Plant-based foods, cannabis and an ice cream renaissance top the list of 2019 trend predictions from the Specialty Food Association's Trendspotter Panel, New York.

"The specialty food industry is growing rapidly, and much of this can be attributed to innovations happening in areas like sustainability, the plant-based movement and desire for deeper regional flavors," says Denise Purcell, head of content. "The Trendspotters are seeing major shifts in how consumers are eating. These shifts are providing us with amazing options, along with the opportunity to change how we eat and how food is created. Old favorites like ice cream are being reinvented, while at the same time, we're seeing foods and flavors from around the world increasingly adapted into our everyday meals. It's an exciting time for specialty food, and we expect to see even more growth and innovation throughout 2019."

The Trendspotter Panel, comprised of professionals from diverse segments of the culinary world, identified the following eight trends for 2019:

1. Plant-based blossoms into a movement. The plant-based groundswell has firmly established itself in consumer eating habits. Stretching beyond vegans and vegetarians, plant-based foods now hold broad appeal to consumers intrigued by health benefits and who have concerns about how their food is sourced.

  • Makers are creating new product categories and disrupting old ones with plant-based options.
  • The movement will become situated in the larger context of sustainability—intertwined with upcycled products, as more companies turn to root-to-stem ingredients to combat food waste and snacks made from rescued bananas or flours made with spent grains or pulp.
  • Dairy and protein alternatives will rise across the foodservice sector in 2019.

2. Palates shift to regional cuisines of Africa, South Asia and Latin America—driven by Millennials and Gen Z. These consumers are adventurous and seek experience in their travel and food, which has led to a shift in interest to authentic regional fare.

  • African foods and ingredients from all over the continent are gaining notice, including fonio (West), nitter kbeh (East), ras el hanout (North) and biltong (South).
  • Regional South Asian cuisines are emerging and ayurvedic products—primarily whole or minimally processed foods—are on the radar.
  • Savory-sweet snacks in the street snack tradition will become more popular.
  • Expect to see new menus and packaged foods touting the regional flavors and ingredients of Mexico, Central and South America, from heritage corn tortillas to the advent of mezcal as a spirit and an ingredient.

3. Cannabis across multiple categories. 2018 saw the emerging edibles segment gain a foothold in snacks and treats, as more states legalize sales of hemp-derived CBD products. Though the segment has its challenges, a new generation is growing up in states where cannabis is legal, and signs point to future growth of the edibles market.

  • New products are rapidly hitting the market, many with high-end packaging and savvy marketing.
  • Look for more infused cooking oils, coffees, teas, chocolates, baked goods, snacks, beer and pasta to hit the market in the coming year.
  • Foodservice will continue to adopt cannabis cuisine menus and cocktails.

4. Packaging takes center stage—in the environment and in consumer communication. Soliciting consumer trust through values conveyed on product packaging, and in some cases, the material of which it’s made, will be more visible in the coming year.

  • As consumers increasingly placea premium on company values, producers are making their certifications and accreditations, such as B Corp, women-certified and animal welfare, more prominent on packaging.
  • Sustainable packaging will grow, especially plant-based varieties. Expect to see some made of upcycled ingredients or scraps. Research is advancing the use of tomato peels, kelp and mushrooms into sustainable alternatives, coatings and other packaging materials.

5. Cassava. A specific star of the plant-based phenomenon is cassava, also known as yuca, a starchy tuberous root native to South America.

  • Cassava leaves have been especially evident in packaged snacks from cassava leaf chips to popped cassava and even a cassava leaf jerky.
  • While many products so far are packaged for retail, expect to see more cassava on foodservice menus as well in 2019, likely in baked goods or tortillas made with cassava flour.

6. Fermented functional beverages. Probiotic-friendly kombucha is leading the charge for growth, and more fermented functional beverages touting health, tradition and flavor are on the horizon.

  • Look for mushroom brews highlighting varieties like chaga, a nutrient-dense mushroom linked with antioxidants and cholesterol-lowering benefits; lion's mane, reported to have anxiety-reducing and heart-health benefits; and cordyceps, which may help with anti-aging as well as diabetes prevention and heart health.
  • Drinking vinegars, which are high in probiotics, amino acids and antioxidants, will also continue to emerge.
  • Watch for kvas. This traditional Slavic and Baltic fermented grain beverage is commonly made from rye bread and flavored with fruits or herbs like mint.

7. Edible beauty. Collagen is a full-fledged trend in 2019, and part of a bigger move to develop products that promote skin health and appearance.

  • Collagen is being infused into beverages, snack bars and even wraps to help replace diminishing levels as consumers age.
  • Traditionally used topically, argan and almond oils are coming to market. Both oils are high in omega fatty acids and vitamin E, which can help hydrate skin, restore elasticity and reduce the visibility of wrinkles.
  • While marketed broadly, many of these products are targeted at the aging, and often overlooked, Gen Xers.

8. Ice cream Renaissance. Its reinvention started with dairy-free varieties made with coconut, almond or soy milks. Then came high-protein, low-calorie products. Now, makers are blurring the lines between treat and healthy snack even further with some blending vegetables like cauliflower and carrots into ice creams.

  • It's not all about health—boutique creameries known for local, hand-crafted and indulgent ice creams are expanding nationwide.
  • On the flavor front, global and floral notes like black sesame and jasmine are adding new touches to the market.
  • Look for innovations to continue to drive the category, including advances in the non-dairy segments.