Summer eating is different than any other time of year. It’s experiential. It’s experimental. It’s memorable. It’s a time when, free from cold weather obligations, families and friends come together over fire pits and barbecues, picnic tables and beach blankets to spend time together, make memories and, of course, eat.

Tyson Foods is one of the largest food companies in the world. Food isn’t just our business—it’s our passion. This passion drives us daily to help shape and identify the next wave of food trends. For Summer 2019, we once again tapped our Tyson Trendtellers Council, made up of a dozen of our company’s top food thinkers and innovators, for their insights. We asked them to collaborate and use their collective insight to identify what the next big waves are in the culinary world this summer. On the list are new flavors, cool cooking techniques and ingenious prep and cleanup tools that do the hard work for you, so you have more time to hang out and have fun in the sun.

Tyson Foods’ 2019 Summer Trends:

Alternative Protein has the Heat

This summer, protein is the superhero! Whatever flavor, texture or variety, protein has its own summery, blockbuster star power.

And the next generation of superhero proteins are plant-based. As these new products proliferate, they are set to go mainstream, becoming a mainstay on menus, whether eating in or dining out.

What does that mean exactly? It means the big burger franchises are rolling out meatless options. Even Ikea is working on a new meatless version of their iconic Swedish meatballs. And this trend isn’t limited to restaurants; consumers are snapping up alternative protein products at grocery stores, too. The numbers reflect the interest: the alternative protein segment is growing double digits. This is clearly a trend that is not going away. Later this summer, consumers will even be able to grab Tyson Foods’ first-ever plant-based nuggets from our new brand, Raised & Rooted™.

And it doesn’t stop there! There are even more exciting protein spinoffs to embrace. Think: Blended proteins that combine animal protein with things like ancient grains and vibrant vegetables, so you get the best of all worlds as consumers are increasingly looking for both meat and plant-based proteins. In fact, Tyson Foods’ brand Aidells® recently launched its Aidells Whole Blends™ products, a breakthrough portfolio of sausage links and meatballs that are made with chicken, plus a blend of cheeses and plant-based ingredients such as ancient grains, black beans, chickpeas and lentils.

Demand for protein in all its forms has never been higher. And while the majority of consumers aren’t interested in eliminating animal protein from their diets (traditional meat sources are still the top seller), 70 percent of meat eaters are substituting a non-meat protein into a meal at least once a week.

By the end of the summer, consumers are going to have a new cast of plant-based and blended foods to choose from—their new grilling and mealtime superheroes!

The Rise of the Backyard Grill Master

Go on, you celebrity chef! Or wait, is that my neighbor? This summer, the hottest trend is more people grilling like they’re professionals, even if they’ve still got the tag on their tongs. We’re talking top-grade tools, tricks, techniques and more that were once reserved for professionally trained chefs with five-star restaurant pedigrees.

There are several reasons for this. First, backyard barbecuers are becoming more educated through the proliferation of how-to content on social media and video platforms. They are self-educating on tricks of the trade that were once only available to chefs in culinary school. Today, all you need is a smartphone to become your own expert.

You are the Pro-Chef!

The magic of summer grilling is that it provides the backdrop for the ultimate cooking experience. Outdoors, often with friends and family close by, it’s more like a sport than a kitchen chore. Also (and this part is key) it’s a pretty simple, appealingly caveman like process. Meat + Fire = Dinner.

Comfortable with that simple formula, people are starting to build their confidence, upping their level of skill and risk. Open up this summer’s backyard grills and you’ll find unique cuts of meat like tri-tip, pork belly or even wild game. Each cut enhanced by layering flavors—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami—and unlocking richer and deeper tastes. In addition to leveraging a variety of proteins and flavors, these backyard chefs are also bringing techniques like sous-vide, the reverse sear method and smoking to their summer barbecues, enabled by increasing access to smart grilling technology that is as functional as it is futuristic.

The Age of the Machines

No, it’s not the latest summer blockbuster; it’s just the next wave in grilling technology. And it will pay off in more leisure time, trust us. Here’s the deal: From a technology perspective, the smart home is heading outdoors. This summer, consumers will be using a variety of grilling tech to perfect their craft. Want to add a smoky flavor to your meat? An industry-first—a dual mode smoke controller—will enable consumers to not only produce a deep smoke flavor, but also carefully monitor for consistent temperature. Your smartphone? That also now doubles as a thermometer, using a wired probe to measure the temperature of the meat while cooking.

And at the end of the meal, finally, we don’t have to worry about clean up. The latest robotic grill cleaner will allow you to enjoy another drink or time with family while cleaning your grill for you.

Whether you’re a fan of open flames or prefer propane, check out these grilling tips and rising trends to wow your friends at your next summer get together.

Frictionless Food

Summertime and the grilling is easy. During summer months, you especially want everything to be whoosh waterslide-easy. Who wants to buy, assemble and chop ingredients when you can just press a button and have them show up at your door? Even better—if a robot brings them? That’s right, a robot.

Robots are starting to show up on college campuses and even at hotels, distributing snacks to hungry college students and room service to summer travelers. Need an extra towel, toothpaste or snack on your summer vacation? Ring a robot. Welcome to the future and the new age of Jetson-like hotel amenities. Sounds appealing, right?

Robots are just one example of how the frictionless food economy continues to evolve. No longer are consumers willing to wait in long lines or, in some cases, even leave their home. It’s the summer, after all, and sometimes you just want to be lazy and enjoy time in the backyard. The frictionless food economy is reducing the stress, time and tension encountered with some of the more traditional means of getting and making food.

As a result, more retailers are adding “click and collect” grocery pick-up to their shopping options, along with direct to consumer delivery. Millennials and other more digitally minded cohorts are among the top consumers of these services and of the preponderance of meal kit options flooding the marketplace, all in the name of streamlining meal prep time.

Meet SIDE DISH 2.0, the New Standalone Star of Summer!

The side dish has long been the little brother/sister living in its older siblings’ shadows. Poor side dish! Forever pushed to the… well, side, in favor of confident older brother Hanger Steak or brainy big sister Grilled Salmon. Welp. Not anymore! This summer the Side Dish grew six inches, got a cool haircut and found its voice.

Food culture is on the rise and so, too, is the side dish. 2019 data from Datassential shows that side items were among the newest items added to menus in the casual and quick service restaurant (QSR) space. One difference: people are seeking side dishes with a center-of-plate punch, regarding them less as meal complements and more as meal makers.

As barbecue goers decide what to bring to spice up the menu, they will be looking at interesting new flavor-packed ingredients, often adding proteins like chicken, beef or pork to increase the nutritional value and cut back on the carbs. Steak and broccoli nacho penne salad anyone? How about chipotle or pineapple slaw, elote corn or a BLT stuffed avocado? While backyard grills will continue to be filled with your favorite burger or hot dog this summer, expect to see side dishes taking more prominence on your plate. In this season of kick-off-your-shoes, sun-drenched pleasure, carefree is the name of the game. Yay side dish 2.0! We salute you!

Kids’ Summer Eating List

For years the story has been the same: You start the summer with the best of intentions: my child will enjoy all sorts of in-season veggies. Instead, you end the summer begging them to finish just one piece of broccoli. JUST ONE. Well, guess what? Things are changing.

In between splishing and splashing and running their parents ragged this summer, kids’ palates are slowly but surely changing. They’re becoming mini-foodies, expanding their food preferences beyond the standard fries and pizza.

Kids’ advanced palates are also leading them toward more nutritious foods. Remember when parents used to hide vegetables in meatloaf? This summer, the power and potential of blended foods is coming to kids’ plates. Blended burgers and nuggets will be the new hot kids’ menu items at pool parties and ballparks, combining the flavors of traditional protein with the nutritional value of more plant-based ingredients. So, parents, as you’re planning for your kids to be home this summer, also think about how you can incorporate more flavors and varieties of food into their meals. They may just surprise you!

Make Way for Snack Time, Anytime

Gone is the notion of eating three square meals a day. Is snacking next on the chopping block? Never fear, snacking is here to stay, but it is transitioning as the lines between snacks and meals, munching and mainstays are blurring.

We used to talk about snacking as “The Fourth Meal,” a separate eating occasion that fell somewhere between the three squares. Over the past decade, we’ve added 19 more between-meal occasions per capita. The reality is people are eating more fluidly throughout the day, which creates demand for flexible food that can be eaten anytime. What was once a 7 a.m. sit-down eggs and sausage breakfast is now a cup of fresh Jimmy Dean microwaveable eggs that can be eaten during a break at work. Is it breakfast? Is it a snack? Is it a meal? Can we just forget the labels, already!?

Whatever you call it, convenient, satisfying “snacks” now come in anytime options and are a summer essential for keeping energy up without weighing you down.

And guess what? In today’s on-demand, flexible and frictionless world (see above) hitting your favorite restaurant for a snack as opposed to a whole traditional meal is on the rise. And once again, Gen Z and Millennials are driving the change, with consumers in their early 20’s to late 30’s more likely than any other generation to substitute a snack for a meal when dining out.

Restaurants are capturing the power of street food and small bites, with almost 14 percent of restaurant visits now being just for a snack or small plate, according to Technomic. That means occasion-less dining in restaurants is on the rise. And as restaurants look for ways to differentiate their offerings and get consumers in the door, snacking and smaller bites may be a new North Star.

Across menus, we are seeing a diverse mix of small plates featuring items like blistered shishito peppers, or arancini (stuffed rice balls coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried) that capture the twin needs of speed and creativity. This summer expect a wide range of plant-based items and traditional protein offerings to give people an array of choices and flavors.

The Frozen Aisle Gets a Refresh

The frozen aisle used to be where you picked up your Rocket Pops and French bread pizza. Or where you went to cool off when your air conditioning was broken on a sweltering day. But then frozen took a back seat as more people sought fresher options.

That was then. This is now.

There’s a resurgence in the popularity of frozen foods as people seek convenience and become more educated about preservatives and the power of frozen to seal in nutrients. Thirty-two percent of shoppers polled by Acosta, a sales and marketing research group, said they planned to buy more frozen food in the coming year. Millennials are among the enthusiasts – 43 percent planning to buy more frozen food than last year as they seek items that require less prep and can be stored longer.

At Tyson Foods, we know the frozen aisle, and this summer, as consumers increasingly demand more fast, flexible and healthy food options, the freezer is getting a refresh with more vegetable varieties and re-makes of popular mainstays to improve their nutritional profiles. The increased popularity of flash frozen vegetables, smoothie mixes and acai bowls are among the attractions, along with new pizza flavors – think cauliflower crust – and healthier frozen entrees and proteins, such as Tyson air-fried chicken strips, coming soon. Always the darling of the frozen aisle, even frozen veggie sales are on the incline. According to Nielsen, year-to-year sales jumped 4.5 percent in 2017.

So why are people warming up to frozen?

Today, brands are leaning into health and convenience. Zoodles (spiralized zucchini), cauliflower fried rice and Jimmy Dean breadless egg sandwiches are just a few examples of newer offerings in the frozen aisles. According to a study by the University of California at Davis, in some cases, frozen items even had a slight edge in nutritional value compared to fresh produce. So, if you thought your frozen peas were less healthy than fresh ones, think again. Consumers also no longer have to feel guilty for using only half of their fresh spinach and throwing the rest away—hello sustainable! Frozen lets consumers keep their produce longer and at the same time, save a penny or two.

Don’t Be Trashy

Today it’s all about being a conscientious consumer and using only what you need. More people are hyper-aware of the trash they create, but unfortunately, there’s still a lot of trash being created, especially in the summer.

From a food perspective, consumers are increasingly concerned with food waste. Don’t worry, plates will still be full of barbecued favorites—hot dogs, burgers and grilled veggies—but this summer, people will be more cognizant of waste. The lettuce you used to make your summer salad…why not replant leftover lettuce stems or repurpose unused vegetables for soup stock?

Did you know that, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, each year the average person generates more than four pounds of trash every day and about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year? This summer expect more awareness around reducing waste.

Summer is shaping up to be one clean, green poolside party, with exciting food trends that translate to more fun in the sun for all.

Our TrendTellers Council:

  • Jennifer Bentz, Senior Vice President, R&D, Innovation, and Insights
  • David Ervin, Vice President, Alternative Protein 
  • Nadia Grandus, Senior Director, Insights and Analytics
  • Kent Harrison, Vice President, Fresh Meats
  • Leigh Ann Johnston, Director, Sustainable Food Strategy
  • Tim Madigan, Vice President, eCommerce
  • Kathy Rietschel, Director, Shopper Insights
  • Risa Schwartz, Senior Director, Consumer Insights, Analytics and Sensory
  • Karen Shank, Director, Wellness and Nutrition