The culture of food is evolving so quickly, it’s all we can do to try and keep up. But try we will. After all, getting out in front of impending trends is part of our mojo. We’ve seen a lot of change in the last few years and 2020 will be no different – jampacked with new ideas, new thinking and new ways that consumers and chefs are engaging with food and challenging food companies to keep pace. Here are Foodmix’s predictions for what to pay attention to in the food industry for the coming year.

Plant-Based Food’s Clean Label Problem.
Food companies have been cleaning up their labels for years. And right on the heels of that reformulating comes plant-based everything. Just because something is plant-based, will consumers be mollified into accepting a bunch of weird-sounding ingredients they’ve never heard of? We don’t think so. Educated consumers are beginning to question the large number of ingredients required to give plants that non-plant taste. If it takes 27 ingredients to make your plant-based whatever, shipped by 27 trucking firms from the same number of food companies, well, that label won’t be clean and that product won’t necessarily be more sustainable than the non-plant version it’s replacing. We predict plant-based food’s environmental sheen and health halo will wear thin in 2020.

The Politics of Food Will be Front and Center.
Trade wars, government oversight, farm subsidies and Americans’ diets will be front and center in this election year. Former NYC mayor Big Gulp is in the race. The current administration is counting on the world’s growing demand for protein as leverage in trade wars. The word “natural” is still not government-defined, genetic engineering is either needed or sinister, depending on whom you listen to, and our bountiful harvests are increasingly being used to extract concessions from our trading partners. Regardless of how this all turns out, one thing is for certain: politicians will have wildly different views and programs when it comes to food.

OMG, that dessert is so TikTokable.
TikTok, the fastest growing social media platform of 2019 and newest favorite among Gen Z, has already made huge inroads for wannabe celebrities and amateur “dancers” and will now take off  as a visual romancer of all things food. A mobile app designed to create and share short videos, TikTok’s format will increasingly attract marketers’ paid media budgets and inspire quick food clips by aspiring culinary gurus. It will be used by restaurants to showcase the back-of-house theater of making creative dishes and, of course, by consumers to show off the OMG-yumminess of each bite of that coconut pandan crème brulee.

Food as Medicine? Not Without a Spoon Full of Sugar to Make It Go Down.
Walking into Whole Foods, you see it: a whole shelf dedicated to kombucha. But the popular fermented tea drink’s purported health benefits come with a kicker: a decidedly sour, vinegary aftertaste. Yes, some Americans are embracing food as medicine and – for now – taste be damned. But our consumer research has shown that when people decide what to eat or drink, taste and flavor are at the top of their lists every time. Can you sell bad-tasting food? For a while perhaps, but once consumers find something that offers the same benefits and actually appeals to their palate, they’ll switch loyalties in a heartbeat. We predict that 2020 will see introductions of new and reformulated functional foods that taste good while promising the same dose of well-being as today’s yucky products.

Shaken, Not Stirred…and Hold the Alcohol.
Younger generations of drinkers are discovering that drinking to get drunk is not particularly healthy and makes them unproductive the next day (thanks, hangovers). Yet, Millennials, designated drivers, pregnant women, and others who abstain from alcohol still want to have fun and not be the party buzzkill. Luckily, bars and brands have been paying attention to this new trend. Instead of offering traditional alcohol-free drinks, there is a call for more sophisticated and tasty drinks sans alcohol. In 2020 more beverage companies will cash in on this opportunity (like Heineken has already done with zero-alcohol beer). And mixologists are embracing the art of creating mixed drinks that creatively utilize produce, simple syrups and unexpected ingredients to give mocktails a cocktail flair. So cheers, to staying sober!

Hyper-Personalized Products For Today’s “Look at Me” Society.
Today’s marketers will tap the growing number of today’s media touchpoints and combine behavioral and real-time data to tailor services, and even products, to each consumer. Along with traditional hyper-personalization tools like algorithmic “you may like” options, hyper-personalization will be used more and more as a compelling marketing technique. Matching flavors to personalities, creating hyper-personalized recipes that can be shared on social media, individualized latte art and personalized packaging will meet today’s demands for both a sense of individuality, along with a totally epic opportunity to “go viral.”

CBD Gets Contained.
The new frontier will either be closed or dramatically reigned in. The federal government will provide clarity to how and if CBD can be used as a food ingredient on a national level – or at least lay out a specific timeline to contain what is now a regional business with little oversight. If all this uncertainty makes you anxious, try sucking on a few CBD gummy bears to ease your nerves.