Datassential, Chicago, pulled ideas from thought leaders across the company and combined with data from surveys, databases and from Haiku, the company’s machine-learning trend prediction engine, to compile a list of trends set to impact the food and beverage industry in the year ahead.

For starters, it’s an election year, which means political issues ranging from tariffs to sustainability and global warming will be in the news. The year ahead will also be a turning point for a demographic shift in the country as Gen Z hits the workforce in a big way, bringing with them new preferences, skills and ideas. Of course, the biggest macroeconomic factor that everyone will be watching is the possibility of a recession and how it could play out in the United States and around the world. There are also smaller factors that will impact what consumers want, from an interest in Japanese cuisine that will inevitably follow the Tokyo Olympics to new technologies set to be released in the New Year.

Here’s a small peek at the macro, micro and flavor/dish trends on the radar:

Macro trends

These are the trends that have the potential to impact every company, daypart, product and segment. 

  • Digital life. In the past, there were two sets of rules – one for how the online world worked, and another for how the “real” world worked. But, in the years ahead, online rules will increasingly become the default rules for many parts of everyday existence. Personalized menu boards and kiosks will increasingly mimic the browsing experience of YouTube and Netflix, with artificial intelligence (AI) working behind the scenes to seamlessly customize the experience and take into account consumers’ surroundings. After a slow start, wearable technology is finally poised to hit the big time, with options like digital eyeglasses, watches and rings set to assist in every food decision.
  • Plant-based finds its identity. With so many brands fearful that they’ll be left behind and rushing to adopt trends at an ever-faster pace, plant-based meats went from science fiction to a fast food restaurant menu in record time. After that initial rush, however, expect consumers and companies to grapple with what plant-based really means and how products should be positioned. Are plant-based burgers really healthier? Which categories will be disrupted next? (Look out chicken and seafood.) Meanwhile, companies and categories that are threatened by the growth of plant-based options will push back more aggressively.
  • What is a restaurant? Ghost kitchens, virtual brands, salad vending machines – are any of these restaurants? If a ghost kitchen is a restaurant, there is potential to create a near infinite number of restaurants at the drop of a hat – a brick-and-mortar operator could create a virtual brand that only exists for a single lunch block and disappears just as quickly.  

Micro trends

These more focused trends have more specific applications or potential, impacting particular dayparts or segments. 

  • Breakfast, brunch, brinner, blurred. As the breakfast bubble deflates and options like all-day breakfast become the new normal, reinventing breakfast options will be key to keeping the menu fresh and exciting. A number of casual chains have introduced brunch to drive traffic during slower dayparts, while multiple quick-service restaurants (QSRs) and c-stores added brunch burgers. This blurring of the lines is par for the course now – chicken is becoming a new breakfast staple, while burgers, tacos and salads are some of the fastest-growing formats on breakfast menus.
  • Farms everywhere. While massive greenhouses and hydroponic and aquaponic farms continue to open around the world, there’s a different revolution happening on the other end of the spectrum—the rise of micro-farming. Small, automated growing appliances are showing up in hospitals, at colleges, in restaurants and soon at home – imagine a small grow box built into the cabinets right next to the microwave. These farms not only shrink food mileage down to zero, but they also allow chefs and consumers to grow exactly what they want – a hyper-personalized farm, so to speak. 

Flavor and ingredient trends

These are early-stage flavors and ingredients that need some attention now. 

  • Ajvar. From sriracha to gochujang to ajvar—pepper-based condiments like a fire-roasted red pepper sauce from the Balkans can quickly trend because of their versatility as a spread or dip.
  • Karaage. This Japanese frying technique is becoming a trendy prep method for chefs in the United States. Try it with chicken for an on-trend chicken sandwich option.
  • Grains of paradise. Native to West Africa, this spice has a flavor all its own, with notes of black pepper, cardamom and citrus mixed with floral flavors. Try it on seafood, drinks or desserts.
  • Unripe produce. Chefs are starting to discover and get creative with the unique flavors and textures of unripe produce – think options like unripe mango, green strawberries or unripe avocado.
  • Urfa biber. Consumers can't get enough new varieties of peppers, so watch for the Turkish dried chili pepper, which has a smoky, almost raisinish taste, to start appearing on more menus and retail shelves.