these services exist, shoppers are more trusting of online grocery shopping than ever. As more options enter the market, price accessibility increases as well, which means more convenience for more shoppers.” Pradeep Elankumaran (@pradeep24), co-founder and CEO of Farmstead, notes grocers are feeling “increasing pressure from Amazon and other online entrants and [and are moving] rapidly towards improved e-commerce models.”[3] Anthony Riva (@RivaAnth), an analyst at Landor Global, adds, “Many grocery retailers in the United States are adopting innovative delivery strategies to differentiate themselves from their competitors, a trend that will continue into 2020.”[4]

Trend 5. Plant-based and CBD-enhanced foodstuffs. If you follow the food scene, it’s hard to avoid discussions about plant-based foods and CBD-infused food products. CBD stands for cannabidiol, the second most prevalent of the active ingredients of cannabis. CBD is derived from the hemp plant, a cousin of the marijuana plant. Although proponents tout CBD’s medicinal properties, many of those claims remain untested. As for plant-based foodstuffs, companies are quickly developing plant-based products that taste like beef, chicken, fish, and eggs. Masur writes, “Every single food group you can think of is getting a plant-based makeover. It’s not a trend (like Meatless Monday) anymore — it’s here to stay. Keep an eye out for innovations like plant-based eggs, shellfish, yogurt, jerky, and more hitting mainstream grocery stores in the year to come.” The plant-based foodstuff sector is likely to become a labeling battleground.

Trend 6. Experience-based grocery shopping. The staff at Truly Good Foods (TGF) observes, “E-commerce is one of the biggest threats to the grocery industry. It’s why customer experience is by far the number one trend and focus for grocers in the coming years. Supermarkets are feeling the shift to online shopping and the best way to combat this is to create custom experiences shoppers can’t get online.”[5]

Food and grocery predictions

Prediction 1. Consumers will turn to meat-plant blends. Whole foods analysts predict, “Butchers and meat brands won’t be left out of the ‘plant-based’ craze in 2020, but they’re not going vegetarian.” They predict the rise of “flexitarians,” people who will start eating products made from a meat-plant blend because they have less fat and cholesterol than regular ground beef. They add, “For the health-conscious at-home chef, adding plant-based ingredients to meatballs and burgers is also budget friendly.”

Prediction 2. Private labels will become more prevalent. The TGF staff writes, “Private label products continue to show massive growth in supermarkets. No longer just the cheaper non-brand option, stores are creating private labels that reflect their own mission and values. Organic and natural labels will continue to see extra growth. Millennials are a big driver for this explosion, as this generation has proven to show less brand loyalty than previous generations.” Ashley Nickle (@AshleyNickle_FV) reports, “By 2022, 25% of club sales will be private label.”[6]

Prediction 3. Amazon will open a new grocery store concept that sends shockwaves through the industry. Amazon has been a disrupter in the retail sector since its founding. Chris Walton (@OmniTalk), CEO and founder of Red Archer Retail, predicts, “Amazon looks likely to open a new grocery store concept in Los Angeles sometime soon. The opening will be the equivalent of the ‘shot heard round the world’ in retail. It will mark the beginning of an all out, bloody grocery revolution. … Consumers will be able to get everything from bags of chips to soda pop at the best prices around, in the most convenient way possible, and lugging groceries home in the car with two kids in tow will be forever optional.”[7]

Prediction 4. The food supply chain will become more transparent. The TGF staff writes, “Retailers are under pressure to improve transparency. WHERE a product is made and WHO makes it matters to consumers. Both the brands and retailers need to be connected to their community and honesty and authenticity still rule supreme. Consumers are demanding much more information about products than retailers have historically had to give in the past. There will be major innovation in the coming years to improve traceability in supply chains and it’s a unique opportunity to communicate the value of food from farm to fork.” If you watched a recent edition of CBS’ “60 Minutes,” you know that farmers and their advocacy groups are fighting many transparency efforts out of fear such efforts will negatively affect their bottom line.

Prediction 5. Technology will become even more important in the grocery sector. According to the TGF staff, “Technology is helping brands and retailers form more personalized connections to consumers. Interactive websites and digital resources are vital to let shoppers conduct pre-shopping research online. Mobile apps are being used to educate consumers and send them personalized in-store messages for better experiences. Look to retailers to invest more into their digital footprint, even becoming similar to media companies with original content like cooking videos and expertise pieces.” Consumers will also see robots in aisle 4. Walmart just announced it will introduce of fleet of robots equipped with 15 cameras each that will roam aisles and alert store employees when items are out of stock. These new robots will join other Walmart robots that scrub floors, unload trucks and gather online-grocery orders.[8]

Concluding thoughts

Riva predicts, “By 2020, [the grocery] industry will be firmly entrenched in the Age of the Consumer.” And the TGF staff concludes, “For an industry as long-standing as grocery, these coming years will bring more change and innovation than ever before.”

Footnotes
[1] Lauren Masur, “Here Are the Food Trends We Expect to Be Big in 2020,” Kitchn, 30 December 2019.
[2] Whole Foods, “Whole Foods Market Predicts Top 10 Food Trends For 2020,” The Shelby Report, 23 October 2019.
[3] Pradeep Elankumaran, “2020 Grocery Predictions,” Retail Info Systems, 1 January 2020.
[4] Anthony Riva, “What Will the Grocery Industry Look Like in 2020?OneSpace, March 2018.
[5] Staff, “2020 Supermarket Trends,” Truly Good Foods, 11 October 2019.
[6] Ashley Nickle, “11 predictions for the future of grocery,” Produce Retailer, 28 may 2019.
[7] Chris Walton, “5 Refreshingly Honest Retail Predictions For 2020,” Forbes, 19 December 2019.
[8] Bloomberg, “Walmart expands its robotic workforce to 650 additional stores,” Information Management, 14 January 2020.