Trends change faster than ever and within minutes or hours, something can go viral. This is especially true for the food and consumer goods industries, where social media popularity can realistically translate into higher sales or controversy, as seen late last year with Popeyes Chicken Sandwich and a Peloton bike advertisement.

Signals Analytics, an AI-powered platform, helps companies in the food and pharmaceutical industries identify trends and capitalize on troves of previously untapped data streams. Frances Zelazny, Signals Analytics chief marketing officer and head of strategy spoke to TechRepublic about the food trends in 2020 and what people may be eating in six months based on their research.

“We are focused on external data, so you should think about social media posts, product reviews, commentary on news websites, patent filings, research papers, conference agendas and other data sources. Think about what it would be like if you could have access to all that data and could use that data in order to make decisions. Most companies use two or three external data sources,” Zelazny said.

SEE: Data analytics: A guide for business leaders (free PDF) (TechRepublic Premium)

According to Signals Analytics’ research, Zelazny said there were growing movements around sustainability, CBD oil, and increased sensitivity around food allergies that were driving demand across categories for allergen free products.

Food products that market themselves as peanut free, lactose free or gluten free saw huge increases in popularity and that trend is slated to continue into 2020, Zelazny said.

According to internal reports from Signals Analytics, health-conscious consumers are growing as a share of the market and products prioritizing “all-natural” ingredients or sustainability are becoming popular. This trend even extends into skin care and personal hygiene products as well as goods designed for pets.

Zelazny highlighted the “flexitarian diet” or semi-vegan movements that may lead to decreased meat consumption. This trend can be seen in action as major fast food brands like Burger King market meatless burger options.

The popularization of carb-free diets has also made vegetable-based products such as squash spaghetti and spinach gnocchi increasingly dominant in the market. Signals Analytics researchers found millions of social media posts about foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, contributing to a general increase in awareness about the content of food most people eat.

With awareness about the environmental impacts of human actions at an all-time high, consumers are increasingly looking for companies adopting “zero-waste” manifestos and pushing reusable products.

SEE: Smart farming: How IoT, robotics, and AI are tackling one of the biggest problems of the century (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

CBD grows in popularity

CBD products became wildly popular in 2019 in the food and healthcare industry, and Signals Analytics research shows that trend will continue in 2020. Their data shows that the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill legalizing the farming of hemp has increased the presence of CBD across categories, but consumer demand for CBD in food and drink stands out above the rest.

“You’d think the veggie stuff is driven by sustainability but it actually is driven by health concerns. That leads to another related trend which is veggie-based comfort food. People still want comfort food, so how would a food company respond to that? Different pieces of data are starting to connect the dots,” Zelazny said.

“All of these things relate to what companies should invest in or what marketing teams should call out in messaging. The point of this is that these are the kinds of insights that can drive decisions. What to invest in, how to position it, what to include in the messaging, what to include in the ingredients so you’re responding to consumer desire.”

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