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If you were to take all the food trend prediction reports and stories that pop up around this time of year at face value, you might be pretty gobsmacked that we hadn’t all just spent 2023 awash in kiddie pools full of kelp, CBD, and hōjicha leaves. Maybe you did and that’s your business, but this is all to say that trend prediction is an inexact art, but an awfully fascinating one. For every correct prediction of a nostalgia, Spritz, and nonalcoholic spirits ascension, there’s an executive at a strategic firm feeling salty that we haven’t all been clucking over chicken sandwiches, plant-based pasta, and space-inspired cuisine for the past 11 months and change like they’d claimed we would.
Maybe their ascendance is nigh, but in the meantime, here’s a breakdown of some of the 2024 food trend predictions that the market experts are making — and a bit of what I think you’re going to be seeing at your table in the coming year.
(Oh also, to put on my pedantic pants for a sec, what I’m calling a “trend” here is interest in an ingredient, dish, style, or structural shift that is sustained over a period of time and not just a few weeks where people are getting weird with Fruit Roll-Ups on TikTok, goofing on “girl dinner,” or smearing butter on everything — which was a fad entirely manufactured by Dairy Management Inc., the trade association that promotes dairy).
A healthy skepticism of marketing
Megan Stanton, associate director of Mintel Food & Drink, notes in the company’s annual Global Food and Drink Trends Report that consumers are increasingly attuned to phrasing and hold positive associations with processing terms like “stone-ground,” “cold-pressed,” and “fermented” while cocking an eyebrow at foods that they might see as “junk.” Mintel anticipates that over the next two to five years, products will be touting their virtues even more prominently on packaging — which will itself be made in a more eco-friendly way (and you can read all about it on the label).
London-based Craft Media‘s 2024 Real New Food report explains that while Gen Z design sensibilities may be brought to the fore with “edgy” packaging, the demographic is highly suspicious of nebulous health claims and buzzwords like “adaptogenics.” Look for brands to chill a little on the messaging that an ice cream packed with collagen, nootropics, and other “functional” ingredients is going to make you “healthy” — which is another term that’s gonna be sent packing.
Rather than developing “better for you” versions of highly processed foods and drinks, Mintel counsels that brands will need to “remind consumers of the joy and comfort they get” when they’re indulging in these high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) treats because, to everyone’s complete lack of shock, folks like eating these goodies no matter what.
Oh, and everyone’s stomach hurts a little, as evidenced by an uptick in Instacart searches for “probiotic” and an increase in snacks that cater to the elimination diets favored by people with certain gut conditions including IBS (deemed by TikTok to be a condition frequently suffered by “hot girls”). A looming recession and election year stress ensure that foods and beverages said to soothe gastric distress will be on the menu for at least the next calendar year.
Pause for self-care — and a little luxury
Mintel’s report goes on to note that food and drink brands could take a hint from the “menopausal revolution” and cater to an eternally ignored demographic — Gen X — who (like me) are now in their 40s and older aren’t slacking on taking care of their aging bodies. They may be open to trying things like krill meat, which touts heart-healthy benefits; “sleep drinks” amped with supplements, or calcium-packed milk powder to bolster bone density.
The 2024 Food Trends Report from Datassential, a food and beverage market research and intelligence platform, agrees that X marks the spot, but they see it in the luxury space, noting that people in that age bracket are “more likely to seek out premium experiences, travel often, and regularly enjoy an alcoholic beverage than any other generation.”
Boomers are the least to keep a watchful eye on their wallet in that milieu, so brands would do well to give them plenty of places to get spendy. Say, for instance, the distinctly branded $20 smoothies at cult L.A. health grocer Erewhon, which have become wealth shibboleth on social media for a younger crowd. As the Real New Food report puts it, “It’s not a store you go to if you need to look at the price tags and that very fact is a signal to the world of your wealth.” Yelp’s 2024 trend forecast saw searches for Erewhon’s smoothies increase by 178%, and “Hailey Bieber smoothie” searches were up 408%. Now how do they get their clientele to bring their parents and grandparents along on their next Erewhon run, wallet or payment app in hand?
Likewise, the members-only Dorsia platform (yes, named after the high-status restaurant in American Psycho) functions as a marketplace for exclusive reservations tied to guaranteed minimum spends, which are pre-paid. And delivery services (some with physical spaces) seem to be launching daily, like the Delli app, Pop Up Grocer, Foxtrot, and others offering curated selections of TikTok and Instagram-friendly products from new brands. Most of these items — originally intended to be direct-to-consumer but which can now be found out in the wild — have a strong eye toward design, but definitely not the bargain bin.
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
On the flip side, diners of all demos say that the economy is having a major impact on their food habits and will for the foreseeable future. Half of Datassential’s respondents say that delivery costs are becoming untenable and 39% say that they’ve abandoned orders once they saw how much the fees were adding up — and they’re venting their frustrations via TikTok. With so many options out there, the company notes that restaurants and delivery platforms will have to go above and beyond to entice customers to spend their dwindling cash there, and that includes more generous portion sizes (a frequent complaint), as well as closer attention to special requests and customization.
Craft Media’s report similarly observes that consumers are feeling the pinch, and they’re seeing it in the form of shoppers opting for frozen foods — like pizza, fries, and dumplings — that they might normally have bought at a restaurant. Brand loyalty has flown out the window as customers hop from store to store looking for the best deal on items, and opting for store brands over more expensive name brands. Once they’re home, those items are more likely to be heated up in an air fryer or a microwave, which take up significantly less energy than an oven so they’re cheaper.
The place where folks aren’t skimping? Fancy cookies. Per the report, “posh biscuits” (again, London-based) have become an affordable luxury, with sales spiking since the pandemic. Meanwhile, sales of fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, and other perishable items are dwindling significantly.
Bots are hot
Someone’s in the kitchen with you, and it’s probably a bot. Mintel explains that while humanity has always been on a quest for convenience, the Covid-19 pandemic “accelerated consumers’ desires to find shortcuts to quality food and drink experiences in their day-to-day lives.” On the horizon: public pizza vending machines that will perfectly bake a frozen pizza in three minutes; more pre-made meal options like Home Bake 425° / 30 that allow home cooks to toss packages of mains, sides, and vegetables into the oven at the same time; and more apps that help users craft quick meals from what’s already in their kitchens — or make shopping lists to help them properly stock up.
And to further slice and dice the time spent roaming the aisles, Mintel shares that 43% of U.S. consumers say they’d be interested in being able to browse virtual grocery storefronts to assemble their orders, while 38% of Italian consumers are open to using augmented reality (like VR headsets) to enhance their eating and drinking experiences.
Datassential confirms the robot ascendance in its report, but in the pro kitchen — and they’re calling it “cobotics.” Think less beep-boop may I take your order, and more streamlining in the form of automated drink filling, as well as physically smaller machinery and ventless hooding that allows restaurant owners to consider opening up in places that may have been impossible before. More owner-operators than ever are looking to combi ovens (which use both steam injection and convection fans) and speed ovens, which offer precision and flexibility, to maximize their menu offerings. And in an era where we’ve all become hyperconscious of contamination, tech-enabled salad bars and buffets will help promote food safety through temperature monitoring and food spoilage detection.
Dressing with ranch
Diners, on the other hand, will be further immersed in their favorite brands, says Datassential. While we’re still a year or two out from washing our hair with ranch shampoo — we could dry off with a Hidden Valley Ranch beach towel, slip on some HVR sandals and a loungewear set, and flop down on their one-of-a-kind HVR couch. Their survey shows 18% of respondents have worn clothing from a food brand, 21% have bought a limited-edition item from a brand (like Pringles’ Real Housewives-themed Crisps and Caviar collab with The Caviar Company, or Pop-Tarts Croc-Tarts), and 29% would visit a shop or pop-up restaurant from a food brand they love. Next year shows no signs of this showing down, but Datassential cautions that a quarter of consumers say that when gimmicks are deployed too frequently, they’ll lose interest.
On the somewhat schmancier side, Real New Food points to high-end collaborations between restaurants and clothing designers, citing St JOHN’s merch designed by Drake’s menswear and the pandemic-born yet still prevalent trend of restaurants offsetting losses due to shutdowns by selling branded clothing. As the report puts it, “Wearing a restaurant T-shirt is akin to wearing a band tee to signal your identity,” and it’s not like diners are going to sour on that so long as phone cameras and social platforms exist.
This pasta will rule the roost
All this projection can feel like throwing spaghetti at the wall, but Datassential predicts that classic, ruffle-edged Cresto di Gallo (named for its visual similarity to a rooster’s crest) will be cock of the walk as the it pasta shape of 2024. It might be sharing shelf space with tins of SPAM, which both Craft Media and Datassential say is poised for a nostalgic comeback (except in Hawai’i where its popularity has never waned) due to eye-catching collaborations with influencers and chefs. Various trend reports have been deploying the term “newstalgia” to describe the glow-up these longstanding items are getting, but it all feels a tad like making “fetch” happen. (Related: Brace for Mean Girls-branded everything when the sequel is released in January. 2024 and yes, the menu at the branded pop-ups will include Burn Book Burger Sliders, Fetch Strudel, Stab Caesar Salad, and other themed dishes.)
Caesar the day
All hail said salad — or at least the accoutrement. Datassential foresees a future where non-romaine vegetables like asparagus, kale, and others are given the Caesar treatment, while spicy ranch dressing will be slathered on everything. (More on that in a moment.)
Sweet and sour
Spice megabrand McCormick’s has tapped tangy tamarind as the 2024 Flavor of the Year in their annual Flavor Forecast (Food & Wine called this one back in 2022), while predicting that tigre de leche, calamansi, sour orange, plum, and pickled and fermented foods will be on everyone’s puckered lips. The National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot 2024 report” concurs, predicting the prevalence of, again, calamansi, along with tkemali, the tangy, Georgian plum sauce, and citrusy mini-cuke cucamelons.
That’s potentially balanced out by Datassential’s notion that sweetened condensed milk is going to be swirled into everything from drinks to desserts. I agree — you can find inspiration in cookbook author Andrea Nguyen’s 2021 F&W opus, 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.
Got $30k burning a hole in your Metier wallet? Major Food Group — helmed by 2012 F&W Best New Chefs Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi along with partner Jeff Zalaznick — would be mildly thrilled to set you up with a membership in ZZ’s Club, which includes Carbone Privato and ZZ’s. The mere cost of a $20k initiation fee and an additional $10k a year gives you access to their exclusive, small-capacity restaurants in cities like New York and Miami. They join the ever-increasing ranks of members-only dining and dishing establishments like Zero Bond ($1k initiation fee and $3,850 a year for members who are 28 to 45 years old, less for those younger, and more for older), Casa Cipriani ($2k initiation and $3.9k annually for just the NYC outpost and the annual bumps up to $5k for access to Milan and all future clubs), and others that we hoi polloi may never know about. (I say “we” but if you’re a person with actual access, please DM me because I have many questions for you.)
Back to the ranch
Even before spying the spicy ranch mention in the Datassentials report, I felt the tidal wave about to splash down. Cookbook author and chef Sohla El-Waylly created a custom ranch seasoning blend with my beloved spice vendor Burlap & Barrel, and my equally adored Spicewalla busted out a blend as well. F&W’s eternally ahead-of-the-curve associate editorial director Chandra Ram just dropped a beauty of a Ranch Dressing Chicken recipe, and I predict there’s plenty more coming down the pike. It’s not that ranch hasn’t been popular — not to mention perfect — all along, it’s just perhaps that people have gotten over themselves enough to admit it.
All hail the king
In keeping with the (uuugghhhh) “newstalgia” zeitgeist, I’ve been spotting fancied-up versions of hearty, homey Chicken à la King at restaurants where a cocktail cannot be had for under $19. Sure, the puff pastry will be crafted in-house and the English peas likely went to Eton, but the gravy-sopped stuff of childhood has graduated to restaurant in keeping with the current trend of angsty (and often monied) adults pining for the comfortable pleasures of youth. Are haute tuna casserole and creamed chipped beef on the ascent?
Getting dippy with it
Speaking of, restaurants from Manhattan’s tony Gramercy Tavern to my favorite rural respite 204 Main are putting cheffed-up dips on the menu — which is pretty much my dream come true. They might be accompanied by house-made or specially-sourced potato chips or artfully tournéed crudité but this hands-on party pleasure (that felt rather verboten for a few years) is now front and center on the dining table and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon.
Drink in hot witch summer
I mentioned in last year’s predictions that I wanted Strega to have a moment because I love the flavor and the aesthetic so much, and in the meantime, plenty of classic herbal liqueurs (most notably Chartreuse) have exploded onto the scene to the point of shortages. This past summer, Strega branding got a modern day upgrade, replacing my goals crone with a more glammed-up witch. Hey, if that’s what gets the Strega Sour on bar menus across the land for a spell, I’ll take it.