It’s an exciting time to be a taste bud. Trends that have surfaced over the past few years have continued to grow, and a wide range of new trends have surfaced as well. So what’s happening for food manufacturing, restaurant, and processing businesses? Here are the top trends that are taking the food world by storm.

Technology-Related Trends

In today’s age of rapid changes, scientific developments and technological advances are propelling the food industry forward. For example, scientifically engineered foods are slowly emerging, leaving the industry wondering whether traditional farms and factories will eventually be replaced by synthetic food products. These foods may be less expensive or intrinsically more nutritious than traditional alternatives.

Delivery methods are also changing with the times. In the US, meal delivery services like Green Chef and online delivery models like GrubHub are becoming more and more mainstream. Drone delivery or driverless delivery vehicles are not far behind.

Enhanced intelligence can have additional applications as well. In a world where consumers are busier than ever and desperate for convenience, technological advances have enabled the food industry to embrace the concept of personalized service. Targeted promotions and customized recommendations can be tailored for a specific customer’s behavior patterns using “smart” data-gathering equipment. This will enable food manufacturers to share cross-category pairings, automatic subscription services, and expedited home delivery.

Even the restaurant business is beginning to join the crowd, using technology to reduce wait time with hypercustomized menu suggestions. For example, KFCs in China utilize smile-to-pay facial recognition technology to identify diners and monitor all of their restaurant-related transactions. Although some customers still balk at the thought of sharing their personal data, more and more of them are forgoing some level of privacy in order to increase their chances of personalized service.

Food Sourcing

The foremost concept trend in the food industry has likely been the move towards “clean food,” a loose term for food that is hyper-local, sustainably harvested, and free of various additives. Restaurants are embracing this trend by incorporating onsite gardens and beer-brewing, house-made food items, and farm-to-table menu options. Food manufacturers may opt for ingredients that are free of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. In general, the move towards natural ingredients, food waste reduction, and a focus on fresh produce is becoming more pronounced than ever this year – both in the restaurant business and in the food processing industry.

One popular embodiment of this concept is Danish chef René Redzepi, who is known for putting a creative spin on “clean food” at two-Michelin-starred Copenhagen restaurant Noma. He takes the trend to a new level, foraging by the Danish coastline for many of the ingredients incorporated into his menu dishes.

Plant-based Foods

In a similar vein, vegan food options have become more popular in recent years, a trend that should be continuing this year and beyond. In 2017, McDonald’s jumped onto the bandwagon with the unveiling of its new vegan burger. Similarly, Pizza Hut is in the process of testing out vegan cheese in the UK. Mainstream frozen dessert companies, like Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs, are offering vegetarian or vegan products that parallel their dairy versions, and vegetarian chains like By Chloe and Veggie Grill are becoming more and more popular. Even Google has joined the movement, with a focus on making their employee menu options “plant forward.”

With vegetarianism and veganism becoming more mainstream, sales of meat alternatives like tofu, tempeh, and quinoa are on the rise. Cuisine from cultures that are traditionally vegetable- or pulse-based, such as Indian food, are on the rise as well.

Gut-Friendly Foods

Recent research about the importance of maintaining your microbiome – your gut’s ecosystem of good bacteria – has some consumers opting for gut-friendly food options. The food industry is therefore rolling out food items that incorporate probiotic, prebiotic, and anti-inflammatory ingredients. Probiotic ingredients – like kimchi, miso, kefir, and other fermented foods – and prebiotic ingredients  -- like onions, garlic, and other alliums – are becoming more and more mainstream. Turmeric, aloe, flaxseed, and skyr are also being touted as good for your digestive health.

Not only that, but many restaurants and manufacturing companies are more wary of dumping an explosion of heat into their products due to potential digestive upset. Instead, they are pairing hot peppers and other spicy ingredients with others that are sweet, tangy, or smoky. These pairings offer an increase in taste complexity, while mellowing the heat and decreasing any potential digestive issues.

Texture and Taste Injections

The idea of actually injecting flavor into a food product is a novelty, but not one that will be wearing off anytime soon. And flavor injections are going far beyond meats and cocktail infusions. Diners at some restaurants can inject additional flavors into anything from  frozen desserts to oysters.

Another similar trend embraces the inclusion of contrasting textures. Like injected flavors, unexpected textures can give your food a new pop. Manufacturers and chefs are adding chewy or crunchy elements to beverages, and popping candy to baked goods. This seems to be a new frontier that leaves plenty of room for creativity. Especially in today’s Instagramming world, giving consumers a novel and share-worthy experience is an important goal that food and beverage companies are pursuing.

World Cuisines

Besides for general food trends, the food industry is currently embracing specific cuisines. Western palates are becoming more comfortable with authentic world cuisines and international spices. Flavors from the Philippines recently took the culinary world by storm, and other nearby countries are now joining their neighbor in gustatory popularity, including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Because these cuisines are somewhat rooted in European and mainland-Asian influences, Westerners find their taste simultaneously familiar and exotic.

In general, street foods from various cultures have remained popular in recent years, and will continue to do so, expanding to new cultures and foods as consumers continue to become more adventurous. Foods like tempura, kabobs, dumplings, pupusas, laksa, and Hainanese chicken and rice will become even more commonplace.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same. While consumers are embracing personalized service, clean food, world cuisines, and other trends, they are first and foremost interested in quality products and services. As the food industry is propelled into the future, the most successful companies will continue to be those that play to their own strengths and put customer satisfaction as their top priority.

Written by Rob Brown