The past two years have been an arduous litmus test for humankind, one that has ultimately proven that resilience is not in short supply.
The human spirit continues to flourish even in the throes of unforeseen adversity, and this is evident in many economic sectors, including the hard-hit F&B industry, which continues to bounce back with remarkable enthusiasm, even picking up new trends to help it chug along.
What’s interesting is that many of the food trends that are likely to dominate in 2022 have been spurred forward and in many cases – accelerated – by the Covid-19 pandemic.
So will these trends continue to soar and surge even as the pandemic meets its highly-anticipated decline and demise? Or will new, independent food trends emerge, entirely unrelated to the pandemic?
Here’s a look at what could potentially be in store in the F&B world this coming year.
The growth of the restaurant industry
Although restaurants were dropping like flies in 2020 and 2021, projections are good for 2022 and beyond – strange as it may seem for an industry still reeling from the aftermath of the pandemic.
In fact, according to GlobalData’s report: Malaysia – The Future of Foodservice to 2025, released in 2021, the foodservice sector is projected to grow 10% from 2020 to 2025.
Raymond Tham, the chef-owner of high-end eateries like Beta and Skillet in the Klang Valley says this is exactly what he believes is going to happen in 2022.
“Just look at how many restaurants have opened up in the past year alone in Kuala Lumpur! There have been so many restaurant openings in 2021 even when the pandemic was at its worst, so I think there will be even more restaurants opening in 2020, for sure.
“Also people can’t really travel, so many restaurateurs are seizing the opportunity to offer a different range of international foods – like Italian, Spanish, Korean, etc to local customers,” says Tham.
The rise of plant-based alternative proteins
In 2020 and 2021, alternative proteins from brands like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Phuture Daging started sneaking onto Malaysian supermarket shelves and restaurant menus. At first, its presence was barely noticeable, a tiny dent in a huge equation. But last year, it started making its presence felt in a far more discernible way.
This was augmented by a shift towards plant-based meats during the pandemic when wariness about meat consumption (and meat production plants) caused a massive uptick in plant-based interest. In fact, a survey conducted by Herbalife Nutrition found that in 2020, 61% of Malaysians surveyed were eating more plant-based foods.
This has had a trickle-down effect because according to Geoff King, the chief executive officer of The Food Purveyor, which owns supermarkets like Village Grocer and Ben’s Independent Grocer, sales of plant-based meat shot up by over 200% last year at the height of the pandemic!
“Plant-based foods will play a significant role in 2022. In 2021, we noticed that our consumers in Village Grocer and Ben’s Independent Grocer are actively seeking plant-based products as these products are healthier and better for our planet.
“And, as taste and textures improved, we saw the demand grow in tandem. Currently, we are carrying 15 plant-based brands in our outlets compared to three brands in early 2021,” says King.
It isn’t just retailers that are recognising this growing consumer demand; restaurants have been slowly but surely adapting to these changes too. Last year, KFC introduced a KFC Zero Chicken burger in collaboration with meat substitute brand Quorn, while Korean fried chicken behemoth Kyochon now has an entire range of meat-free alternative proteins on its menu.
Across the Klang Valley, mid-range restaurants like Botanica + Co and Nourish by Kenny Hills Bakers have embraced alternative proteins, and even a few high-end eateries like Hilton Kuala Lumpur’s Chynna and Tham’s Beta have adopted these plant-based meatless meats.
Which is why 2022 is likely going to be the year you’ll see alternative proteins and other plant-based foods like jackfruit patties becoming ubiquitous in restaurant menus across the country.
“I can see the trend is growing – we have a lot more customers asking if we have vegan or vegetarian menus. So it is very obvious that people are more concerned about what they eat.
“And alternative proteins are definitely part of this trend. These days, you have to have at least a plant-based burger or some sort of plant-based item on the menu.
“Chefs and restaurant owners also have more options in this regard because more plant-based alternative protein brands are cropping up in Malaysia. And honestly, the flavours and textures of these meatless meats are not bad, so I think more restaurants will have them on their menus next year,” says Tham.
Healthier eating will gain traction
In tandem with the shift towards plant-based foods, wellness and healthy foods have seen a remarkable surge in interest, which will only get bigger in 2022.
GrabFood’s Food Trends Report 2020/2021 shows that seven out of 10 Malaysians want to eat healthier and 44% are willing to pay more for healthier food. Additionally, in 2020, orders for healthy food were three times more than in 2019!
“We have seen a burst of interest in health or wellness foods and organic foods. Our consumers value these healthy and organic food options as there has been greater awareness of gut health and overall health,” affirms King.
King’s views are echoed by Ewen Lim, who runs the Klang Valley’s first fruit-centric healthy food eatery Hey Peach!
“The healthy eating trend is a worldwide trend that started a few years ago but Malaysia is always three to five years behind. So right now, we are finally catching up with the trend, and I can definitely see that there will be more restaurants and other F&B businesses developed around healthy food in 2022.
“This is also because since the pandemic, people have put more effort into taking care of their bodies and going for healthier food options. For example, if a restaurant says their nasi lemak or nasi goreng is ‘healthy’, people will opt for it.
“So restaurants are catering to this growing demand – you can see it on many menus now,” she says.
Lim herself has seen such a huge demand for healthy food from consumers that she is embarking on a new business in 2022 that will focus on personalised diets, designed by nutritionists and chefs.
“As an entrepreneur, you have to be ahead of the game. Now that people are looking for healthy food, we want to give them something that will be more customised and different from everything else out there,” she says.
Food delivery will continue to be on the rise
GrabFood Food Trends Report 2020/2021 show that the pandemic has cemented food delivery’s ascent and continued growth well into 2022 and beyond. According to data from the report, meals ordered using delivery services in Malaysia increased by 13% during the pandemic.
This is fairly unsurprising, because for many Malaysians, food delivery has become a part of their daily lives, especially families with young children who are often the most cautious about eating out and also don’t have the time to cook after a busy working day.
In fact, the data shows that 52% of food delivery consumers are married with kids and 61% are 25 to 44 years old, which means that the core customer base is young and will continue to expand and grow over the years.
Consequently, this pattern of ordering food online has become such a regular facet of Malaysian eating culture these days that according to the report, 87% of consumers say that they will keep ordering food delivery in the future. So yes, food delivery and 2022 are likely to be amiable bedfellows.
Cloud kitchens on the up and up
Cloud kitchens have been mushrooming in the Klang Valley since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic and have benefited greatly from the increased interest in food delivery services.
With food delivery unlikely to go anywhere, this also means that cloud kitchens (facilities that are used purely to cook and deliver food to customers and typically don’t offer dine-in services) will continue to bloom in Malaysia in 2022.
“We believe this trend will continue to grow at a much higher rate, because food delivery has proven to be pandemic-proof. People are realising how convenient delivery is and the pandemic has accelerated this growth,” says Siva Sachi, the co-founder of a popular string of cloud kitchens called KitchenCo.
“So I believe there will be more cloud kitchen players in 2022 and the existing players will get stronger because demand has been quite phenomenal and will probably grow next year.
“Like for us, when lockdowns lifted, sales doubled! So people are clearly ordering online more now even though they can go out and eat.
“Also there are more logistics partners popping up in the market, so delivery costs will go down and this will make cloud kitchens a very attractive option for many F&B operators,” says Siva.
An appreciation for the finer things in life
For many middle-class and upper middle-class Malaysians, travel was once a regular facet of their lives. Since the pandemic reared its head, travel has become either impossible or an incredible hassle (given the quarantine regulations in place).
What this has translated to is a renewed interest in all sorts of vicarious travel experiences, most notably imported food, from fruits and vegetables to meat, biscuits, pasta sauces and teas.
“Since the lockdown, we have seen Malaysians doing more home cooking and home baking activities involving imported foods and drinks. For example, our house brands like Woolworths, which is Australian and British brand Waitrose have proven extremely popular during 2021 and we intend to expand these ranges further in 2022,” says King.
“The pandemic has amplified consumers’ need for new food experiences and treating themselves with fine quality foods. I reckon that the demand for new or fresh food experiences will continue into 2022,” he says.
Interestingly for many discerning consumers, it isn’t just about the products on the shelves; it’s also about the supermarket itself.
Since the start of the pandemic, people have gotten used to shopping online, so supermarkets that have a point of differentiation are most likely to stand out or attract pandemic-wary consumers in 2022.
Stores like the newly minted BSC Fine Foods for example includes a 200 square foot in-store farm while The Food Merchant in Pavilion Bukit Jalil is a 56,000 square foot juggernaut that houses produce from countries like Peru, South Korea, Portugal, Australia, the United States and so much more.
Could these stores represent the future of supermarkets in Malaysia?
“Standard big-box retailing such as hypermarkets have been on a declining trend for some time now as customers have increasing access and confidence in products ranges from the Internet.
“Stores like BSC Fine Foods and The Food Merchant offer both extensive, quality food ranges that aren’t available on the internet, as well as a place for customers to explore, experience and taste on the premise.
“I believe this experiential supermarket will have a lasting point of difference versus standard supermarkets and online stores in 2022 and in the years to come,” says King.
Home food businesses could be on the decline
The past two years have been golden years for home food businesses. In fact, many people who lost their jobs or found themselves in a tough spot during the pandemic turned to home food businesses as a means to an end, especially in those dire times when job-hunting became an exercise in futility.
While some found success and are now determined to continue running these entities, for others, these businesses have merely been stopgap measures designed to put food on the table.
And now that the economy is returning to some degree of normalcy, many of these operators have turned to job-seeking with a vengeance. As a consequence, there are likely to be large numbers of home businesses that would eventually shutter in 2022 as operators look for greener pastures elsewhere.
Edric Lee for instance, started a home business called Aged in 2020, selling his homemade fermented products like kimchi. A culinary school graduate, Lee decided to start the business as he couldn’t find a job in the restaurant industry during the pandemic.
Last year, Lee was hired as a chef at an Italian restaurant and he confesses that he has paused his home business entirely since then to focus on his full-time job.
“I am using my social media account as a platform to showcase the fermented products that I make but I am not actively running it as a home business anymore,” he admits.
Lee also says many of his friends who graduated and couldn’t find jobs ended up starting home food businesses but – like him – many are now closing shop.
“I have personally seen quite a few of them closing in the past three months. Many of them started this to earn some sort of income, so now they are focusing on job-hunting and going down the career paths they originally intended,” he says.