Tyson Foods' first annual Trendtellers Council, comprising nine experts from different functional areas within the Arkansas-based company, has projected six major trends they believe will drive consumer choices and shape tastes in the year ahead.
On the company's 2019 list are personalized foods to promote health and beauty, transparency in food taking hold, more protein in more forms, the power of smart technology and food, food as a form of self-expression, and fusion of global cuisines at home.
"We believe that, as the largest U.S. food company, it’s our responsibility to shape and drive trends," Jen Bentz, Tyson's senior vice-president of R&D, Innovation and Insights, told Food Dive. "We do have people thinking about this from a number of different areas. It's important to bring these people together and talk about how do we shape what’s happening."
Tyson's inaugural Trendtellers Council took a look at food trends from across the industry, Bentz said, and invited perspectives from in-house experts in innovation, analytics, technology, sustainability, e-commerce, shopper insights, wellness and nutrition — plus a chef. She said it was difficult to limit the list of trends since all the council participants are passionate about food.
Making the cut on Tyson's final trend list was personalized nutrition — also called functional foods — designed to address specific health concerns. In the past, that meant supplements, Bentz noted, but now it relates more to how people are thinking strategically about how they're going to eat to enhance their mind, digestion and appearance.
Transparency is another significant trend, as consumers become more interested in knowing where their food comes from and how it's grown. Blockchain, a type of digital ledger, is becoming a big focus at Tyson, Bentz said, as has new bar code technology to better track and share product sourcing information.
As an indicator of how important this digital traceability has become, Walmart is requiring its fresh produce suppliers to achieve digital, end-to-end traceability using blockchain by September 2019. The retailer began testing the technology in 2016 and is looking to provide full transparency to consumers by being able to quickly and accurately trace products back to their source.
More protein in more forms is another trend making the 2019 list. In 2016, Tyson invested in Beyond Meat, maker of the plant-based Beyond Burger, and the company's venture capital arm has backed lab-grown meat startups here and in Israel. Protein continues to be in high demand, Bentz said, and is only going to grow.
"You’d be surprised how many startups are looking into new areas for protein each and every day," she told Food Dive. "We will continue to invest behind some emerging technologies because we know this will continue to be a huge trend. As a protein company, meat from animals will continue to be important, but we also have to be able to feed the world."
Smart technology is predicted to impact food preparation in 2019 as more gadgets emerge for the holiday season featuring bluetooth technology and apps controlled via phones, Bentz said. Tyson has partnered with Innit, a smart kitchen platform company, and the company will invest where it can stay on the cutting edge of the technology, she added.
Appealing to younger consumers — millennials and Gen Zers in particular — is a trend turning food into a form of self-expression. These shoppers are looking for mission-based brands they can identify with and sustainability practices they feel good about supporting. Bentz said these groups were one focus of Tyson's new brand ¡Yappah!, which makes protein crisps from chicken trim mixed with vegetable puree and pulp from juice and spent grain from Molson Coors that might otherwise be wasted.
Bentz told Food Dive food waste and sustainability are important issues to Tyson. She called it "one of the important areas that we have to tackle ... because it's one of the biggest issues in the country and the world."
A fusion of global cuisines being made at home is Tyson's final trend projected for 2019. Millennials are 52% more likely to visit restaurants with interesting offerings, and consumers older than 35 are 35% more likely to do so, Tyson said. Sampling global flavors while dining out has encouraged experimentation in home kitchens.
These evolving trends raise the question of whether today's consumers are increasingly fickle and demanding about their food choices. Bentz interprets the situation more as consumers having more information than in the past. That can be confusing, so experts and others within personal networks can guide the way, she said.
"Transparency, information, technology is just going to continue to advance that," Bentz said. "The more that we allow control back to [consumers] with what it is that they need to improve their lives, the better off we’ll all be."