SAN DIEGO — There’s been a growing shift in how consumers are eating today, highlighted by a flurry of new and inventive startups disrupting the food industry. 

“Increasing access to capital and lower barriers to entry has triggered profound change in the industry,” explained Monica Watrous, managing editor of Food Business News and editor of Food Entrepreneur. “All eyes are on the entrepreneurs and the disruption they’re bringing to market.”

At BEMA Convention 2022, held June 22-25, Ms. Watrous detailed four key trends driving this new product development across the food and beverage landscape. 

Food as medicine 

Consumer interest in better-for-you foods is stronger than ever, posing a significant market opportunity. Globally functional and fortified food sales reached $292 billion, including $83 billion in the United States in 2021. 

“The pandemic has fueled consumer interest in products promising a range of health benefits, from immunity support to stress relief, and two-fifths of consumers say they bought more functional foods last year than in 2020,” Ms. Watrous said. 

Ingredients like adaptogens, believed to regulate the body’s response to physical or emotional distress, as well as nootropics, marketed as improving cognitive function, are gaining traction. Deux, Los Angeles, is a brand of vegan, gluten-free cookie dough enhanced with nutrients targeting immune support, stress relief and more. 

Products promoting digestive health are also taking off. BelliWelli, Los Angeles, offers plant-based, gluten-free digestive health bars aimed at the millions of Americans suffering from irritable-bowel syndrome. And Dalci, Jersey City, NJ, serves a line of gut-friendly dessert bars formulated with anti-inflammatory ingredients such as avocado oil, coconut sugar and almond flour. 

Environmentally conscious

Consumers are increasingly interested in brands that support the environment. Nearly two-in-five Americans say environmental sustainability impacts their decision to buy certain foods or beverages, up from just 27% three years ago. And 52% of Americans believe their food and beverage purchases have an impact on the environment. 

Food waste is a concern for nearly 60% of Americans, and a growing number of brands are combatting this waste. Renewal Mill, Oakland, Calif., transforms pulpy leftovers of oat and soymilk production into a gluten-free Okara flour that boosts the fiber and protein content in a variety of cookies, tortillas, baby food and more. 

Carbon-neutral snacks are also expected to gain prominence as consumers look to minimize their carbon footprint. Moonshot Snacks, San Francisco, is a climate-friendly cracker brand that sources its ingredients, such as organic wheat and sunflower oil, as close to the farmer as possible and emphasizes regenerative agricultural practices in its supply chain. And Airly Foods, part of Post Holdings’ subsidiary Bright Future Foods, St. Louis, last year debuted Airly Oat Clouds, made with oats grown on carbon-converting farms. Each box of Airly Oat Clouds removes 18-19 grams of CO2 from the air, the company claims, equivalent to 2,500 beach balls.  

New twists on meal and snack staples

More than half of Americans are following a diet or eating pattern, up from 39% last year. Two-in-five consumers also bought foods with allergen-labeling in the last year, with 80% saying they bought the products because of this labeling. 

In addition to allergen-friendly, some of the most popular claims among consumers include low sugar and low sodium, high fiber and high protein, and grain free. 

Snow Days, Austin, is a brand of organic, grain-free pizza bites made with a cassava flour-based crust, aimed to rival Minneapolis-based General Mill’s Totino’s Pizza Rolls. Three Wishes Cereal, New York City, is one of a growing number of better-for-you cereals start-ups. Their products are grain-free, low in sugar and formulated with chickpea, pea protein and tapioca. And Blake’s Seed Based, Chicago, offers seed-based snack bars free of the top eight food allergens. 

Cultural exploration

The United States is diversifying quickly, and 40% of Americans now identify with a racial or ethnic minority. The buying power of these multicultural consumers is expanding as well. By 2024, Asian American buying power is expected to hit $1.6 trillion, according to Nielsen, and by 2023 buying power of Latin Americans in the US is expected to top $1.9 trillion. Multicultural shoppers are also significantly more likely to buy natural and organic foods than the general population.

“Emerging brand founders are set on expanding representation on retail shelves and building a more equitable food system,” Ms. Watrous said. “Several start-up founders that I’ve met have described feeling excluded or misrepresented in conventional food marketing or retail settings, and they launched their business in an effort to banish stereotypes associated with their culture and cuisine.”

Fly By Jing, Los Angeles, is a line of chef-crafted pantry staples and appetizers inspired by the founder, Jing Gao, and the flavors of her hometown of Chengdu, China. Ting’s, San Francisco, offers jackfruit chips inspired by founder Tiffany Wang’s favorite snack when she lived in Southeast Asia. And Yolele, Brooklyn, NY, is bringing West-African ingredients to the snack aisle with its line of tortilla-style chips made with fonio, a drought-tolerant, nutrient-dense ancient grain considered a neglected and underused crop. 

These are just a handful of brands disrupting the food industry. As consumer interest in better-for-you, environmentally friendly and culturally conscious offerings builds, expect the number, and success, of these brands to grow as well.