Fresh produce
Packaged Facts' consumer survey data found that freshness is the most important food characteristic to consumers.

ROCKVILLE, MD. — Freshness is at the forefront of consumers’ minds when choosing food, according to the market research company Packaged Facts. The company’s consumer survey data found that, across the board, freshness is the most important food characteristic to consumers.

The fondness for fresh is driving innovation in restaurants and retail, according to Packaged Facts’ recent report, Garden and Grove: Culinary Trend Tracking Series. Six standout fresh ingredients are leading the charge.

Celery and fennel salad
Celery and fennel are popular in salads separately or together.

Celery and fennel are spreading rapidly in casual dining and fast casual restaurants. Both offer versatility and the ability to use all parts of the plants in various ways, as well as add brighter flavor and color during the winter months.

“Treating both vegetables as value-added products in grocery stores by displaying all the various parts together  —  bulb, root, stem, leaves, even seeds and pollen — draws and educates shoppers eager for new kitchen adventures,” Packaged Facts said.

Mint and pineapple salsa
Fresh mint is popping up everywhere from sandwiches to salsas.

Fresh mint is livening appetizers, sandwiches, salads, relishes and salsas, and it’s bringing an international flair to savory dishes.

“With mint part of the arsenal of so many different on-trend cuisines — from Vietnamese to Mediterranean to Mexican — it’s not surprising that chains are starting to pick up the trend, using mint as a kind of shorthand for authenticity,” Packaged Facts said.

Roasted chicken with radishes
Radishes are appearing as a roast chicken accompaniment on the hot food bar.

Radishes are reaching into several sections of the supermarket: as a value-added vegetable in the produce aisle, a burger topping at the deli counter and a roast chicken accompaniment on the hot food bar. The adaptable vegetables are ripe with opportunity for the food service segment as well.

“Fast casual restaurants can take a cue from food trucks and juice bars by adding a peppery punch of radish to everything from fish tacos to breakfast smoothies,” Packaged Facts said.

Earthbound Farm specialty greens salad mixes
Specialty greens such as kale and herbs are appearing in retail specialty mixes.

Specialty greens are sprouting everywhere in retail and food service, Packaged Facts’ report said. Lettuces, microgreens and herbs such as sorrel are appearing in specialty mixes at retail and in salads, small plates and garnishes in restaurants.

Emerging specialty peppers are packing a punch on menus and at retail in such applications as soups, relishes, entrees and side dishes. Three trending hot pepper varieties are shishito, Peppadew and ghost pepper.

Peppadew pepper cheese dip
Peppadew is one of the emerging specialty peppers on the rise.

“More consumers are seeking new and bold flavors in the form of hit heat-‘em-up products like specialty peppers,” Packaged Facts said. “And as consumer interest in ethnic foods and hot, spicy flavors continues to grow, lesser-known peppers are moving into the mainstream.”

Fresh, local fruit in cocktails is in high demand, the report found, as well as internationally-inspired beverages.

Fruit cocktails
Fresh, local fruit in cocktails is in high demand.
“Focusing beverage menus on farm-to-glass offerings appeals to food-savvy customers and boosts premium alcohol sales,” Packaged Facts said. “Cocktail culture is becoming more influential, providing new opportunities for fruit of all types to get in on the party, and also for non-alcoholic fresh beverages to follow and learn some tips from cocktails.”