Without doubt, one of the most impactful 2021 trends will be the continued impact of COVID-19 and how it has transformed the way we live, learn and work.

Instead of hosting clients in the Mattson Food Studio, we switched gears to conducting live, virtual tasting sessions through video conferencing. We developed sample kits containing everything needed for a seamless and error-proof experience, from skillets to standardize cooking, to thermometers, and pre-labeled paperware.

Having a communal innovation space is great (ours is open again, with social distancing). But maybe a distributed model isn’t so bad. Instead of commiserating on the downsides of working from home, we used it as an opportunity to reinvent the way we work and foster a deeper sense of collaboration and empathy amongst the Mattson family and our clients.  We predict this type of re-invention of the product development process will continue well into 2021.

Looking ahead, here are five key trends we see impacting next year’s new foods and beverages.


The Perfectly Imperfect Formula

More and more consumers are trading in long established brands and products for more natural versions. Younger generations have an increased awareness of health and how food plays a role in it.

All of this has sparked the demand for shorter ingredient lists with pantry-friendly names. And consumers are willing to accept less-than-perfection in exchange for better flavor, more nutrition, or fewer additives. The experience of a lumpy sauce, or irregular piece sizes feels a lot like homemade: more authentic and fresh; something to feel good about. It’s not uncommon to find bottled beverages labeled with instructions such as “shake well, separation is natural’’ or a jar of nut butter declaring ‘’oil separation occurs naturally, stir well with a butter knife.”

As product developers, the question is no longer whether we can formulate for flawless emulsification or long lasting stability, but whether it’s necessary. To answer this, we always look to target consumers to understand what they value most. Our challenge becomes navigating the fine balance between how much imperfection our user is willing to accept and how much food science to apply.


Plant-Based 3.0

As formulators, we see suppliers offer increasingly refined functional ingredients, which makes developing plant-based meat products easier and more precise. However, we have the sense that the market will soon be demanding something different: ingredients from whole plant material. Clients encourage us to include whole ingredients when formulating plant-based meat products, which we see as the beginning of what we consider plant-based meat 3.0 (1.0=Garden and Boca, 2.0=Impossible and Beyond).

Building these products technically challenging but taste is still king. One way to approach the challenge is to use lightly flavored ingredients such as oat or mushroom.

Mattson client Atlast Food Co. will soon launch MyBacon, made from the roots of gourmet mushrooms. Their simply sliced mycelium is a desirable feature of the product, rather than something they’re trying to camouflage.

Recently we worked with a tofu company who was so proud of their organic, non-GMO soy-based product, they made a conscious decision to celebrate tofu rather than try to pass it off as chick’n. In 2021 and beyond we expect to see more of these options for consumers who want to eat plant-based, but don’t want highly processed copies of the real thing. Aidell’s Whole Blends are chicken sausages made with less chicken, but the meat isn’t replaced with plant-based powders or TVP. Rather whole grains like quinoa, barley and vegetables add plant nutrition and sustainability. Plant-based brands might follow suit.


The Triple Threat: A New Rockstar Functional Ingredient

Like Beyoncé, Billie Eilish, or Taylor Swift, mushrooms are about to steal the spotlight. Their multiple talents include enhancing flavor, enabling texture, and adding nutraceutical function: a triple threat of benefits!

While mushrooms’ medicinal properties have been used for ages in eastern cultures, mushrooms like Reishi and Lion’s Mane have just recently started to be used for their health benefits on the western side of the globe. We worked on commercialization for Om Mushroom Superfoods to bring to the American consumer a line of hot beverages containing functional and adaptogenic mushroom blends specifically curated for immune properties, cognitive support, and stress management.

We’ve also been using mushrooms in formulation for their savory contribution, including plant-based alternatives. Dried mushrooms, especially shiitake (an umami bomb), are high in glutamic acid, which boosts savory flavor and allows us to replace yeast extract, which some consumers consider less natural. Lasty, we’ve seen an increasing interest in using mushrooms and mycelium in plant-based meat, to mimic the meaty whole muscle eating experience, reviving fungi food technology, pioneered by past client Quorn.


Upcycling—More Than Reusing Food Waste

At Mattson, we have the privilege of developing a myriad of food products, but it’s always extra rewarding to work on projects that will contribute to a meaningful change in the food system. For us, upcycled food falls squarely in that category—reducing food waste by transforming underused, less than perfect, and often waste stream ingredients into high quality, value-added ingredients and products.

Formulating with upcycled ingredients inspires us to be more creative but it also comes with significant challenges: lack of traceability, high batch-to-batch variation, unreliable quantity of supply, absence of GRAS status, or consumer misunderstanding. In order to address some of those challenges, we’ve joined other upcycling enthusiasts at the Upcycled Food Association (UFA) in support of developing an Upcycled Certification standard and promoting upcycled food development.

DOLE Packaged Foods has also joined UFA with a big plan to eliminate their food waste by 2025. Codexis Inc. is another company joining efforts in upcycling through novel, high-efficiency enzymes developed by its proprietary platform. Codexis replaces chemical manufacturing steps with clean-label, biology-based processes for value-added ingredients. Mattson also partnered with Cacique Inc., a traditional Mexican-style cheese producer, to help transform fresh trim from their cheese production into delicious, fresh Queso Dips.

While not everyone is thrilled with the idea of consuming byproducts, we need to remind consumers that many iconic foods utilize byproducts, like ranch dressing’s buttermilk, a byproduct of butter production.


Why Did The Chick(pea) Cross The Road? To Become A Functional Ingredient.

The continued demand for plant-based foods has resulted in a scarcity of on-trend proteins such as pea. This has opened the floodgates for new proteins to enter and make themselves known. Meet the newest chick(pea) in town.

Advancements in extracting plant proteins have allowed chickpea protein manufacturers to make great strides to improve overall quality and highlight its benefits.  The Mattson product development team has found chickpea protein suitable for use across many different applications, especially plant-based formulations. Chickpeas are light in color, mild in flavor, and rich in protein, which is ideal for developing plant-based dairy, poultry, and seafood products.

Like pea, chickpeas are also allergy-friendly. In texturally challenging projects, chickpea protein offers functional texture and mouthfeel benefits, including emulsification, gelling, and foaming capabilities.  It’s a food product developer’s dream: a versatile, broadly available and sustainable clean label ingredient with attributes other ingredients don’t have.