Q&A: What’s Driving Innovation in 2022?

December 7th, 2021

Forward Looking Series

Blue Diamond’s Loretta Kelly, Director of Strategic Marketing, Blue Diamond Global Ingredients Division, discusses:

  • Top trends expected in 2022
  • How those trends are coming to life in the marketplace
  • Opportunities for innovation with almonds and almond ingredients

With a growing demand for health and wellness, consumers not only want healthier bakery items, but are looking for products that offer functional benefits while still providing the outstanding taste and texture they expect from traditional baked goods.

We talked with Loretta Kelly, Director of Strategic Marketing at Blue Diamond Global Ingredients Division, about how product developers can leverage emerging trends and meet evolving consumer demands:

  1. What do you expect some of the top food and beverage trends to be in 2022?

COVID-19 continues to have an effect on the food and beverage industry, not only impacting the way consumers shop, but influencing what consumers are looking for and expecting from the foods they purchase. While there are a handful of micro-trends we’re seeing, those trends fall into a few macro buckets, including:

  • A focus on function: While taste and texture are still critical for consumers, they’re turning more to foods that provide functional benefits, such as mood enhancement, immune support, detox, anti-inflammatory and more. One thing is certain, the functional benefits of the ingredients and the final products are becoming increasingly important in driving purchase decisions.
  • An increase in plant-based alternatives: Incorporating plant-based alternatives into consumer diets is a trend we don’t see stopping anytime soon. According to the International Food Information Council (IFIC), 54% of consumers have tried a new plant-based protein recently and 40% say they view plant-based products as healthier1. While plant-based alternatives to meat have been a major focus in the past, one area we’re seeing increased interest in is plant-based dairy or non-dairy alternatives, such as cheese, chocolate, and frozen desserts. Combining plant-based with functional ingredients creates a valuable opportunity for food manufacturers to reach consumers.

  • Value: Consumers want to feel they’re getting value from the food items they’re spending money on. In fact, 80% of U.S. shoppers are taking at least one action to try and find greater value for the money they’re spending2. According to dunhumby, however, value doesn’t always translate to a desire for a cheaper price point3. This is where the two trends above come into play – there’s an opportunity for brands to demonstrate value by offering the clean-label, plant-based functional foods that consumers are seeking.

When we look at the marketplace we expect the above trends to play out in big ways in a few key categories:

  • Better-for-you baked goods – including baking ingredients, mixes and shelf-stable.
  • Non-dairy or plant-based alternatives – primarily frozen-desserts, cheeses and confectionary.
  • Ready-to-drink and ready-to-mix beverages – even more so those fortified with additional functional benefits.

  1. You mention better-for-you-bakery playing a big role – what's influencing purchase decisions in this category?

Health and wellness is key in driving change in the food and beverage industry. One example of this trend in action is in the bakery category – more specifically, the better-for-you-bakery category. In a product category that is extremely mature, new and unique innovations are making their way to the shelves, including diet-friendly products like gluten-free and keto, indulgent baked goods with a hint of permissibility, and nutrient-dense baked goods. It’s clear that the better-for-you baked good category is on the rise – and is top-of-mind for many consumers.

U.S. grocers and foodservice establishments are taking notice of this category, too. Of the two instore shelf tags created by California retail chain Raley’s to inform its customers about health claims, one is dedicated to nutrient-dense foods. The tags describe nutrient-dense foods as those “containing vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and other beneficial substances that may have positive health effects.”

Food and bakery manufacturers have the opportunity to capture a part of this growth by appealing to consumer desire for “better-for-you” baked goods by incorporating nutrient-dense ingredients – such as almond flour or almond protein – that add functional benefits and meet nutritional demands while also delivering delightful taste and textures.

  1. Plant-based nutrition was certainly a top trend in 2021 – how do you see that evolving in 2022?​

Demand and preference for plant-based products have increased in a similar trajectory as products with "natural" claims did previously. As consumers continue to hunt for products that have an aspect of permissible indulgence, those products need to not only taste great, but support a healthy lifestyle. COVID-19 accelerated a change that was already in motion, with IFIC noting that 41% of U.S. consumers increased their consumption of plant-based foods4.

Consumer demand for plant-based continues to rise alongside expectations when it comes to the eating experience. Consumers are willing to try new plant-based products, but are seeking out taste, texture and flavors that rival their traditional counterparts if they're going to make a repeat purchase. Therefore, it's going to be very important for brands to focus on the consumer benefits – specifically desirable nutritional qualities such as protein. Over the last five years, we've seen a significant increase in the number of consumers who want high-protein, plant-based products of all kinds, and we fully expect that to continue.

Additionally, we know there's a sustainability component that comes into play, especially with the younger generations who are diligent and passionate about supporting products that are better for the environment.

As we look forward, the plant-based movement will continue to move outside of the applications we've traditionally seen it playing in – we expect to see continued innovation and growth in the non-dairy or plant-based cheese, frozen dessert and plant-based chocolate categories.

  1. Tell us more about functional, ready-to-mix beverages. Who is primarily driving this trend and why?


Functionality has been one of the most important drivers to innovation in the beverage category, with COVID-19 increasing consumer demand for products and drinks with added benefits. According to Mintel, the number of adults consuming drinks with functional benefits and claims has risen compared to a year ago5. This continued rise in demand for beverages with functional claims opens the door of opportunity for manufacturers to expand their offerings and incorporate more of these functional claims to appeal to a wider range of shoppers.

While demands for these beverages span all generations, we're seeing the greatest rise in demand in older adults, aged 55-plus.

With an explosion in demand of plant-based healthy food and beverages, consumers are seeking out better-for-you options – but the consumer experience with the product is critical in making a repeat purchase. Like the categories above, consumers want the same experience from plant-based products as they do from their traditional counterparts. However, when formulating plant-based products, challenges often arise with taste, texture, grittiness and emulsification properties which makes choosing the right ingredients and the right partners imperative when formulating.

  1. How do Blue Diamond products tie in with these trends influencing consumer demand in 2022?

The key is to use ingredients that not only support better-for-you or plant-based claims, but can also help manufacturers overcome common formulations challenges, such as removing off-notes or flavors and addressing textural issues. This is where almonds and almond ingredients shine! They’re all natural, gluten-free and fit seamlessly into the trend toward simplified labels and better-for-you ingredients. In fact, they’re a source of both fiber and protein – two nutrients that consumers perceive as healthy and look for on the labels of their food purchases.

Blue Diamond Almond Protein is the ideal ingredient for plant-based beverages for several reasons:

  • It’s developed with excellent dispersibility and dissolvability, with the ability to absorb water at a rate of more than twice is weight – meaning consumers get the rich, creamy experience they expect from their latte.
  • The fine particle size helps create that sought-after, smooth texture – no chalky mouthfeel or grittiness that other protein sources can produce.
  • Blue Diamond Almond Protein was developed to allow the flavors of the Iced Almond Protein Latte to shine through – without any of the off flavors that other plant-based proteins can bring.

Almonds are a versatile, popular ingredient for incorporating texture, flavor and nutritional benefits to bakery products. Almond flour offers a smooth mouthfeel and allows you to create better-for-you versions of cakes, breads, muffins, cookies, bars, and more, while almond protein powder and almond butter provide a rich, dairy-like creaminess and appearance for non-dairy ice creams and custards. Almonds in their traditional forms (sliced, diced, split, slivered, etc.) as a topping or inclusion in better-for-you baked goods offers an additional value-added texture.


1 "2020 Food & Health Survey, "International Food Information Council, 2020.
2 "Grocery shoppers fix on value despite waning COVID-19 concerns," Supermarket News, April 2021.
3 "Winning on Value Perception: A Customer Perspective," dunhumby, June 2021.
4 "2020 Food & Health Survey," International Food Information Council, 2020.
5 "Functional Drinks - US," Mintel, October 2021.

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