NEW YORK — In 2021, the Specialty Food Association (SFA) Trendspotter Panel virtually assembled to research thousands of specialty food and beverage products from around the world. After recording their extensive findings, Denise Purcell, VP of content and education for the SFA, deciphered five trends that will drive the growth of the $170.4 billion specialty food industry in 2022.

“As we head into a second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, comfort is an overriding theme,” Purcell said. “The events of the past 18 months have consumers seeking out familiar and comforting foods and beverages, but often with a twist for some excitement, or with specific diets and health concerns in mind.”

The 2022 Specialty Food Association Trendspotter Panel included Melanie Bartelme, global food analyst, Mintel; Bread + Butter affiliated culinary students from West Ashley High School; Jenn de la Vega, editor of Put A Egg On It; Jonathan Deutsch, Ph.D., professor of culinary arts and food science, founding director of Drexel Food Core Lab; Seyma Ozkaya Erpul, owner, Funky Bakers; Amethyst Ganaway, professional chef and writer; Megan Giller, founder and CEO, Chocolate Noise; Kara Nielsen, director of food and drink, WGSN; Leticia Moreinos Schwartz, journalist and food expert; Kantha Shelke, Ph.D., principal, Corvus Blue LLC; Denisse Soto, manager and mixologist, Osito’s Tap; and V. Sheree Williams, founder of The Global Food Drink Initiative and publisher of Cuisine Noir Magazine.

Here are the top trends they found.


Pasta’s comeback

Slowed in recent years by keto and low-carb diets, the COVID-influenced comfort food surge has revived the pasta category. Shapes that are less familiar to the US market have emerged, along with brand new ones such as  cascatelli, a collaboration between Sfoglini and Dan Pashman of The Sporkful podcast, along with a resurgence of gluten-free and alternative-grain options.

Black rice, pumpkin, red lentils, and purple carrots are bringing “new spins on traditional pasta in Instagram-friendly ways,” said Trendspotter Jonathan Deutsch.

Banza, a food company baking up products featuring nutrient-rich chickpeas, is another innovator in the better-for-you space that’s expanded its offerings from pasta to pizza crust and more.

Plant-based comfort food

Plant-based versions of nostalgic favorites have proven to be a potent pair. As these options emerge in the market, they’re making comfort food more accessible to those who follow alternative diets. Plant-based proteins and alternative ingredients such as chickpeas and seaweed are emphasizing that environmentally friendly and healthy products don’t have to compromise on taste, meaning that in 2022, consumers may get to have their vegan cake and eat it too.

"The events of the past 18 months have consumers seeking out familiar and comforting foods and beverages, but often with a twist for some excitement, or with specific diets and health concerns in mind."


Wide world of snacking

For the past 18 months, global flavors have been offering consumers culinary adventure in lieu of traveling. Their growing prominence has inspired innovation in snacks and treats categories. Fancy Food 24/7 revealed snack bars that deliver Thai flavors while being keto-friendly and high in prebiotic fiber; potato chips from Spain in foie gras flavor; and peanuts flavored with turmeric and chili, “like the spicy peanut snack from hawkers on street corners in Bangkok that I relished as a child,” noted Trendspotter Kantha Shelke.

On the sweet side, exhibitors offered ice cream flavors that pay homage to Latin American coffee and dessert combos; a twist on classic panettone featuring traditional Sicilian pistachios in the bread and as a filling; and from the Philippines, a white chocolate moringa-infused bar topped with pinipig, a traditional ingredient of pounded and toasted young glutinous rice.

Peppers are hot

Consumers are gaining an education on the right peppers for recipes, snacking, and condiments, thanks to a preponderance of regional chili peppers, chili crisps, dried peppers, and pepper flakes hitting the market. In addition, flavor innovations like a cooking oil that paired coffee with spicy chilis were on display at Fancy Food 24/7.

“Ajvar is a lesser-known red pepper and eggplant condiment that’s made in Turkey and is vegan,” says Trendspotter Jenn de la Vega. “Dua Lipa mentioned ajvar on Hot Ones and recommends it with Albanian cooking.”


Foods with benefits

Consumers are taking immune system health seriously in the wake of the pandemic, but the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties of some functional foods and beverages are increasingly appealing for their reported anti-aging benefits too. Fancy Food 24/7 revealed functional ingredients such as turmeric for anti-inflammation and butterfly pea flower extract, high in anthocyanins, which are linked to anti-aging for the skin.

Products that are gut-healthy and high in fiber, protein and antioxidants continue to gain popularity.

Continuing Trends

Upcycled ingredients have been gaining momentum. The rise in consumers’ interest in supporting sustainable brands remains steady, especially among younger Gen Z shoppers, according to the SFA’s Today’s Specialty Food Consumer research, 2021-2022 Edition. Innovations in products made with upcycled ingredients that would otherwise go to waste are especially prevalent. These products include Mondelez brand CaPao’s Quinoa Squares, which feature upcycled cacao fruit; Kazoo Snacks’ tortilla chips, which are made from 40% upcycled corn germ; and more.

Twists on chocolate classics also aren’t going anywhere. Consumers crave variations on the familiar that provide joy and comfort. Chocolate makers rose to the occasion with whimsical confections in animal shapes like hippos, dark-chocolate honeycomb candies and decaf chocolate-coffee combos.