2024 Food Trends Unveiled: Our Expert Predictions for a Sustainable Food Revolution
7 Mins Read
From the Ozempic effect to climate-conscious parents, here’s what Green Queen founding editor Sonalie Figueiras predicts will be the major future food trends of 2024.
Yesterday, I wrote about how I did with my 2023 predictions because it’s important to take stock and hold oneself accountable. On the whole, I did okay – check out my forecast performance here– so hopefully you’ll want to dive into my 2024 forecast.
Before I get into specific food and product trends, I wanted to make some industry-wide predictions (some are less what I predict and more what I am hoping for) about how I think the sector needs to evolve this coming year.
Future Food Industry-Wide Evolution: Changes I’m Hoping To See
Alt protein wedges itself into the sustainable food space: We’ve spent too much time in our own navel-gazing bubble and it’s time to make friends with the broader food x climate community. So much so that a worrying number of food activists are now anti-alt protein, having bought into the divide-and-conquer media maelstrom that Big Meat has financed. Protein diversification is not the only thing we need to fix on the global food stage, but it is a major lever of change and we need allies in other sustainable food corners if we are going to make real progress. Cultivated meat startups and rewilding NGOs are two sides of the same coin, people! But it’s on us as an industry to make inroads with the rest of the food world and demonstrate that we are one of, but not the only, solution. I saw the potential of this at COP28 where everyone working on food systems joined forces for the greater good (i.e. getting food into the final texts) and I hope it continues.
More blended finance and funding diversification: What’s more important than food, other than clean air and water? Food is a universal And yet, the alt protein industry has relied almost exclusively on venture capital funding to fuel its rise. We may not all be entitled to an electric car but we are all entitled to safe, nutritious, low-emissions food that doesn’t cost us our future or our health. So why isn’t there more investment in food systems adaptation? And where is the funding diversity? I would like to see more public money earmarked for food systems change, more blended finance and matching schemes (if a startup raises X, the government matches the amount – see how the French do it), more grants and more creative investment schemes (redeemable equity is one I’m looking at more closely). Relying on capricious and hype-based VC money based on fly-away valuations is not a winning strategy, as this past year has painfully shown us. We need grown-up dollars with long-term investment horizons who understand that while food is not software, there’s plenty of return potential to be had.
More food industry talent going into foodtech: One thing the sector has been sorely missing is actual employees with food production and food supply chain experience. We’ve got loads of visionary founders and plenty of deep tech scientists but we seem to be lacking people who come from the Food business. We need those people to enter the space.
More mar-comms talent going into foodtech: We absolutely need to start building consumer-first foodtech brands rather than messiah-founder-looking-to-impress-VC brands (the hype is over, folks). This is why we need more old-fashioned marketing, branding and comms talent in the space – I’m talking about folks who understand merchandising, consumer segmentation, packaging design, retail promotion, etc. I know. It sounds obvious, but here we are.
More organized industry-wide action: I’ve been privy to behind-the-scenes discussions around the globe about how the protein diversification space needs to get organized to fight misinformation, negative media narratives and lobby for better regulation, and there have been rumblings here and there about sector-wide action but, so far, nothing major has come of it. I’m hoping this changes in 2024 because we are fighting a well-funded, incumbent and powerful opposition.
Food supply shortages: This is an ongoing issue, but I expect 2024 will bring about more disruptions as weather extremes caused by global warming continue to wreak havoc on agricultural supply chains. From rice to chocolate to tomatoes, many of our favorite foods are under threat and as shortages and damaged crops become a consistent reality rather than a one-off fluke, governments will need to re-assess national food security and Big Food will need to rethink sourcing, which will (hopefully) lead to more investment into everything from improving soil health to innovating alternatives.
My Crystal Ball Predictions: Food Trends To Watch in 2024
As I write above, alt-protein brands need to rejoin the food mainstream and keep better tabs on industry trends when they develop products and launch new SKUs – they need to think beyond the obvious ‘this is a meat/seafood/dairy replacement’ and focus more on creating craveable, nutritious products that consumers will love. Here are some trends that smart protein brands should be looking at and working on:
More personalized food: What’s becoming increasingly clear is that what’s healthy for me may not be healthy for you and, in time, consumers will look for tailored food options. With the advent of AI-powered food startups, it’s increasingly possible to design custom foods that meet individual needs. While this is still a while away from being mainstream and likely will be aimed at the health and fitness crowd first, this is an area of opportunity for protein startups.
Ozempic vs Big Food: Ozempic, a weight-loss drug brand that has become the shorthand term for a group of medications that make patients less hungry, less likely to overeat and less interested in snacking, could change the entire food industry as we know it. This class of drugs works by boosting GLP-1 hormones that tell your body you are full (hence why they are referred to as GLP-1 agonists). These drugs work (people lose weight), more and more drug companies are developing their own versions and they are becoming increasingly affordable. So while it is estimated that close to 10 million people were prescribed Ozempic in 2022, this number could balloon to around 24 million people by 2035, especially when you consider that roughly two out of three US adults are overweight or obese, and one out of three is obese. Patients on these drugs consume on average 20% fewer calories and are less interested in fatty, oily and fried foods. Anyone working in food should be closely watching this trend.
Plant-based foods and the GLP-1 connection: While Ozempic and co do the job, for people who don’t want to take drugs, GLP-1 boosting foods are going to boom. And guess what those foods are? Fiber-rich plants including whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, all of which help with GLP-1 secretion which helps to eliminate cravings. Why aren’t plant-based protein brands taking advantage of this? I’m hoping at least a handful will read this and rethink their marketing strategy. Alternatively, just call me and let’s talk. This trend dovetails with the renewed emphasis on all things gut health (which has been top of mind in the Wellness world for over a decade now but seems to be catching on in mainstream circles at the moment, especially in the UK – see the Zoe app’s collab with M&S).
Gen-Zs: the snacking generation: In case you missed this trend (see Girl Dinner on TikTok, or subscribe to Snaxshot for an in-depth look at the snaxboi demographic), the post-Millennial generation isn’t that interested in the meat-and-two-veg approach to food life. They like variety and small portions like tapas, dim sum, mezze, (nut) cheese boards, they want foods with functionality (see the rocketship journey of protein-bar disguised-as-a-chocolate bar Mid-Day Squares) and most of all, they want snacks. When I interviewed plant-based meat founders from across Asia during Singapore’s Agri-Food Innovation Week this past October, almost all of them shared they are developing new plant-based protein snack formats for a sustainably-minded younger generation looking for fuel on the go.
Climate-conscious parents: There are millions of us out there, parents who love our kids, are worried about climate change and wish it were easier to make food choices that reflect our values and our commitment to the health of our little ones. So far, no one is catering to this group. It’s a huge miss. Most of these folks are not looking to go vegan, but they are looking for a plant-forward approach – there’s a serious opportunity here.
Plant-based and fermented seafood: Still a tiny sub-sector of the plant-based meat alternative space, plant-based seafood looks to be having a moment as a bevvy of new brands entered the space and consumers are increasingly making the link between overfishing and their go-to sushi spot and a new dedicated industry association is working on raising the profile of its members globally.
Whole-food-based meat replacements: This is an ongoing trend, and I have written about it before but with the relentless misinformation campaigns by organizations like the Center for Consumer Freedom and a popular new book about ultra-processed foods making the media rounds, plant-based foods are under attack like never before and consumers are demanding ‘whole food’ products with fewer ingredients and ‘cleaner labels’ – this is great news for all things mushroom, BTW.
Labelling transparency: Following on from the above trend, the confluence of LLM-powered AI software solutions, an explosion of agrifood data companies and the prevalence of social media culture means that consumers have access to more information about the foods they eat than ever before and will continue to demand more transparency from brands. Cue a host of startups and regulatory policies aimed at helping them make better decisions in the grocery aisle both on the environmental (think carbon labelling) and nutrition front (e.g. Nutri-Score) with clearer, more consistent data.
That’s it, folks, looking forward to watching things play out and see you next January for a review of my predictions.