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Healthy Harvest: Plant-Based Foods See Hearty Interest

While it may seem as if bread making hit fever pitch at the height of the pandemic, it is still a top experience for those who are cooking and baking at home. In fact, the trend has moved from bread into other carbo-loaded foods, as pizza, pasta and pretzels are growing in popularity during continued social distancing orders.

Comfort foods, especially during times of crisis, are turned to as a way to feel better, ease stress and bring a sense of control back into a situation. But, pre-COVID, a healthy eating and living movement was picking up steam, both for Millennials looking to create healthier homes for their children and Boomers who are aging and looking to stave off health issues.

In support of this movement, plant-based eating became a top food trend that continued during the pandemic, said Pamela Oscarson, manager of consumer insights at FONA International.

“Even before the crisis of COVID-19, health and wellness was ingrained in consumer behavior,” she said. “Looking at it through the plant-based lens, wellness focus is influencing indulgence and self-care trends in interesting ways.”

Plant-based eating has grown in popularity through the years as the quality of plant-based substitutes has gone from tasting like engineered products to being able to almost pass for the real thing. Plant-based meat alternative patties, sausages and dogs can be tossed on the grill or cooked up in a pan and served with a variety of accompaniments, like vegan cheeses and plant-based condiments.

Frozen desserts, too, have upped their game with additions like coconut milk and oat milk, which provide a similar — and even more creamy — texture and flavor to ice cream, gelato and other frozen goods. Add that to the influx of alternate kinds of milk and snack foods that are already on the market and eating plant-based can be easily attained without losing many indulgences.

Additionally, noted Oscarson, people are beginning to look to their diets to help alter moods and balance issues like anxiety. Many are shifting their diets to include more “feel good” foods.

However, she said, taste and texture are going to be the most important aspects of these bites, noting that consumers won’t reach for them if the enjoyment isn’t there.

“With taste as the top deciding factor in plant-based foods — which can be complex with different notes — flavor is pivotal in the promise of permissible indulgence,” Oscarson said. But as the plant-based food groups grow, Oscarson explained that home cooks and bakers will learn to get just as creative with them, as they do with traditional foods.

“It’s a good thing that there are so many varieties of plant-based ingredients and complementary flavors, since many of them will be put to a new and different use in recipes and formulations,” she said.

Although plant-based foods are going to dominate through the rest of the year, health-conscious people are still wary of germs found on food, packaging and even their own tableware and serveware.

Due to this heightened demand for safety, cleanliness and hygienic practices, even at home, food presentation is going to look different, no matter what type of food you are putting on the table.

“We‘re seeing an increase in lunch-box type [meals]where everyone is served their food, condiments and flatware pre-wrapped in an individual container,” said Jacklyn Steudtner-Colabraro, owner and creative director at The Proppy Shoppe.