CHICAGO—The Food Channel®, in conjunction with CultureWaves®, has identified the Top Ten Food Trends for 2014, detailing emerging flavor, menu and food and beverage trends to satisfy evolving consumer demands.
1. The Midwestern Food Movement—This is all about farm fresh and local taken to the next level, using the types of food readily available in the Midwest. Expect to see more Midwestern style cooking in this true food movement, as more chefs discover and put their own twists on some traditional foods that Midwesterners have kept secret for all these years. In fact, chefs are beginning to focus on the ingredients available in the Midwest and doing interesting things with root vegetables, steaks and more.
2. Low Tea—Those who have found more frequent small meals suit them better than three heavy meals a day have added afternoon tea for a quick pick-up meal, called "low tea." Low tea is a light meal or snack, usually served around 4 p.m., and often shared with guests. This “extra" meal is considered a follow-up to brunch by some, since teatime recipes are often downsized brunch concepts.
3. Distracted Dining—Restaurants are beginning to put menu items into forms that accommodate the cell phone obsessed—so you can eat with one hand, while the other holds the phone. Sandwiches, wraps, small bites are all sticking to the menu and growing because they don’t require two-fisted dining. These restaurants have given up the fight to have people concentrate on their food (or on their companion) and are bowing to the pressure to make it more convenient to eat and not run. On the other hand, some restaurants are creating “no cell phone" zones. But to accommodate the masses, restaurants will likely cater more to the multi-tasking.
4. Bread Rises to the Top—As we look at the overarching trend, it’s about the flavor experience of bread and how it’s moving more to the center of the plate. Expect breads in more flavors, more forms, and dipped in more than just egg batter in the future. Some of this is led by a return to home baked bread, but it goes beyond that to bread with benefits (flaxseed, anyone?), salted bread, flavored breads and bread as the main course. Instead of being a carrier, bread is now surrounding itself with a variety of proteins and flavors. Bread salad, breaded meatballs and meatloaf, bread pudding, muffin cups, flatbread pizzas, stuffing casseroles—all of these are making us rethink how bread impacts a meal.
5. Investing in Food—The financial community has begun to take notice, with restaurant investments becoming hot property and restaurant stocks soaring. The overarching trend here goes beyond investing and is more about the way the food world has begun building trust—those in the food business take it seriously. After all, one attack of food poisoning can hurt a restaurant’s image irretrievably. Further, great restaurateurs are finding ways to entertain, without having to give up their restaurant in the process—they are more believable because they continue to invest in the passion that made them popular in the first place. Consumers have found “brand sanctuary" and are placing their trust in something they understand.
6. Ethnic Inspired—Indian cuisine is under the trends scope—but this is not meant to designate ethnic Indian food as much as it is a call out of the flavors. Think curry, coconut, ginger, garlic and more. The flavor profiles of India are becoming more popular, which perhaps is part of the globalization of food. It’s not really a homogenized melting pot, although these foods are finding some Americanized forms. We expect to see more global flavors, forms, and more and more “melting pot" foods, but foods that retain the authentic flavors and forms of a global society. Start with India, and see where it goes.
7. Hybridization of Food—Enter a new mashup—what Food Channel calls the Hybridization of Food, enhancing protein with vegetables. Mushrooms in the meat, for example. FLIP Burger Boutique in Atlanta has gone so far as to call it “earth and turf."
8. Small Scale Molecular Gastronomy—Both brining and pickling create chemical changes in the food, which can bring about new flavors. While turkey brining has picked up interest over the last few years, pickling is gaining momentum, too. And it’s not just cucumbers—it’s pickled fruit, pickled onions, shrimp and the full range of pickled vegetables. Glazing has picked up steam, too—just another example of the desire to change up food and give it a different flavor, texture, or even color.
9. Personal Shopping—Whether it’s app-enabled or not, there's an increase in having someone else do the shopping. Local grocery stores offer apps to help select items, then they pull them off the shelves, bag them up, and deliver them. Consumers can shop online and have fresh food delivered overnight. For some, personal shopping is becoming a necessity. As the population ages, more people require assistance, meaning the stores will begin to accommodate it on a more universal level. People want delivery in urban areas of more than pizza—they want meals, they want groceries, and they feel entitled to customization, just like they see in urban cities. And, they are willing to pay the price.
10. Craft Everything—The packaging level is going to move “craft" beyond small batch production into something bigger. Expect to see the return of beer in cans, for example. While the traditional thinking has been that you can’t “do craft" in anything but bottles, it benefits the brewer’s bottom line and so far no one is crying out about taste differences. More interesting packaging is on the horizon, along with more in the way of beer pairings.