Ophelie Buchet
Ophelie researches and writes Mintel's global Food and Drink reports.

With the pandemic confining many people at home, consumers are cooking more and using social media platforms to share what they are eating with the wider community. Mintel reveals that more than four in ten UK consumers have bought food/drink products after seeing influencers use/recommend them on social media. TikTok has become a favourite during successive lockdowns, providing entertainment to millions while allowing people to share recipes and food trends in a light, entertaining manner.  As of April 2020, one in three British people had TikTok installed on their phone, and installations surged by 34% after the British Prime minister announced the first lockdown in March 2020, according to mobile industry analysts Sensor Tower.

There is an opportunity for food and drink brands to target some of the food and drink trends brought to life on platforms like TikTok. Here are five surprising trends that emerged from lockdown:

Bring the outside in: Dalgona coffee

Source: BBC Food

Dalgona coffee emerged during the first few months of the pandemic, when consumers were looking for new ways to reproduce foodservice experiences at home. The drink, named after the Korean sugar candy ‘dalgona’ popular in the 70s and 80s, is made by whipping equal portions instant coffee with sugar and hot water into a froth before pouring over milk. It appeared first on the popular Korean show “Stars’ Top Recipe at Fun-Staurant.” Following the episode, dalgona coffee became a sensation on social media. Korean YouTuber J’adore’s “quarantine coffee challenge” has more than 12.2 million views, and the #dalgonacoffee hashtag on TikTok has 450.9 million views to date.

Take your mind off the pandemic with miniature cereals

Source: Glamour

The pandemic has taken a toll on people’s mental health. Stress and anxiety over the spread of the virus and loss of loved ones, the impact of lockdown and loneliness as well as the inevitable recession will leave a lasting scar globally. In this context, the appeal of taking on an intricate food project has been growing throughout the pandemic and could continue to do so in the near future. For example, Mintel research shows that half of Spanish consumers say they will want to make more home-cooked meals after COVID-19. 

The viral trend for miniature cereals illustrates the appetite for creative cooking as millions of TikTokers are inspired to make their own version of the #pancakecereal (which now has 1.6bn views on the platform). Miniature food relates to a cornerstone of Japanese pop culture that has spread globally: Kawaii, which loosely translates to “cute” and demonstrates that smaller versions of everything make people happy. 

Escape with Gardenscape Focaccia

Source: Pinterest/Tasty

Gardenscape Focaccia is another viral food trend on social media that is helping people to be creative with their cooking/baking, while encouraging them to share the results of their visually enticing recipes with their communities.  The use of Italian focaccia as a base for creativity was popularised by Samin Nosrat on her Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat show on Netflix. Culinary artists on Instagram, Reddit, Pinterest and TikTok are taking this to the next level, using the thick, oil-based Italian bread as a canvas to paint floral scenes using herbs and vegetables. The gardenscape focaccia trend aligns well with Mintel’s “Eat with your eyes” trend and its recent progression beyond novelty colour. 

Indulge in the visual appeal and light texture of Cloud Bread

Source: Food.com

The original recipe first gained popularity in the 1970s as part of the low-carb, high-protein Atkins diet, reports the Kitchn. Cloud Bread became viral again in July 2020 in the midst of the pandemic as a treat that is simple to make (only three ingredients), healthy as well as visually appealing and customizable. Cloud Bread also appeals to consumers’ needs for multi-sensory experiences through food, highlighted in Mintel’s 2021 Food & Drink Trend, Feed the mind. Abi Hwang-Nable (@abimhn), who amassed 4.5 million likes on her baking demo, said her favourite part of the bread is that it “dissolves like cotton candy” in your mouth. 

Explore new vegan twists: Bacon carrot

Source: Pinterest/Closet Cooking

The link between COVID-19 and existing poor health conditions has influenced consumers’ intentions to eat more nutritious diets. Veganuary 2021 was the biggest yet since the campaign first launched in 2014, with over 500,000 people officially signing up for the 31-day vegan challenge. The interest in vegan diets has boomed because of health reasons but the climate crisis is also raising growing concerns, especially amongst younger consumers. 

Bacon carrot became viral on TikTok as actress and vegan food fanatic Tabitha Brown shared her recipe of how to make crispy ‘bacon’ using just a handful of ingredients.

All these trends point to new habits consumers are forming during the pandemic and that will stay in the future: the interest to indulge in multi-sensory food experiences at home as well as the willingness to experiment with sustainable recipes.