In the grocery deli and prepared food departments of 2019, expect to see more global, plant-based and regional foods and flavor combinations that balance the familiar with the cutting-edge.
And regardless of the trend, look for grocery to be closer to the action than ever before — not trailing behind other channels.
Grocery chain store customers in 2019 will continue to have access to cutting-edge flavors that were formerly the privilege of more rarefied venues, says Marlo Mastalerz, research and development chef and R&D director at Excalibur Seasoning.
“We’re seeing more of a cultural assortment of the freshest up-and-coming products that would normally only be available at specialty markets,” Mastalerz says. “We’re constantly evaluating the needs of our customers, as well as working with our suppliers to stay ahead of the curve and forecast availability.”
In grocery stores, instore departments are playing a bigger role in driving trends throughout the store, Mastalerz says. “Today we’re seeing more and more trends working their way into the instore restaurants and driving results on what you will see on the grocery store shelf. By hiring chefs and focusing on flavor, many grocery stores have already elevated the profile of their offerings.”
Suzy Badaracco, president of consultancy Culinary Tides Inc., says that although the U.S. economy is roaring, political unrest in the country has produced what economists and behavioralists call a “stall” — a condition in which consumers are less willing to take risks because of uncertainty in their lives.
When it comes to food, Badaracco says, that means people are leaning towards old favorites. They still want to try new flavors, but the trick is not to overdo it.
“Now is not the time for extreme experimentation,” she says. “Classics are the sweet spot. If you do want to be more trend-forward, pair an experimental, fringe idea with a classic background.”
“Fringe” flavors expected to be in demand in 2019, Badaracco says, include seaweed, yuzu, pandan, smoke, tamarind, vegetable ash and sour, pickled and fermented flavors. At the other end of the spectrum, bringing those fringe experiments down to earth, are “comfort” flavors like caramel, varietal citrus, coconut, butter, regional BBQ, ginger, cinnamon, pumpkin, rum and bourbon.
At the grocery instore level, Badaracco expects to see more use of sumac, rosemary, pandan, regional BBQ and Mexican, Italian, Spanish and Deep South (U.S.).
Plant-based foods and beverages are hot and will remain hot in 2019, says Amy Marks-McGee, founder of consultancy Trendincite LLC. Not that long ago, access to plant-based foods was limited and the selection of choices even narrower, she says.
Now it’s mainstream for consumers to look for better-for-you products driven by the rise in vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian lifestyles. And the trend is migrating from the center of the store to the perimeter.
“There is a lot of activity in packaged foods and beverages, and now we’re seeing activity slowly happen in the instore deli and prepared foods,” Marks-McGee says. “What’s interesting about plant-based products is that the flavors created for these products are not so different — it’s the base or preparation.”
For example, she says, in snacks consumers still like salty, cheesy, spicy and sweet flavors. But instead of a potato chip they might prefer a beet chip, and instead of fried they may choose baked or dehydrated.
Another trend expected to continue in 2019 is demand for globally inspired bold flavors, Marks-McGee says. Growth will continue to be driven by an increasing multicultural population and by younger consumers, who love to explore new cultures and their cuisines.
Mexico and Asia, she predicts, will lead the way. Within the Asian category, Indian and Middle Eastern flavors will continue to gain in popularity.
“I’ve seen a lot of activity with the rise and acceptance of Mexican chili peppers such as jalapeño and chipotle, which are more familiar ingredients, and poblano, habanero and serrano emerging,” she says. “But now we’re also seeing ghost peppers from India appearing. Sriracha from Thailand was on fire, and now gochujang from Korea is popping up.”
These trends are trickling down to the grocery store level, Marks-McGee says. Specifically for instore, that means meal kits, including Chicken Tikka Masala, Chicken Pad Thai, Shrimp Scampi, Spicy Szechuan-style Chicken & Rice and Tuscan-style Mushroom Risotto.
“Because meal kits are pre-assembled ingredients, it gives consumers access to multicultural flavors and ingredients, which they may be unfamiliar with,” Marks-McGee says.
Latin America and Asia, of course, aren’t the only sources of new flavors gaining ground in the U.S., Marks-McGee says. For instance, harissa, a North African blend of hot peppers, oil and various spices, is emerging on restaurant menus and in recipes.
“It’s beginning to appear in instore grocery through meal kits,” she says. “HelloFresh, Stop & Shop’s meal kit partner, offers a Harissa Sweet Potato Pita Pockets with Cucumber Dill Salad, and Walmart’s meal kit features a Moroccan Shakshuka (Moroccan Baked Eggs). This is another ingredient to follow.”
Retailers like Walmart, Hy-Vee, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are among those leading the way with new international dishes sold in instore and other grocery departments, she says.
Middle Eastern flavors and intense umami flavor profiles, like mushroom, should figure prominently in 2019 dishes, says Mastalerz.
Maeve Webster, president of consultancy Menu Matters, agrees. “Middle Eastern flavors — some that reflect more Mediterranean influences and others that are significantly different/unique to the region — will most definitely start to have a broader impact.”
Webster also forecasts an uptick in spice blends ranging from “bold flavor-forward” to spicy and coming from around the world — dukkah, togarashi, Chinese five-spice and berbere among them.
“I don't think there will be a time in the near or even distant future when American food won't be influenced to some degree by international cuisines,” Webster says. “Our demographics are changing so that many of these ‘international’ cuisines will be ‘American’ cuisines. Additionally, a broader use of unique flavors within common or more familiar applications will certainly continue.”
Fortunately, she adds, many authentic ingredients from fresh produce to prepared foods are all more commonly or easily accessible either in stores or online.
Consumers can only expect to see more regional spices and powders — cocoa, turmeric and matcha, to name a few —in 2019, Mastalerz says.
Badaracco says to look for six different regions of the world to have an impact on flavor trends in 2019:
- Middle East: za’atar, zhug, tahini and baharat
- Africa: harissa, dukkah, berbere
- Eastern Europe: sweet & sour, fermented
- Asia: adobo, sambal, chaat masala
- South America: chimichurri, chancaca
- Caribbean: varietal citrus, pepper sauce, jerk
Expect to see more Cajun-flavored foods in 2019, Marks-McGee says. Butterball, for example, is releasing a new Cajun deli flavor, and two new Kroger’s Home Chef meal kits are Cajun dishes: Cajun Shrimp Tacos with Creamy Corn Slaw and Cajun Fish Cakes with Spinach Salad. In addition, Cajun Spice is one of the eight new Lay’s “Tastes of America” flavors, which are inspired by popular regional dishes.
On the pulse
Restaurants, bakeries and independent brands and retailers set many of the flavor trends, Marks-McGee says. But grocery chains are getting better at spotting those trends and applying them to instore and other departments.
“As awareness increases and consumers begin to look for these flavor profiles or certain ingredients, then the supermarkets begin to offer what’s trending,” she says. “I think the speed to market has changed and supermarkets are quicker to respond, driven by access to information and the fast-paced lifestyles consumers are leading.”
Webster agrees that grocery stores are quicker on the uptake when it comes to trends.
“It used to be that grocery stores would adopt trends well after those trends were established in the mass market,” she says. “Many of the higher-end and forward-thinking grocery stores are now adopting trends far earlier in the process. Grocery stores that may be more comfortable with niche customers bases may be closer followers than those that are solidly mass market. It's unlikely grocery stores will become leaders in trends in the near future but they are definitely looking to adopt trends earlier and earlier.”
Badaracco says that, at least in theory, grocery has some advantages over foodservice when it comes to starting flavor trends. “Grocery can get fresh produce on the shelves and available quicker then it can get on a menu or into retail products sometimes,” she says. “It isn’t that grocery is a follower exactly. It’s that they can be slower to market than foodservice. They may have packaging, shelf stability issues, etc. But with grocery you’re able to get in front of all income levels, all ages, so they have that advantage over foodservice.”