6 Food Industry Themes To Watch in 2021

2020 made its mark on virtually every industry, and the food and beverage industry was no exception. We now live in the wake of the pandemic, and it’s important to recognize how it will continue to affect our industry.  

Our team at Curtis Food Recruiters sat down to help you identify some defining themes facing the food industry in 2021. Here are a few of the most prominent insights. 

Transparency Takes Precedence

In 2021, transparency will triumph. 

As the industry experts at Grande put it, more than ever, “Consumers want to know where their food comes from, how it was produced, and how it was sourced, making ingredient transparency and a strict chain of custody more important than ever.” 

As consumers become increasingly invested and concerned with where and how their food is sourced, smart marketing messages become more and more critical to get right.

Brands that find innovative, effective ways to make their transparent practices resonate with consumers will stand out from those who don’t.

Plant-Based Trends Accelerate

Plant-forward foods have been making waves for years; that’s not news. But there’s been a marked uptick in average annual growth that is expected to continue through the year.

As Mike Wystrach, Founder & CEO of Freshly states, “2020 showed us that consumers are interested in trying and buying more plant-based foods, as sales of foods like plant-based proteins and milks topped $3.3 billion over the past year.”

Notable brands are already recognizing this massive opportunity. McDonald’s, for example, currently plans to release a “McPlant” later this year in response to the “Impossible” burger that has already made its mark in this space. Additionally, plant-based grocery options are soaring. Pennsylvania-based startup Good Catch, for example, offers a line of plant-based substitutes for seafood like crab cakes and whitefish sliders. 

Appetite for Immunity-Boosting Foods Grows

One of the many reactions to the global pandemic included a growing awareness of the immune system and a desire to help support it through the foods and beverages we buy and consume. 

According to data from The Business Research Company’s Immunity Boosting Food Products Market Global Report 2020-30: Covid-19 Implications and Growth, the global immunity-boosting food products market, due in part to the pandemic, is expected to grow from the $16.31 billion in 2019 to $24.02 billion in 2023. 

Certain categories of food, like mushrooms (lion’s mane, turkey tail, chaga, etc.), are becoming increasingly popular as consumers continue to seek out more and more immunity-boosting options. 

North America was already the largest region in the immunity-boosting food products market in 2019, and experts expect that to continue in the coming years. 


As we move through the Covid-19 pandemic, sustainability initiatives have and will remain vastly important across the food industry as consumer concern continues to rise. 

People across the globe have long been invested in products that empower them to live more sustainable lives, and, according to Forbes, “the modern consumer prefers sustainable food brands and adds them to their digital and physical shopping carts daily… 65% of consumers look for products that can help them live a more sustainable and socially responsible life.”

While some food and beverage companies were already seriously committed to their sustainability efforts and have been working to reduce their environmental impact before 2020, the pandemic has caused a shift. The coronavirus illuminated social inequality and health disparities in society, and companies are now beginning to consider social and health issues while they craft their sustainability initiatives.

Expect even more scrutiny and attention to be placed on sustainable, resource-efficient and eco-friendly food and beverage practices in 2021. 

Omnichannel Delivery

While hardly new to the food industry, the events of 2020 drastically accelerated the push towards omnichannel delivery; a study conducted by Accosta last summer revealed that more than 50% of consumers were buying groceries online—and a third of those were purchasing groceries online for their first time. 

Grocery stores are reflecting this shift in consumer demand in a variety of ways already from robots gathering grocery orders, smart carts, and cashier-less checkouts. Newer innovations include putting ratings and reviews on shelf labels, downloadable shopping lists, and in-store kiosks that provide answers about meal preparation or other grocery-related inquiries.

An omnichannel approach will be critical for brands to meet the growing expectation for on-demand, flexible and expedient services among consumers. 

Flavor Trends

As 2020 changed the way we lived, it also changed the flavors we sought. Nostalgic flavors served as a safe source of comfort during the pandemic. As a press release from the beverage development company Flavorman explained in December, “the need for comfort has taken on a whole new meaning within the current social and political climate, but flavors continue to provide a soothing constant.”

A desire to relive the tastes and sensations of our more tranquil childhoods led to creations like “smokey vanilla cold brews” and “bubble gum seltzers.” Other traditional favorites like maple, coffee, and butterscotch all saw a significant rise in launch activity, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database. 

Paradoxically, while many sought nostalgic, comforting flavors, 2020 also inspired many to seek out new and adventurous flavors, a perhaps symbolic nod towards a longing for a time when the ability to travel and gather was uninhibited. This desire manifested in a surge in demand for globally-inspired flavors like yuzu, tamarind, blood orange, fig, matcha, and curry.

Manufacturers are helping to bridge the gap between the desire to try new, adventurous flavors and the reluctance to take that risk by combining them with more familiar, “safer” flavors. For example, Rebecca Davis, flavor scientist at National Flavors, explains that you can “combine an emerging flavor, like hibiscus, with a more familiar taste such as ginger to attract consumers who want flavor adventures but want a bit of familiarity to make the first purchase less risky.”

As the pandemic continues to affect daily life, we expect flavor trends like these to persist in 2021. 

About Curtis Food Recruiters 

As a full-service executive search firm, Curtis Food Recruiters has successfully matched skilled job seekers with prominent businesses throughout the food manufacturing and grocery retail industry for over a decade. If you’re searching for your next top performer or need help advancing your career, contact us today and we’ll leverage our vast industry experience to move your hiring needs forward.