It’s always exciting to get your hands on the next big thing in food. Once a trendy food, drink, or ingredient takes off, it almost doesn’t matter whether it’s worth the hype—it’s all people will talk about, even if it’s overrated, and every brand will try to jump on board before the wave crashes. In an attempt to be ahead of the pack, Whole Foods releases a trend forecast each year, and it’s always worth a glance.
“Each year, the Trends Council—a collective of more than 50 Whole Foods Market team members, including local foragers, regional and global buyers, and culinary experts—compile trend predictions based on decades of experience and expertise in product sourcing and studying consumer preferences, as well as in-depth workshopping with emerging and existing brands,” a Whole Foods representative tells The Takeout.
It’s important to clarify that these trends aren’t just what Whole Foods thinks will sell best at its own stores. These are the food and beverage trends it’s forecasting for all grocery stores nationwide in 2023.
“We anticipate seeing these trends in the food industry at large, on dinner tables, in lunch boxes and on our store shelves,” said Sonya Gafsi Oblisk, Chief Marketing Officer at Whole Foods Market.
How accurate will these predictions be? In retrospect, the brand’s 2022 predictions showed roughly an even split of hits and misses. We definitely saw a rise in popularity of things like yuzu flavoring, non-alcoholic beverages, and “reducetarianism” (a conscious effort to reduce meat, dairy, and eggs without cutting them out entirely). But we didn’t really see sunflower seeds, turmeric, and moringa (whatever that is) pop off in the way Whole Foods was hoping.
While we can’t fully predict what will gain traction in the next year and what won’t, we can certainly try. Here are Whole Foods’ 2023 trend predictions, along with our best guesses at whether they’ll come to fruition.
This Native Caffeinated Plant Could Replace Coffee and Tea in North America - Yaupon Holly
What it is: Yaupon holly is an evergreen tree, and while the berries are extremely toxic, the leaves of the plant contain the same antioxidant properties of blueberries and are the only natural occurrence of caffeine in North America. Those leaves can be turned into powder, matcha, extract, and tea.
Why Whole Foods thinks this is a trend: “With its mild, earthy flavor and unique benefits, yaupon has become increasingly popular—in Austin, home of Whole Foods Market headquarters, bartenders are even experimenting with yaupon on cocktail menus.”
Will it take off? Even though Whole Foods’ reasoning for this trend isn’t the most convincing (bartenders in a niche city are experimenting with this ingredient), there’s definitely a place for yaupon to take off among people who enjoy beverages like Yerba Mate. There’s always a market for the next big form of “natural” energy beyond black tea and coffee.
Oat, soy, and nut pulp
What it is: After oat, nut, or soy milk has been strained and turned into what we buy in the carton, there’s a gooey mess left behind known as the pulp. While some production processes simply dispose of the pulp, some people have been experimenting with ways of using the pulp to replace wet ingredients in baking.
Why Whole Foods thinks this is a trend: “TikTok creators are exploring ways to use leftover nut and oat pulp at home, and we’re now seeing an influx of brands begin to innovate in the space too.”
Will it take off? As much as we hate to say it, TikTok is a pretty solid indicator of trends, and piggybacking on the plant-based trend is a smart business move for brands. These products, such as alternative flour made from the pulp, will naturally appeal to just about anyone with dietary restrictions, those with ethical qualms with the dairy industry, or customers who have an interest in sustainability.
What it is: Zoodles, cauliflower gnocchi, chickpea pasta—nothing you haven’t seen before. It’s simply pasta that’s made from vegetables, in a number of different forms.
Why Whole Foods thinks this is a trend: “Now there’s a new crop of plant-based pasta alternatives to help us all up our veggie and fruit intake, with ingredients like spaghetti squash, hearts of palm and even green bananas.”
Will it take off? This has already taken off and will presumably continue to be popular—it’s not a trend specific to 2023. Over the last couple years we’ve already seen some of the more odd pasta offerings, like hearts of palm pasta, at several grocery chains, so nothing about this is “new.”
How to make Healthy Date Syrup-Best Recipe
What it is: This is simply turning the sweet fruit into sugar or syrup as well as including it more frequently in things like baked goods to up the sweetness in a more natural way.
Why Whole Foods thinks this is a trend: “In spring 2022, dates went viral on TikTok when a creator shared a Snickers-like recipe using the fruit . . . With a classic caramel note we can all get behind, dates are having their moment.”
Will it take off? Date syrup has actually been around for a while, finding its cult following in wellness circles. If it hasn’t picked up by now, it likely never will, except among those who were already using it and now don’t have to rely on homemade versions. It will be a long while (if ever) until we see date syrup on grocery shelves outside of Whole Foods.
Better Chicken Initiative
What it is: A more concentrated effort to raise chickens for poultry and eggs in the most humane way possible.
Why Whole Foods thinks this is a trend: “More and more consumers believe chickens should be able to act like chickens, so they’re prioritizing welfare when shopping for both poultry and eggs. Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.) is implementing a new initiative, The Better Chicken Project, to help improve the birds’ lives as well as the quality of the chicken we eat.”
Will it take off? This is an initiative that’s been in the works for a while and will only continue to evolve—the first step was free-range, and once the actual conditions behind that label were challenged, more pressure was put on the farming industry to improve quality of life for animals being raised for food. This will likely remain an evolving subject for the rest of our lives.
THE NEXT BIG SUSTAINABLE FOOD TREND | Must Try Kelp Pickles
What it is: Seaweed. Kelp is just another name for seaweed.
Why Whole Foods thinks this is a trend: “Kelp grows quickly, doesn’t require freshwater or added nutrients, and is nutritious and versatile in food products—we’re seeing it in noodles, chips, fish-free ‘fish’ sauce and beyond.”
Will it take off? Back in 2020, we reported that seaweed was the fastest growing food sector. Seaweed has long been a part of the culinary scene, most commonly used in dishes like sushi, and more recently being sold as a salty snack at places like Costco.
Once again, this isn’t anything new, but the innovation to use kept as another plant-based protein option is what might cause this trend to take off. Kelp burgers could be right around the corner.
Why Sustainable Food Systems Matter | Future of Food
What it is: Paying (even more) attention to how food production affects the environment.
Why Whole Foods thinks this is a trend: “Across our aisles, products are taking to their labels to talk about sustainability efforts in a time when consumers expect brands and retailers to do more related to carbon and climate.”
Will it take off? We sure hope so! There’s definitely been a more concerted effort year after year to decrease our carbon footprint and increase sustainability in food production and consumption. More transparency around what brands are doing (and neglecting to do) would be a meaningful trend.
What it is: A resurgence of snacks, drinks, and meals from our childhood.
Why Whole Foods thinks this is a trend: “According to Mintel Global Consumer research, 73% of U.S. consumers enjoy things that remind them of their past, setting the stage for these nostalgic treats to go mainstream.”
Will it take off? It’s clear that many brands are counting on it. And in times of global and political turmoil, it’s safe to say that consumers will seek comfort in anything they can, whether that be the return of a specific discontinued product or a focus on more brands putting out their versions of pizza rolls, cereals, and brown bag lunch treats.
High-quality pet products
What it is: Supplements, food, and treats created with high-quality and raw ingredients, made to more closely reflect human food.
Why Whole Foods thinks this is a trend: “More than 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the ASPCA. Now, with a return to the office for many pet parents, a focus on Fido’s wellness and palate is more important than ever.”
Will it take off? What can we say? People love their pets. If the popularity of restaurants like Dogue (which offers a $75 tasting menu just for dogs) is any indication, then it’s likely that more people will continue to spend more money on things like Whole Paws’ Grass-Fed Lamb and Garbanzo Grain-Free Dog Food.
What it is: Oil made from the pulp of an avocado, used as an alternative to olive oil.
Why Whole Foods thinks this is a trend: “A staple on our shelves for years, avocado oil is finally going mainstream in packaged products across the board. It has some big positive attributes—including high oleic fatty acid content and a high smoke point—to thank for its popularity.”
Will it take off? A quick search on TikTok for “avocado oil” reveals several highly watched videos warning against the supposed avocado oil that is sold in stores. This sort of viral smear campaign doesn’t bode well for the packaged avocado oil goods hoping to take off, but could lead to a rise in folks making their own avocado oil at home. We’ve kind of beat the whole “avocado is a trend” trend to a pulp, anyway.
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