The Top 13 Food Trends Coming In 2024

Fast food chains will win big and non-chocolate sweets will reign supreme.

The year 2023 has been a busy one in the culinary world, and time has flown by in a flurry of chicken sandwiches—but now it's time to look ahead. We've been gazing into our crystal (meat)ball and divining all the upcoming food trends swirling in its mists. In it, we see the blurry outline of chicken wings, cookies, chickpeas, and car-based dining, along with the rise of multiple varieties of fast food chain. Let's walk through what the new year might bring to our plates—because 2024 is shaping up to be quite delicious. Here are all our top predictions for next year's food trends.

Pasta will get more creative (and more popular)

We've seen a recent resurgence of pasta's popularity this year, with new recipes springing up seemingly every day: orzo carbonara and broken noodle Bolognese both became internet darlings. Though we all consider a pasta a cheap staple to keep in our pantry at home, it's starting to command even more attention on restaurant menus—and commanding a top-tier restaurant price, too.

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Expect to see even more creative tinkering with classic pasta recipes in 2024 by restaurants, TikTok users, and recipe developers alike. You'd better start practicing your fork twirl.

Non-chocolate sweets will only get bigger

We've noticed an uptick in news about how badly our chocolate supply is in trouble, which is why we're forecasting a bigger focus on non-chocolate sweets by America's leading candy brands. Since cacao yields have been low in their primary nations of origin, Ghana and Ivory Coast, confectioners have to make up for lost ground—and lost sales. This might take the form of white chocolate sweets, fruity candy, or other new flavors and innovative form factors that stretch out the cocoa supply.

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Nostalgia will continue to fill the grocery shelves

Nostalgia has long been a winning play for fast food and packaged goods alike, but its profitability has reached new heights. McDonald's recently released a throwback McNugget Buddies meal with a new set of collectibles. Chili's teamed up with Boyz II Men to refresh a decades-old jingle. Burger King has capitalized on McDonald's fans' love of the mid-2000's Snack Wrap by releasing its own version. And both the KFC Double Down and Pizza Hut's Big New Yorker Pizza came back in a big way this year.

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There's money to be made by leading customers down memory lane, and brands are going to continue appealing to the longings of our childhood. If they strike the right chord, it can be a goldmine.

Chicken wings will come roaring back

The fried chicken sandwich wars seem to have evolved in scope, now focusing more on innovative flavors to pair with the chicken rather than coming up with the most uncanny Popeyes dupe. And to continue to appeal to anyone who might be burned out on all the sandwiches, fast food and quick service brands seem poised to renew their focus on chicken wings.

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Popeyes is now stepping on Wingstop's turf by offering five permanent flavors of wings, and if the chicken sandwich titan has its way, it'll siphon big bucks from other established wing chains in the process. Meanwhile, chains like Raising Cane's and Zaxby's are on the rise, for those who prefer their chicken boneless and dippable. Either way, 2024 is making room for chicken that isn't in sandwich form.

Chain steakhouses will continue to crush it

When we dine out at a sit-down restaurant, we want our meals to feel special, memorable, and, if we can swing it, affordable. Considering Americans treat steak as a special occasion meal, mid-tier steakhouse chains like Texas Roadhouse stand to win big in 2024, with prices that turn steak into a justifiable expense.

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It's not just Texas Roadhouse that's doing well. Darden restaurant group is betting big on steakhouses with the purchase of Ruth's Chris, and LongHorn is seeing some positive numbers, too. We think we'll see more activity from Outback and others in 2024, and maybe even see all-new beef-centric chain restaurants spring up to serve our steak cravings.

The drive-thru will keep evolving

While most of us only consider fast food innovation in terms of the menu items themselves, the biggest chains are doing a lot of tinkering with another aspect of their business: the drive-thru.

Even sit-down restaurants like Denny's have started implementing drive-thru lanes. Taco Bell has been experimenting with drive-thru-only restaurants. McDonald's is testing small-footprint spaces by 86'ing dining rooms and cashiers altogether. And there's more drive-thru experimentation coming, including significant redesigns, AI-powered drive-thru ordering systems, and other moves to increase kitchen efficiency. Expect this to be a dominant fast food theme in 2024.

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Gourmet condiments will elevate our home cooking

To save money on dining out, many of us commit to a minimum number of nights per week cooking at home. It's easy to get tired of our own handiwork, though, which is where gourmet and otherwise niche condiments really come in handy.

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These are complex flavors that you can either stir into food while it's cooking, or those you can apply right on top, like chili crisp, so as to transform your meal into something that tastes like it was served at a restaurant. If 2024 sees more strain on our wallets, restaurant meals are almost always one of the first categories to cut from the budget—but at least we can dress up our meals to feel like we got takeout.

Crumbl knock-offs could start appearing

Who knew that a chain serving nothing but cookies could become so popular so quickly? Crumbl is one of the fastest growing shops in the country, and where there's a pile of money to be made, competitors are sure to spring up.

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We predict that we'll see a few new dessert chains (perhaps specializing in straight-up cookies) enter the market in 2024. It's fair to guess we'll also see existing chains like Insomnia and even Subway try to align themselves with Crumbl's vibe.

Chickpeas will be inescapable

If the 2023 Sweets & Snacks Expo taught us anything, it's that the snack industry never rests on its laurels, and one ingredient consistently on display at the event was chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans). They're a sustainable, hearty base for snacking, one that manufacturers can position as "natural" and "healthy." They're also versatile: you can roast them, turn them into puff snacks, dip them in chocolate, or use their flour in baked goods. Soon you'll see them up and down the snack aisle, if you haven't already.

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Cell-cultured meat will rise—maybe

There's been a lot of news about how cell-cultured meat could be the next big thing in meat alternatives. Two companies, UPSIDE Foods and GOOD Meat (yup, they're both capitalized that way), were approved to produce their cell-cultured meat products to the public this year.

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This is still bleeding edge technology, so it's not a sure thing that these products will hit grocery shelves or restaurant menus in 2024. This piece from Wired explains how difficult it is to manufacture a new concept like cell-cultured meat on a large scale and explains that such scaling hasn't been achieved yet, at least not at UPSIDE. Maybe 2024 will be more like a transitional year for the industry, shifting consumer tastes away from Beyond and Impossible and getting our palates excited for what's to come.

Hawaiian fast food will shine

Hawaiian food is slowly but surely getting the attention it deserves in the continental United States. According to Datassential and Nation's Restaurant News, two of America's fastest growing restaurant chains specialize in Hawaiian fare.

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Could plate lunches of rice, macaroni salad, and kalua pork be the next big thing? How about Spam musubi on the go? That sounds like a pretty great alternative to burgers, and they say a varied diet is good for you.

Fusion food is here to stay

We haven't heard much arguing about fusion food lately, and that's because it's become an inextricable part of the American restaurant landscape. As long as its execution is done respectfully and acknowledges the origins of the dishes that comprise it (not like this, for example), we're down to try whatever combinations chefs and other innovators throw at us.

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Industry publication Restaurant Business has opined that "fusion" is no longer a dirty word, and we agree. It's just the natural evolution of cooking, and we've been seeing it in independent restaurants, big chains, convenience stores, and packaged goods to varying degrees of success. Regardless of how well it's executed, the cross-cultural mashup is here for good.

Spicy flavors will stick

Spicy food has often been relegated to one-off menu items. But the progressively spicier limited-time offerings seen in 2023 and the expansion of spicy offerings available at the grocery store signal that serious heat can (and should!) be applied to permanently available fast food menu items, not just flash-in-the-pan promotions. Fingers crossed that 2024 brings more piquancy to the party.

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