Food Trends for 2023 Include Wellness Drinks, Gut Health, Confusion Around New Labels and Terminology

With issues like inflation, supply chain disruptions, technological advancements and changing consumer desires, the food system is experiencing a dizzying level of change and unpredictability. But despite that instability—or because of it—several food trends are emerging for 2023, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC). Among them are healthful beverages, demands for probiotics and protein, a focus on food labels and a lens on diversity in food systems.

Drinking Our Way to Wellness

In 2023, wellness will continue to be top-of-mind for many consumers, but it will increasingly come in liquid form, driven in large part by consumers looking for added benefits like energy, mental health and gut health support.

IFIC’s 2022 Food and Health Survey found that “more energy and less fatigue” were the most sought-after benefit from foods and beverages, with 37% of Americans saying so. You can expect to see options that cater to those wishes multiply, such as “alt caffeine” choices to old standbys like coffee and tea. Along with yerba mate, keep an eye out for more yaupon tea, a lower-caffeine alternative with a sweet flavor profile, which is derived from a species of holly native to the deep South.

Mocktails and nonalcoholic cocktail options continue to take up more and more real estate on menus and grocery store shelves, and are especially popular among younger consumers. Perhaps a reaction to the early days of the pandemic (where alcoholic sales and consumption spiked), be prepared to see a growing wave of nonalcoholic options not just during Dry January and Sober October.

While energy was the most sought-after food benefit for all adult population groups, according to the 2022 Food and Health Survey, “emotional/mental health” was among the top three sought out by Gen Z, with more members of the generation desiring this benefit compared to their older counterparts. Among those who made a change to their nutrition or diet in 2022 to manage or reduce their stress, 33% said they consumed foods/beverages that are supposed to reduce stress or the effects of stress, and 24% said they drank less alcohol.

Feeling It in the Gut

While many consumers focus on what foods can do for their minds, others are also interested in what they can do for their guts. Probiotics have been steadily growing in popularity, with digestive/gut health being the third most commonly sought-after benefit among Americans. Don’t expect that interest to wane in the coming year, and expect to see them more and more beyond the yogurt section, as probiotics are increasingly being added to non-traditional foods like chocolate, ice cream, juices, sauces, and even nutrition bars.

Similar to consumers’ pursuit of energy benefits, beverages are also viewed as a delivery system for probiotics and prebiotics. According to IFIC’s 2022 Consumer Insights on Gut Health and Probiotics Survey, of those who try to consume probiotics, 25% say they commonly seek them out in wellness drinks. Similarly, among those who try to consume prebiotics, 23% seek them out in wellness drinks.

Plant-Based Innovation 2.0

Plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy are old hat, but plant-based pasta, rice and snacks will be a growing trend in 2023. These products point a new lens on sustainability and innovation, often relying on “upcycling,” which takes plant-based food components that ordinarily would have gone to waste and processes them for use in other products—such as pulp and spent grain from soy milk or oat milk being added to flour. Upcycling reduces food waste and contributes to sustainable food production.

Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with innovative, plant-based food alternatives, a trend that should continue in 2023. An IFIC survey in December 2021 found that 28% would be interested in trying sea green-based products (e.g., algae- or kelp-based foods). Keep an eye out for food innovations featuring mushrooms, seaweed and jackfruit.

Clarity and Confusion for Food Packages

Expect to see more jostling in 2023 for the finite space on food labels. In a similar vein, greater consensus will begin emerging around nomenclature, as well as some of the terms and marketing claims that will be vying for more of the labels’ real estate.

“Natural” and “clean” foods, which consumers associate with healthfulness, will continue to be at the forefront. According to the 2022 Food and Health Survey, more Americans in 2022 vs. 2021 say they regularly buy products labeled as “natural” (39% vs. 33% in 2021) or “clean ingredients” (27% vs. 20% in 2021). When asked about which types of diets or eating patterns they’re following, clean eating was the top choice. More respondents said they followed clean eating in 2022 (16%) than in 2021 (9%).

Recent actions by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are bringing Americans closer to an updated definition of “healthy” foods. As far as consumers are concerned, the most common attributes they believe define a healthy food are “fresh” (37%), “low in sugar” (32%) and “good source of protein” (29%), according to the 2022 Food and Health Survey.

When consumers were asked in a 2021 IFIC survey to rate their level of interest in trying certain products, 19% said they would be interested in cell-cultured meat. In 2023, Americans will become increasingly familiar with meat derived from animal cells. At the same time, we will have to come to a consensus on what to call those foods in the first place. According to one survey, “cultivated meat” is emerging as a front-runner.

Viewing the Food System Through a DEI Lens

According to the 2022 Food and Health Survey, 45% of U.S. consumers say that fair and equitable treatment of workers in the food system is important in their purchasing decisions.

We saw this focus play out at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this past fall, which brought together stakeholders across multiple sectors to address food insecurity and diet-related diseases. The ripples from the conference will be seen into 2023 and beyond.

The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans shone a light on the importance of diversity and cultural traditions in reaching more of the U.S. population. The United Nations agency UNESCO recently added to its list of “intangible cultural heritage,” new entries which are replete with foods and beverages that are steeped in tradition and ritual. At the same time, food companies are also looking to values like diversity, equity and inclusion as ways to attract the best talent and grow thoughtfully.

Thinking “Glocally”

“Glocalization” refers to the interplay between globalization that also respects and adapts to unique local needs and conditions. Companies that expect to succeed in the global economy will need to pay attention to local forces.  Americans have become much more conversant about global supply chains and what happens when they are disrupted by factors like the pandemic and war. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted many of us to reconsider how the products we take for granted every day don’t just appear on the shelves magically.

The cascading effects of world events aren’t limited to supply and demand. They also put upward pressure on prices, squeezing the finances of millions of Americans. For instance, 83% of U.S. consumers noticed an increase in the cost of food and beverages in the past year, according to the 2022 Food and Health Survey. Of those who observed an increase, 57% reported having to pay more for the same item as a result of increasing prices and 29% said they purchased less overall than they would have otherwise.