What Food Trends Tell Us About Consumer Habits in 2022

A new year is upon us, and this always sets the stage for a bit of reflection about where we’ve been and where we’re going. While 2020 was memorable for all the wrong reasons, 2021 seemed to signal a return to less volatile times while still keeping us on our toes.  

Personally, during this period of unpredictability, I often sought comfort in consistency, and there was one constant through it all: Uber Eats. Whether ordering for breakfast, lunch or dinner (and sometimes – slightly shamefully – more than once a day), I’m finally ready to admit that meal planning and regular grocery shopping has become a thing of the distant past in my home. At the risk of sounding dramatic, when everything else feels crazy, being able to have a delicious, healthy(ish) meal on the table in minutes with minimal forethought is lifesaving.  

Relinquishing control to my new dependency got me thinking. If we are what we eat, what can trends in the food and beverage industry tell us about consumer habits in 2022? Here are some ideas.  

More than Meatless Mondays 
The country’s demographics are shifting, and Gen Z – those born after 1996 – are beginning to gain purchasing power as they enter the workforce. Joining their millennial counterparts, these two groups are actively choosing to consume less meat than older generations for environmental and ethical reasons. According to a study by The Food Institute, 65% of Gen Z wants to adopt a more plant-forward diet.  

Food trends – especially when sustainability-related – often start on the west coast and work their way across the country. Our California-based client Mendocino Farms, which offers a diverse menu of chef-driven seasonal sandwiches and salads made from high-quality ingredients, continues to add meat alternatives to their menu, and we’re not just talking veggie patties.

Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Reuben features plant-based corned beef from Unreal Deli and the Impossible Taco Salad includes Impossible chorizo. It’s likely that consumers will continue to seek innovative alternatives to help them satisfy their craving for savory, plant-based options without skimping on flavor.  

Beyond the food and beverage industry, this could signal an overall desire for products that are produced with the welfare of the planet, workers and animals in mind.  

Quality Reigns Supreme 
In addition to being more invested in how a product is made, consumers are looking for options that are nutrient dense and locally sourced, according to a GWI survey. Overly processed foods, while convenient, are being passed over in favor of more natural and higher-quality ingredients.  

This indicates that people are willing to pay a premium for certain goods that align with the quest to live a healthier, less environmentally impactful life. For example, oat milk – a relative newcomer in the mainstream alternatives to cow’s milk – saw an increase in consumption by 55% in 2020. And if you’ve made this substitution for your latte at a local coffee shop, you’ll know there’s typically an upcharge of around a dollar for your drink.  

A More Holistic View of Health
The definition of healthy is changing to be more inclusive of mind and body, and a balanced approach to indulgence is on the menu. GWI reports that Americans trying to eat healthy are less restrictive in their eating habits than average.  

The pandemic brought health – both physical and mental – into focus for many of us, and the public conversation around protecting our emotional wellbeing in 2021 took centerstage.  

Brands should take this as a cue to cater to the whole person, as people are embracing a big picture mentality when it comes to thinking about what they value and what enhances their lives.  

While these trends are specific to food, they all point to one key takeaway applies even outside the industry: consumers are turning to brands, products and services that align with their personal values – and they’re willing to spend more to get that feeling of connection. Our west coast team is always keeping an eye on consumer trends that may impact our clients in the short and long term – and sometimes that just happens to include browsing menus on Uber Eats.