2020 Food Trends

Every year, we see the emergence of new trends that promise to change the industry as we know it. From robots to virtual concierges to integrated farming solutions, the food and hospitality arena is changing—rapidly. Here are some the top industry trends to watch for in 2020.


Blockchain and traceability

Transparency allowed artisanal and e-commerce-only food companies to gain market share – and customer confidence – from large industry mainstays. In response bigger food companies are increasing transparency into their own products and supply chains. Traceability – via blockchain, for instance – enables real-time identification and integration of data regarding origin, handling and quality of food products. There is not yet a clear market leader, and large companies will surely look to develop proprietary technology in-house, but (San Francisco), TE-FOOD (Germany, with locations in Hungary and Vietnam), and Provenance (Oregon) are three “established startups” in the traceability space.

Data Analytics in Agriculture and Farming

While AgTech has been using robotics for quite a while for harvesting, the operational side of the business often used antiquated approaches and technology. As data analytics is more widely adopted in the industry, farmers will be able analyze climate data and soil test results to predict the size and quality of harvests. An Australian startup, The Yield, is developing products that use sensor technologies to monitor agriculture and aquaculture environments to create accurate forecasts and provide other insights. Meanwhile, San Francisco-based Brightseed is using big data and predictive analysis to identify plant compounds than can make foods more nutritious and healthy.

Circular Economy

The circular economy is a renewable system in which waste is minimized through the design of products that can be disassembled and reused. In a circular economy, foods and food-related products that would otherwise be discarded are repurposed. For example, Palo Alto-based Planetarians repurposes oilcake (the dry matter left after oil extraction from seeds) from animal feed into human food without growing additional crops. The company produces a plant-based protein flour from “defatted” sunflower seeds that, when mixed with commercial all-purpose flour, boosts fiber and protein without impacting taste or texture. Bigger names, like Nestle’s Häagen-Dazs, are also taking part, as the ice cream giant has released a stainless-steel container, to be filled with ice cream, used, and returned using LOOP Ventures, a Finland-based circular delivery service resulting from a partnership between Avanto Ventures, Sitra and Nordic Innovation.

Predictive Farming and Agriculture

Predictive data analytics is an emergent technology not only in plant-based farming, but also in the care of livestock raised for the food industry. Companies such as Netherlands-based Connecterra, using “Ida”, its AI-powered program, are helping farmers to help predict certain health issues with livestock, namely cattle. The program not only aims to help cattle farmers protect their most valuable assets, but to provide higher-quality milk and beef to consumers.

Plastic Free

Over the past couple of years we have seen a concerted effort to curb the use of single-use plastic products. This includes straws, cutlery, plates, and stirrers, as well as disposable packaging for ingredients, packaged foods and accessories. Plastic-free and biodegradable solutions have gained traction in recent years, and promise to be an enduring trend going forward. As a result, numerous large food and beverage companies that have historically been huge generators of plastic waste (Dell, The Hershey Company and Coca-Cola, among others), as well as many start-up and post-start-up growth companies – Tipa (Israel), Xylophane (Sweden), Algix (USA), Halo Coffee (UK), Sulapac (Finland), Vericool (USA), to name just a few – are leading a wave of innovation in the move toward plastic-free packaging across a variety of applications. 



Service Robots

Digital restaurants, or “e-resturants”, a 2019 trend originating from San Francisco that removed the human element from the service process, have hit hard times, with three such establishments, Spyce, Eatsa and Peter Thiel-backed CafeX, having closed multiple locations. Food service robots, however, while expensive, continue to represent an viable emergent technology in the industry, from robots that take and deliver orders, to programmable robot arms capable of consistently prepare food and beverages to a particular standard, every time.

Ghost Restaurants

Delivery-only, or “ghost” restaurants are a 2019 trend that is carrying over into 2020. They have no storefronts and exist solely to prepare and deliver food to online customers. In many cases they are shared culinary spaces, often in areas with high restaurant start-up costs. Space is allocated to different companies, with access to common services (cleaning, maintenance and delivery). In order to provide fast and accurate deliveries, these businesses use automation and robotics for efficiency in ordering, inventory management and food preparation. CloudKitchens, backed by former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick received $400 million in funding in 2019. Reef Technologies, originally a parking lot management platform, has expanded into the space, and Epic Foods is a growing company from Finland.

Smart Ovens

Smart ovens have become valuable multitaskers that combine several appliances – convection oven, dehydrator, air fryer, slow cooker, warming drawer, broiler. Look for these machines to become even smarter and most customizable, with the ability to be programmed to prepare specific meals, and the potential to one day read recipes and automatically create dishes by using augmented reality to recognize ingredients. In addition to industry leaders – Electrolux, GE, SAMSUNG (and its Dacor subsidiary), BSH, Haier and LG – Chicago-based Tovala is a new company in the sector, combining ingredient delivery with a proprietary smart oven that “knows” what it’s preparing via barcode scanner.

Data-Centric Forecasting and Customer Service

In the restaurant industry, fragmented systems have long hindering restaurants in converting data gathered from operations, at various points throughout the business cycle, into accurate forecasting tools. However, New York City-based Ingest.AI, a company that uses artificial intelligence to extract and aggregate this fragmented data from non-communicating systems, and apply predictive algorithms in order to help restaurant companies of all sizes to maximize profits via cost controls and increased efficiency. This can be via optimized ordering and food delivery, staff scheduling, reservations systems, and managing vendors, inventory and payables.

Ordering Healthy Online

As consumers continue to seek out convenient ways to shop for healthy foods, online food and e-commerce platforms continue to grow. Services such as Instacart, Good Eggs, and Imperfect Produce (as well as other similar, regional services) have had a major impact on the purchasing and delivery of groceries. Meanwhile the likes of Grubhub, Uber Eats, Seamless and Barcelona-based Glovo have changed the way that customers order meals from local restaurants. The expectation is for an increased focus, from these platforms and others that are yet to become household names, on targeted customer segments with special nutritional and dietary needs.

Personalized and Special Diets

An increase in food allergies and intolerances (or simply an increased awareness of them) is driving a trend toward convenient and user-friendly testing and diagnostics products, such as those offered by Foodmarble, which produces the first-ever breath-analyzing digestion tracker. Another start-up of note is Habit, Food Personalized, which provides personalized nutrition plans based on customers’ self-reported lab test results. On a related note, meal plan provider Platejoy has integrated specific dietary and nutritional preferences and health goals into its meal and menu planning service. San Francisco-based Sun Basket, meanwhile, has integrated more diet- and lifestyle-specific items into its meal kits, which have always focused on fresh organic and sustainable ingredients and recipes.

Artificial intelligence and Big Data in the Restaurant Industry

AI-powered restaurant-management software is enabling managers to take a more informed and proactive approach to operating their establishments. Restaurants accumulate huge amounts of predictive and actionable customer information. The issue is often that this data tends to be highly fragmented. By combining these disparate points into a coherent data set, restaurants are able to target specific customer segments, identify consumer trends and adjust offerings based on the real-time price and availability of products. As a result, restaurants are able to run promotions on mobile apps – like OpenTable, Resy and TripAdviser’s “The Fork” – based on advanced analysis of customer behavior and their own supply chains.



A.I.-Based Pricing & Booking

The algorithms from which a hotel’s room, dining and spa prices are derived has long included elements of artificial intelligence, integrating historical and forecasted data, along with prevailing market trends. As these systems become even more intelligent (as they have with IDeaS, Duetto and Atomize), prices of rooms and on-property entertainment packages can be optimized in real time, based on customer demand. This provides added value for customer, as their desired hotel stays and experiences, booked via hotels’ websites powered by Netherlands-based Hotelchamp or New York-based Triptease), are, again, optimally priced.

A.I.-Based Customer Service

Many of the advances and developments discussed here feature some element of artificial intelligence. From a consumer perspective, A.I. aims to provide diners and hotel guests with a seamlessly customized experience, while allowing managers to more easily collect and interpret guest data, identify the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and predictively customize future promotions. On-property, A.I.-based solutions help hotel staff to provide guests with a tailored experience, identifying preferences to create a tailored accommodation package. Revinate and Cendyn are a pair of companies currently providing customer relationship management tools (CRM) to help hotels pull this data and customize their guests’ experiences.

Near Field Communication Technology

Hotels are ditching plastic keys and letting guests check into their rooms via their smart phones using NFC technology. In fact, the technology is becoming a something of a one-stop shop. Guests receive confirmations on their phones at the time of booking. Prior to arrival, they are texted a link for online check-in, after which a digital hotel room key is delivered to their phones. This allows guests to skip the check-in line and go directly to their rooms and open their doors by simply holding their phones near the door locks. Upon departure the doors lock automatically, and guests swipe their phones at a lobby kiosk to complete checkout and deactivate their room keys.

Smarter Hotel Rooms

In addition to allowing guests to manage much of their hotel stays directly from their mobile phones, hotels are increasingly integrating technology as a means of providing added value to the in-room experience. Examples include the “smart mirrors” (Savvy by Electric Mirror is an example), which integrate a TV screen into a mirror, allowing guests to catch up on news and weather forecasts while getting ready, as well as to send requests to the front desk, housekeeping or room service. These functions are similarly being integrated into voice-activated “smart speakers”, such as Volara, which is being developed as a hotel-specific versions of Amazon’s Alexa.

Language Translation Apps

International travel – for business or for pleasure – has never been more common. This growth in international travel is more a evolution, rather than a trend could reverse at any point. One of the greatest challenges in international travel is overcoming a language barrier. Hotels staff in international cities stand to benefit greatly from a product such as Waverly Labs headsets, equipped with a language translation app that instantly translates spoken words and text. In addition to assisting staff in providing customer service, these devices will also be of value to guests, allowing them to tour a foreign city with far less risk of getting lost in translation.

Even Easier Streaming

Customized in-room entertainment has made massive strides in recent years, thanks to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, as well as proliferation of USB ports and, in some cases, “screen mirroring” capabilities, in hotel rooms. As monumental as these changes were, they still required a guest to pack some manner of portable streaming device (Amazon Fire Stick, Roku, a laptop or tablet). These days, however, hotels are expanding their technology offerings – thanks to the likes of Texas-based out-of-home media network Enseo – to allow guests remote access to their streaming accounts from their rooms, with automatic log-out upon check-out.

Mobile HubSpot

Mobile HubSpot (pioneered by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based HubSport) allows guests who arrive at a hotel to pair their mobile device to their rooms. In this scenario rooms no longer have physical phones, as guests use their mobile phones to communicate with hotel staff for request such as wake up call, room service, or housekeeping. Additionally, guests are able to use their mobile phones to control the room’s television and sound system, blinds, etc. The technology also allows for seamless transition from Wi-Fi to 4G so that calls taken in the hotel do not need to be interrupted as a guest exits the property. 

Prioritizing Experiences

Travelers, by their very nature, value experiences and activities. This is especially true of modern travelers. Whether an excursion, a dining experience, entertainment – the theater, sporting events or concerts – or simply a more luxurious hotel stay, more customers than ever are eagerly paying to “do stuff” rather than simply “have stuff”. Platforms such as Airbnb Experiences and prominently-funded San Francisco start-up Peek allow hotels to offer these customers options for room upgrades, dining, tours, and other experiences, both during and after the booking process.

Cyber security

Data breaches pose a significant threat to all businesses. Hotels, however, are especially prone to be targeted, as their systems house a significant amount of sensitive data – both in the form of personal information provided by customers themselves, as well as predictive customer and market data generated by internal systems. Also, while on the property, it’s vital that guests are comfortable making point-of-sale payments and accessing the internet via hotel Wi-Fi without the fear of being hacked. Whether using services from a market leader (Oracle, IBM) to protect databases or offering solutions such as Cyber Safe Travel, from risk management firms Cino Ltd. and StrikeForce Technologies, hotels must take all necessary steps to avoid data breaches.

Facial Recognition Technology

These days many consumers equate facial recognition with the security settings on their iPhones. However, facial recognition software, such as that provided by industry leader NEC, is playing a vital role in hotel security. The technology provides security for guests by adding a level of authorization at check-in and when making payment on the property. Additionally, facial recognition helps hotel managers by allowing them to monitor properties and identify the individuals behind potentially suspicious or dangerous activity, as well as to ensure that only authorized personnel are allowed in certain areas.

Virtual Reality (VR) 

While virtual reality is a technology that’s established in the hospitality industry, leading hospitality companies (Marriott, Hilton and Best Western are noted) have focused on expanding and improving the the VR elements of their websites and apps. VR is vital in illustrating a hotel’s rooms, amenities and services, with virtual tours and 360 videos providing guests with a more immersive preview into  property’s offerings than ever before.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Perhaps best known as the technology behind “Pokemon Go”, augmented reality is a more emergent technology. Though the technology is still being refined, AR applications allow users of smart phones and tablets to see images and information that have been overlaid onto a physical environment. Applications in the hotel sector may include on-premises interactive elements, including property maps, points of interest, visual menus when near a restaurant, or even real-time, interactive games, in which guests can win discounts or services. Timelooper, a mobile company whose app re-creates historical locations and overlays them atop existing sites, is a start-up that sees hotels as a key market for its offering. The company is currently most notable for re-creating prominent events for user to “experience” – such as the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in London’s Trafalgar Square.

Environmental Sustainability

In truth, environmental sustainability is not a trend. It’s an evolution in our way of life, and it has expanded into the hospitality and tourism industries. The integration of smarter appliances and devices enable hotels to lessen environmental impact and cut costs via energy efficiency. The most common examples are appliances that make more efficient use of water, motion sensors for lighting, solar power and a reduction in plastic waste. At this point all leading appliance and electronics manufacturers have shifted their focus to more energy efficient offerings. With regard to hotel brands, gaming resort operator MGM Resorts is noted for its eco-friendliness, as are Hyatt, Kimpton and Marriott’s “Element” brand.

Cloud-Based Point-of-Sale (PoS) Systems

Wireless cloud-based PoS systems easier to install than their hard-wired predecessors. Not only that, their hardware is less pricey, and diagnostics and software upgrades can be performed remotely, further reducing costs. Beyond all of that, cloud-based systems are integrated with the latest technology (such as a mode that keeps the system functioning during an internet outage) and robust reporting tools that allow for quick and accurate tracking of sales, server performance, inventory levels and more. This is pegged as a particular growth sector within the industry, led currently by TouchBistro, Square and Lightspeed Restaurant.

  • Subscribe to our latest insights


Are you capital raise ready?