Last year, 26% of Britons planned to eat more plant-based foods for Christmas, according to research from the Vegan Society. Meanwhile, Waitrose reported that pre-orders of vegan Christmas foods were up 700% compared with 2019; Marks & Spencer introduced thirty new vegan foods for the holidays, and Tesco announced ten plant-based centerpieces for its 2020 roster, with some selling out weeks in advance.

It’s not just the UK, either. In 2021, 582,000 people from 209 countries participated in Veganuary, a campaign encouraging people to try veganism for the month of January and beyond—breaking all previous records. As awareness about farm animal welfare, climate change, and health concerns grow, plant-based foods continue to boom in popularity.

For commercial food photographers, the shift toward ethical and sustainable dining marks an important turning point—and a fresh opportunity to incorporate new colors and flavors. Ahead of the 2021 holiday season—and holiday advertising campaigns!—we wanted to take a look at a few movements and trends to consider when shooting seasonal content for your Licensing portfolio, from plant-based foods and beyond.

Incorporate these ideas for a timely twist on classic winter holiday photos.

Plant-based options

Vegan foods are enjoying a renaissance, with small businesses and established brands alike revamping their plant-based offerings. Recently, Panda Express rolled out vegan orange chicken (made with Beyond Chicken), while the Michelin-starred restaurant Eleven Madison Park in NYC reopened with a new, plant-based menu. Peet’s Coffee introduced a veggie breakfast sando featuring Just Egg (made of mung-bean). During the first nine weeks of the pandemic, grocery store sales of “meatless” meat rose by 264%.

When shooting in the kitchen, vegan foods offer vivid colors and textures, from roasted pumpkin wedges to mushroom Wellington. Experiment with burgers, plant-based ground meat, or tofurkey. According to a poll conducted last year by OnePoll in conjunction with Eat Just, Inc., 74% of millennials planned to remake traditional holiday dishes plant-based, so get creative with the dishes you choose.

Hint: Don’t forget herbs—a colorful splash of fresh cilantro, Thai basil, methi leaves, or Korean mint can instantly revitalize your food photos.

Embracing mushroom madness

Amid the pandemic, Louie Schwartzberg’s 2019 documentary Fantastic Fungi got a “second life” online, introducing viewers around the world to the power of mushrooms. The success of the film—and the popularity of TikTok accounts like the mycologist Gordon Walker’s @fascinatedbyfungi—are just a few indicators of growing interest in mushrooms, which can be used to make alternative meats, protein powders, faux leather, and so much more. Mushrooms also have a low environmental footprint, making them an ethical as well as a tasty choice; you can use them in your risotto, veggie broths, coffee, or even chocolate.

Low-carb options

According to research, low-carb or “keto” options are trending alongside fermented foods and non-dairy milks, part of an overall push towards simple ingredients over highly processed foods. Popular keto foods include nuts, olive oils, and non-starchy veggies (broccoli, spinach, etc.), and you can get crafty in the kitchen with substitutions like cauliflower rice, zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash pasta, or lettuce wraps.

This year, Mintel’s Global New Product Database found that the number of food/drink launches with the word “keto” in the description had almost doubled, jumping from 1.2% of product launches in 2019-2020 to 2.3% in 2020-2021. Data from SPINS also suggests that plant-based frozen foods with keto qualifications grew by almost 100% in sales in 2021.

This finding jives with Kroger’s 2020 prediction that “ketotarian” foods, or plant-based, low-carb foods, were on the rise. In the world of commercial photography, low-carb alternatives to your favorite foods can give you more room to explore new dishes that haven’t been widely covered yet, while also tapping into a growing trend.

Show us your culture!

In a recent trend report, Getty Images stressed the need for America’s diverse food culture to be better reflected in commercial photography; while there are already plenty of images celebrating dishes associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas, we still don’t have enough representation for holidays like Passover, Ramadan, and Lunar New Year.

For that reason, we encourage you to celebrate the foods in your community and document the multicultural dishes cherished by your family and friends. Maybe you draw inspiration from Christmastime meals in Ghana, incorporating fufu or okra stew, or perhaps you mark the Korean Lunar New Year with Tteokguk. Maybe your family enjoys Egyptian Kushari around the holidays, or perhaps you eat latkes and sufganiyot for Hanukkah. In the Philippines, you might celebrate Christmas with puto bumbóng.

When photographing foods that mean something to you and your family, consider incorporating them as models (ask them to sign a model release). Document the process of gathering the ingredients, preparing the dish, and finally enjoying it together. Show how traditions and celebrations can be passed on between the generations. These kinds of slice-of-life moments are evergreen and will never go out of style. Following a year apart, they’re also more powerful than ever.

Takeaway is here to stay

A few months ago, we named takeout as one of the trends reshaping food photography in 2021, and it’s worth another mention as we head into the holiday season. The Restaurant Delivery Consumer Trend Report, released by BentoBox in October, suggests that while takeout and delivery might have slowed over the summer amid vaccinations and loosening restrictions, those numbers are expected to rebound amid Delta variant concerns.

In fact, the report found that more than half of consumers (64%) will consider ordering in instead of dining out as we approach the holiday season. 49% of consumers surveyed cited convenience as the top reason for ordering takeout/delivery. A mid-October survey from Morning Consult found that 39% of consumers say they order out at least once a week, up three points from September.

For those reuniting with family, takeout could offer the chance to spend time with relatives without the hassle of cooking, while some might choose to order in while having virtual get-togethers with loved ones. There are countless ways to visualize this trend, so look for authentic, candid moments among models as they order their food and enjoy their meals together.

Capturing real-life moments

When shooting food content for your Licensing portfolio, remember to tap into the storytelling potential of lifestyle photography. Ask friends and family to sign model and property releases, and document the moments that mean most to you this holiday season, whether it’s a grandparent teaching the new generation how to bake a traditional homemade bread or everyone gathering around the table to share a meal. As always, prioritize diversity and inclusion by championing models of all ages, gender identities, and backgrounds.

According to Etsy’s 2021 Holiday Trends, this year will be all about experiences, with shoppers looking for everything from baking supplies and cooking accessories to crafting kits, so consider the activities that your family enjoys during this season. Instead of directing your models, give them time to forget about the camera, and capture genuine moments as they unfold. Try different angles and perspectives. “Show us how people in your community spend their holidays together, whether it’s decorating their homes, wearing ugly holiday sweaters, or taking photos to share on social media,” the 500px team suggests.

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