Consumer's 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. It is yet too early for "fusion" and molecular gastronomy to return.
Settings too have shifted. What is sought during recovery is approachable, family friendly dining, vibrant, inspired, authentic, and rustic. These desires translate to fast causal copy cats, approachable fine dining, rock star butchers, millers and bar chefs, communal tables, street food, pop ups, and speakeasies.
The food and flavor profiles shift to the more extreme as well. All of the categories are showing two faces right now – one side is more familiar and historical and the other is the more experimental and extreme side. Seasonings are showing ginger, citrus, pickling, salts, smoke and vanilla on the familiar side, for example. But the more extreme face for seasonings include haucatay, Nordic flavors, flowers, exotic garlic, flavored heat, pollen, sumac curry, and hyssop.
Fruit and vegetables track in with familiar items including grapefruit, coconut, citrus, berries, pumpkin, roots, chilies, and anything heirloom. On the exotic side is seen cupuacu, lucuma, hibiscus, yuzu, green papaya, sunchokes, wild greens, nopales and seaweed. Dairy remains quite grounded with Greek yogurt, farmstead cheese, ricotta and goat cheese on the familiar side, and Lebanese yogurt, paneer, plant based dairy and burrata on the experimental side.
Protein is bipolar with heritage, sardines, oysters, offal, beans, nut butters and meatballs on one side countered with goat and lamb bellies, bone marrow, blood, uni, fin to tail, insects, invasivors and anything that can kill you being cool on the other side. Grains act as the interpreters with the familiars being steel cut oats, quinoa, lentils, tortillas and waffles, whereas the experimental side contains bao, German breads, help, chia, global noodles, faro, grits and arepas.
And lastly, beverage familiars include culinary cocktails, micro distilled items, coconut, lemonade, ancient tea, moonshine and hand-crafted soda. The experimental face is represented by barrel aged cocktails, grower champagnes, Vietnamese coffee, aloe, sipping vinegar, kefir, grain based and aqua fresca.
Regarding cuisines, there are the Rock Stars and the Rising Stars. The Rock Stars are cuisines that already have strong momentum and include Soul Food / Deep Southern, common Asian such as Korean and Vietnamese, regional Mexican, South American with Peruvian being the standout, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Rising Stars include North Africa including Egypt and Morocco, the Caribbean and Pacific, less familiar Asian such as Nepalese and Indian, and Central American other than Mexican. 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 hyper regional 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.
As you move through your product development and innovation pathways, consider these potential game changers and trend shapers and how they may affect your strategy:
What adversary / allies exist in the trends path?
Are there any alliances which could propel trend?
What current or anticipated trends exist which could compete with trend?
What current or anticipated trends exist which could align/support trend?
Are there technologies to be taken advantage of?
Can you cross tie trend to other existing trends: Health, flavor, government, travel, consumer ties?
Could government intervene in trend? -- Think obesity, menu labeling.
When looking ahead, watch for these indicators which can be seen as forecast signals for upcoming directional changes:
Vegetarian / Flexitarian numbers will be linked directly to sustainability, obesity. When Sustainability and obesity interest is up, vegetarian/flexitarian is up;
Breakfast is the mealtime to watch for signals of economic recovery. If breakfast traffic is up, it's a sign the economy is up.
Higher food, gas prices shift consumers discretionary spending, but not optimism.
Beverage, meat, dessert categories act as barometers for consumer mood. Higher craft beer, wine, dessert and insect consumption is a recovery behavior. Cheap domestic beer and wine, lower dessert consumption and meatloaf equals recession behavior.
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.