An (Irreverent) Look at What’s Coming in 2022
Plant Brands, Robots and Lab Pigs
BY Dan O’Connell and Bill Sherman

Okay, so we missed predicting a global pandemic in 2019 and a supply chain crisis in 2020, but we got a lot right with our past predictions: emergence of ghost kitchens, some sobering realities for the plant-based movement – and of course those “safety crusaders” making sure we are following “house rules.” Most notably, as foodies and optimists, we continue to be fascinated and inspired as our food culture evolves. Food marketers are indeed changing with the times, and the nimble players are creating amazing degrees of Brand Love in the marketplace.

The team at Foodmix is immersed in all things food, from emerging cuisines and food innovations, to business strategies, to meeting evolving marketplace needs. The team covers a lot of ground and throws a wide net seeking news and insights for our clients. Enjoy the journey and peek at 2022 – and as we do every day, enjoy living the foodie life!

The Automat isn’t returning, but look for the automation of (almost) everything. While we do not see a return to the 1950s version of the Automat, envision a hall of vending machines with no human interaction; robots are here to serve us or make our food. A cashier-less Starbucks store. Grubhub self-driving delivery robots. Startups like Coco, teaming up with Segway, delivering groceries human-less. A kitchen where a robot chef pulls recipes from a database, grabs ingredients from a high-tech pantry and cooks multi-cuisine dishes. Poultry-processing robots that calculate an optimal cutting trajectory for each bird. All of this technology exists today. Automation on an unprecedented scale, fueled by recent advances in AI, cloud computing and e-commerce, is poised to revolutionize the food industry.

It’s more expensive to raise a cow than a plant – thus, plant-based will need a stronger value proposition. The plant-based movement will dramatically evolve this year. The bigger specialists will struggle. Plant-based meats that can be priced equal to or less than their meat counterparts will win big. As Target, Kroger and other retailers expand their private-label (and generally more affordable) plant-based lines, look for price to become a driving factor in plant-based everything in 2022.

This little piggy came from the lab. With a burgeoning global middle class increasing the world’s demand for meat, the meat industry will look to feed communities where raising livestock is not practical and/or environmentally responsible. To the lab! While still in its infancy, lab-grown meat will be part of the solution to keeping meat accessible, affordable and sustainable in a more populated world. Will 2022 see the first product introduction? Maybe not, but we are getting close!

The first plant-based meal was an apple – the rise of produce brands. It may seem that everything is “being processed plant based,” but what about just eating a plant? The original plant-based category – fresh produce – is set to grow in 2022 with more branded offerings. Our proprietary FoodMix research shows that two-thirds of shoppers will pay more for branded fresh produce. Why? They trust produce brands to be fresher, safer and higher quality than non-branded. But consumers want more from produce brands – look for those who add value to their produce offerings to create some serious Brand Love in 2022.

Goodbye, sustainability washing. Hello, “What’s in it for me?” We saw it years ago with the emergence of the green era. Specifics became necessary as consumers began to see through claims such as “compostable” among others. In the wake of the UN’s COP26 Climate Conference in Geneva, which pegged a third of global greenhouse gas emissions as coming from food production, look for the sustainability narrative to become more specific and focused on emission, deforestation and regenerative farming. FoodMix consumer research shows that sustainability messaging is most effective with shoppers when a “what’s in it for me” benefit is part of the mix – for example, food grown more naturally and free from chemicals and artificial enhancements.

This isn’t Kansas – farmers markets are becoming community builders. Many people are giving up their deep relationship with their pizza delivery person and venturing out into the community. And the evolving farmers market is welcoming them to their local food community in a celebratory environment. People are ready to be social again and expand their food horizons – but safely. Accordingly, farmers markets will expand and upgrade their selections and presentations in 2022. It’s not just about produce anymore – local chefs and even food brands are joining in the local conversation. Expect the farmers market to develop into its own distinct segment – smart brands will create plans to tap the potential of food-engaged consumers as they venture out to their local farmers markets, err, food fairs!

The supermarket perimeter will go from good to great. Our proprietary FoodMix research this year showed that consumers’ perceptions of a store’s fresh perimeter differ significantly by department. One common challenge all perimeter food faces is making it great and cravable. Retailers continue to figure out how to make and serve food, and what the appropriate mix should be, but consumers want better taste, flavor and more “craft-like” offerings. In 2022, savvy retailers and their suppliers will begin to target discerning tastes and introduce premium – in many cases, branded – prepared platforms.  

Social media will get a paying job – business decisions will be heavily influenced by social media. No matter what food business you are in, sharing your brand story and value proposition via select social media platforms will be increasingly effective in 2022. Based on FoodMix research, social media is surging on the B2B path to purchase. The trick is finding the right platform and the right way to incorporate it into your marketing mix – not just creating clever posts. Here is a hint: The answer probably is not long-form video, as people’s attention span is short. Look for more sound bites and crisper messaging to tie in to your overall narrative.

Essential workers need their sleep too ­– better hours and conditions for food workers.  Just about everyone in food production or service is known for working long shifts and/or late hours. Something is going to have to change if the food industry wants to become a destination employer. We believe the food industry can become an employer of choice by pausing to focus on the people who make great food and by keeping those people engaged and fulfilled. The benefits of greater associate care will be quantified and proven to offset the even higher costs, and brand threats, of turnover. Creating Brand Love can be difficult when your brand stewards who are minding the details are changing regularly.

We would be in a pickle if we did not include an actual food trend in our predictions.  With more Americans’ taste buds steering toward the sour end of the flavor spectrum, 2022 will see the rise of “pickled” offerings in restaurant and at retailers. The trend will start in mid- to fine-dining restaurants where interesting pickled foods such as cantaloupe and radishes are offered as trendy new table appetizers. With its relative cheapness and hold time, pickling will pick up steam, away from home and at home, and become a hot new flavor trend of 2022

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