Crisp Culinary Connection in 2016

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With the first half of 2016 behind us, this year’s culinary food and beverage trends have come into focus. Some are brand new, while others act as continuations of movements that have been developing over a multitude of years. One thing they all have in common is that they are significantly impacting an segment of the industry as it quickly expands.
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Innovation and creativity continue to maintain a key role. Chefs, restaurateurs and hoteliers are both challenging and satisfying hungry customers with inspired re-imaginings of traditional dishes and iconic cultural cuisines. Healthy alternatives and organic ingredients continue to gain traction as the willingness to experiment—both on the part of chefs and diners—is made indubitably clear.

Vegetable as a Star

A growing numbers of consumers no longer need to be encouraged by their parents to “eat their veggies,” as plant-based dishes to have reached a tipping point. In a fairly dramatic role reversal, vegetables are starting to push animal protein to the side, relegating traditional main courses into side dishes or complementary flavor/texture accents. This could be attributed, in part, to the growing concerns about meat quality and safety with one third of American shoppers agreeing they are more worried about food safety today than they were a year ago (according to a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted by Daymon Worldwide).

Alternatively, the rise of the vegetable on the modern plate is part of a larger movement toward healthier eating that stands alone. We’re seeing veggies become the centerpiece of the meal as “root to stem” and “vegetable forward” dining gain momentum. It’s clear that these drastic shifts do not favor only vegetarians. Vegetable appetizers are particularly prevalent and popular, lending  themselves to an expanse of creativity and experimentation. The seasonal nature of fresh veggies, with a rotating cast of in-season favorites making for a varied and delicious progression of dishes throughout the year, is another appealing aspect of the emergence of vegetables on menus across the country.

Unblemished Foods

The organic trend is hardly new to 2016, but it is worth noting that we continue to see a strong push toward easily accessible healthy, natural, and organic options. Shoppers and diners remain worried about chemicals, additives, GMOs, and artificial ingredients, which has translated into a shift in the way that dining and spending decisions are made. This gradual change has rewarded organic menu items and dining concepts, while alienating limited offerings that ignore the trend. In a recent survey, 40 percent of consumers reported that the use of all natural ingredients in food is very important to them, echoed with resounding agreement by chefs and restaurants worldwide. Fast, casual, and convenience brands are not immune to this shift: names like Chipotle, Panera Bread, Subway, McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts have all taken steps to purify their menus. From new dishes to entirely new dining concepts, organic is on a seemingly unstoppable rise.

Eco-Friendly and Social Consciousness

Consumers are not just looking for good things on their plate, they are also raising their expectations with respect to the policies and practices of restaurants, hotels and food suppliers. Diners are rewarding brands that have prioritized water conservation, humane treatment of animals (and employees!), regulation of waste, and other eco-social issues to meet the demands of the generation’s increasing awareness.

Flavorful Snacking

Notions of a rigid three-meals-a-day model and the previously suspected dangers of snacking are fast becoming antiquated concepts. The growing recognition that eating more often can actually be healthy is contributing to an industrywide refocus on snacks and smaller portioned meals. More Americans are snacking with increased frequency, enjoying healthy refreshments with new and interesting flavors and textures. Different, sometimes unconventional, flavor combinations are making their way onto the scene, like dried and crunchy peas or edamame. In general, high-carb offerings are shifting to protein rich selections, sweets are giving way to spicy, salty, savory and even sour snack options. One of the most popular concepts is the acai bowl, essentially a healthy “smoothie in a bowl”. Made from acai pulp, milk, banana, bits of other fruits and lots of ice, along with a selection of topping choices that include things like chocolate chips, coconut flakes and peanuts, acai bowls are packed with both nutritious goodies and plenty of flavor. As we witness an increase in small plate offerings on menus, understand that it is not only an opportunity for costumers to peck rather than order a large meal, but to share with their companions for a more active dining experience.

Seasonal Variation

Foodie culture has begun to seep into our collective consciousness. With more refined palettes and higher expectations, creativity and menus that adapt seasonally are owning more weight in the game. Summer, for example, means BBQ time, which adds a whole new component to dining. Take stereotypically boring foods like Brussel sprouts; throw them on the grill and they take on a completely different flavor and identity for those consuming them. Summer also allows you to introduce fun and refreshing seasonal drink complements from classics like margaritas, mint juleps, and mojitos to unique cocktails, craft beers, and fresh pressed fruit and vegetable concoctions.

Revitalized Cuisines and Concepts

Chefs at restaurants and hotels around the country are embracing a range of traditional foods in a refreshed way—using cultural traditions to inform their menu choices with concepts that include both faithful recreations and creative interpretations of longtime favorites. On some level, it’s about culinary storytelling and exploration, celebrating both the old and the new in exciting and delicious ways. In fact, according to the 2016 Food Travel Monitor study, 81 percent of the 2,527 respondents believe that eating and drinking help in understanding the culture at hand. Modern Jewish cooking is a great example of this kind of “heritage cuisine”, as is Poke, a traditional Hawaii cuisine made by chopping or cubing raw fish in a blend of marinade, spices and seasonings, and before serving over flavored rice. Already commonplace in New York and LA, fast-casual Poke has recently entered Chicago with the opening of FireFin Poké Shop and Aloha Poke Co, and is soon to sweep the nation.

Digitalization

In 2016, tech-driven food ordering and delivery will continue to expand on a large scale. Delivery services and non-traditional providers are quickly becoming a big disrupter in the industry. Acting as a middleman between the customers and restaurants, these new services, such as UberEats, which provides high-speed delivery from restaurants, and Google and Amazon that are now delivering groceries, allow people to stay at home instead of going out to eat. The concern for restaurants and hotels is that they may begin to lose control of both the messaging and the marketplace, allowing outside agencies to influence their operation. Another popular concept is subscription-based food delivery brands (such as Blue Apron), with pre-portioned ingredients and recipes sent right to the doors of consumers.

On the Outs

Any effective discussion about what’s “in” also needs to touch on what’s “out.” Ultimately, understanding what consumers are moving away from can tell us just as much as what they are embracing. The “deconstructed” trend (the idea of breaking apart elements traditionally combined together to make a dish, and serving the items separately in a unique way) seems to be waning, part of a natural response to a trend that had almost begun to parody itself. Additionally, in a more surprising turn of events, pasta might be slipping in popularity. A Baum + Whiteman article about 2016 F&B trends in restaurants and hotels, points out that pasta sales dropped 13 percent in Europe and 25 percent in Italy over the last five years. Here in the U.S., pasta is down a more modest 6 percent, as Americans eschew carbs/gluten and embrace proteins. Paleo diets and other carb-light approaches play a part in the decline of this filling staple. In an attempt to dissuade further ruin, vegetable alternatives like spaghetti squash are on the rise and more pasta dishes are starting to be especially heavy-handed with the vegetables, while lighter with the noodles themselves.

Attracting the Culinary Traveler

Leisure travelers are proactively seeking unique and memorable food and beverage experiences while traveling. According to the 2016 Food Travel Monitor study, this group of individuals is referred to as “Culinary Travelers”. The study defines Culinary Travelers as leisure travelers that have both participated in a unique or memorable food or drink experience on a recent trip and for whom food or drink experiences are a prime motivator in choosing a destination. There is such a large Culinary Traveler demographic, that it is becoming more and more of a necessity for all hospitality establishments to keep up with trends and incorporate matchless food and beverage options into their menus.

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