Back to the future

by Keith Nunes
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The transition from one year to the next traditionally leads to a plethora of predictions from industry research firms and trade associations about the key trends that may emerge during the next year. In 2010, it appears the top food service trends will focus on the past as a way to succeed in the future.

Technomic, Inc., the Chicago-based food service industry research firm, predicted the No. 1 food service trend in 2010 will be the re-emergence in demand for comfort foods.

“There will be more upscale comfort foods on menus with many simple foods that have a small number of ingredients,” Technomic said. “There will be fresh, premium and high-quality spins on familiar foods.”

Technomic’s take on the leading trend in 2010 ties into the conclusions of the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2010” survey of food service chefs.

“This is retro — it’s what we did in the past when chefs relied on local markets because we did not have the luxury of today’s transportation system,” said Michael Ty, president of the American Culinary Federation. “We are going back to our roots and the foundation of our craft that made it more pleasurable.”

“Classically simple” is how Mintel International Group Ltd., Chicago, defined the No. 1 menu trend in 2010. Through its Mintel Menu Insights service the research firm predicted chefs will feature classic combinations with “simple, pure ingredients.”

Mintel said in 2009 the top new menu item for chain restaurants was the burger and forecast nostalgic menu items such as bacon, lobster, classic cocktails, milk-and-cookies and even donut-hole desserts will emerge as menu favorites in 2010.

“Restaurants are redefining ‘value’ on the menu, moving away from the cost-savings that were so important earlier this year to incorporate high-quality ingredients, classic flavor combinations and authentic, old-fashioned preparations,” said Maria Caranfa, senior analyst for Mintel Menu Insights. “In 2010, we expect menus to go back to the basic roots of good food and drink.”

Ethnic continues to evolve

Ethnic cuisines have been a mainstay on food industry trends lists for a number of years, and predictions for 2010 indicate the presence of ethnic fare will continue to expand on food service menus. A study conducted by Mintel in 2009 showed that the sales of ethnic foods have climbed steadily since 2004 and the research firm estimated ethnic food sales, at both food service and retail would reach $2.2 billion in 2009.

Mexican/Hispanic foods represent the largest segment of the ethnic foods market with nearly 62% of sales, according to Mintel, and it noted Mexican food has become mainstream and hardly qualifies to be considered ethnic anymore.

For 2010, it is predicted food service operators will drill deeper into regional cuisines. South Korean foods, including Korean barbecue and Korean-style tacos, will become more popular, and other Southwest Asian foods will experience increased interest as well during 2010, according to Technomic. Overall, the research firm said there will be a continued emphasis on regional versions of ethnic cuisines, especially with Mexican and Italian foods.

In its trend predictions, Mintel said restaurant operators increasingly will pinpoint specific regions within countries such as Brazil and Morocco to develop unique menu items.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but while more diverse ethnic cuisines will emerge on food service menus, it also is predicted the ethnic dishes will be more frequently made with locally sourced ingredients. In an effort to promote their sustainable, local community involvement and to differentiate themselves, more food service operators will turn to locally sourced ingredients during 2010.

“With the First Lady now tending an official White House garden, look for more chefs to follow suit with proprietary herb or vegetable gardens,” Technomic said. “The emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients will grow and flower. Fascination with heirloom farm products — tomatoes to pork — will continue; by the 2010 holiday season look for a flap of interest in heirloom poultry breeds.”

The National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot” survey consisted of 1,854 participants who are members of the American Culinary Federation. Once the final results were tallied, the top three trends included locally grown produce, locally sourced meats and seafood, and sustainability.

“No one has a better view of restaurant menu trends than the chefs of the nation’s nearly one million restaurants, and that is why we survey these culinary professionals on what hot, new trends we’ll see in the coming year,” said Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive officer of the N.R.A. “The top trends this year — local sourcing, sustainability and nutrition — reflect wider societal trends and consumers’ growing interest in these issues. Many restaurants are sourcing some of their ingredients locally, and you often see chefs shopping at farmer’s markets to create a host of better-for-you options that today’s diners want.”

Mintel predicts “rustic” will be a food service buzzword during 2010 as chefs focus on providing artisan bread and cheeses and locally sourced produce and meats.

Beyond the top three trends

After comfort foods, regional ethnic cuisines and locally sourced ingredients, the 2010 menu predictions tend to diverge. Mintel researchers believe there will be an increase in the number of food service products licensed to retail.

“Half of Americans are spending less at restaurants because of the economy so it’s time for restaurants to come to them,” Mintel said.

Companies already participating in the trend include Burger King, Bob Evans Farms, California Pizza Kitchen and Starbucks Coffee Co. (See Food Business News of Dec. 8, 2009, Page 44.)

Technomic points to the emergence of breakfast foods available throughout the day as a key trend during 2010.

“As fast-food restaurants expand and upgrade their menus of budget-priced breakfast sandwiches and wraps, more full-service operators will be offering hearty brunch buffets well into the afternoon on weekends,” according to Technomic.

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