The trend trackers who work at communications giant Publicis are charged with producing a yearly forecast that lets the firm's branded and commodity food clients know what’s coming next. That they do, but the version they make public also provides plenty of insight for full-service restaurant operators.
One general theme the Publicis food wizards see emerging this year is that the overall pace of food innovation will pick up. “We see social media as a food trend accelerator, permitting new foods and food ideas issues to be quickly popularized,” says Joy Blakeslee, the registered dietitian who directs what is formally known as the MSLGROUP North America Culinary & Nutrition Center.
Keeping in mind that this list is meant to address many food industry segments, not just restaurants, here are the MSLGROUP's Top 10 food trend predictions for 2013.
1. Coffee: Stronger than ever. As the #1 source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet, coffee is still buzz-worthy. Coffee is noteworthy for a wealth of recent positive health research, near ubiquitous demographic appeal, and greater than 100% recent growth in the single-serve coffee category.
2. Trendy preservation. Cured, brined, pickled and fermented items are popping up on restaurant menus and in upscale groceries. Look for Korean kimchi, brined Moroccan lemons, citrus cured Peruvian ceviche, and pickled Mexican carrots. Turns out "fresh" isn't the "be-all, end-all." Can a revival of frozen foods be far behind?
3. Stealthy healthy. Food scientists and chefs are stirring up palate pleasing salt alternatives, healthier types of fats and new natural no-calorie sweeteners like monk fruit. These ingredients will create better-for-you packaged foods that taste-sensitive consumers won't even notice.
4. Wine-in-a-box gone wild. Boxed wine offers savings thanks to lower shipping costs, and it eliminates the risk of oxidation found in "corked" wine. Expect higher quality wine producers to join the pack and single-serve options to multiply in order to cater to Millennials and the vast solo household market.
5. Fantasy food sharing. "Here, have a bite" once meant sharing food. Now we're sharing bytes by the billions as food photo sharing skyrockets on social media sites like Pinterest (where food pins trump all other categories), Taste Spotting and Food Gawker. The "connected table" trend of 2012 continues to grow in 2013.
6. No-facts-barred food labeling. Food and politics will continue to collide as consumers advocate for right-to-know food labeling transparency and ingredient disclosure around issues such as biotechnology and origin.
7. Protein on the go. With snacks now accounting for half of all meal occasions, look for an explosion of protein-fortified bars, beverages and salty snacks (such as bean chips). Next up: High-protein products specially formulated for men and women.
8. Bitter flavors. Bitterness adds balance, complexity and sophistication to foods and beverages. It's a grown-up taste that's often a mark of antioxidants. Find it naturally present in whole foods such as endive and salad greens or in beverages such as coffee, cocktail bitters or liquors. A bellwether: Sales of famously bitter Campari liquor are already up by 16 percent since last year!
9. Off with the white table cloth! The casualization of dining will expand as gourmet street food and food truck fare influence sit-down dining menus. People want more casual experiences, even at higher price points.
10. Coconut crazy. Workout junkies love the natural electrolytes found in coconut water, while dairy avoiders are taking to creamy coconut milk beverages. Natural foods retailers are now even stocking up on coconut oil -- it's highly saturated but proponents claim it somehow "burns fat." And that's why we call it a craze.
It’s a well-reasoned list. In fact, several of theses trends—bitter flavors and trendy preservation—are already at work in many full-service restaurants. Keep these two and several of the others in mind when it’s time to tweak your menu this year.