In a recent Institute of Food Technologists webinar, Elizabeth Sloan, president of Sloan Trends, and Catherine Adams Hutt, chief regulatory and science officer for Sloan Trends, discussed their Top 10 Food Trends 2015+. While some of the Sloan Trends list applies primarily to the retail sector, Sloan’s insights are relevant to foodservice as well. Here's the advice offered by Sloan and Hutt:
1. Recognize that fresh is an unstoppable trend. Sloan noted that the focus is on fresh rather than processed. Not surprisingly, 87 percent of consumers equate fresh with healthier. For restaurants, that means emphasizing seasonal produce, house-made ingredients and made-to-order specialties.
2. Cater to lifestyle logistics that affect eating behavior. Nearly half of all eating occasions are solo diners. Not only are family meals declining, 15 percent of all food and beverages are eaten within one hour of purchase. And last year, 23 percent of consumers brought lunch from home.
3. Offer menu choices that appeal to those on exclusion diets. A reported 31 percent of consumers have tried a specialized diet within the past year. Examples of exclusion diets include gluten-free, vegetarian, lactose free, raw/living foods, juice cleanse or detox diets and dairy-free.
4. Provide snack-worthy specialties. With snacks representing half of eating occasions, it may be time to overhaul that appetizer and snack menu. In addition, 28 percent of consumers eat four or five mini meals a day, which creates opportunities for small plates and appetizers.
5. Rethink natural to appeal to your customers. What are your customers looking for? With 29 percent buying more local, 29 percent buying more organic, 25 percent buying natural and 23 percent seeking out non-GMO, perhaps your menu offerings and descriptions should reflect these preferences.
6. Appeal to adventurous palates. Customers are embracing the discovery aspects of dining. One-third are more interested in global flavors than they were a year ago. Not only do ethnic cuisines remain hot, so do flavors such as harissa, aji, gochujang, yuzu, togarashi, peri peri, nut butters and savory jam. Lesser-known preparation techniques, including pickled, fermented, fire-roasted, smoked, sous vide and cast-iron cooked—are appealing as well.
7. Embrace whole-food nutrition. Whole grains, specialty grain side dishes, and root-to-bud vegetable preparations and nuts are all part of this trend. More restaurants are offering snacks and small plates featuring new spins on hummus, while ingredients such as quinoa, buckwheat and rice pastas are showing up on more menus.
8. Say good morning…with breakfast items that tap into other trends such as ethnic eats. According to the Packaged Facts 2014 report What America Eats, 44 percent of consumers said they had eaten breakfast in a quick-service restaurant during the past month, 39 percent in coffeehouses or doughnut shops, 32 percent in family restaurants and 15 percent in full-service restaurants. Spicing up breakfast with ethnic foods is changing the breakfast landscape.
9. Create new ways to attract diet- and nutrition-conscious consumers. With 53 percent of adults watching what they eat, salads and vegetable-centric dishes may be looking even more attractive to your customers in the future.
10. Recognize that convenience counts. As consumers gravitate towards “cook-less meals,” this lifestyle consideration has changed the definition of convenience. A primary focus is on foods that help consumers maintain healthy diets. Fresh convenience is a top growth trend, with 44 percent of consumers buying heat-and-eat items at retail delis and 57 percent purchasing ready-to-eat items like sandwiches, sushi or rotisserie chicken.