1. The Dinner Party Revival
Do you find yourself entertaining more often? Maybe it’s because it’s now acceptable to use a “third space” and take the pressure off entertaining in your home. On the other end of the spectrum, we see people making dinner at home an “occasion” with friends and making everything homemade. Anything goes as long as you make the effort to physically pull friends together. We think it’s because people are so connected online that they are forcing sessions where they connect offline. Expect restaurants to accommodate the trend by offering spaces and special event deals to make it easy for you to host an event in your own style—it’s almost like the chef having a dinner party for you, every night. As a part of this, we’re seeing Tablescaping, or table fashion, becoming more popular as a way of extending the cooking experience and even validating it.
2. The Loss of Ethnic
What’s ethnic when it’s all one big mash up? What we’re seeing is that The Next Big Thing in ethnic food is a non-starter. While we’re happy to introduce new global flavors to our palate, the tendency is to mix them into something we already understand. Perhaps we’re just too ADD around taste these days to do anything less than infuse new flavors with others. The single flavor palate is gone; long live the global palate. Along with this, we are looking at what we call Edible Geneology™, where we hang onto parts of our history by incorporating them into our foodstyle. Right now the flavors getting mashed into our culture are heavily Asian and Brazilian, but it’s a moving target.
3. Hand Touched Over Handmade
Handmade is getting a revamp. It’s no longer about making the recipe totally from scratch. Now, shortcuts are acceptable, and are part of the story. After all, that birthday cake mom made in the 60s and 70s quite likely started with a boxed mix—it’s what we grew up on. What we’re seeing now is that while family recipes are still treasured hand-me-downs, they aren’t always complicated. What we call “hand-touched” is now becoming the norm—meaning that as long as we touch them in some way, we don’t have to literally measure the flour for it to be something we made. Part of the evolution is that’s it’s no longer just the recipe from scratch, but it’s the recipe from scratch with the story behind it.
4. The Casualization of Wine
Millennials are drinking so much wine that wine is being rebranded as an everyday drink. No longer left to special occasions, it’s got a health halo (especially red) that adds to the license to enjoy. In fact, there are those who say that a little wine each day is better than weekend-only drinking. It’s changing how we look at everything from wine pairings to quantity and quality of wines.
5. My Kitchen
Remember, major food trends usually start in the high-end restaurants, and this one is no exception. For 2014 we called out how even white tablecloth restaurants were catering to the “Distracted Diner” by serving more hand-held foods that allowed a phone in one hand, and food in the other. The evolution of this is that chefs have started efforts to make the food the star attraction—not your social media. In an attempt to get you to concentrate on what they’ve prepared, chefs are giving you knife and fork food, banning ketchup if it doesn’t go with the flavor combinations they’ve prepared, and discouraging food photography. The new trend is, “It’s my kitchen, my rules.” We predict you’ll start choosing your restaurant not only for the type of food or the value but for how closely your palate and ambiance desires align with that of the chef.
Restaurants are also “showrooming” fresh, making it clear that they frequent the local farmers market and being very transparent about the backend of the restaurant. They are adding demonstrations, cooking classes, and social events that feature fresh market items as part of this trend. The farmers market has become a hub where people interested in food meet up and compare notes, and the local grocery stores and restaurants are catching on quickly that they need to offer something similar.
6. Food Incubators
Just go to Brooklyn and you’ll see what we’re talking about. Culinary, or food incubators, are simply shared commercial kitchens where those with a food idea can develop, test, and try to get their idea to market—all in licensed, health-inspected space. The rise in food media over the past 8-10 years has caused a lot of people to want to take their own ideas to market, and incubators reduce the cost of entrepreneurship and give you business support in the process. New York isn’t the only place encouraging the growth of this type of small business, but the incubators there are credited with bringing some much needed economic revitalization to the area. We are also watching what’s happening with entrepreneurism at the farm level, where Millennials are starting to have some influence on the family farm and “incubating” their own new ideas.
7. Seasonal Transitions
In recent years we’ve been encouraged to “eat seasonally” for maximum health benefits. Tension has developed around that, as some growers prefer to lengthen the season with hothouse-style foods. The new twist on it all is what we call “transition food,” where we are inserting a combination of two seasons in between—perhaps as a way to psych people up for what’s to come. So, now there is the “late summer” season, and “early winter,” instead of simply summer and winter. In addition, we’re oversaturating seasonal hero flavors. You’ve undoubtedly noticed that pumpkin has been inescapable, along with gingerbread, and even extending to new flavors such as “summer watermelon.” We think the seasonal transitions are just the tipping point to many flavors being offered year round, leading to a redefinition of what’s really “farm fresh” and “seasonal.”
8. Spice Alchemy
Spices are getting attention, partly because so many mixtures have hit the market and partly because Millennials are learning how to season their food. What we’re seeing now, with the proliferation of global spices and spice combinations, is that people are experimenting with the spices—becoming mixologists with spices, in a way. The flavors they’ve learned to love in dishes such as hummus are popping up in other menu items, so expect more cumin, saffron, cardamon, sumac, etc. The spice craze is also attributable to concerns over sodium intake, with the thinking that spices can replace the need for salt to some extent. This is causing those in the food industry to think about spice education around what works, salt’s role, storage issues, and general usage. A lot of alternatives besides spices are also starting to be seen from the organic world, with aromatic vegetables, lemon juice and vinegar all being used in cooking more frequently.
9. Replicating Restaurants
We are starting to bring our away from home experiences back into the home, taking what we see and downsizing it as necessary to be able to repeat it ourselves. We saw it, of course, with home espresso machines and Belgian waffle makers . . . so continue to expect new appliances and smaller workspaces that replicate the restaurant experience. During the Recession people realized what they could do at home, and now they want to upscale what they can do. They are taking home cooking seriously, putting chef practices into place around everything from cooking styles (sous-vide) to safety (a cutting board for each purpose), to efficiency (high powered blenders and juicers), to design (kitchen remodels). The equipment you use is becoming as important as the food you serve.
10. Cooking by Life Stage
Once again the Baby Boomers are leading the way on this one. We’ve always known that you generally cook more when you have a growing family at home, and have to learn to downscale when the family all grows up and moves away. Boomers aren’t giving up the convenience of starter packs for dinner—they just don’t want to eat that casserole for four meals. As a result, retail food companies are beginning to make “cook it together” packages and meals for two. We expect that food and recipes will no longer be based solely around a traditional family of four, but instead will be offered by life stage rather than age-related demographics. This also allows for all ages to turn cooking together an evening of entertainment rather than a chore. Hint to food manufacturers: This means the frozen dinner is prime for a re-invention.
- Technology has made its mark, with the latest attention being given to high speed ordering (i.e. the new Taco Bell app). The amount of time from sit-down-to-check is becoming increasingly more relevant as consumers spend more time discussing what they’re eating instead of simply eating.
- Cultured Meat—otherwise known as in-vitro meat—is on the scientific horizon, or at least the discussion is. This process reportedly produces meat from cultured cells and is touted as one of the solutions to the demands of a global food supply. We’re watching this, along with other scientific challenges.
- We’re also watching an evolution of the gluten free identification. Digestive health in general is receiving a lot of attention, with grains often blamed for problems. We’re seeing more use of hemp flour as well as exotic grains that are easily digestible yet full of fiber and vitamins.
- We’re seeing “bitter” crop up more in flavor profiles, with kale and bitter chocolate leading the curve that is also trending into coffee and hoppy beer.