Summer 2021 Food & Beverage Trends

With the pandemic and climate change being hot topics in recent months, Summer 2021 will have guests wanting to see more healthy and sustainable items on their menu. As a result, there will be a significant push for plant-based dishes and those featuring natural and functional ingredients from elderberries to turmeric. Here we share some of the major food and beverage trends operators can expect this upcoming season.


Plants will continue growing on menus. (Especially compostable menus.) Think plant-based tacos, vegan burgers, veggie pizzas to oat lattes and coconut milk ice cream. As rising mainstream appeal drives this plant trend forward, we can expect plant-based ingredients to expand to different food categories to even fast food menus where selections are traditionally meat-heavy. For example, Nathan’s Famous is launching a meatless, vegan, plant-based hotdog made with pea-protein and spiced with its signature spice blend. Dunkin Donut is serving up their popular coffee drinks with nondairy milk such as oat or almond. Even Taco Bell is testing a vegetarian taco using proteins derived from chickpeas and peas, a creation they like to call the “Cravetarian” Taco. “By testing and offering a wide breadth of meatless options,” they added, they are “doubl(ing) down on its pledge to bring more innovation to the vegetarian space.”

Natural and Functional

We also expect to see more items prioritizing and supporting immune health this summer. According to the Food Dive Team, more companies have been “jumping on the healthy and immunity bandwagon by promoting immunity-boosting ingredients from elderberries and probiotics to turmeric and moringa.” There’s also been a noticeable sales bump in more natural, functional foods. The Hartman Group’s Functional Food & Beverage and Supplements 2020 report showed that 29 percent of consumers have been consuming more functional foods and beverages since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as growing concern of the pandemic and awareness for health has been shifting consumer preferences towards healthier foods and beverages.

In the beverage scene, less-sugared, natural products with minimal artificial ingredients are being favored over the sugared juices or carbonated soft drinks. For example, plant-based beverages featuring real and organic ingredients are gaining popularity. Leading brands are focusing on natural juices, tea and herbals. Tractor Beverages is a good example. They are now offering a spectrum of lightly sweetened, minimalist drinks (both carbonated and non-carbonated) from strawberry rhubarb to kola-cola, an organic version of cola made from ingredients such as “kola nut, cinnamon, lime, orange, marjoram, coriander, black pepper, nutmeg, lemongrass, cassia bark, and vanilla.”  Even Red Bull launched their own organic soda line, focusing on flavors without additives like artificial colors, preservatives, and GMO, from Simply Cola, Bitter Lemon to Ginger Ale.

Hard Seltzer

Continuing on the topic of beverages, we have hard seltzers carving out their own identity in the alcohol and beverage industry. According to this NielsenIQ report, hard seltzer products have “shown the most sustainable growth trajectory across the U.S. alcohol landscape” and have even “managed to pose a risk to mainstream beer brands.” Popular beer brands such as Coors Light, Corona and Michelob Ultra are taking advantage of this trend by diversifying their portfolio to include these hard seltzers and other low alcohol drinks. According to Yelp’s 2021 Trend Forecast Report, the rate of review mentions of hard seltzer was up 189%.

The massive success of hard seltzer products and their fast-growing consumer base is, again, the result of the health and wellness trend. One NRN article reported that more people are now “more mindful about how much and when they drink.” According to Donna Berry, writer for Food Business News, consumers, particularly millennials and Gen Z’ers, are “reaching for no- and low-alcohol options that provide the experience of imbibing but without the possible negative effects” in their quest for balance and health. We’ll be seeing more of these drinks as the weather gets even warmer and people spend more time outdoors. Distilled spirits like vodka and tequila cut with carbonated water will be the “new generation of light fizzy drinks.”

Hot Honey

We mentioned chilies and heat back in our Fall 2020 Trend Post but never expected hot honey to be crowned as Yelp’s 2021 flavor of the year. According to Yelp’s 2021 Trend Forecast report, the rate of review mentions of hot honey has been up 48% since 2020. KFC now serves their Hot Honey Chicken at select locations; Dairy Queen has their own hot honey chicken version with their Honey Hot Glazed Chicken Strip Baskets; Taco Time is offering a Pork Burrito slathered in honey sriracha aioli, while Bruegger’s Bagels is promoting their sandwiches served with their own Sriracha Honey Cream Cheese. “Restaurants have been combing sugar and spice for decades with barbeque sauce, and more pointedly in recent years with ingredients like Thai sweet chile sauce,” said an NRN post, so we know the trend’s aligned with Americans’ long-standing sweet-tooth and a newfound love for spicy foods.

We can expect more menu items incorporating chilies and other spicy flavors as the heat trend (a.k.a. the “Chilies Obsession”) continues.

Low Carbon labeling

Climate-friendly cuisines and foods with low carbon-footprints will be picking up momentum as we approach summer. According to Francesca Cocchi, from Food Network Magazine, the latest diet trend isn’t low carb, it’s low carbon. “Diets with low environmental impacts are becoming all the rage,” said Kishan Vasani, a contributing author to the food & beverage innovation intelligence company Spoonshot. “Interest in sustainable diets increased by 151.7% in the last five years and by 55.5% in the last year alone.” As climatarian diets (a diet that prioritizes reducing carbon footprint) become more prevalent, more restaurants will be shifting their focus away from foods with a high carbon footprint (i.e., meat, cheese and imported, non-seasonal food), upcycling, and increasing food packaging sustainability to slow down climate change. The latest movement towards climatarian-friendly diets has been carbon-labeling. Several brands such as Panera Bread and Chipotle, have just started labeling their menu items with emission labels and using ingredients to reduce carbon emissions. According to Just Salad, these numbers serve to show the “environmental impact of growing, producing, and transporting (a menu) item to your plate.” On their website they call it a “nutrition label, but for the planet.”

Our Conclusion? Summer will be fun this year, as chefs experiment on new and creative ways to incorporate these healthy, plant-forward, spicy and climate-friendly ingredients into their seasonal classics.

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