Some 1,800 professional chefs surveyed by the National Restaurant Association identified locally sourced ingredients and healthier choices for kids as key trends for 2012. The American Culinary Federation members who participated in the annual survey also expect smartphone apps and tablet computers to make further inroads at restaurants.
The top 10 menu trends for next year will be:
1. locally sourced meats and seafood
2. locally grown produce
3. healthy kids’ meals
4. hyper-local items
5. sustainability as a culinary theme
6. children’s nutrition as a culinary theme
7. gluten-free/food alelergy-conscious items
8. locally produced wine and beer
9. sustainable seafood
10. whole grain items in kids’ meals
“The top menu trends we’re seeing in our…survey reflect the macro trends we have seen grow over the last several years,” says Joy Dubost, director of nutrition and healthy living for the association. “Nutrition—especially when it comes to children—is becoming a major focus for the nation’s nearly one million restaurants, in tune with consumers’ increasing interest in healthful eating.
“Local sourcing of everything—from meat and fish to produce to alcoholic beverages—is another big trend for 2012,” Dubost adds. “Local farms and food producers have become an important source of ingredients for chefs and restaurateurs wishing to support the members of their business community and highlight seasonal ingredients on menus.”
The 10 next most important trends predicted for 2012 include:
11. Newly fabricated cuts of meat
12. Farm/estate-branded items
13. Food trucks/street food
14. Artisan spirits
15. House-made/artisan ice cream
16. Health/nutrition as a culinary theme
17. Nontraditional fish
18. Fruit/vegetable kids’ side items
19. Children’s mini-meals (i.e., smaller versions of adult menu items)
20. Culinary cocktails
Two separate recent reports support the NRA findings. An American Express study found that more restaurant customers are choosing businesses that feature local and sustainable products. And a just-released report from Mintel notes that regional cooking and house-made items are rising in popularity.
ACF chefs were also asked to gauge the impact of various technologies. One quarter of them ranked smartphone apps as the hottest technology trend. Another quarter said the same about tablet computers. Some 16 percent predicted social media would continue to be the top trend; 16 percent said the same about mobile/wireless/pay-at-the-table technology.
Finally, more than 6 out of 10 chefs said they would consider launching a food truck.
The association surveyed 1,791 ACF member chefs in October-November 2011, asking them to rate 223 individual food items, beverages, cuisines and culinary themes as either a “hot trend,” “yesterday’s news” or “perennial favorite” on restaurant menus.