Flavors to Watch
Instagram, food festivals and TV chefs are accelerating the speed at which unique flavors and ingredients hit the mainstream. Consumers now expect operators to update menus more frequently with on-trend ideas. To keep ahead of the curve, operators have to stay on top of new flavor trends without abandoning the old.
New plants pop up
Plant-based and plant-forward items have surged on menus in 2019, and there’s no sign of this trend slowing down in 2020. The term plant-based has grown 81% over the past year at leading chain restaurants, according to Technomic Ignite menu data, with much of the buzz radiating from the Impossible and Beyond brands of burgers and other meat substitutes. Impossible has grown 300% in menu mentions over the past year, while Beyond mentions have increased by 70%.
Trendy diets such as Whole30 and paleo have turned consumers away from carbs and popularized lookalike substitutions for pasta, rice and other starchy sides. Nondairy milk alternatives, which appeal to vegans and many health-conscious consumers, also are more prevalent. Oat milk is joining almond, cashew and other nut milks on menus.
Introducing a global ingredient in a familiar platform is a low-risk way to get buy-in from customers. Sandwiches are a natural platform for ethnic breads. Operators are turning to breads from India, the Middle East, the Balkans and Southeast Asia to differentiate the sandwich menu with unique twists. But these breads are also accompanying appetizers and sides and serving as a base for pizza on mainstream menus.
Lavender, hibiscus, elderflower, jasmine, rosemary and mint are infusing beverages with herbal and floral notes. In addition to their more delicate flavor, herbal ingredients convey healthfulness and create craveability with 37% of consumers, finds Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report. The report also predicts that floral flavors will be an area of opportunity with the growing interest in plant-based products.
The customization craze has fueled the demand to broaden the selection of condiments and sauces offered in the front of house. Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report reveals that these products can be traffic drivers; 29% of diners consider which sauces and condiments will be available when deciding on a restaurant to visit, and that number increases to over 40% for younger consumers and males. But sauces and condiments are also a convenient way to signaturize a dish in the back of house. A change in the flavor profile of a barbecue sauce, for example, can be the impetus for a new limited-time offer, while a spicy condiment can easily elevate the house burger.
The herb and spice shelf is expanding in commercial and noncommercial kitchens as chefs experiment with new ways to pump up flavor. Turmeric is trending in step with the interest in Indian dishes and functional foods—the spice is essential to many curries and is touted for its anti-inflammatory properties. Spice blends can instantly add global accents to rubs, marinades, salads and sautes. Za’atar, which has a base of ground red sumac berries, imparts a tangy Middle Eastern flavor to food. Also gaining ground is tamarind, used in cuisines as diverse as Filipino and Pakistani for its sweet-sour notes.
Consumers continue to crave ethnic dishes, so operators continue to dig deeper into Asian, Mediterranean and Latin cuisines to unearth innovative flavors and ingredients. Chinese, Italian and Mexican are solidly in the mainstream, but 18% of 18- to 34-year-olds are seeking emerging ethnic foods and flavors, as per Technomic’s Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report. In fact, 40% of younger consumers say they’re visiting a wider variety of restaurants now than two years ago to try new or unique flavors, according to Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report. Unique flavors can give noncustomers a reason to visit and draw in regulars who want a taste of something different.