Overall the trends inspiring product development and innovation indicate that consumers and food continue to move toward experimentation. There is strong evidence that consumers are moving out of the economic crisis both emotionally and behaviorally.
Cuisine is still dominated by Arctic cuisine which is expanding into Bhutan, Nepal, Scandinavia and Denmark — this trend remains steadily in the spotlight. Asia branches out to include Laos, Sri Lanka, Burma, India and Vietnam. Each featured a dish specific to that region. Peru consistently represents South America. Argentina, Columbia, and Uruguay followed suit with dishes specific to their regions. Central America is following in South America's shadow with Nicaragua, regional Mexico and Belize in front. The Caribbean has steady favorites in Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico.
The Pacific region has the most extreme offerings, next to Arctic, with foods coming in from Fiji, Tasmania, New Zealand and island offerings. European cuisine is fairly unfocused with Portugal, Eastern Bloc EU, and UK as the most interesting regions. The Middle East remains steady with Israel and Lebanon being the poster children for the region. For the USA, Hawaiian cuisine keeps trying to make a stand. It's Achilles heel is the high fat nature of the diet. Low country cooking is coming on the coattails of the Deep South and appears along with regional BBQ styles and historical mentions of wild game dishes known domestically.
Although fusion is beginning to show up in the industry, it is still just at the beginning and the stronger position to take to remain specific, regional, historical, and authentic to a dish. Authenticity outshines creativity right now because authenticity is more grounding during a rough recovery.
When coming into a recovery, consumers' senses are open again and they want to explore, take risks, and become adventurous again because they don't have as much fear in their lives. During the recession their focus was on fixing what was broken while during a recovery their focus shifts toward prevention. They are seeking naturally healthy options, unprocessed items, but also convenience and clear benefit messaging. They desire control over kid's items, calories, digestion, cholesterol, salt, fat and sugar intake.
Smart phone apps, seasonal and local fare, and items that provide satiety also give them a sense of control. Obesity is linked to satiety as well, along with snacking, dining out options, portion control and kids. Consumers trust issues however often impair their relationships with the industry as research shows that however much they desire them, consumers do not trust organic, natural, free from, sustainability, food safety or health claims.
Consumers' inspirations during a recovery then translate to new expectations on the plate. During a recovery, meal types and settings, foods and flavors, and beverage trends experience their own shifts to track with consumers shifting desire. Meal preparation has moved towards scratch prep, wildcrafting (foraged ingredients), adventure, discovery, seasonal, regional and authentic. These are then expressed as minimally processed items, meatless, open flame cooking, foraged ingredients, house smoked, herb infused, pickled, fermented and peppered items showing up on menus.
As for settings, what is sought during recovery is approachable, family friendly dining, vibrant, inspired, authentic, and rustic. These desires translate to fast casual copycats, approachable fine dining, rock star butchers, millers and bar chefs, communal tables, street food, pop ups, and speakeasies.
The pathway to enter and navigate each is different however:
If dealing with U.S. cuisine, think regional or regional specialty foods.
If foreign familiar (think Mexican), then regional or regional comfort is the better pathway.
If Nuevo foreign (think Middle Eastern) then it is better to showcase national or national comfort dishes. The more familiar the cuisine, the more hyperregional the product can be. The less familiar the cuisine however, the more threatening it can be to a consumer and therefore leaning toward that region's comfort dishes is a better place to start.
And finally, consider these suggestions that can keep one mindful during any stage of a trends lifecycle:
Know the birth and lifecycle of a trend prior to deciding to enter so you can foretell how to navigate it;
Neither love nor hate a trend – emotions will fog the trend's true pattern and you may be blindsided when it shifts;
Spend more time researching a trend's personality and trajectory than worrying about what your competitors are doing – after all, they may be idiots.
Suzy Badaracco is a toxicologist, chef, and registered dietitian. She holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Criminalistics, an Associates degree in Culinary Arts, and a Masters of Science degree in Human Nutrition.