The Year in Food: The Impossible Burger and Other Winners, Losers, and Contenders

Scott Hirsch
Year in Food Report
The previous year saw no shortage of culinary surprises ranging from the surreal to the simply delicious.

While a dire UN report urged the world to ease up on meat, a single chicken sandwich captivated the nation, leading to memes, Twitter wars, and sellout lines. Still, one Impossible Burger proved that meat may be on the way out. Meanwhile, the president served fast food from the hallowed halls of the White House, hard seltzer became a legit threat to beer companies, and the nation’s first cannabis restaurant opened in Hollywood.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest trends and newsworthy food items of 2019: 

More Meat-Eaters are Turning to Plant-Based Foods

in 2019 more millennials than ever said they identified as vegan or vegetarian
Infographic: Yael Shinkar

One of the biggest food-related stories of 2019 was the United Nations report linking meat consumption to climate change. Signed by 107 UN scientists, the report urged people across the globe to increase their consumption of plant-based foods.  

In America, things were already trending in that direction. According to the USA Today, the sales of plant-based meat substitutes had increased 10% from 2018, reaching $946 million by October. One market research firm found that 38% of Americans are trying to eat more plant-based foods.

In fact, the Economist billed 2019 “The year of the vegan,” saying that 25% of millennials (aged 25-34) are vegan or vegetarian. But here’s a curious statistic from the NPD group:

  • Around 90% of those eating plant-based foods are not vegan or vegetarian 

It’s clear that plant-based eating is no longer the domain of the health-food-store set. We can credit much of that to the Impossible Burger, a plant-based burger that became something of a food zeitgeist in 2019 and landed on the menu of fast-food chains such as Burger King. 

The following facts are further proof that plant-based eating is going mainstream in America:

In 2019 the Impossible Burger was one of the most surprising food trends
Infographic: Yael Shinkar
  • The Impossible Burger landed in the top 10 most-ordered foods on Grubhub in 2019
  • At Gelson’s, a supermarket chain with 27 locations, the Impossible Burger outsold all beef products
  • It’s being served at more than 17,000 restaurants across the US, including chains like White Castle, Red Robin, and The Cheesecake Factory  

A Big Year for Meal Kit Delivery Services 

2019 was a big year for the meal kit industry
Infographic: Yael Shinkar

This year the meal kit delivery industry passed $5 billion annually, according to Food Truck Empire. Companies like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron are part of a growing industry catering to young professionals, busy parents, and kitchen novices who are turning to meal kits for their ease and healthy menus. 

Though the best meal kit delivery services have weathered their share of critiques, they’ve proven to be resilient. Many have questioned the environmental impact of these independently packaged meals, but a recent study featured on NPR argues that the carbon footprint on meal delivery kits is smaller than the equivocal amount of food purchased at a grocery store.  

Meanwhile, an annual survey by the National Restaurant Industry reveals that 41% of consumers would purchase meal kits from their favorite restaurants if offered, meaning that if chefs catch on, we could see meal kits from celebrity chefs and trendy restaurants giving Grubhub and Doordash a run for their money in 2020.  

State of the Plate 2019

Fun food facts of 2019: Intermittent fasting, meat grown in space and a cannabis restaurant in LA
Infographic: Yael Shinkar

The year saw many favorite foods fall from favor while others gripped the nation. Here’s a look at the trendiest diets, foods, and newsworthy stories over the past year:

  • According to Google’s ‘Year in Trends” search, intermittent fasting was the most-searched diet of 2019
  • According to Grubhub’s annual food report, celery juice and oat milk are trending upwards and will figure big into 2020
  • Burrito bowls were the most popular delivery orders from Doordash in 2019
  • The Popeyes chicken sandwich easily wins the food-media event of the year with a rollout that included Twitter wars, sellout lines, New Yorker think pieces, and even an incident involving a live gun
  • Aleph Farms announced that it had successfully grown meat in space 
  • The first-ever cannabis restaurant opened in Los Angeles, pairing upscale seasonal cuisine with cannabis edibles and pre-rolled joints to be enjoyed with the meal
  • President Donald Trump took heat for his menu-planning decisions when he welcomed visiting college athletes with a fast food buffet inside of the White House 
  • White Claw and other “hard seltzers” skyrocketed in popularity, leading to shortages in liquor stores and copycats from major beer companies hoping to cash in on the craze

What’s in Store for 2020?

Plant-based meats seem to be dominating healthy food trends this year, with major chains like KFC and Burger King offering meatless options and even carnivores opting to include more plant-based burgers and alternative proteins into their diet. If 2019 was “The year of the vegan,” as the Economist stated, 2020 could be the year of casual veganism, when even those who don’t subscribe to a specific diet start dabbling more in plant-based eating. Meanwhile meal delivery kits are vying for dollars from consumers with their own spins on plant-based items, and Grubhub is successfully incorporating meatless cuisine into its approach. There’s no telling what the next year—and decade—have in store, but if 2019 is any indication, it will have less meat but plenty of toppings. 

Scott Hirsch
Scott is a content writer who has worked as a special education teacher, lifestyle writer, and researcher. He enjoys literature and travel and believes that a sense of wonder and curiosity is the key to living a fulfilled life.