Side Orders: How the experts at Whole Foods pick the year's top trends

Anne Braly

Food trends for 2019 are rolling in, with a number of analysts making predictions for what we will all be eating over the coming months. At Whole Foods Market, product developers and research-and-development technicians have been hard at work, coming up with what they believe will be the hottest culinary trends in the coming year.

And it takes more than shaking and asking the Magic 8 Ball to come up with answers.

"We look to internal and external resources for trends gathering," says Rachel Bukowski, product development team leader for Whole Foods. "Our regional teams and local foragers serve as in-the-field trend spotters, seeking out innovative products and interesting ingredients popping up either in their stores or on menus of trending restaurants in their communities."

Bukowski's team of product development for Whole Food's private label uses a data-driven approach as well as personal insight from participation in international food industry events, such as Datassential Foodscape, the World Private Label Manufacturers Association show, and Fancy Food Shows.

"Combining those insights with the internal knowledge of experienced buyers and product experts helps us craft a really eclectic list that represents food trends consumers might find both inside and outside the aisles of their local Whole Foods Market," she says.

So here's the list of the Top 10 trends for 2019 as predicted by Whole Foods. It not only encompasses a world of flavors but takes a look at humanity through our increasing desire to purchase products that benefit those less fortunate.

* Taste of the Pacific Rim: Foods from Asia, Oceania and the western coasts of North and South America are popping up in grocery stores and restaurants as people continue to explore more of the world through their palates. Ingredients such as longganisa (a Filipino pork sausage), dried shrimp, cuttlefish and shrimp paste are on restaurant and home menus that span from breakfast to dinner, while vibrant tropical fruits such as guava, dragon fruit, star fruit and passionfruit are making their way into colorful smoothie bowls and cocktails.

Jackfruit is a popular meat alternative already being used in place of items like barbecue pulled pork, while an extract of monk fruit, an ultra-sweet-tasting fruit also known as luo han guo, can be used as a sweetener replacing added sugars.

* Shelf-stable probiotics: You may remember that several years ago, experts predicted naturally occurring probiotics in fermented foods like kimchi and "pickled everything" would blow up the food world. They did. And now they're predicting even more probiotic integrations to foods such as pantry staples through products like granola, oatmeal, nut butters, soups and nutrition bars.

* Good fats: Fats are making a comeback, and the trendiest diets are on board. With the rising popularity of diets such as keto, paleo, grain-free and even pegan (a paleo-vegan mix), fats are appearing in creative, convenient foods, along with foods higher in protein and lower in carbs.

New integrations of fat sources, including keto-friendly nutrition bars crafted with MCT oil powder, a unique form of dietary fat that imparts a wide range of positive health benefits, chocolates filled with coconut butter and a new wave of ready-to-drink vegan coffee beverages inspired by butter coffees are allowing consumers to get their fat fill with convenient treats.

Keep your eyes and taste buds open for popcorn made with grass-fed ghee; multiple flavors of ghee that range from sweet to savory, plus new variations on traditional meaty snacks like chicken chips and thin, crisped beef jerky.

* Next-level hemp: Hemp hearts, seeds and oils are nothing new to food and body-care lovers - they're in everything from waffle mix to dried pastas. But a new interest in the potential benefits stemming from other parts of hemp plants has many brands looking to explore the booming cannabis biz.

While cannabis oil is still technically taboo (prohibited under federal law), retailers, culinary experts and consumers can't miss the cannabis craze when visiting food industry trade shows, food innovators conferences or even farmers markets. But there's more to this trend than cannabis oil. Andalou Naturals has introduced hemp plant stem cells in their CannaCell body care collection.

Non-cannabis-derived sources from the endocannabinoid system (which are named after the cannabis plant that inspired their discovery), like phytocannabinoids that exist in nature, are also becoming more visible and prevalent due to the growing trend.

* Faux meat snacks: Eating more plants doesn't mean you have to forgo beloved meaty flavors and textures. Plant-based foods will continue to surprise and inspire. In the new year, we'll see a new take on meat-based snacking with a new world of jerkies and pork rinds - snacks you once may have found in convenience stores only.

While plant-based foods aren't a new trend, Whole Foods experts noted more people - not just vegetarians - are exploring plant-based snacking. Mushrooms will play a key role here, flexing their flavor and texture powers in tasty jerky, "pork" rinds and "bacon" snacks, such as Pig ÿut Pigless Bacon Chips and Snacklins Cracklins Without the Pork, to offer up a satisfying crunch.

* Eco-conscious packaging: The number of brands making the switch to packaging with the environment in mind continues to grow at a quickening pace. Dozens of like-minded brands in the OSC2 Compostable Packaging Collaborative have pooled their efforts to make important advances in flexible product pouches.

Some companies are making commitments to ban straws, while other brands, including Whole Foods, are setting up regional pilots to test recyclable strawless, sipper lids, without increasing the plastic content of a lid/straw combination.

Expect to see an emphasis on reusing, with more produce departments going "BYOVB" (bring your own vegetable bag) and traditionally single-use packages going multi-use, such as multi-use food wraps made from beeswax, as well as waxed canvas or silicone alternatives to the usual plastic storage bags that can be used for sandwiches and snacks. Some movements start as trends, then become necessities. This is one of them.

* Trailblazing frozen treats: While there is something comforting and classic about a scoop of vanilla ice cream, some consumers are wanting something a little more than plain vanilla. In 2019, we'll see a fresh take on a timeless treat with innovative bases like avocado, hummus, tahini and coconut water.

Look down specialty frozen aisles and you might find plant-based frozen desserts like CocoWhip Soft Serve and ice creams with savory swirls of artisanal cheese.

* Beyond seaweed: Seaweed snacks rose to popularity a few years back and are now enjoyed by health-conscious adults and toddlers alike. However, experts expect even more ocean influence in the grocery aisles in the year to come. Think beyond seaweed snacks.

Sea greens are showing up in dishes like seaweed butter and kelp noodles, while consumers are exploring new depths of ocean flavors with superfood properties like unique varietals of algae and kelp. Puffed snacks made from water lily seeds, plant-based tuna alternatives with algae ingredients, crispy snackable salmon skins with omega-3s and kelp jerkies are just a few testing the waters.

* Snack time, upgraded: Snacks across the board will take an upward turn toward the fancy as they start to usurp the usual three-meals-a-day routine. In fact, snacking has become an occasion of its very own - think charcuterie or cheese boards for one, 1-ounce portions of cheeses paired with demi-baguettes will appear on more desks when that 3 o'clock snack craving hits.

More takes on snacking nod to the comforting treats of your second-grade lunchbox, with better ingredients. Portable snack packages will feature bites like prosciutto and aged mozzarella, and artisanal versions of classic snacks like cheese or peanut butter cracker sandwiches.

Ingredient-conscious snack and treat makers are creating new packaged snacks that take us back to our treat-loving childhoods but with higher-quality ingredients, such as gourmet trail mixes and Smashmallow Marshmallow Rice Treats.

*Purchases that empower: Much like last year's Transparency 2.0 trend, consumer purchasing power continues to motivate changes in the food and beverage industries, as shoppers expect more from the brands and businesses they support. In 2019, thoughtful consideration behind purchases will move beyond environmental stewardship and animal welfare to become more people-focused.

Examples include Greyston Bakery no-questions-asked hiring practice, which includes anyone who has faced barriers to employment. Kuli Kuli produces moringa powder, which is often grown and processed by women and has provided more than $1.5 million in income to women-led farming cooperatives, nonprofits and family farmers around the world through their organic moringa supply chain.

Whole Planet Foundation partners with suppliers such as Chobani, Frontier Co-op, Naked Juice, Wallaby Organic and Papyrus-Recycled Greetings to alleviate poverty through micro-credit loans for the world's poorest people - mostly women - who become empowered micro-entrepreneurs lifting themselves and their families out of poverty.

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