The 3 biggest food trends of 2019

It was a truly memorable year with a slew of big food trends, but a few standouts stole the spotlight in 2019. Alternative-protein company Beyond Meat’s (BYND) IPO in May sparked the plant-based meat craze, Popeyes chicken sandwich launched a fast food war and hard seltzer dominated summer parties and the alcohol industry.

Whether you call it plant-based meat, alternative meat or fake meat, it is a burger that tastes like meat, looks like meat but contains no meat. And it was all the rage in 2019.

Beyond Meat hit the public markets in early May with much fanfare. Shares priced at $25 — at its IPO and investors went wild. At the highs, the stock rallied as much at 800% before falling back to Earth in the second half of the year. Shares are still up nearly 200% from its IPO price.

(David Foster/Yahoo Finance)
(David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

The alternative-meat maker was able to draw excitement through various partnerships with food services companies and grocery chains. Some notable partnerships include Dunkin (DNKN), Tim Hortons (QSR) and Del Taco (TACO) among others. Beyond is also being tested by McDonald’s (MCD) in Canada.

The ultimate test for Beyond will come in 2020 and beyond, as competition stiffens. Beyond Meat is currently the only pure play in the alternative protein space; however, if its biggest rival, Impossible Foods, debuts on the public markets, that could prove to be a big obstacle for Beyond. Other larger food companies like Tyson (TSN) and Nestle are also making moves to take some of the market share.

Chicken sandwich wars

After two years of development in the innovation kitchen, Popeyes released its first ever chicken sandwich on Aug. 12. Popeyes management had no idea that a chicken sandwich with four seemingly simple ingredients would spark the epic chicken sandwich wars of 2019. It all started when Popeyes tweeted about its new sandwich on launch day. Exactly one week later, Chick-fil-A tweeted a passive-aggressive response, and thus, the chicken sandwich wars ensued on Twitter, with Wendy’s and other restaurants joining in on the action.

It created such a frenzy for the Popeyes chicken sandwich that the fast food chain ran out of chicken sandwiches nationwide in just two weeks post launch. It took Popeyes two months to work out supply chain issues to bring back the infamous chicken sandwich.

The chicken sandwich didn’t just create buzz for Popeyes, it also positively impacted the company’s top line. Third quarter same-store sales, a key industry metric, grew a whopping 9.7% during the quarter and blew out Wall Street’s expectations.

“Popeyes had one of its best quarters in nearly two decades, achieving comparable sales growth of more than 10% in the US,” according Restaurant Brands CEO José Cil.

With the current challenging environment for fast food chains, the chicken sandwich was the recipe for success in 2019 for Popeyes.

Hard seltzer

Summer parties were flooded with hard seltzers — resulting in the great White Claw shortage of the of 2019. People of all ages opted for the canned spiked beverage as a low-calorie alternative to traditional beer and wine. White Claw was the most popular brand, but several other names gained a lot of traction as well. Boston Beer’s (SAM) Truly and Anheuser-Busch InBev’s (BUD) Bon & Viv saw strong sales this year, and both companies plan to double down on the hard seltzer hyper.

Boston Beer CEO David Burwick said on the company’s third-quarter earnings call on October 9, “Truly continues to generate triple-digit volume growth.” Meanwhile, AB InBev’s CEO Carlos Brito said on Oct. 25, “We’re expanding and enhancing our hard seltzer portfolio rapidly. Starting with our premium brand Bon & Viv and with the recent successful launch of the Natty Light Seltzer.”

Hard seltzer may have been all the rage in 2019, but longevity is key, and investors will certainly be paying attention to see if the trend is here to stay in 2020.

Heidi Chung is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @heidi_chung.

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