business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

I must confess I never envisioned kicking off an annual food trend list citing an influx of cannabis-infused products, the shortage of oat milk, the word ‘pegan’ or the soaring popularity of wine from Georgia -- as in the former Soviet republic.

Welcome to 2019.

Every year, chefs, retailers, foodies, PR firms, food and beverage trade groups, mainstream media critics, the folks at Pinterest and UberEats and “social media influencers” across the country offer up their predictions, and we at MNB provide the highlights, and the lowlights.

Here goes:

The New ‘It’ Diet: Just when I figured out the difference between paleo (unprocessed natural foods a la the Stone Age) and vegan (no animal products or byproducts) diets, we have a new mashup: the pegan diet. This hybrid recommends that 75 percent of your diet should be fruits and vegetables, allows a little meat but no dairy or gluten. According to Pinterest, the word ‘pegan’ has seen a 337 percent increase in searches since last year.

Georgia on Our Mind: I also just learned that the small nation of Georgia actually is the world’s first vintner and began making wine 8,000 years ago. Wine experts are raving about its varieties and vintages, and the government said exports increased 56 percent last year. Georgian food is also trending, and Instagram photos of its traditional khachapuri – essentially a bread boat brimming with bubbling hot cheese and a fried egg – reveal why. (You can see a recipe here.)

I’ll Have the CBD, Please: As reported on MNB last week, the nation’s chefs predict that cannabis-infused drinks and food will be the top two dining trends this year. Proponents of cannabidiol, or CBD oil, say it provides health benefits without the psychoactive effects of marijuana. The chefs also say they anticipate this ingredient will create “unique cuisine opportunities.” This is just one more example of the “budding” cannabis business which has enormous growth potential and presents any number of regulatory challenges.

Gut Instincts: Probiotics and prebiotics. Kimchi and kombucha. The aforementioned are just a sampling of the products designed to deliver a healthier gut. Beyond supplements and fermented foods, Whole Foods claims that wellness-focused brands are adding gut-friendly probiotics to shelf staples such as granola, oatmeal, nut butters and more. Kroger is promising customers “a growing number of products rich in probiotics— good bacteria—and flavor.”

And the New Trendy Milk Is: Oat milk. Latte lovers across this country say oat milk far surpasses its almond, soy, coconut, pea or dairy competitors. So much so that there was an oat milk shortage last year (news to me), and cases were selling on Amazon for a whopping $200 a case – or $20 per 32-ounce carton. Oatly, the Swedish-based company that introduced oat milk in the U.S. two years ago, plans to increase production eight-fold to meet demand.

There are three 2019 trends and products that, I must admit, strike me as less than appealing:

Cheese tea: A cold black or green tea with a cap of cream cheese blended with cream or milk and a pinch of salt on top.

Hummus desserts: I enjoy hummus with a pita chip or on a sandwich, but ground chickpea chocolate and ice cream? No thanks.

Faux meat ‘snacks’: Fake bacon snacks fashioned from mushrooms and egg white chips will not be found on my snack shelf.

Reviewing last year’s predictions, plant-based meats such as the Impossible Burger did indeed continue to gain traction in stores and restaurants. And the prognosticators were spot on about the popularity of sophisticated mocktails, hybrid fruit-vegetables, North African spices, Thai rolled ice cream and a new consumer “mindfulness.”

On the flip side, the air fryer did not become a must-have kitchen appliance, nor did the nutrient powder moringa become the new superfood ingredient in smoothies and bowls. And we didn’t replace butter with ghee.

Will today’s 2019 predictions hold true on December 31? We’ll keep track. Cupcake and kale crazes may come and go, but the key takeaway for retailers is that consumers increasingly are concerned with healthy alternatives and transparency.

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