Freshness remains the most important food characteristics for all consumers, according to a recent Culinary Trend Tracking series from market researcher Packaged Facts.
The firm's consumer survey data from April 2016 show that freshness is the most important food characteristic to consumers across the board. More than non-GMO, more than local, organic or natural, more even than low price, consumers value freshness in food.
Within the produce category, Packaged Facts (www.packagedfacts.com) found six ingredients driving innovation in restaurants and retail.
Celery and fennel
Celery and fennel each offer multiple opportunities in both restaurants and retail because of their versatility and the ability to use all parts of the plants in various ways. Use of fennel, in particular, is spreading rapidly in casual dining and fast casual restaurants. And both celery and fennel offer options for those looking for a brighter flavor and color during the winter months. Treating both vegetables as value-added products in grocery stores by displaying all the various parts together bulb, root, stem, leaves, even seeds and pollen draws and educates shoppers eager for new kitchen adventures.
Mint can work miracles on menus. Beyond mint jelly with lamb chops, beyond tea and juleps and mojitos, fresh mint is enlivening appetizers, sandwiches, salads, relishes and salsas, and other savory dishes. Further, channeling the spirit of international cuisines is one of the best things spices and herbs like mint can do for food. With mint part of the arsenal of so many different on-trend cuisines, from Vietnamese to Mediterranean to Mexican, it's not surprising that chains are starting to pick up the trend, using mint as a kind of shorthand for authenticity.
Highly adaptable in the supermarket environment, the radish is a traditional salad bar item that can double as a value-added vegetable or a roast chicken accompaniment. Fast-casual restaurants can take a cue from food trucks and juice bars by adding a peppery punch of radish to everything from fish tacos to breakfast smoothies.
The world of specialty salad greens, including not only lettuces but also herbs such as sorrel and the many varieties of microgreens, is growing by leaps and bounds. Specialty salad greens add flavor, texture, color and value not only to salads, but also to small plates, as side-salad garnishes for appetizers and entrees, in sandwiches, and in other menu applications. Their availability is also growing at retail, particularly in the area of specialty mixes.
Emerging specialty peppers
More consumers are seeking new and bold flavors in the form of products like specialty peppers. And as consumer interest in ethnic foods and hot, spicy flavors continues to grow, lesser-known peppers are moving into the mainstream. Three of these newly "hot" hot pepper varieties are shishito, peppadew and ghost pepper (bhut jolokia). It's safe to assume that these peppers will continue to infiltrate mainstream menus and retailers, cropping up in more varied applications, such as soups, relishes and sauces, entrees and side dishes.
Cocktail Bar Fruit
All kinds of fruit are popular in cocktails, but consumers are increasingly interested in fresh, local ingredients, as well as internationally inspired beverages. Focusing beverage menus on farm-to-glass offerings appeals to food-savvy customers (i.e., millennials and Hispanics) and boosts premium alcohol sales. In addition, as spirits continue to grow in market share against beer and wine, cocktail culture is becoming more influential, providing new opportunities for fruit of all types to get in on the party.