Korean food is growing in popularity among Indian consumers. Photo by Jakub Kapusnak / Unsplash

EXCLUSIVE: Plant-based, protein-rich & mind-nourishing: Asia’s food trends for 2021 as revealed by AI

November 26, 2020

New research from Ai Palette, a startup using artificial intelligence to keep track of consumer food preferences, has pinpointed what may be the hottest food trends in Asian markets next year.

[Disclosure: Ai Palette is an AgFunder portfolio company. AgFunder is the parent company of AFN.]

2020 has been, to say the very least, a mentally exhausting year for pretty much everyone on the planet. The global Covid-19 pandemic has completely changed our lives, in many cases restricting our freedom to travel, to go to work, and even to spend time with our families and friends.

So, as this difficult year (finally!) draws to a close, it’s little surprise that foods which are believed to boost mental health and help reduce stress are top of mind for many Asian consumers as we head into 2021.

Ai Palette analyzed data from three developing Asia markets — China, India, and the Philippines — as well as the US, to offer a developed market comparison.


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The team collected data from multiple food-related sources — including retail, menus, recipes, social media conversations, and search engine queries — to identify over 1,000 trends.

The startup’s proprietary AI algorithm is run on top of all this data to draw correlations, highlight patterns, and predict the future trajectory of each trend.

Based on these factors, each trend is sorted into one of six categories — ‘Dormant,’ ‘Emerging,’ ‘Growing,’ ‘Mature,’ ‘Declining,’ and ‘Fading’ — based on its penetration in a given market.

Dormant trends are yet to take off, while emerging trends are expected to peak within two to three years and growing trends are about to reach their peak in the coming year.

Ai Palette found that foods and beverages that can address ‘sleep quality’ represent a growing conversational trend among both Indian and US consumers, with 38% and 18% year-on-year growth in interest respectively. Likewise, in China, ‘sleep disorder’ is an emerging trend in food purchases, growing 46% year-on-year.

On similar ground, foods that might help with ‘mental health’ (in India, up 75% year-on-year); ‘meditation’ (China, +62%); and ‘destressing’ (US, +42%) are all identified as emerging trends.

Unsurprisingly, given the Covid-19 context, consumers are increasingly concerned about the health of the body as well as the mind:

    • ‘Immunity’ is a growing trend in both India (+119%) and China (+44%) and an emerging trend in the US (65%)
    • ‘Fasting’ and ‘intermittent fasting’ are emerging trends in China (+63%) and the US (+44%) respectively, indicative of interest in weight loss strategies.
    • ‘High protein’ is a growing trend in China (+205%,) India (+39%,) and the US (+19%) as consumers explore protein-rich diets and try to reduce their intake of carbohydrates and fats.

In connection with the above, Asian and US consumers alike still appear to be keen on increasing the plant-based component of their diets. More specifically, interest in plant-based protein as an alternative to conventional, animal-derived meat and dairy is on the rise:

    • ‘Plant-based’ is a dormant trend in China (+21%) and already growing in India (+58%) and the Philippines (+25%.)
    • ‘Plant protein’ is an emerging trend across India (+55%,) the Philippines (+21%,) and China (+13%.)

Aside from food trends related to Covid-19, many Asian consumers also appear to be becoming more adventurous when it comes to trying foreign cuisines. Indians have already switched on to Korean food (growing, +50%) and are beginning to get a taste for Indonesian dishes too (emerging, +77%.) Kimchi is trending up 257% year-on-year in Indian social conversations, while tofu is being talked about 79% more each year.


Got a news tip? Email me at jack@agfunder.com or find me on Twitter at @jacknwellis

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