Trends to watch during 2009

by Keith Nunes
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KANSAS CITY — The end of each year features a bevy of predictions issued by trade associations and market research groups. Each group has its own methodology and attempts to ascertain the trends that will shape consumer purchasing patterns throughout the year. The following is a compilation of 2009 trends as predicted by the National Restaurant Association, Mintel International and Datamonitor’s Product Launch Analytics.

Nutrition and philosophy-driven choices will be the major trends on restaurant menus in 2009, according to a National Restaurant Association survey of chefs. Given these trends, local produce, bite-size desserts, organics, healthy children’s meals and new cuts of meat are on the top of the association’s third annual "What’s Hot" chef survey.

Other high-ranking trends include children’s vegetable/fruit side dishes, superfruits, and sustainable seafood.

"Creativity has always been a hallmark of professional chefs," said Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive officer of the N.R.A. Washington. "Today’s marketplace offers more options than ever before. As the wider trend of health continues to grow, the trend of choosing certain foods to follow one’s personal philosophy has also gained momentum in the culinary world. As interest in food and the culinary arts grows in the United States, consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about the food they eat and chefs are putting their enormous talents to work to fulfill the demand for dishes that follow these trends."

Illustrating the impact of nutrition and health as a theme, nutritionally balanced children’s dishes and side items, produce and fruit items, smaller dishes, fish and gluten-free/allergy-conscious meals were all seen as important by the chefs surveyed. An emphasis on local sourcing, organics, artisanal items, sustainable seafood and free-range pork-poultry are all factors that are a part of the trend toward philosophy-driven food choices.

The recession’s impact

Comfort food, fresh ingredients, Mediterranean food and storytelling are trends that will influence the food service segment in 2009, according to Mintel Menu Insights, Chicago.

Mintel said comfort food is often what people crave when they are feeling down, and in the current state of the economy people will look for warm, familiar favorites on the menu in the next year. Restaurants will appeal to this desire by increasing the use of slow-cooking with slow-baked, slow-grilled, braised and poached becoming the preparation methods of choice.

Fresh, natural and pure items are coming onto menus with rapid speed, with "fresh" labeling having increased 22% since early 2006.

Even though Mediterranean food is already popular, restaurants will expand their offerings beyond the familiar tapas, gyros and hummus. In fact, menus will begin to connect the country of origin with the food as in the case with Spanish olives, Greek cheese and Middle Eastern yogurt sauce.

In addition, with all of the negative news about the economy and obesity rates, restaurants will try to bring some positive news to the mix by talking about food preparation, health benefits and origin of foods.

"This recession will persist into early 2009 — and potentially much longer — so restaurants need to be ready for customers who feel tired, overwhelmed and tapped out financially," said Maria Caranfa, director of Mintel Menu Insights. "Food service leaders need to find innovative methods, enticing entrees and fun, new preparations to keep people excited about going out to eat."

C.P.G. trends on the horizon

Nuts, relaxation, and stevia are all trends that will influence the food and beverage market in the coming year, according to Datamonitor, Naples, N.Y.

Datamonitor has announced trends that will impact the consumer packaged goods market in the coming year, and they include:

• Nuts about nuts (and seeds) — It used to be consumers were told to avoid nuts, but this notion has been reversed and nuts are now seen as high in nutrition and are showing up in more new product launches. Seeds, including flax seed, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, are showing up in more launches as well.

• Don’t energize, relax — Products such as Drank Relaxed Energy Beverage and Purple Stuff Pro-Relaxation & Calming Elixir are some of the products on the market emphasizing the need to de-caffeinate and de-stress.

• Beauty you can eat or drink — Specially formulated foods and drinks with beauty benefits have gained the attention of brands such as Nestle and Masterfoods with Nestle’s Glowelle Beauty Drink Supplement Powder and Masterfoods’ Dove Beautiful Milk Chocolate. More similar products will be introduced to the market.

• Steam it up — Steam and steam cooking are becoming popular especially in the frozen food market with products such as Healthy Choice Café Steamers, Dole Easy Steamer Potatoes and Birds Eye Steamfresh Specially Seasoned Rice.

• Detox me — Consumers are looking to rid themselves of toxins in their body through products such as Function Urban Detox Goji Berry Drink.

• Stevia is here — The zero-calorie sweetener has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in foods. Both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have developed products using the sweetener.

• It’s an "eco" friendly world — Despite the economy, companies and consumers desire products perceived to be environmentally friendly, and such product introductions are on the rise.

• Flower power — Flavors such as lavender, hibiscus and jasmine have made their way to foods and beverages with products such as OOBA Sparkling Refreshing Hibiscus Beverage and Lavender-Jalapeno flavored Theo Caramel Collection Chocolates.

• Brain power — DHA omega-3 fatty acids are working their way into all sorts of products, and mentions of the word "brain" in new food and beverage products worldwide has nearly tripled in the 2007-2008 period compared with the 2005-2006 period, according to Datamonitor’s Product Launch Analytics.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, December 23, 2008, starting on Page 15. Click here to search that archive.

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