From nourishing both the body and mind to seeking plant-based and sustainably sourced options, consumers in the coming year will be drawn to products that are tailored to new and evolving preferences. 

Prepared food brands—including ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, frozen foods, meal kits and more—are  uniquely positioned to take advantage of key trends if they can effectively balance what consumers want with their evergreen desire for products that deliver on a positive sensory experience. 

Here are three trends that will impact prepared foods in 2022. Here, too, are some suggestions of how brands can take advantage of those trends

Nourishment for the Whole Self

It’s not exactly new to say consumers want to proactively support the body and mind through a balanced approach to diet and lifestyle. Even so, the global pandemic has placed renewed focus on foods that can support well-being—especially those that address the microbiome and immune function.

According to ADM Outside Voice℠ research, 58% of global consumers are aware of the potential benefits that the gut microbiome can have on overall health1. As a result, they are linking solutions such as probiotics to a wide range of benefits, including as gut health and overall well-being2.

Gut health is also connected to immune function support, which is a top benefit consumers look for from foods and beverages1. Other important benefits consumers want include hydration, energy, cognitive health and digestive health1. By tapping into these perceptions and desires, formulators can create offerings that catch shoppers’ attention. 

Convenience food and beverage makers can meet these needs by formulating offerings that align with holistic health and wellness. This can include nutrient-dense ingredients that support the microbiome—including fermented fruits and vegetables; and wholesome ingredients like ancient grains. 

Functional ingredients like postbiotics are another way prepared foods can offer microbiome benefits. 

Postbiotics don’t contain living microorganisms. As such, they can survive harsh processing conditions across many food and beverage formats, making it easy for product developers to incorporate microbiome-supporting benefits in a variety of applications. 

Finally, flavors derived from natural sources that consumers associate with wellness attributes, such as elderberry, chamomile and ginger, can further entice consumers to try something new.

Plant-Based Lifestyles

Plant-based preferences continue to grow in popularity and show no sign of slowing. Currently, 27% of global consumers plan to change their diets to include more plant-based foods3. Not only are they looking for plant-based alternatives that replicate traditional meat and dairy, but they also are searching product labels for plant-based sweeteners, flavors, colors and other ingredients. 

Packaged food manufacturers can leverage this trend by diversifying their flexitarian offerings. Beans and pulses are attractive and consumer-preferred alternatives for ready-to-eat meals. With great taste and nutrition, they are perceived by shoppers as a quality source of protein and fiber, in addition to signaling wholesomeness in frozen products. Product developers also can explore various formats for more authentic alternative meat and seafood textures. Examples could involve shreds, flakes and crumbles.

Above all, taste is paramount, and flavors derived from natural sources can attract new consumers. From kid-friendly offerings to authentic global cuisine with local or regional specificity, delicious taste experiences keep people coming back for more.

Sustainability and Clean, Transparent Sourcing

When a brand can tell a story that ties to ethical decision-making and environmental consciousness on its label, shoppers associate these attributes with positive perceptions that include trust, quality and “closer-to-nature” formulations. 

With 58% of global consumers saying they will be more attentive to locality claims and 47% saying they will be more attentive to sustainability claims3, the origin of ingredients matters. Prepared food manufacturers can respond by formulating with high-quality ingredients that are sustainable, traceable and sourced from nature.

Consider highlighting purity, safety and wellness standards—as well as all aspects of sustainability. These include personal, social, environmental and economic benefits. Packaging that highlights local ingredients and novel sourcing with clear, authentic origins appeals to consumers.

For example, nearly 80% of the world’s vanilla is sourced from Madagascar, and a unique farmer-owned supply chain provides extraordinary transparency and traceability while producing exceptional vanilla. Through SAVAN™, a joint venture of ADM and Sahanala, farmers gain leadership skills and education and strengthen their local communities. Meanwhile, the program elevates transparency and sustainability throughout the value chain. 

Prepared food manufacturers can leverage this type of narrative on their websites, product labels and marketing campaigns.

As always, the key to leveraging any consumer trend is to balance nutrition and sustainability with a desirable sensory profile. Another factor to consider is how the product fits into different lifestyles. Brands that assess unique consumer needs while developing tailored solutions will win with shoppers.

The opportunities are significant, but they don’t come without challenges. It’s vital to get it right the first time. A good place to start is to partner with the right supplier. A global portfolio of high-quality, responsibly sourced products as well as deep formulation expertise will help establish a firm foundation for success in the new year.

John Stephanian is global vice president, culinary and innovation at ADM. At ADM, we unlock the power of nature to provide access to nutrition worldwide. With industry-advancing innovations, a complete portfolio of ingredients and solutions to meet any taste, and a commitment to sustainability, we give customers an edge in solving the nutritional challenges of today and tomorrow. We’re a global leader in human and animal nutrition and the world’s premier agricultural origination and processing company. Our breadth, depth, insights, facilities and logistical expertise give us unparalleled capabilities to meet needs for food, beverages, health and wellness, and more. From the seed of the idea to the outcome of the solution, we enrich the quality of life the world over.

1ADM Outside Voice℠
2ADM/Buzzback report, Microbiome Consumer Exploratory, 2021
3FMCG Gurus, How Has COVID-19 Changed Consumer Behavior, March 2021