C magazine

4 food trends to watch

A woman and man testing recipes in a test kitchen

Ventura Foods employees Lauren Cannady, culinary manager, and Trever Defelice, a product and menu development chef, create new products based on the latest food trends.

Mar 14, 2024

Ahmad Popal

Ahmad Popal, senior vice president of food innovation and international, leads Ventura Foods product development.

By Matthew Wilde

Consumer habits are constantly changing and the food industry is striving to keep pace.

Ventura Foods, a CHS food processing joint venture, closely follows the latest food trends to provide products people desire. Ventura Foods President and CEO Chris Furman says adapting to consumer needs has helped his company become one of the country’s leading foodservice suppliers.

Ventura Foods has three state-of-the-art innovation centers outfitted with commercial kitchens and product, pilot and sensory labs. The centers are located across time zones to ensure team members are available to help customers and provide firsthand understanding of food trends across regions.

Ahmad Popal, senior vice president of food innovation and international with Ventura Foods, is responsible for developing new products. He says the four trends below are guiding food choices and development.

1. Technology

Technology and social media have shifted food trends and consumption, Popal says.

The desire for global dishes and cuisine has dramatically increased the last 10 years, he says, partly due to what consumers experience on YouTube. “You can see what street food looks like in another part of the world, and the next thing you know, that food is on a local menu. We try to cater to that and make sure our customers see that flexibility as an advantage.”

He says technology is contributing to the growing popularity of online retailers such as Amazon for food delivery. “Regardless of which part of the country you’re in, you can get foods you love.”

To help restaurants improve food quality, Ventura Foods is working on a project using cameras and artificial intelligence to monitor fry oil quality. The goal is to help kitchen staff know when oil needs to be refreshed. “Restaurants will change as automation improves,” Popal says.

2. Demographics

Millennials (born from 1981 to 1996) recently surpassed baby boomers (born from 1946 to 1964) as the largest segment of the U.S. population. And there are more Generation Zers (born from 1997 to 2012) than Generation Xers (born from 1965 to 1980). What does this mean?

“Young people like to eat different foods in different ways,” says Popal.

The pandemic-era shift to off-premise dining and the growing influence of tech-savvy millennials and Gen Zers mean digital touchpoints are more important for restaurants.

“Five years ago, it was all about bricks and mortar, building restaurants for people to dine in,” Popal says. “Now it’s bricks and clicks or the option to dine in or pick up food. In five years, I see technology changing the dining experience even more, including connecting the consumer to the farmer.”

3. Urbanization and mobility

People love to travel and millennials and younger generations are more apt to move for recreational and employment opportunities, Popal says. But that doesn’t mean they leave their taste for regional foods behind.

Travel spending in the U.S. hit $1.2 trillion in 2022, matching prepandemic levels, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

“If you think about how people have moved around the country, they bring in a certain type of restaurant or cuisine or a certain drink, and restaurants and retailers cater to that,” Popal says.

Hot and spicy foods were recently all the rage, he says, but tastes are changing. Hot and sweet foods are becoming more popular, such as hot sauce with honey. “You find that around the world as a flavor trend, so at Ventura Foods, we’re looking into new products that combine hot and sweet,” Popal says.

4. Sustainability and transparency

Environmental stewardship will continue to affect food production and manufacturing, Popal says. “There’s a lot of debate about climate change, but one thing that is not necessarily a debate is the increase in severe weather events the last five years. People are worried about the future.”

Popal says Ventura Foods is working to lower its carbon footprint.

In 2022, the company worked with customers to recover nearly 537,000 gallons of used cooking oil, which was converted to biodiesel, reducing carbon emissions by more than 10 million pounds. And 10 of its 12 manufacturing plants reduced energy, water or waste by 3% or more.

More consumers want to know how the food they eat is produced, Popal says. “That desire is less visible in categories like edible oil now, but I expect as transparency demands increase, we will see it in this area as well.”

Learn more about Ventura Foods.

Check out the full Winter 2024 C magazine with this article and more.

Related story: Ventura Foods creates soy oil success