Plant-based food and ready-to-eat meal packs: Food trends that will define 2021 and beyond

A SELECTION of San Miguel food products exemplifying upcoming food trends.

IT’S NO question that the pandemic has changed the way people are living their lives and one of the more prominent changes is the shift towards a diet focused on one’s health and wellness, according to a representative of the San Miguel Foods Culinary Center (SMFCC).

“Consumers are more open and ready for alternative flexitarian diets that support immune health, cognitive function, promoting relaxation, and relieving stress,” said Llena Arcenas, SMFCC culinary services manager in a webinar held last Tuesday.

“Such a rise in the health and wellness movement is attributable to the pandemic situation and seeping awareness for sustainability,” she added.

During the webinar, the culinary arm of San Miguel Food and Beverage highlighted five key trends: plant-based food, upcycling, ready-to-eat packages, global ethnic flavors, and functional indulgence.

Ms. Arcenas highlighted meat substitutes for products such as bacon and eggs, that use plant and fungi-derived products like coconut oil, tapioca, and mushrooms. According to her, ingredients to watch out for are mushrooms, tofu, and chickpeas.

San Miguel has also joined the plant-based game via Veega, their line of sausages, nuggets, and other plant-based breakfast food substitutes.

As for the upcycling trend for food, she explains, “It’s all about finding purpose. It’s about utilizing underused parts; creating by-products or waste into usable materials or products of high value.”

She pointed out the use of plant fibers to make textiles, but in the kitchen, there are coffee grounds that can still be used for flavoring; or else the old practice of reusing stale bread for pudding.

And to exemplify said trend, the SMFCC sent this writer an empanada that showcased nose-to-tail dining. Magnolia chicken innards that would otherwise have been discarded were chopped, fried, and seasoned, resulting in a filling that was perfectly like beef.

Ms. Arcenas credits the ready-to-eat trend to the changing dining landscape. “These will dominate this year due to the sustained home dining given the restricted traveling, and work- and study-at home situations,” she said, then noting, “These products are also a good means to ward off cooking fatigue of home cooks.”

While she cited Purefoods Ready to Eat meals, she points out various restaurants offering frozen or heat-then-eat packs. She also said that cake and cookie mixes (which the company also offers) are part of the trend.

Consumers, according to Ms. Arcenas have also gravitated to cooking different cuisines as many are still not able to travel freely due to existing travel restrictions and thus contributing to the “global ethnic food trend.”

“Consumers will turn to culinary adventure and explore exotic and unconventional flavors and ingredients,” she explained.

Trends in tastes she forecasts veer towards the Mediterranean, Indian, and North African; but also regional cuisine like more obscure Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese flavors.

Lastly, Ms. Arcenas explained why “functional indulgence” is becoming a trend. “Instagrammable and indulgent food and drink will not only be crafted to look and taste great; but will be beneficial to one’s well-being, [by] using functional food and ingredients. As people care more about their health, innovations in food and drinks go beyond beauty and deliciousness to promoting good immunity.”

For this, she predicts that high-antioxidant food, spices, and fermented food will be highlighted.

Ms. Arcenas says that her predictions come from a lot of “desktop research, brainstorming, and trade checks,” but also a review of a previous food forecast she made back in 2018, when she attended the 2017 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. “The trends that I saw back in 2017 are dominating now. That’s why the trends that we are saying here right now, they might be more aggressive or dominant in two to three years time.”

To learn more about San Miguel’s plant-based alternatives, here’s a story on Veega ( A smaller company, meanwhile, makes more luxurious plant-based offerings such as barbecued “ribs” ( For upcycling trends, one can see how we’ve used organ meats to make a meal (, but also how a Filipino company harvests pineapple leaves and turns them into luxury “leather” ( — Joseph L. Garcia

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