Michael Pollan, author, journalist and a UC Berkeley professor, observed, “The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.” He also said, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Pollan’s conventional wisdom cuts through all clutter associated with eating. It also inspires the trend observers at Mattson to look more closely at the ingredient and consumer trends driving new product development. Here are five key factors influencing Mattson’s product innovation work for its clients.

Superfoods 3.0: In the beginning there were brands such as Pom Wonderful and Sambazon, which built huge businesses in the ‘90s. These companies and others sold antioxidant-rich superfruit products to consumers on the promise of inflammation-fighting benefits. In the 2000s, the term superfood morphed to mean any nutrient-dense food. Common foods such as oatmeal, blueberries, salmon, and spinach were sought-after staples in kitchens across America: the second generation had arrived. We began filling our plates with previously obscure foods like quinoa, chia and kale, which became the poster-child of Superfoods 2. 

And although turmeric lattes may be the current rage, health enthusiasts are busy searching for the next new superfood promising to make us better inside and out. If you thought superfoods had peaked—think again. We’re watching seaweed, mushrooms, acerola cherry, cupuaçu, goiaba (aka guava), graviola soursop and pitaya—many of them from the Amazon rainforest. 

CBD: CBD (cannabidiol) is a compound found in cannabis (marijuana) as well as whole plant hemp oil. It supports the endocannabinoid systems it interacts with by promoting healing as part of harm reduction. To understand what it does, compare it to aspirin. Aspirin works on everything from fever, cold, flu and headache to prevention of stroke and heart attack. CBD also works on all the systems that aspirin does, but moves beyond the level of aspirin. 

CBD is purported to help people with arthritis, but it also can assist with anxiety and depression; it can even help people who have difficulty with social interactions. It will be a while before we fully understand the endocannabinoid system (or even how to pronounce it!), and how CBD and other cannabinoids (including THC, the one that gets you high) work. Currently there’s limited research available on the effects of CBD, but we are living in a time where human need is driving science and the market. If ever there was a gold rush in the world of supplements, CBD is it. We’re closely watching CBD (also known as hemp oil) to see who prevails.

Mushrooms: Mushrooms have been a staple among hard-core health enthusiasts for decades, but now they’re starting to have a real moment among mainstream consumers. The question is, “Why now?” Well, for starters we’re always looking for the next superfood (see our first trend!) and we’ve come to discover that mushrooms are adaptogens and immunomodulators, and that they contain key polysaccharides, beta-glucans, and terpenoids. 
Mushroom sales are way up globally, but it’s the medicinal mushrooms such as cordyceps, reishi, shiitake and chaga that are commanding super ‘shroom status now. Beyond their culinary history, mushrooms have been traditionally used to support wellness as an ingredient in dietary supplements. They’re now being given star billing in products across categories with coffees, smoothies and teas leading the way. Functional mushrooms also are featured prominently at wellness cafés. 

Adaptogens: Adaptogens are a class of plants thought to help the body cope with physical and mental stress. These plants have been used in herbal medicine for centuries, and are enjoying a renaissance. Fans suggested that adaptogens help you cope with common symptoms of living in the modern world such as anxiety and fatigue, and make you more resilient in all facets of life. There is a big caveat, however—there’s little research to back up these claims. 

What adaptogens have going for them is centuries of use with positive user feedback. And while it’s fashionable to add adaptogens to a drink or snack bar, these have minimal effects and you’re not going to see the benefits from a single use. Rather, adaptogens are a commitment. It takes consuming adaptogen powders or pills daily over a period of several months to really see a benefit. A few of our favorite adaptogens are turmeric, tulsi, tea, and others that don’t start with a “t.”

Disruption for Good: Trendy upstart brands are disrupting legacy companies on an unprecedented scale. Millennials, sometimes dubbed “Generation Nice,” collectively favor companies that promote the values of good citizenship. And they are opposed to simply being consumers. Popular Millennial brands are less about self-promotion and more about empathy and having an open-minded, heart connection to others—they’re about community. Young Millennial entrepreneurs are redesigning every category in the industry in response. We know, because they’re the Mattson clients pushing the limits of what a food brand can stand for.

Originally appeared in the December, 2018 issue of Prepared Foods as Factor of Five.