This is the second in a series of articles about current culinary trends that the Washington Hospitality Association will release early in 2022. The series focuses on dishes, drinks and diets projected to become more (or less) popular this year. We’ll also look at some of the operational changes that are shaking up the industry. Our data comes from sources like the National Restaurant Association, the American Culinary Federation and national polling groups. Let’s dig in.

After a comfort food boom, health is once again a primary concern for consumers, and immunity boosting-foods or plant-based sandwiches are top trends for 2022. But while biscuits and gravy might be on the way out, other trends are sticking around.

The future of packaging

It was hard to miss the explosion in takeout and delivery over the last few years, but that trend had already started to take off prior to 2020. At the same time, a focus on sustainability for food and packaging was rising in tandem with ethically sourced ingredients. When shutdowns led to the last to-go holdouts like upscale steakhouses to dive into delivery, innovative delivery solutions followed. Now, the delivery and takeout space is seeing a culmination of these factors as the traditional Styrofoam to-go box loses its appeal. The three packaging trends the National Restaurant Association ranked highest were:

  • Sustainable packaging
  • Packaging that keeps food intact
  • Packaging that retains temperature

In fact, those were their top three overall trends for 2022. Number four on their top 10 list was zero waste/sustainability and number nine was tamper-proof packaging. Meanwhile, the alcoholic beverage trend ranking third was at-home cocktail kits to go.

Creating a takeout-ready cocktail kit with sustainable, tamper-proof packaging that stays cold may sound like a daunting task when cocktail kits probably aren’t the majority percentage of sales. The situation is further complicated by their uncertain legal status moving forward. But if it is what the people want, the operators that manage to perfect the practice will reap the benefits.

Restaurants offering ramen and sushi kits also highlight an expected rise in interest in international cuisine while delivery services with Keto kits appeal to ongoing health trends. Expect to see the trends you thought were relegated to the pandemic era continue with new twists over the coming years.

Much of the alignment between on-demand food and ethical eating will probably affect the last step in a meal’s journey. While the carbon output of your delivery driver probably wasn’t top-of-mind for most during the rise of third-party delivery, it might play a larger factor as younger generations start to make up a larger part of businesses’ revenue stream. As the New York Times put it, the culinarily-astute-but-fickle Gen Z wants “food with sustainable ingredients and a strong cultural back story, prepared without exploitation and delivered in a carbon-neutral way — within 30 minutes.”

The desire for single-use products and meals to-go will continue to go head-to-head with the desire for sustainability. Figuring out both will be important for businesses and consumers alike in 2022 and beyond. Are operators and consumers seeing eye-to-eye on these issues? The National Restaurant Association also released the Chef’s Choice survey that featured responses from their members to the question, “What do you think the hottest trend of 2022 will be?” These were the top five responses:

  • Sustainability
  • Plant-based foods
  • Comfort foods
  • Healthy and immunity-boosting foods
  • Global fare and flavor