Recipe for Innovation: What Will the Future of Food Taste Like?

by Shawna Lent
July 3, 2019

The future of food is here, and it tastes like health and wellness.

According to research firm Euromonitor, the size of the health and wellness packaged food industry swelled to $446 billion globally in 2019, growing faster than the regular packaged food industry. 

As Americans adopt healthier diets, natural offerings and nutritious snacks have replaced the more popular, less healthy options on the market and at grocery chains around the country. 

But are consumers as receptive to the innovative food substitutes and unique food categories as this growing industry would lead us to believe? We used Alpha’s on-demand insights platform to survey more than 350 U.S. consumers over the age of 21 to determine whether they have an appetite for these five trends in food.

1. Healthy Food Disguised as Unhealthy Food 

Cauliflower is the common denominator. Think: Pizza with cauliflower crust. Chicken nuggets breaded with cauliflower.

The cauliflower trend is pervasive,” said Jordan Rost, VP of Consumer Insights at Nielsen. “We’re seeing it in everything from cream cheese to baby food. Products that contain cauliflower are experiencing faster growth in sales than their overall categories. It’s driving growth across all foods.”

However, respondents were largely unmoved by this concept, with both positive and negative reactions evenly split. But when the data was analyzed among different age groups, it was people aged 25-34 who were most enthusiastic. Likely because, as several users noted, this trend seems like the perfect answer to the age-old dining dilemma for new parents: Getting kids to eat their vegetables. 

2. Smarty Plants: Plant-Based Meat Alternatives 

The food scene has seen an explosion of vegan and vegetarian-friendly meat substitutes like vegan hot dogs, Beyond Beef, and Burger King’s Impossible Burger. What do consumers really think? Like the concept above, the results were mixed, with respondents leaning more toward a negative reaction. 

Turns out, meat alternatives will never supplant love for the real thing among most consumers — vegans and vegetarians notwithstanding, of course. When we asked what was least appealing about this food trend, one respondent coincidentally cited health concerns:

I don’t want to eat a highly processed, fake meat flavored product of dubious quality. If I want meat, I’ll eat meat. If I want vegetables, I will eat vegetables.”

3. Gut Check: Probiotic-Based Foods

One trend that seemed to garner mostly positive responses was probiotic-rich food designed to whip your gut health into shape. Nearly half of the respondents were excited by this idea, and their enthusiasm came through in some of the open-ended responses: 

“I think we are eating less healthy now that there is so much convenience, and it’s important we get our nutrition somehow.”

4. You Can Judge a Trend by Its Sustainable Packaging 

Organic food isn’t a new consumer preference, but, now more than ever, it seems demand is increasing for environmentally-friendly packaging to complement the food purchase. When we asked users what they found most appealing about the idea of sustainable packaging, one consumer said:

Sustainable and organic is a concept that’s seen as too difficult or expensive to use in a daily setting. If we start using more of it in our everyday products, maybe it will change people’s minds.”

5. CBD-Infused Foods 

One of the more well-publicized trends in the wellness industry, it seems like everyone in the restaurant and food industry is experimenting with THC’s non-psychoactive sibling. Despite 39% of those surveyed having a negative reaction to this concept, the open-ended responses reveal that hesitation stems from unproven research into CBD’s benefits and local regulations where respondents live, rather than a total unwillingness to try these types of products. As one user bluntly put it: 

There isn’t any proof that CBD does anything positive, so I don’t understand why it’s being inserted into so many products right now.”

Will consumers choose to be healthy even on the Fourth of July, a national holiday synonymous with life, liberty, and the pursuit of unhealthy food? According to the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, Americans consume 150 million hot dogs on Fourth of July. Not exactly the picture of healthy eating.

We identified four future of food substitutes that would be perfect for an Independence Day cookout, and surveyed more than 350 adults over the age of 21 in the U.S. to gauge their reactions to each. 

What was on the table for the taste test? 

  • The future of snacking: Rice, bean & veggie chips instead of potato chips
  • The future of burgers: Meatless burgers instead of hamburgers and hot dogs
  • The future of beer: Cannabis-infused beer instead of Bud Light
  • The future of cookies: Cookies made with cricket flour instead of Chips Ahoy

The food category receiving the most overwhelmingly negative response? The future of cookies. More than half of the respondents had a negative reaction to cricket flour cookies. The most positive response goes to the future of snacking, with nearly half of respondents indicating they’d be interested in the rice, black bean and veggie chips. 

However, diving deeper into the data, we found that respondents aged 25-34 seemed to have the most adventurous palate. Nearly 35% had an extremely positive interest in the cricket flour cookies and 38% were in favor of meatless burgers. 

Will any of these dishes make their way to respondents’ tables on Fourth of July? 

Based on these results, don’t expect Americans to replace the hot dogs on their grills with cauliflower vegan dogs on Fourth of July. But innovation in the food space doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Given the increasing emphasis on healthy food substitutes and the market share for wellness growing larger, the future of food will be an exciting space to watch.

What will be the next phase in health and wellness and what are the trends to watch? We’ll be testing more consumer preferences in the coming weeks. Sign up below to get notified about our latest reports.

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Shawna Lent

Head of Content at Alpha, the platform that enables management teams to make data-driven decisions about users, products, and new markets.