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2024 Food and Drink Trends Are All About Ranch, Robots, and Rooster Pasta
2024 Food and Drink Trends Are All About Ranch, Robots, and Rooster Pasta

Food&Travel

2024 Food and Drink Trends Are All About Ranch, Robots, and Rooster Pasta

2024 Food and Drink Trends Are All About Ranch, Robots, and Rooster Pasta

Here’s what experts say you’ll be eating and drinking next year.

If you were to believe all the food trend predictions that surface around this time each year, you might be surprised that 2023 didn’t consist of everyone lounging in kiddie pools filled with kelp, CBD, and hōjicha leaves. Perhaps some did, and that’s their prerogative. The point is, trend forecasting is an imprecise but incredibly intriguing endeavor. For every accurate prediction about the resurgence of nostalgia, Aperol Spritzes, and non-alcoholic spirits, there’s a strategist somewhere feeling disappointed that we haven’t been obsessing over chicken sandwiches, plant-based pasta, and space-themed cuisine for the past 11 months as they had anticipated.

Perhaps their rise is imminent, but for now, let’s delve into some of the 2024 food trend forecasts from industry experts — along with my own insights into what you can expect to find on your plate in the upcoming year.

(Also, to be a bit pedantic for a moment, what I’m referring to as a “trend” in this context is the sustained interest in an ingredient, dish, style, or structural change over a period of time, rather than just a temporary fad like the Fruit Roll-Ups craze on TikTok, the mockery of “girl dinner,” or the trend of spreading butter on everything — which was actually promoted by Dairy Management Inc., the trade association for dairy promotion.)

A healthy skepticism of marketing

Megan Stanton, the associate director of Mintel Food & Drink, highlights in the company’s annual Global Food and Drink Trends Report that consumers are becoming more mindful of food processing terms. They tend to view terms like “stone-ground,” “cold-pressed,” and “fermented” positively, while being skeptical of foods perceived as “junk.” Mintel predicts that in the next two to five years, products will increasingly emphasize their virtues on packaging, which will also be produced in a more environmentally friendly manner — and this information will be readily available on the label.

Craft Media’s 2024 Real New Food report from London suggests that although Gen Z’s design preferences may influence “edgy” packaging, the demographic remains wary of vague health claims and trendy terms like “adaptogenics.” Expect brands to dial back on promoting ice cream infused with collagen, nootropics, and other “functional” ingredients as a solution for health, as the term itself is also losing credibility.

Mintel advises that instead of creating “healthier” versions of heavily processed foods and beverages, brands should focus on reminding consumers of the pleasure and comfort they experience when indulging in these high-fat, high-sugar, and high-salt (HFSS) treats. It’s no surprise that people enjoy these treats regardless of their nutritional content.

Moreover, there’s a noticeable rise in Instacart searches for “probiotic” and a surge in snacks tailored to elimination diets, which are popular among individuals with specific gut conditions like IBS (often humorously referred to as a condition commonly experienced by “hot girls” on TikTok). With the looming threat of a recession and the stress of an election year, expect to see an increased demand for foods and beverages that claim to alleviate gastrointestinal discomfort for at least the next year.

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Pause for self-care — and a little luxury

According to Mintel’s report, food and beverage companies might learn from the “menopausal revolution” and target a demographic that has often been overlooked — Gen X. Now in their 40s and older, individuals in this group, like myself, are prioritizing the care of their aging bodies. They may be willing to explore products such as krill meat, which claims to offer heart-healthy advantages, “sleep drinks” enriched with supplements, or calcium-rich milk powder to support bone strength.

The 2024 Food Trends Report from Datassential, a platform for food and beverage market research and intelligence, concurs that Gen X is a significant target market, particularly in the luxury segment. They observe that individuals in this age group are more inclined to pursue upscale experiences, travel frequently, and indulge in alcoholic beverages on a regular basis compared to other generations.

Boomers are the least likely to be budget-conscious in this setting, so brands should offer them ample opportunities to splurge. Take, for example, the highly recognizable $20 smoothies at the popular L.A. health store Erewhon, which have become a status symbol on social media for younger generations. According to the Real New Food report, “It’s not a store you go to if you need to look at the price tags, and that very fact signals your wealth to the world.” Yelp’s 2024 trend forecast noted a 178% increase in searches for Erewhon’s smoothies, with searches for the “Hailey Bieber smoothie” up by 408%. Now, the question is, how can businesses encourage their younger clientele to bring their parents and grandparents along for their next Erewhon visit, armed with wallets or payment apps?

Similarly, the members-only platform Dorsia, named after the prestigious restaurant in American Psycho, serves as a marketplace for exclusive reservations with guaranteed minimum spending requirements, which are paid in advance. Additionally, delivery services (some with physical locations) are emerging constantly, such as the Delli app, Pop Up Grocer, Foxtrot, and others, offering curated collections of TikTok and Instagram-friendly products from new brands. Most of these items, initially intended for direct-to-consumer sales but now available in various outlets, prioritize design but come with a premium price tag.

Expect more of these IYKYK flexes all over the food landscape — for the small portion of the population who can afford them.

The economy is having a chilling effect

Conversely, individuals of all demographics indicate that the economy is significantly influencing their eating habits, and this trend is expected to continue. According to Datassential, half of their survey respondents express concerns about the escalating costs of food delivery, with 39% admitting to canceling orders upon realizing the accumulating fees — and they’re airing their grievances on TikTok. With a plethora of options available, the company highlights the need for restaurants and delivery platforms to offer added incentives to encourage customers to spend their limited funds, including larger portion sizes (a common complaint) and closer attention to special requests and customization.

Similarly, Craft Media’s report highlights that consumers are feeling the economic strain, evident in their shift towards purchasing frozen foods such as pizza, fries, and dumplings that they would typically order at a restaurant. Brand loyalty has diminished as shoppers navigate between stores in search of the most favorable deals, often favoring store brands over pricier name brands. Once at home, these items are more frequently reheated using appliances like air fryers or microwaves, which consume less energy than ovens and thus result in lower costs.

In contrast, one area where people aren’t cutting back is in indulging in fancy cookies. According to the report, “posh biscuits” (from London, once more) have emerged as an accessible luxury, experiencing a surge in sales since the onset of the pandemic. Meanwhile, sales of fresh produce, vegetables, dairy, and other perishable goods are notably declining.

Bots are hot

In the kitchen, you might find a bot assisting you, as explained by Mintel. While the pursuit of convenience has always been ongoing, the Covid-19 pandemic hastened consumers’ desire to seek out efficient ways to enjoy quality food and drink in their daily routines. On the horizon are innovations such as public pizza vending machines capable of baking a frozen pizza in just three minutes, an expansion of pre-made meal options like Home Bake 425° / 30, which enables home cooks to easily prepare packages of main dishes, sides, and vegetables simultaneously in the oven. Additionally, there will be more apps designed to help users quickly whip up meals using ingredients they already have or to generate shopping lists for stocking up their kitchens properly.

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To streamline the shopping experience, Mintel reveals that 43% of consumers in the United States express interest in accessing virtual grocery stores online to select their purchases. Similarly, 38% of consumers in Italy are willing to explore augmented reality technologies, such as VR headsets, to enrich their dining and drinking experiences.

Datassential’s report confirms the rise of robots in professional kitchens, termed “cobotics,” focusing on streamlining operations rather than humanoid interactions. This includes automated drink dispensing, compact machinery, and ventless hood systems that enable restaurants to consider locations previously deemed unsuitable. More restaurant owners are turning to combi ovens and speed ovens for their precision and versatility in menu creation. Additionally, technology-enabled salad bars and buffets are being utilized to enhance food safety through temperature monitoring and spoilage detection, addressing concerns about contamination in the current era.

Dressing with ranch

According to Datassential, diners can expect to see increased brand immersion experiences in the near future. While we may not yet be washing our hair with ranch shampoo, we could soon be enjoying other branded merchandise such as Hidden Valley Ranch beach towels, sandals, loungewear sets, and even couches. Their research indicates that 18% of respondents have worn clothing from a food brand, 21% have purchased limited-edition items from brands like Pringles’ Real Housewives-themed Crisps and Caviar collaboration with The Caviar Company, and 29% would be interested in visiting a shop or pop-up restaurant from a food brand they love. However, Datassential warns that excessive use of gimmicks could lead to a loss of interest, as a quarter of consumers indicate.

Real New Food highlights the trend of upscale collaborations between restaurants and fashion designers, such as St JOHN’s merchandise created by Drake’s menswear. The report also notes the enduring trend of restaurants selling branded clothing to offset losses during shutdowns caused by the pandemic. According to the report, wearing a restaurant T-shirt is comparable to wearing a band tee as a way to express one’s identity, and this trend is expected to persist as long as social media platforms and smartphone cameras remain prevalent.

This pasta will rule the roost

Datassential forecasts that Cresto di Gallo, a classic pasta shape with ruffled edges resembling a rooster’s crest, will be the standout pasta shape of 2024. Alongside this, tins of SPAM are expected to make a nostalgic comeback, especially with eye-catching collaborations with influencers and chefs. This trend of reviving longstanding items is often referred to as “newstalgia,” although it may feel a bit forced. Additionally, expect Mean Girls-branded merchandise to surge with the release of the sequel in January 2024, featuring themed dishes like Burn Book Burger Sliders and Fetch Strudel at branded pop-ups.

Caesar the day

Praise be to that salad — or at least its components. Datassential predicts a trend where non-romaine vegetables such as asparagus and kale will receive the Caesar treatment, while spicy ranch dressing will become ubiquitous.

Sweet and sour

McCormick’s, a prominent spice brand, has chosen tangy tamarind as the Flavor of the Year for 2024, a prediction also made by Food & Wine in 2022. Additionally, McCormick’s forecasts that other flavors like tigre de leche, calamansi, sour orange, plum, and various pickled and fermented foods will become popular. Similarly, the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot 2024 report” predicts the rise of calamansi, tkemali (a tangy plum sauce from Georgia), and citrusy mini-cuke cucamelons.

Datassential suggests that the popularity of sweetened condensed milk will increase, as it becomes a common ingredient in both beverages and desserts. This idea aligns with cookbook author Andrea Nguyen’s perspective, as highlighted in her 2021 Food & Wine article titled “There’s Nothing a Can of Sweetened Condensed Milk Can’t Do.”

Here’s what I’m predicting for 2024 after diving into all that data, talking to chefs and colleagues, and poring over menus as I eat and drink my way around.

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Privato dining

If you happen to have $30,000 ready to spend from your Metier wallet, Major Food Group, led by 2012 F&W Best New Chefs Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi along with partner Jeff Zalaznick, would be somewhat pleased to enroll you in ZZ’s Club. This membership includes access to exclusive restaurants like Carbone Privato and ZZ’s, located in cities such as New York and Miami. For a mere $20,000 initiation fee and an additional $10,000 annually, you can enjoy the privileges of dining at their intimate, members-only establishments. Major Food Group joins the growing trend of exclusive dining venues, including Zero Bond, Casa Cipriani, and others, where membership fees can range from $1,000 to $5,000 annually.

Back to the ranch

Even before noticing the mention of spicy ranch in the Datassentials report, I sensed a surge coming. Cookbook author and chef Sohla El-Waylly collaborated with my favorite spice vendor Burlap & Barrel to create a custom ranch seasoning blend, and Spicewalla followed suit with their own blend. F&W’s always-ahead-of-the-curve associate editorial director Chandra Ram recently shared a fantastic Ranch Dressing Chicken recipe, and I anticipate there’s more to come. Ranch dressing has always been popular and delicious, but perhaps now people are finally willing to admit it.

All hail the king

In line with the “newstalgia” trend (ugh), I’ve noticed upscale versions of classic Chicken à la King appearing on menus at restaurants where cocktails start at $19. While the puff pastry may be homemade and the English peas of premium quality, this childhood favorite, now elevated to restaurant fare, reflects the current trend of nostalgic adults, often with disposable income, seeking comfort in familiar flavors. Could haute tuna casserole and creamed chipped beef be next in line for a revival?

Getting dippy with it

Regarding restaurant trends, establishments ranging from Manhattan’s upscale Gramercy Tavern to the cozy 204 Main in rural areas are incorporating elevated versions of dips into their menus—a development that personally delights me. These dips may be served alongside house-made potato chips or carefully selected crudité, bringing back the joy of interactive dining experiences that were somewhat out of fashion for a period. It seems that this trend is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Drink in hot witch summer

In my predictions from last year, I expressed my hope for Strega to gain popularity because I personally enjoy its flavor and aesthetic. Meanwhile, many traditional herbal liqueurs, particularly Chartreuse, have become extremely popular, leading to shortages. Over the past summer, Strega underwent a modern rebranding, replacing its old-fashioned image with a more glamorous depiction of a witch. If this rebranding helps to popularize cocktails like the Strega Sour in bars nationwide, then I’m all for it.

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