You know how it goes - a new year brings predictions from the pun-dents.  And whether we're talking about politics or business, music or sports - everyone wants in on the game.  This time around, it's experts from the food industry.

So - what CAN we expect to see in 2012?

For consumers, convenience is by far the most important dynamic, and will continue to be so over the next five to 10 years, according to any number of prognosticators. Consumers are willing to pay more for convenience as their work habits and lifestyles change. The same can be said even for shoppers in developing nations. It's a tradeoff many are willing to make, especially as disposable income rises in many countries. It's all about time, and the consumer would rather buy time than prepare food.

But convenience isn't everything;  Health and nutrition factor into the equation as well.

Healthy eating is another critically important consumer driver, a trend that has considerable influence over company strategies. But while consumers want "healthy," they often don't buy healthy … or aren't willing to pay for healthy … or don't even know what healthy means and are easily confused.

Healthy means different things to different people. Two important demographics that likely will have a 2012 impact on food production and shopping are baby boomers and those of all ages who suspect food allergies.

And just as youth dominates pop culture, so goes the food world.

At the same time, younger consumers with food intolerances will drive demand for gluten-free, nut-free or dairy-free foods in 2012. The crux of this market lies within the seemingly growing number of consumers who do not have a diagnosed food allergy but believe their general health improves with the omission of certain food ingredients such as wheat/gluten. This is an opportunity for both mainstream manufacturers to highlight additional product benefits as well as allowing the traditional ‘free from' brands to break the niche, they've traditionally operated.

The food industry is also forecasted to cater to the "green"-environmentalists, too.

The next big eco-issue will be the impact of our food choices on the environment – so says New York City-based-JWT (J. Walter Thompson Co.), a marketing communications company (, in its seventh annual year-end forecast of key trends that will drive or significantly impact consumer behavior in the year ahead.

The greening of food continues, with packaging reduction initiatives, more ethical sourcing policies and the reduction of food miles, says Leatherhead.