2022 sure has an element of Groundhogs Day to it. We’re waking up with COVID numbers once again surging, the supply chain still in tatters and much of the world now masters at living most of their lives from home.

But as much seems to remain the same, the food system is evolving faster than ever. Here are a few predictions from our C.O.nxt experts on trends that will gain the most steam in the coming year.

 1.  The accelerated rise of robotics in agriculture.

For years, the ag industry has increasingly implemented technology as a means of improving yields while reducing inputs and impact on the environment. Now, another on-farm challenge has emerged for which technology is becoming a leading solution—labor shortage.

Technologies that simplify farm management and allow more work to be done with fewer people will start to pick up steam. Digital management software, autonomous tractors, picking robots and other labor-replacing tech will start to surge. However, according to research done by Aimpoint, widespread use may have to ironically wait for labor to catch up, as there aren’t yet enough tech-savvy agtech professionals available to help implement and operate the systems

 2.  Functional foods make a big leap forward.

Nothing like a pandemic to get people to take a closer look at their overall health. According to Food Industry Executive, 33% more consumers are treating food as medicine compared to 2020. And for many, eating better is priority number one. But it’s no longer enough to cut calories and eat more veggies. Foods that deliver specific and intentional health benefits are beginning to take the lead.

33% more consumers are treating food as medicine compared to 2020.

From CBD-infused everything to superfood shakes and more, consumers are looking for foods that aid in everything from improved sleep and reduced anxiety to anti-aging and enhanced cognitive function.

 3.  Alternative proteins go beyond beef.

If you’ve seen our latest consumer research, you know that the alternative protein market is already on the rise. And we see it continuing to grow in bold new ways. In recent years we’ve seen restaurants and fast food chains start to offer Beyond burgers and other beef alternative dishes, but in 2022 we’re already seeing a rise of alternative chicken, alternative pork and alternative seafood dishes hit menus.

Bye-bye beef—

hello alternative poultry, alternative pork and alternative seafood!

In the first week of 2022 KFC announced that starting January 10, plant-based Beyond Fried Chicken would be available at their restaurants and Chipotle announced a limited-time run of plant-based chorizo. While both menu items are available for a limited time only, we don’t expect fast food chains or restaurants to stop introducing new vegetarian and vegan alternatives anytime soon.

 4.  Ghost kitchens become scary popular.

Ordering on the app for curbside pickup. Paying a premium for Door Dash deliveries. Subscribing to a meal kit service. These have been the rising trends since March 2020 as COVID restrictions continue to keep diners out of restaurants and the supply chain continues to keep grocery store shelves bare.

Giants like Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, Five Guys and Red Lobster have already dipped their toe in the ghost kitchen scene.

These changes in consumer behavior have recently given rise to the ghost kitchen, stripped down commercial kitchens with no dine-in option. And it’s not trendy new startups in these facilities. Giants like Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, Five Guys and Red Lobster have already dipped their toe in the scene. And many more are sure to follow.

 5.  The supply chain savvy will win the day.

Supply chain slowdowns aren’t going anywhere soon. So rather than futilely working to get things back to the way they were, the most successful food companies will be those who learn to navigate this new reality.

Working toward mastery of the supply chain, food companies will work to align data systems so they can be more flexible with inventory optimization and be better able to forecast demand and plan proactively for needs, such as securing timely product transportation. But time is of the essence. Consumers and companies are getting fed up and they will quickly build loyalty with whoever figures it out the fastest and can consistently deliver.

C.O.nxt Insight

Our team of subject matter experts focuses on food and agriculture—farm field to processing to entrée on a plate. We can help you build a new brand, protect an old one or target customers to foster sales. Let’s talk when the time is right to handle your next strategic marketing and communications challenge: Marcy Tessmann, marcy@co-nxt.com.