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.
Customizable noodle bowls have been trending in college dining, fast casuals and other foodservice operations for a couple of years. The recipes are often inspired by Japanese ramen, Vietnamese pho and other Asian bowls. These are continuing their ascent, now joined by Asian noodles in other applications, appearing on menus that are decidedly non-Asian.
Like chile peppers and spice blends, barbecue sauce flavor profiles are getting more diverse and bold. As chefs take a deeper dive into global and regional American barbecue, they are sourcing or creating sauces that match those styles. And consumers are increasingly seeking authentic ingredients and flavors like these, according to Technomic’s Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report.
Consumers in every generation crave spicy flavors, but that preference varies by degree. Younger diners and men show more interest in very spicy sauces, while older consumers gravitate toward mellower, more moderate heat, according to Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report. Interestingly, Gen Z is partial toward fruity and salty flavors, says the report. But operators are turning to more than just hot ingredients to impart a pop of flavor. Spice blends—combinations of earthy, smoky, savory and/or hot flavors—are also on the rise. In response, operators are getting more adventurous with seasonings, trying unique flavors and combinations to prevent palate fatigue.
Restaurant Business partnered with Technomic for this report. Technomic’s Ignite food trends data is an online tool that tracks current and past menus on an ongoing basis. This report represents ingredient data tracked at more than 5,000 emerging chains and high-volume independents, collected from Q3 2018 to Q3 2019. Growth is calculated by the yearly percentage change in the number of operators menuing specific ingredients.
With strong consumer demand for plant-forward bowls and burgers, chefs are looking beyond quinoa and couscous for grains that can be used as a base. Lesser-known, sustainable crops such as fonio and buckwheat are on the rise. And healthful plants found in the wild, such as dandelion greens and gooseberries, are now being cultivated and distributed.
Trend forecasters have been predicting Indian to be the next “hot” ethnic cuisine to take off stateside. While Indian-centric fast-casual concepts are beginning to expand and Indian stations are common in college dining, 2020 may be the year that Indian flavors catch on in both authentic and nontraditional applications. Technomic’s Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report reveals that 34% of consumers have tried Indian food and like it, plus they find the cuisine to be unique and exciting.
Flavor innovation is not only happening on the food side of the menu—there’s a lot of activity around beverages, too. Mixologists are freshening up cocktails with vibrant flavors and ingredients, some of which are borrowed from the kitchen. There’s a concurrent trend toward lower-proof and zero-alcohol drinks, including hard seltzers in a range of flavors, fruity spritzers and housemade lemonades and other refreshers. In fact, 47% of 24- to 34-year-olds are ordering low-alcohol cocktails more often than they were three years ago, according to Technomic’s 2019 On-Premise Intelligence Report. And it’s the huge flavor boom powering the explosion of beverage options.
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.