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2010 product preview: What's next?

Optimism is in the air as we look ahead to 2010, but product and menu developers are proceeding with caution. “The economy has had a huge effect,” says Colleen McClellan, food insights strategist at McCormick. “It’s slowed down the ability to move forward and restaurants won’t be taking huge risks in 2010. It seems like many of the 2009 trends will continue.”

Optimism is in the air as we look ahead to 2010, but product and menu developers are proceeding with caution. “The economy has had a huge effect,” says Colleen McClellan, food insights strategist at McCormick. “It’s slowed down the ability to move forward and restaurants won’t be taking huge risks in 2010. It seems like many of the 2009 trends will continue.”

Yet diners still want a restaurant experience they can’t replicate at home.  Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst at NPD Crest, feels that there’s a lot of pent up demand and “innovation is the way to capture customers, especially at dinner. In the casual segment, particularly, there’s been a lot of ‘me too’ lately.” 

Datassential MenuTrends stats back up this assessment. Chain menus have actually shrunk in the total number of items they offer and there’s been a slowdown in LTOs. “As the economy recovers, we expect menu growth and LTO introductions to resume,” says Datassential’s Brian Darr. “But for now, keep in mind that restaurants have become more selective about innovation; the demand for new menu ideas persists, but it is tempered by a corresponding need for evidence that those ideas will work.”

How can you put selective innovation to work in your operation? Take a look at the flavors, ingredients, products and menu categories that our team of industry experts predicts will thrive in 2010.

Trendwatch

  • Comfort with a twist. Customers are looking to experiment with new flavors and ingredients if they are introduced in a familiar way, says McCormick’s McClellan. Her examples: take Buffalo Chicken Wings to a new place with Argentine chimichurri ; spread a sliced steak sandwich with smoked paprika mayo; braise meats with Thai spices; or infuse one-dish preps like rice and beans with authentic Jamaican flavors.
  • High-impact flavoring techniques.  Imparting flavor to food through charring, caramelizing, curing, smoking and encrusting is continuing to gain ground, reports Datassential. And these techniques are being applied to surprising foods. It took two years for Roth-Kase to nail down its smoked blue cheese formula, but trial and error brought the subtly smoky Moody Blues to the market in June. “We cold-smoked the cheese over apple and pear woods to create just the right smoky undertones,” explains Kirsten Jaeckle, Roth Kase director of marketing. “Put it on a burger, and it tastes like a bacon cheeseburger.”
  • Local color. In the NRA’s 2009 Chef Survey, respondents cited “locally grown produce,” “locally sourced meats and seafood” and “locally produced wine and beer” as three of the top five trends. Distributors are responding by offering more local products and regional specialties. “The locavore movement is driving the resurgence of regional American cooking,” says McClellan. “ There’s a renewed interest in native ingredients as well as pickling, preserving and curing.”
  • Better-for-you foods. Operators are looking for products that deliver health in tasty ways. Baby boomers and young parents are seeking out healthier menu choices but they are not willing to sacrifice flavor and excitement. “Portion control and sodium reduction will be the hot buttons, especially with the government’s new dietary guidelines coming out in 2010,” contends Sean Craig, senior executive chef of Gilroy Foods & Flavors.
  • Cuisines on the rise. “Regional flavors within the Mediterranean are a natural extension of comfort food, simplicity and wellness,” says Craig. “We’re paying particular attention to Greek and Southern Italian flavors.” Darr of Datassential cites Basque and Peruvian as leading edge trends, while McClellan sees further exploration of regional Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, African and “Japanese beyond sushi.”
  • Trading down. Market research firm Mintel predicted that trading down would be a major trend of 2009 and in September, a full 52 percent of Americans polled admitted to spending less at restaurants. “There’s been a lot of trade down in menu items,” agrees NPD’s Riggs. That translates to customers ordering lower priced items, more burgers than steaks and shareable desserts. In fact, premium burgers and sandwiches made with upgraded ingredients are booming—on menus, as concepts and in inventive variations.
  • The appeal of appetizers. Another bright spot on 2009 menus was the appetizer category—and Datassential expects this to continue. “Bite-sized fried items and dips are some key appetizers that have grown in the past year,” notes Darr. “These items are thriving due to their smaller portion size.” And their smaller price. That’s what McCain Foods discovered when it ran its Half Price/Half Portion Appetizer promotion in a range different restaurant concepts. Operators who participated reported appetizer sales going up by 15 to 75 percent.
  • A return to simplicity. Mintel’s recent Global Consumer Trends survey shows that the majority of Americans want to simplify their lives and put less emphasis on material things. Food manufacturers are responding with products that boast “clean” labels while restaurants are sourcing from trusted suppliers. Lynn Dornblaser, trends analyst at Mintel, believes that companies offering products with the fewest number of ingredients stand to garner gains in 2010. 
  • Value tops all. “Value is the mantra of the day,” states Riggs. However, NPD’s survey respondents don’t define value in terms of the cheapest price. “Consumers are willing to pay for fresh, high quality ingredients and menu items that meet their expectations. It’s more about reasonable, affordable prices and priced-right portion sizes,” she adds.


Trickling down 

Fine-dining chefs have more freedom to innovate on the menu. At the 2009 Starchefs.com International Chefs Congress this September, co-founder Antoinette Bruno cited five trends that are happening on the high end.

  1. Handcrafted foods. Salumi, charcuterie, cheeses and pickles made in-house or by artisanal producers are showing up on plates.
  2. Head to tail. Kitchens are performing in-house butchering and menuing every part of the animal. Mindfully-raised meats are the new buzz words.
  3. Heirloom ingredients. Chefs are seeking out heritage chickens, pigs, fruits, vegetables, grains and other products.
  4. Food trucks and carts—driven by chefs. Everything from schnitzel to Wagyu brisket sandwiches and crème brulee is being sold on the streets of New York, Chicago, L.A. and other U.S. cities.
  5. Farm to bar. Fresh, local ingredients are moving from the plate to the glass as mixologists compete to differentiate cocktail lists.

In the just-released 2009 Chef Survey by the National Restaurant Association, these ten foods and ingredients were ranked as the “hottest”:

  1. Artisanal cheeses
  2. Black garlic
  3. Ancient grains (e.g. spelt, kamut, amaranth)
  4. Flatbreads (e.g. naan, papadum, lavash, pita, tortillas)
  5. Flower syrup/essence
  6. Salt (flavored, smoked, regional)
  7. Vegetable ceviche
  8. Ethnic condiments (raita, chimichurri, Sriracha, chutney, soy sauce)
  9. Agave
  10. Whole grain bread

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