NEW YORK — Convenience will be at the forefront of consumers’ minds in 2023, according to the Specialty Food Association’s (SFA) Trendspotter Panel.

The panel, comprised of culinary professionals from diverse industry segments, researches numerous specialty food items and companies to predict key emerging trends for the upcoming year.

“Specialty food consumers are looking to make their meal prep easy but exciting, and that is driving many of this year’s trends regarding convenience, packaging improvements and global flavors,” said Denise Purcell, vice president of resource development at the SFA. “At the same time, they continue to care about how their food is grown and the health benefits it offers, giving rise to evolving sustainability, plant-based and better-for-you trends.”

As consumers have begun to increasingly cook at home during the pandemic, the panel predicts brands will focus on providing tools and recipes for at-home chefs looking to make simple meals that don’t sacrifice “authenticity, convenience or taste,” said Kantha Shelke, a panel member and founder of Corvus Blue LLC.

Examples of the trend were found in action at SFA’s annual Summer Fancy Food Show, with companies such as Bella San Luci offering sauce starters to help consumers create restaurant quality meals at home. Meal kit popularity also led the New York Times to release a series of home cooking kits in September through NYT Cooking. Each kit was designed by a guest chef to focus on one type of cuisine made with non-perishable specialty ingredients.

The panel also thinks consumers will look for innovative packaging that can offer increased portability while lessening messiness. Brands should similarly look to improve messaging on their labels and tap into consumer values like sustainability.

In addition to its importance in messaging, continued sustainability and environmental concerns led environmentally friendly foods to rank No. 2 on the panel’s 2023 trends.

“With growing unrest over climate issues and their impact on the future food supply, products that feature some aspect of sustainable ingredients, upcycled ingredients or environment-friendly packaging, are leading the way,” said Jonathan Deutsch, a panel member and founding director of the Drexel Food Core Lab.

Plant-based foods and unique ingredients are helping drive the trend as innovative applications like mushroom, seaweed and jackfruit-based products are on the rise.

The panel similarly found a growing demand for alternative seafoods amid emerging technologies that can provide traditional tastes and textures. Better-for-you and functional foods also will continue to grow in 2023, with consumers seeking to balance their interest in healthy and indulgent foods.

The panel also predicted there will be an increased interest in bold and intense flavor experiences in the upcoming year, building on the hot sauce renaissance that started offering consumers nuanced taste experiences equally prioritizing heat and flavor.

“What began in the hot sauce category is exploding into honey, spreads, confections, beverages and snacks, snagging new markets like younger consumers, especially, and inspiring specialty food companies to introduce heat and spice into existing product lines,” said Mikel Cirkus, global creative director at Firmenich Inc. and a member of the SFA trends panel.

Other major trends for the panel include an increased desire for globally inspired condiments, sauces and oils; interest in international fruit beverage and snack applications; and a continued shift toward naturally occurring sweeteners.