This is part of Nation’s Restaurant News' special coverage of the 2017 MUFSO conference, taking place Oct. 1-3 at the Hyatt Regency at Reunion Tower in Dallas. Follow coverage of the event on NRN.com and tweet with us using #MUFSO. Stay connected on the go by downloading the MUFSO app.
As American consumers continue to plot their own individual paths to healthy lives, restaurant operators have moved to meet their demands for cleaner labels and sustainably raised food, with the help of suppliers who have developed better-tasting products that are meeting an ever-changing array of demands from the public.
All of that was on display at MUFSO.
In her annual State of the Plate presentation, Nancy Kruse noted that consumers, rather than responding to government directives on what they should or shouldn’t eat, are practicing what she called “do-it-yourself wellness.”
Citing data from Mintel and Restaurant Hospitality, 84 percent of Americans are seeking more natural, less processed foods, and Kruse noted that a majority of people surveyed, 59 percent, equate food with fewer ingredients as being “more healthful.”
She noted that the three biggest trends of the past decade have been clean labels, food that’s “free-from” a variety of things such as artificial color or antibiotics, and “animal friendly” items that are either meatless or come from animals seen as having been raised ethically.
“Consumers tend to conflate clean and free-from and animal welfare-related as interchangeable,” she observed.
Overall, that has meant a move toward more meatless options, even though the percentage of the population that is vegetarian or vegan hasn’t gone up.
She said more consumers are “flexitarians” — sometimes eating meat and sometimes not — or “reducetarians” who are trying to lower their carbon footprint.
To illustrate the growing importance of vegetables, Kruse cited chains including California Pizza Kitchen and Zoë’s Kitchen offering cauliflower dishes. She also observed that Beefsteak restaurant (named for the tomato variety), one of José Andrés’ concepts, appointed a “chief of produce.”
As far as national cuisines go, Kruse said that the “big three” — Italian, Mexican and Chinese — are giving way to a “vast global pantry,” paving the way, for example, for Indian dishes, and an explosion of Japanese noodle offerings, including mostly ramen, but also udon and soba.
She also pointed to a growth of breaded, fried meat, or schnitzel (particularly the katsu, the Japanese version of it) and more exotic meats, including wild boar on the Luau Pizza at Ledo Pizza, a 50-unit chain based in Maryland, Chengdu-spiced lamb at P.F. Chang’s, and a very limited-time offer of a venison sandwich last year at Arby’s — available at 17 restaurants for one day each.
Culinary variety was on display at the Hot Concepts awards, where one of the winners, Columbus, Ohio-based Bibibop, served its signature Korean dish bibimbop, and New Bohemia, based in Minneapolis, dished up beer bratwurst made by emulsifying the meat with beer from a neighboring Minneapolis brewery, pointing to the trend of using local ingredients.
Flower Child, a Hot Concept based in Scottsdale, Ariz., hit on two trends in one dish, serving poke, the increasingly popular Hawaiian raw fish preparation, but substituted fish for beets.
Probably the hottest trend on the floor at the Supplier Exchange, MUFSO’s annual trade show, was cold brew coffee, on display at S&D Coffee & Tea’s booth, as well as at Copper Moon World Coffees and others, while Royal Cup highlighted a single-origin coffee — another big trend — from the Mexican region of Chiapas using the increasingly popular pour-over preparation method.
Solutions for consumers in a hurry were on display at Sweet Street’s booth, including cake bites and dipping sauces served in a two-compartment container designed to fit in a car’s cup holder.
Gwen Brannon, director, foundational platform, knowledge & insights for The Coca-Cola Company, who presented consumer insights at MUFSO, said people’s cars are an important dining venue, noting that, on eating occasions in which convenience is the most important factor, 34 percent of consumers eat their meal in an automobile.
Free-from options were especially prevalent when it came to cheese and cheese substitutes at the Supplier Exchange, including Daiya products, which are dairy-free, and Supremo Mexican cheese, which displayed melting cheeses that are 99.5 percent free of lactose — achieved by using a microbial rennet that breaks down lactose. Kerry Inc., meanwhile had clean-label cheese sauce that it served over soy-based “plant-based protein shreds.”
Turkey supplier Jennie-O displayed its growing line — now up to 15 items — of products from turkey not treated with antibiotics. Highlighting the continuing popularity of Sriracha sauce, it served attendees a Sriracha Caesar turkey salad.
Sustainable seafood, both wild and farm-raised, was discussed in a panel titled “Everything You Need to Know about Sourcing: Trends, Prices and Marketing Techniques.” The Supplier Exchange provided to access to both, with farm-raised salmon, tilapia and barramundi on display while Sea To Table promised to connect operators with fisherman.
Casual talk during MUFSO indicated that several operators were concerned about increased difficulty in sourcing clams. At the Supplier Exchange, Pacific Seafood, a vertically integrated supplier with its own boats, farms and processing facilities, is seeking to address that issue by cultivating clams, while Seascape, which makes custom breaded seafood, was working on an alternative with fried breaded mussels, which the exhibitor said was currently in development.
One final trend: Peanut Butter & Co., exhibiting its product dispensed from a pump, said a lot of their customers were seeing an upsurge in peanut butter toast.
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary
The MUFSO Premier sponsor is The Coca Cola Company
Presenting sponsors are: Blount Fine Foods, The Coca Cola Company, UNiDAYS
Kitchen Hero Cook-Off is presented by Texas Pete/TW Garner Food Company
The Hot Concepts Reception is sponsored by Rock & Brews
The Industry Awards Gala is sponsored by Tyson Foods, Daiya Foods, Natural brands
Pillar sponsors are: Alchemy Systems, Bloom Intelligence, Boylan Bottling, Cardlytics, Mainstreet, Inc., Nudge Rewards, S&D Coffee, Smithfield Farmland Foodservice, Sweet Street, Weston Foods, Zenput
The MUFSO app sponsor is Steritech
Refreshment breaks are sponsored by Blount Fine Foods, Boylan Bottling, Royal Cup Coffee, Smithfield Farmland Foodservice, Sweet Street, Ventura Foods, and Weston Foods
The Supplier Exchange Luncheon is sponsored by Hale & Hearty, Bruce Cost Ginger Ale and Copper Moon Coffee
The Lanyard & Welcome package is sponsored by Hospitality Mints
MUFSO Breakfast sponsors are Moore’s Food Resources, Community Coffee and Natural Brands
VIP Dinner sponsored by Moment Feed, Pan Pacific Plastics and Rotella’s Bakery
The official music sponsor is Rockbot
Correction: Oct. 4, 2017 An earlier version of this story misspelled Gwen Brannon's last name. It has been updated.