'Fancy' dining offers clues about next big menu trends (Commentary)

By Alicia Kelso

It is always intriguing to talk to R&D/chef sources — those in the trenches who come up with unique menu offerings that both differentiate and appeal to the masses. I had an opportunity to chat with Rebecca Stone, CiCi's Pizza's senior director of Research and Development, recently and ask her what culinary ideas and flavors she is seeing in the industry.

She answered, simply, "big flavors" and "garlic." Of course the latter bodes well for a pizza concept, and CiCi's has added the profile to a few new creations in the past year to fit that trend. Stone also pointed to value, snacking/to-go options and nutritional food trends that have accelerated.

It's important, Stone said,  for a product to be in test for at least four weeks and to heavily weigh franchisee and guest feedback.

"Sometimes a great idea doesn't execute when you get it out there. It has to translate well for your franchisees and customers," she said.

Fine dining's influence

Such great ideas come from "literally everywhere," she said — guests, franchisees, trade publications, industry organizations and shows.

Stone said, however, that fine dining is where most items are introduced.

"Those (fine dining) influences trickle down through the rest of the industry eventually. The unusual use of bacon is a good example of that," she said, referencing Burger King's bacon sundae launch.

So if fine dining is where it's at, then what is next? Coincidentally, the Summer Fancy Food Show was just held in New York City. The show featured more than 180,000 products from more than 2,400 food manufacturers, importers and entrepreneurs.

According to the Specialty Food Association, some emerging "fancy food" trends that were spotted at the show include:

Reinvented frozen treats

  • Green Wave Smoothies – Kalelicious Smoothie Pops
  • Life Ice – Freeze & Eat Bite-Sized Ices
  • DeeBee's Organics - Tea Pops
  • Bar Gelato by Naia - Blue Bottle Coffee Bar

Grains and seeds in new places

  • The Chia Co. - Chia Pods
  • La Pasta, Inc. – Sweet Potato, Quinoa and Kale Ravioli
  • Flamous Brands – Sprouted Multigrain Zatar Chips
  • Seattle Chocolate Co. - jcoco Agave Quinoa Sesame Milk Chocolate Bar

Global meal starters

  • Saffron Road – Harissa, Korean Stir Fry and Thai Red Curry Simmer Sauces
  • Kaldes Bros. Trading Co. – Greek Cooking Sauces
  • Kitchens of Africa – Maffe Peanut and Yassa Onion Simmer Sauces
  • Terrapin Ridge Farms – Pot Roast Meal Starter

Retro mania done new

  • Callie's Charleston Biscuits – Callie's Cheese Crisps
  • City Bakery – Hot Chocolate
  • Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams – Orchid Vanilla Macaroon Ice Cream Sandwich
  • Southern Culture – Short Stacks Banana Pudding Pancake Mix

Other trends identified are single-serve snacks with calorie counts, Vietnamese flavors, chickpea and seaweed snacks, maple products and sweet and savory cookies.

Trends with staying power identified at prior Fancy Food Shows include coconut, salted caramel and innovations in gluten-free foods.

Alicia Kelso is senior editor of QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com.

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