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10 Trends to Watch in 2016

SHAPE January 2016

 

As the new year rolls in, restaurateurs and suppliers alike are searching for clues to help them identify the next big trends that will drive future business. This year industry pundits focus on a range of topics — some newly emerging, others gaining greater momentum. Among the top 10 are the growing demand for clear labels; the revival of an old favorite, fried chicken; the heating up of American tastebuds; the escalation of the breakfast wars; and the increasing lure of regional Asian cuisines. The following 10 trends are worth watching in 2016.

1. Get Real
The amped-up demand among Americans for more transparency in their foods and beverages are inducing restaurateurs and manufacturers to jettison artificial additives, chemicals and preservatives in favor of “real,” easily identifiable ingredients. A study conducted by research firm Mintel found that 43 percent of those individuals polled “agree that 'free-from foods' are healthier than foods without a 'free-from' claim. Increasingly, consumers want to see more “natural” ingredients on menus and retail packaged products, and will likely seek out restaurateurs and suppliers that give them what they want.

2. Some Like It Hot
Americans' love affair with spicy, fiery foods is expected to continue to heat up in 2016, says Andrew Freeman, founder of San Francisco consultancy Andrew Freeman & Co. Chefs and restaurateurs are ratcheting up the heat index for many items on their menus, including appetizers, entrées, desserts and even beverages — stoked by a variety of heat-seeking chili peppers and the ever-present sriracha sauce. And, the Huffington Post reports, spicy, hot foods may not only taste great, but they may be good for you as well by helping to reduce cravings for fatty, salty and sweet foods.

3. Fried Chicken Takes Wing
Never really in danger of flying the coop, fried chicken nevertheless is feeling a renewed wind beneath its wings these days as restaurateurs devise new ways to prepare and present it. Fueled by the increasingly popular chicken-and-waffles mashup, the favorite American comfort food is showing up on menus in a wide variety of offerings, from traditional, authentic southern fare to globally influenced variations employing a wide range of spices. Arlene Spiegel of Arlene Spiegel and Associates in New York called fried chicken sandwiches “the buzz food of 2016.”

4. Waking Up to Opportunity
The quick-service breakfast wars will escalate in 2016. With many experts still maintaining that the breakfast market remains undertapped, operators see opportunity to stake out a lucrative daypart business by offering early morning menu selections that provide an operation with a unique selling point — think ethnic, like breakfast burritos. However, Dennis Lombardi, president of Insight Dynamics LLC, in Columbus, Ohio, cautions that building a breakfast business can be difficult. When it comes to breakfast, he says, people are habitual in what they order and where they take their business, so it can take time.

5. Vegetables Take Center Stage
While the U.S. is undeniably a meat-centric culture when it comes to dining preferences, Americans are increasingly making more room on their plates for vegetables. Innovative chefs and “vegetable butchers” are demonstrating that the old plate of steamed, gray vegetables is dead — replaced by appealing preparations that position a variety of fresh vegetables in the center-of-the-plate. While chefs are grilling, roasting and sautéeing vegetables, other preparation techniques including fermentation, dehydration and pickling are allowing them to present veggies in new and interesting ways. “Vegetables are not second-class citizens anymore,” says Arlene Spiegel.

6. Lobster Rolls Rock
Long a seasonal staple of New England eateries — both for quick-service and high-end restaurants — the indulgent lobster roll is rocking menus across the country. While traditional lobster rolls made with chopped lobster meat, mayo and cucumber, and served on a steamed bun are popular, chefs are taking the menu item a few bold steps further by adding such ethnic twists as Cajun spices or marinara sauce. A restaurant in Massachusetts even serves lobster on a brioche-based donut.

7. East Heads West
Americans' appreciation of Asian fare is encouraging chefs and restaurateurs to take a deeper dive into the culinary styles of specific areas of countries like Japan, China, Thailand, India and others — much the same way European cuisines like French and Italian have been presented regionally here. The specialization of such restaurants will lead to the expansion of ramen shops and other niche pockets of Asian fare, experts predict. Dennis Lombardi also forecasts the expansion of fast-casual Korean concepts featuring different kinds of bowls, sandwiches, salads and rolls.

8. Sugar and Spice
Michael Whiteman of the Baum+Whiteman consultancy in New York says foodservice and hotel operators looking to identify future snack trends need look no further than their supermarket shelves. Retail sales trends reveal a transition from sweet to savory snacks — or, more likely, toward a combination of both. Even when a snack item contains sugar, it is often teamed up with spicy elements, like chili-spiked honey. Consumers, Whiteman says, are leaning toward spicy-salty-savory ethnic snacks, like hummus variations, flavored popcorn, and chili-citrus potato chips. Savory yogurts also are finding an audience in the snack marketplace.

9. Culinary Consciousness
Sustainability will continue to gain traction in professional kitchens in 2016. While the movement seeks to protect the environment, it encompasses a wide range of issues including energy and water usage, food waste, composting, local sourcing, responsible land and sea stewardship and even menu transparency. According to the National Restaurant Association's What's Hot 2016 Culinary Forecast, chefs ranked three sustainability concerns in the annual forecast's Top 20 list — Environmental sustainability, No. 6; Sustainable seafood, No. 9; and Food Waste Reduction/Management, No. 19. In fact, 74 percent of the 1,600 chefs polled for the study said environmental sustainability would be a “Hot Trend” in 2016.

10. Hot and Cold
Chef Thomas Vaccaro, dean of baking and pastry arts at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., predicts that the pairing of ingredients served at different temperatures will heat up dessert menus in 2016. Vaccaro forecasts that chefs and restaurateurs will be offering warm desserts with a cold or even a frozen ingredient. He mentions, as an example, a warm winter spice custard flavored with espresso or latte combined with brown butter ice cream. The warmth of the custard is a perfect foil to the cold, flavorful ice cream, Vaccaro says. The warm-and-chilled pairing of elements also can be applied to snack items.

 

  

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