These 8 trends are moving menus forward around the world

Future Menus 2024 identifies the top forces shaping today’s global food scene to push chefs ahead of the culinary curve.
Future Menus gathered culinarians from around the world to taste the trends. | Photo courtesy of Unilever Food Solutions.

Bold flavors, local sourcing and plant-based eating—these descriptors are so last year, or even last decade.

For 2024, those trends have been amplified into Flavor Shock, Local Abundance and Plant-Powered Protein, according to Future Menus, a new report from Unilever Food Solutions.

The report, presented in March at the company’s Food Innovation Centre called “The Hive” in Wageningen, the Netherlands, actually pinpoints eight trends. But these three are singled out as the most evolved, said Angela Klute, the company’s Global CMO.

“Flavor Shock is a no-rules experience,” Klute told the 180 culinarians in attendance. “Throw out the rulebook and create unforgettable ‘shocks’ through unexpected combinations of ingredients or ‘chaos cooking.’”

Gen Z is driving the demand to have a unique culinary experience along with a dish of food. But Flavor Shock is also about making ingredients more impactful. “Next-level condiments” is the fastest growing topic in Google searches on the flavor trend, said Klute. Local Abundance is also a level up from local sourcing, according to Klute. Menus that boast about locally sourced ingredients have an edge, but Local Abundance goes beyond farm-to-table produce from a few growers to building a robust local supply chain and celebrating the local community of producers.

Patrick Chan, CEO of Kitchen Haus Group in Singapore, launched a local farm produce catering menu and the volume spurred local supply chains to work on a larger scale. Telling the story of special initiatives like this appeals to customers, especially Gen Zers, said Klute.

Flexitarians are a force that’s elevating plant-based eating into the Plant-Powered Protein trend. “Conscious gastronomy” is the way they want to eat, choosing animal proteins less often in favor of seasonal, local, low-waste and low-carbon ingredients. But both flexitarians and vegans are looking for flavor shock too; chef-inspired plant-powered dishes that deliver on taste and creativity.

plant power

The Vegetable Butcher offers spit-roasted plant-based meat that can be carved and served in gyros. | Photo by Pat Cobe.

“Flavor Shock really hit home for us as a bakery café concept,” said Eric Galkin, Chief Supply Officer for Paris Baguette North America. “New and interesting flavors are something we’re trying to incorporate into our LTOs on a quarterly basis to provide this ‘shock’ experience that keeps our products fresh for our long-time customers.”

That’s not to say the other five trends in the Future Menus report haven’t evolved, too. The New Sharing, described as “dynamic and interactive,” is especially intriguing. Here again, the word “community” looms large. Through cross-cultural menus and shareable presentations, diners have the opportunity to enjoy food together, share stories and create a sense of community. Consumers are evolving this trend into snackification, said Klute.

Israeli dips

To taste The New Sharing trend, chefs from an Israeli restaurant concept prepared an array of dips and spreads. | Photo courtesy of Unilever Food Solutions.

The remaining four trends—Low Waste Menus, Irresistible Vegetables, Modernized Comfort Food and Feel Good Food—are still going strong, too.

Attendees had plenty of opportunities to sample all the trends in action throughout the two-day event at The Hive. We tasted focaccia made from spent grain topped with carrot top pesto; kimchi made with vegetable peels; shareable Israeli-style platters filled with baba ghanoush, hummus, tahini and puffy wood-fired pita breads; Turkish kebabs sliced from a spit-roasted cone of plant-based protein under The Vegetable Butcher brand; and umami bombs crafted from millet in smoked vegetable sauce.

Low waste

In the Low Waste Menus breakout, chefs prepared focaccia made with spent grain. | Photo courtesy of Unilever Food Solutions.

Peter Genna, director of global culinary innovation for Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, was particularly interested in the sauce and marinade flavors he sampled as possible menu additions for Popeyes’ international locations, he said.

To compile the Future Menus 2024 report, Unilever conducted research with 1,600 chefs from 20 countries around the world, gathering additional consumer input from social media listening programs. The goal of the report is to help chefs stay ahead of the culinary curve and develop the best-selling dishes of the future.

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