Benchmark Names Top F&B Trends for 2020

CBD oil, plant-based proteins and sparkling water will score big with diners in 2020.

Unique fruit flavors like dragon fruit will dominate in 2020, according to Benchmark.
Unique fruit flavors like dragon fruit will dominate in 2020, according to Benchmark.

Meeting attendees today aren’t just hungry, figuratively, for knowledge. They’re also hungry, literally, for exceptional food and beverage. For that reason, planners and venues are paying as much attention to dining as they pay to A/V, room setups and other critical meeting decisions, suggests hospitality management company Benchmark, which this week released its top 10 dining trends of 2020.

“More than recognizing trends, Benchmark properties are evolving food-and-beverage programming to not only remain relevant amid consumer demand, but [also to] ensure we are operating responsibly,” Benchmark director of culinary operations Olivier Gaupin said in a statement.

As observed by its 80 hotels, resorts and restaurants coast to coast, offshore and internationally, Benchmark's top dining trends for the year are as follows.

1. CBD Oil

CBD, or cannabidiol, oil is a natural, nonpsychoactive compound found in cannabis plants. Not to be confused with THC, the principal agent of cannabis that causes the high, it’s been shown to reduce pain, stress and anxiety. For that reason, the oil is making waves in the F&B world right now and will continue doing so in 2020, according to Benchmark. “The CBD food trend has exploded in the last 12 months,” the company said. “Coffee shops and cafés in many American cities are now boasting a startling array of offerings infused with CBD oil, aimed at attracting customers interested in trying new eco-friendly, plant-based ingredients. Restaurants have also begun to incorporate the oil into their menus, both for drinks and food.”

2. Plant-Based Dishes

The rise of plant-based proteins, like the “meats” made by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, means 2020 is likely going to be a big year for plant-based diets, according to Benchmark. “More and more people are choosing to move away from beef, pork and poultry,” it said. “Many in society … are making a conscious decision to make a dietary switch into the plant-based ecosystem. Plant-based food alternatives are being provided for meat and dairy. They are using the art of cooking and food invention to recreate meat and dairy flavors from nonmeat and nondairy products like soy, peas, cashews and almonds. In 2020, we expect this trend to grow rapidly. This culminates from years of research and studies, to make plant-based food items equally delicious and as desirable as real meat and dairy products.”

3. Puffed Snacks

Potato chips are out and puffed alternatives are in. “We have always been told chips are an unhealthy snack option and to stay as far away from them as possible," Benchmark noted."There are new products on the snack-food market, however, that are providing healthier versions than chips. With ingredients like chickpeas, beets, quinoa and kale, these snacks are going to make ‘snacking’ alright, even if you have the whole bag of chips.”

4. Jackfruit

The increased interest in plant-based diets has put the spotlight on jackfruit as a meat alternative, according to Benchmark. “Already being used as an alternative for barbecue pulled pork, jackfruit is a Southeast Asian fruit that is a great source of iron, calcium and B vitamins. The texture of jackfruit mimics the texture of pulled pork and will soon become a force in the food industry as a meat alternative.”

5. Unique Fruit Flavors

Benchmark also predicts a boom in outside-the-box fruit flavors, including cactus fruits like prickly pear and dragon fruit. “Prickly pears are a seeded fruit that yields an intensely flavorful ruby-colored juice, while dragon fruit (aka pitaya or strawberry pear) is also attracting the attention of consumers because of its sweet and sour flavor profile,” the company said. “Consumers are also exploring more unique fruit flavor varieties, including bergamot orange, yuzu, calamansi, citron, makrut lime, pomelo, Meyer lemon, blood orange and ugli fruit (a Jamaican form of the tangelo), to name a few.”

6. Dairy Alternatives

The same consumers who are exploring meat alternatives are seeking dairy alternatives, according to Benchmark, which predicts an uptick in alternative milks -- including not only almond and soy milk, but also new varieties like oat milk. “It’s terrific in coffees, and baristas can barely keep it in stock. So, it makes sense that companies are piggybacking off its success and launching other oat milk products as alternatives to dairy, to help minimize the environmental impacts associated with animal husbandry.”

7. Sparkling Water

Servers at nice restaurants always ask: still water or sparkling? Consumers in 2020 will lean toward sparkling, according to Benchmark. “Sparkling water demand is exploding, driven in part by consumers who are concerned about sugar but still looking to satisfy their craving for carbonation."

8. Bright Colors

Because consumers eat with their eyes before they eat with their mouths, expect bright and bold colors on the plate in 2020. “Color generates emotional appeal with food,” Benchmark noted. “Color and functionality collide with ingredients such as blue algae, beet, matcha [and] butterfly pea flower tea -- popular in Southeast Asia. Butterfly pea flower tea is high in antioxidants and naturally changes color from blue to purple when acidity is added to it.”

9. Sustainable Packaging

Consumer interest in sustainability will continue into 2020, predicts the company. “As news about climate change, disappearing rainforests and plastic in the oceans dominate the news cycle … consumers are demanding sustainability in all forms of packaging -- quickly making this integral to today’s food-and-beverage operating model. Whether it’s swapping out Styrofoam and plastic for paper or bamboo, or buying ingredients from sustainable sources, sustainability will sweep the entire industry in 2020. The heightened focus on single-use plastics is not just a fad but a reality that goes beyond the purge of the plastic straw.”

10. Ugly Produce

Tied to consumers’ interest in sustainability is a commitment to reduced food waste. Enter ugly produce. “Food is a terrible thing to waste. It’s bad for people and the planet, and yet 40 percent of all the food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten because it is imperfect,” Benchmark reported. “From farms to fridges, food waste is a massive problem that has infiltrated every level of our food system. Now, consumers are finally accepting misshapen, bruised and just downright ugly foods as totally edible. Start-up food companies that send boxes of said fruit and vegetables directly to the customer’s home will encourage consumers to buy produce that is nutritious and tastes fine, but is physically flawed in some way.”