We’ve been hearing the same consumer trends for more than a year: Consumers want spicy, they gravitate toward authentic ethnic foods and more nonvegetarians are seeking out veg-centric dishes. But these big trends are evolving and getting more granular. So what are the breakout flavors and ingredients that will embody the macro trends this year, driving them forward? To find out, we mined menus and gathered data through Technomic’s MenuMonitor. The research unearthed the rapidly growing ingredients at emerging chains and high-volume independents—the flavors consumers are likely to become increasingly familiar with and also expect to see creeping into larger chains. Forward-thinking operators might just consider adding these ingredients to stay ahead of the trends.
About the research: RB partnered with Technomic, a Winsight company, for this report. Technomic’s MenuMonitor, powered by Ignite, is an online tool that tracks current and past menus on an ongoing quarterly basis. This report represents ingredient data tracked at emerging chains and high-volume independents, collected from July 1, 2017, to Sept. 30, 2017, compared to those dates in 2016. Growth is calculated by yearly percentage change in the number of operators menuing the specific ingredients.
Hot sauces with a cool base
Balancing chili peppers with cooling ingredients like mayo, sour cream and aioli increases the chance that they’re going to be accepted by the greatest demographic. Ingredients such as chipotle mayonnaise have increased (+8.2% overall). Operators can make these concoctions inexpensively in-house and market them as restaurant signatures on menus.
Spice-infused cocktails and nonalcoholic drinks are helping differentiate beverage programs. Fast casuals that have seen sales slow in the past year are looking to pungent, aromatic and numbing ingredients to spice up mocktails. “With casual-dining sales slumping, operators are turning to adult beverages to get customers in the door, particularly creative specialty cocktails that would be di cult for diners to re-create at home,” says Lauren Hallow, consumer insights manager for Technomic.
More than a third of consumers—and 43% of younger consumers—would like more restaurants to offer foods featuring a combination of flavors. Thus, spices and spicy condiments with sweet, smoky and herbal notes have grown on menus, such as herbal-hot chimichurri (+60% overall).
Differentiating through condiments
Operators are globalizing classic condiments like slaw and relish to breathe new life into stagnant recipes. Often, incorporating an ethnic ingredient will differentiate an otherwise dull recipe. This will appeal to the 43% of consumers (and 59% of 18- to 34-year-olds) who want restaurants to offer more ethnic sauces, according to Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report.
To promote transparency and authenticity, some operators are naming the specific cities or regions from which the food originates or is influenced by, directly on the menu. For example, callouts such as Yucatan and Oaxacan are growing, while mentions of Mexican are falling. Some operators are even building entire concepts around the trend, such as Rick Bayless’ Chicago restaurant Lena Brava, which is based on Baja California cuisine.
Citrus, beyond the lemon
Citrus fruits are some of the most common ingredients on menus, with 73.3% of operators overall menuing some sort of citrus, according to Technomic’s Menu Monitor. Operators are taking advantage of the popular flavor—typically in the form of lemon or lime—by incorporating it into lesser-known ethnic sauces.
Weeds for wellness
Wild edible weeds might just be the next kale. Dandelion (+28.6%), amaranth (+23.1%) and sorrel (+11.4%) are among the many weeds seeing growth on menus, per Technomic’s MenuMonitor. Not only are most of these inexpensive, but they are also nutritional powerhouses that add earthy, sometimes nutty or sweet flavors to most dishes.
Moves away from meat
Operators are leveraging the perception that vegetarian dishes are just as filling as meat (which 49% of consumers agree with, according to Technomic’s Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report) to build selling stories that drive veggie sales. The Ruin Daily, for example, markets its cauliflower sandwich as “spicy and satisfying” on its Facebook page. New York City’s The Cinnamon Snail labels its all-veggie burger “Beast-mode,” while LYFE Kitchen dubs its kale Caesar “Mighty.”
With recent studies about the health risks of artificial sweeteners and increasing consumer preference for real ingredients, many operators have turned to sweeteners such as honey, maple and fruit. However, operators are also using certain vegetables (such as carrots, squash, corn, sweet potatoes or beets) to bring a more nourishing sweetness to savory dishes.