2021 Eating Trend: Convenience

The taste of things to come continues here, with convenience.

Eating habits transformed in 2020. Citing research from Mondelēz that found 58% of people believe the pandemic has changed their diets permanently, FoodNavigator has called it an “eating revolution.”

In the face of stay-at-home orders and business closures, interest in convenient and minimal-effort eating options grew sharply. Home cooking increased, with heightened demand for minimal-prep meal kits and delivery services. Many sit-in restaurants, cafés and bars switched to take-out menus and app-based ordering. Snack buying and small bites also increased.

Even as businesses and public services reopen, experts foresee the demand for convenience continuing to drive and shape eating habits in 2021.

This year, Kimpton saw high demand in its bars and restaurants for “quality food that can be easily prepared or heated up with simple instructions at home” — think soups, taco kits and sandwiches — that the hotel chain forecasts will continue into 2021. Meanwhile, NPD and Grand View Research predict the meal kit industry will continue to grow to at least 2027, when it is expected to be valued at $20 billion.

ShopRite launched its “Fresh to Table” concept in three US locations this year, with plans to expand in 2021. Citing “convenience” as a key market driver, this new collection of meals, snacks and side dishes is divided into three categories: Prep & Eat (ready-to-cook items), Heat & Eat (ready-to-heat and -serve items), and Grab & Eat (ready-to-eat meals). QR codes also connect customers with a recipe database, for extra ease.

US grocer Kroger is also innovating in digital integration with a new AI-powered Chefbot, which recognizes food from photographs, and can even suggest recipes. This innovation will appeal to the time-poor consumer, making it easier than ever to improvise meals at home.

In May, Swedish grocery chain Coop began offering chilled ready meals in a bowl-shaped pack. Produced in association with food producer Grön Ko, the new range meets the rising demand for healthy meals on-the-go, with a spokesperson noting at the launch that “fresh convenience food is one of the fastest growing categories in Swedish grocery retail.”

This is also true outside of the fresh category. In December, Jimmy Joy, the Dutch company known for their meal replacement supplements, launched the Plenny Pot, its first nutritionally complete instant hot meal. UK-based Perkier also introduced a range of vitamin-enriched porridge pots to supermarkets in October.

Mondelēz’s mid-year report also revealed a link between the pandemic and increased levels of snacking, which is leading to investment and innovation in this category. In December 2020, Ferrero announced it was acquiring healthy snack company Eat Natural for an undisclosed sum. Surveys also indicate that cereal, traditionally a breakfast staple, is now being eaten throughout the day as a convenient snack. Healthy and artisanal alternatives are emerging, such as wholegrain granolas, and cereals made with turmeric and ancient grains.

In 2020, consumers sought convenient and easy foods that fit in with their lifestyles and changing needs. Companies and kitchens that can meet customers where they are, while responding to the growing demand for healthy ingredients, stand to disproportionately succeed in 2021, and beyond.

For more on the future of eating habits, see our 2021 trend reports: Health and Comfort.

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Images courtesy of Tim Mossholder and ShopRite (via AndNowUKnow).



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Karl Finn

Karl Finn

Writer in London. Currently run events at Google, formerly V&A and Sotheby’s. Founder of Predictedit, a newsletter bringing together trends, research and ideas.