CHICAGO — Alternative, sustainability and customization — these are words that characterize the trends marking the current global food industry. Virginia Lee, insights and innovation manager for Innova Market Insights, educated attendees at ProFood Tech in Chicago on how these themes and others are driving consumer food purchases and food innovation in the top 10 trends.

A diversifying consumer base and more global travel continues to produce adventurous consumers. People are more willing to try new foods and flavors. New product launches are being inspired by global foods and spices such as za’atar.

Plant-based foods is not slowing down. Consumer concerns over health, sustainability and animal welfare are keeping plant-based foods not just around but thriving.

“America is a carnivorous culture, so meat is never going away, but we are going to see maybe a slight decline as well as more diverse options for meat and meat alternatives,” Ms. Lee said.

This leads into the third major trend Innova sees in global food: alternatives to all. Consumers are looking for alternative meat, alternative dairy and even alternative fish. The popularity of plant-based and growing vegan and vegetarian populations have people demanding more varied alternatives to all of these animal-based foods.

Sustainability, or "green appeal," as Innova characterized this trend, also is picking up steam. Two in three consumers in the United States, U.K. and China said that companies should invest in sustainability, Innova found. This could be anything from improved traceability and accountability in the supply chain to sustainable packaging.

Millennials are reshaping the way society approaches mealtime with their propensity for snacking. Sixty-three per cent of millennials replace meals with snacks. This has food manufacturers focusing on snacks when it comes to new products, even products not typically seen as snack products.

“We’re finding that food innovation is focused on snackification,” Ms. Lee said. “Such as Skippy Peanut Butter & Jelly Bites or Babybel cheese crackers.”

Health and wellness also is driving multiple trends for food. Fiber is seeing a resurgence with Innova finding that 44% of Americans are increasing their fiber intake and a 15% increase in fiber claims in new product launches last year.

Consumers are changing the way they think about health. It’s no longer just nutrition, with people looking at health more holistically and intuitively. Consumers want to eat food that is going to make them feel good whether that’s physically, emotionally or mentally.

These trends are shaking up the landscape of companies and innovation. The barrier to entry for new food companies has never been lower and smaller entrepreneurial food companies are finding success in their ability to be creative and nimble in meeting consumers’ high demands for transparency, innovative products and commitments to values such as sustainability and health. Major food companies are no longer the leaders in innovation, but they are finding success through making investments in these smaller companies.

Finally, social media — which connects consumers to the world — also is connecting them to their plates. Social media is giving the individual consumer the ability to not only share what’s on their plate, but also a platform through which to communicate with brands, companies and even participate in the food development process.

All of these trends point to an empowered and connected global consumer who is demanding more authenticity and story, varied alternatives, and a stake in sustainability and bettering the world.