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Industry // December 20th, 2022

Is Your Gut Healthy Yet? Maxwell’s Top 2023 Food and Wellness Trends

Written by Natalie Disher MS, RD

If we had to sum up our prediction for the 2023 consumer mindset in one wildly ambitious statement, it might go something like this: “I want to see delicious food in my feeds, and what I want to eat can’t just taste good, it has to promote my health and be good for the planet, too.” Ambitious, yes, but more than 70% of consumers are fully on board with the idea that brand interactions should be personalized to them and 40% are willing to pay extra if it means supporting climate-conscious products.  

You want plant-based? There’s a market for that. Regenerative ag more your thing? Alert your algorithms. From the decisions of retail giants to the future flavors of the moment, here’s a look at Maxwell’s predictions for food and wellness trends in 2023.  

1. Think Plant-Based Thoughts 

In 2022, fluctuations in the alternative meat market kept us on the edge of our vegan leather seats. In October, Beyond Meat laid off 200 employees – almost 19% of its workforce – and cut its revenue outlook after consistently missing targets. Deloitte also reported stagnating sales for plant-based alternative (PBA) meat, with no growth in the U.S. consumer base and deteriorating consumer perceptions of PBA meat in general.   

How did this happen? Some blame a marketing catastrophe. Once a category is created (say, plant-based meat), it then becomes vital to establish a place within that category, and that’s what’s missing here. With little perceived difference between brands, all plant-based players can say is,we are plant-based,” which, while true, does little to bolster brand loyalty. 

These brands have their work cut out for them, but one thing’s for sure: plant-based meats will continue to be a hot topic of food trends and innovations into 2023.  

Who does this create opportunities for?  

  • Cultivated meat (or cultured meat, or cell-based meat, if either of those sound more appetizing) for one, but maybe we’ll save that for 2024 
  • Real beef raised regeneratively. Support is growing for “climate-smart agriculture,” and so is funding. To unlock the potential of putting more than a billion tons of carbon back into the soil every year (more than the emissions of the entire airline industry – we’re looking at you, millionaires), farms must maintain healthy cycles for water, minerals, microbes, wildlife and carbon. 

At the end of the day, it’s clear consumers, no matter where their protein is sourced, want the same thing: sustainable options that lessen our environmental impact.  

2. Coffee, but Without the Coffee 

Speaking of substitute products, expect to hear a lot more about that potion in your coworker’s mug. With the looming threat of extinction and a desire for jitter-free workdays, brands who can crack the code for coffee alternatives are creating a new category that will only grow in 2023.  

3. Move over Beef, Alt Seafood is Here to Stay 

Yeah, plant-based meat sales are down, but that doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere –– especially when there’s a plant-based seafood market to conquer. The growing list of faux seafood companies are tasked with creating a desirable product that mimics the texture and flavor of seafood. Feel free to give your next poke bowl a plant-based twist and let us know if you think they’ve pulled it off.  

4. Let Food Be Thy Medicine 

In a recent issue of Flag This, we noted grocery giant Kroger’s ‘food-as-medicine’ initiative to help combat both a fragmented healthcare system and nutrition access inequities. The program includes increased access to dietitians, a national nutrition scoring system and incentives to counter diet-related chronic disease.  

The idea of food as medicine is nothing new –– it’s at least as old as the Father of Medicine himself. But Kroger’s initiative is significant given its scale and marks a big step in the growing trend for shoppers to address health concerns with more nutrition prescriptions and fewer drug prescriptions.  In addition to paying increased attention to nutrition labels and product attributes (non-GMO, organic, paraben-free, etc.), consumers are seeking functional foods, or foods with health benefits beyond basic nutrition. 

5. Gut Health, Always 

At what point does an ongoing trend simply become a part of life? For yet another year, gut health is in the spotlight, and for good reason. Sure, you’ve got your gut microbiome in check, and you consume both your pre- and probiotics, but this year postbiotics are entering the chat. Let’s break down, in ever more detail, what’s going on in your gut. Probiotics are the microorganisms that contribute to a healthy, diverse microbiome. Prebiotics help feed beneficial bacteria. Your body then produces postbiotics as a byproduct that influences metabolism, inflammation, digestion, the immune system, you name it.  

Do we understand it? Not entirely. Are we here for another year of gut health? Absolutely.  

6. Why is it Swicy 

The flavor aficionados over at McCormicks Flavor Solutions called it in 2021, but it’s been a slow burn. We think this is the year for swicy. The combination of sweet and spicy (or “nuanced heat” ) continues to fuel desire for boldness and new experiences (are we still talking about food, here?). A one-note hot sauce is a thing of the past. Expect to see even more drizzles of hot honey. sriracha honey cashews, chili dark chocolate, and hot chicken.  

7. Upcycle Your Pulp 

Non-dairy milks sat at the top of the food chain long enough for consumers to get creative about making their own. It’s easy enough to make milk from the nuts or oats you already have on hand, but what to do with that leftover pulp? Dairy-free bakers are perfecting the art of scrap cooking by upcycling leftover nut and oat pulp to use as alternative flours and baking mixes. Even Whole Foods jumped on the bandwagon, announcing the launch of upcycled oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, baked with oats leftover from oatmilk production, in spring 2023. 

8. Newstalgic Foods 

Unlike the resurgence of low-rise denim, this is one revival we’re welcoming with open arms. Lightly refreshed old favorites like Waffle Crisp cereal and childhood- favorite spinoffs like Cosmic Brownie Ice Cream and Eggo Pop Tarts are leading the ‘newstalgic’ charge. Core memories unlocked! The innovative twists on comfort classics apparently have something to do with turning to comfort and nostalgia during uncertain times? Pandemic, inflation, economic and political turmoil…? *grimace* Even home cooking is getting a nostalgic twist –– there are more than 31 million views of #vintagerecipes on TikTok. 

Where else are we seeing this show up? Retro packaging, for one. Channeling the 1960s psychedelic era, curvilinear shapes, hand-drawn type and eye-popping color combinations may be the new wave of branding for Gen Z and Gen Alpha (that’s right, Gen Alpha is here).  

9. Mushrooms for Sustainable Eating 

Yes, psychedelics continue to pique consumer interest because of their influence on mental health, but let’s not forget about oysters and trumpets. Specialty mushrooms popped up all over restaurant menus in 2022 and adventurous diners are clamoring for more. Long beloved by locavores, cultivators and chefs, mushrooms are finally taking their turn in the sustainable spotlight. 

10. Kelp 

A less local but equally exciting ingredient that’s gaining in popularity? Kelp. The mineral-rich, quick-growing sea plant –– and its rich umami kick –– is showing up in everything from noodles to chips to sea-chi. Hailed as a climate-friendly superfood, kelp helps absorb carbon in the atmosphere, making it another rising star in sustainable eating.   

11. Digital Detox 

Whether you’re on a solo journey or with an entire village, we’re all in agreement that the world could use a digital detox. There’s an increasing understanding that taking a break from social media can be *gasp* therapeutic and a form of self-care. 2023 could be the year we get a handle on our technostress and finally stop ignoring the screen-time limits we set for ourselves.