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.
In general, bolder coffee formats are trending, with strong espressos, cold brews and Americanos on the upswing. But mocha—a blend of chocolate and coffee— is also growing as a flavor in hot and iced coffee. Technomic finds that younger consumers seem to prefer sweeter, dessert-like flavors in their coffee drinks: 43% of 18- to 34-year-olds find mocha appealing, and 49% favor caramel.
In 2019, Korean gochujang was widely touted as the hot sauce that would be the next Sriracha. Well, Sriracha isn’t going away so fast: It’s now getting blended with other flavors. And sauces from Thailand, China and other countries are joining the Asian lineup. Hot sauces are especially appealing to consumers ages 18-34; 28% use them frequently on a variety of foods, according to Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report.
The quest for different and more complex sources of heat is leading chefs to varieties of chile peppers from around the world. They’re moving beyond jalapenos, chipotles and serranos—Mexican chiles now well-known to consumers—to peppers from Africa, Spain, the Middle East, South America, Korea and other locales. And they are using techniques such as pickling and roasting to layer on flavor.
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.