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Living Decades in Days & Trends in 2021

Pandemic. Social unrest. Tense international relations. Remember the “good old days” when these stressors on the food chain were stretched over decades? The year 2020 brought us all of these seismic situations, and more. Now that the year is over, let’s reflect for a moment and look to consumer trends on the horizon in 2021.

Compression and Camaraderie Co-Existed

Major events like pandemics and social unrest defined decades in the past. It’s astonishing to think how these events happened in a matter of days this year.

Yet, this year of compressed calamity also brought us together in shared experiences.  During open conversations about anxiety, isolation and economic challenges, we “walked” into each other’s homes via Zoom and showed each other grace while building camaraderie. When we’re able to gather in person again, it’s my hope that empathy and understanding continue.

Just in Time to Just in Case  

If there was ever a year to perfect the pivot, this was it. Many companies re-focused from a supply chain “just in time” mentality to a strategy of “just in case” to adapt to unprecedented volatility. I saw numerous organizations looking for new solutions to add flexibility in the food system, without building true redundancy. Technology was deployed and contingencies developed to address the disruption taking place.

Creative solutions emerged, and while the term resilient may be on the verge of being overused, that trait became the hallmark of the food industry facing rapidly changing consumer demands.

Reorienting and Three Trends to Watch

We all had to reorient to the world around us as we hunkered down and we’ll have to orient again as we emerge back into the world. It won’t happen in a flip of a switch, but rather over a period of months as vaccines and herd immunity enable a return to society where there is great pent-up demand for dining, events and hospitality.

What consumer trends should you watch for in 2021?

Personalized food philosophies will drive behavior. Consumers will continue to focus on what they want food to “do” for them. It may be a diet more focused on immune health or being more plant-based to satisfy environmental goals. Consumers will look to reinforce their biases, finding brands and products that align with their values. There will be opportunity to position products that appeal to a wider range of individual food philosophies vs. a specific niche.

Restaurants and Food Service Are Fundamentally Re-Defined

Those in the restaurant and food service sectors face fundamental changes as consumers evaluate how to engage with “going out.” The front of house will shrink as delivery options and ghost kitchens that support several brands grow via necessity.

Retail will Battle for Subscription Domination

The new year will be telling in the mega battle over who will achieve subscription domination – will it be Amazon Prime or Walmart Plus? The convenience of having items dropped at our doors is not something people will walk away from. As companies move from survival to longer term strategy, this important battle that reaches back into the supply chain is one to watch.

What Doesn’t Change – CFI Commitment to Trust

One thing that won’t change this year – the mission to help the food industry earn consumer trust. We begin 2021, grateful as always for CFI members and others who share that goal. No matter what comes our way in the next 12 months, CFI will focus on providing research, initiatives, trainings, expertise and insights to help the food industry not just survive, but thrive.

Here’s to brighter days ahead!

Charlie Arnot
CEO, The Center for Food Integrity