This past weekend I attended the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. After 25 years, I still come away amazed at the variety of foods and the passion of the producers.
Last year, Americans spent $677 billion on food from grocery stores and $641 billion in restaurants. For many years, foodservice grew faster as busy consumers paid restaurant operators to do more of their cooking. The current recession has seen retail take back the growth as unemployed and frugal consumers shopped more versus dined out. The Fancy Food Show is a chance to see consumer trends in retail and predict how foodservice may be impacted going forward. Here are a few:
Gluten-free — Unlike previous diet fads, gluten-free is here to stay. Low carb, fat-free etc. were trendy beliefs on best ways to manage weight; gluten-free affects people with Celiac disease who have a lifelong allergy to wheat products. Each year, more people are turning from wheat, whether doctor suggested or self-diagnosed. Many new product offerings at the show focused on gluten-free. I spoke with one marketer who told me that researchers have found that gluten in products enrobe the cells and block flavor, so gluten-free products actually taste BETTER. Pizza operators can gain lost customers by offering gluten-free crusts.
Coconut — In canned juice or as an ingredient, coconut is HOT. Years ago, pineapple on pizza seemed ridiculous. Curry and coconut milk as a pizza sauce has endless opportunities.
Vegetable and fruit oils — Olive oil is at the heart of good Italian cooking. You can expand flavor palates to include walnut oil, truffle oil, pumpkin seed, chili or tomato seed oil. Desserts with Cherry Pit Oil add new avenues to explore as well.
Beer as an ingredient — The micro-brew trend continues. Now beer is making its way into foods, such as Beer Flats Crackers. The crackers come in porter and pilsner flavors. I also saw Beer Candy and even Beer Jelly, which the booth personnel said tastes great on pancakes. Nothing satisfies like pizza and beer. Cook meats in beer and market to the over 21 crowd.
Heritage foods — Americans are rediscovering forgotten foods. Heritage tomatoes have gained attention recently; now look to heritage breeds of pig, chicken and fruits for new menu descriptions.
Salt and sweet — Salt has been available in sweets for several years; sea salt caramels and chocolates are everywhere. If you have not tried it, chocolate and bacon are a great combination, excite consumers with new combinations of sweet and salty to break them out of their same-old patterns.
Consumers want interesting new tastes. This is not just a FANCY trend, break your own molds and attract new customers with the latest trends from retail.
Ed Zimmerman is a pizza industry veteran and President of The Food Connector. His almost four decades of foodservice experience includes food manufacturing and distribution leadership, food industry technology, marketing services and restaurant and grocery operations management.