Now that 2016 is behind us, we can look back at food and dining achievements in the US and acknowledge a number of interesting trends we all enjoyed and appreciated. Restaurants and servers began to more effectively respect diners with food sensitivities and allergies, for example. The rising number of food delivery methods (thank you, Uber eats) and apps are notable. We also, thankfully, witnessed fast food and fast casual/quick service restaurants ‘cleanse’ their ingredients of antibiotics, GMOs and hormones. Chefs and restaurateurs paid close attention to their patrons’ needs and ambitious food and beverage executives even gleaned social media sources to stay on top of forthcoming trends to keep ahead of the curve. Adaptation to respond to what the masses crave makes for a forward-thinking chef and restaurant proprietor, resulting in successful dining experiences for guests.
For example, in the March 2016 Harvard Business Review article, Branding in the Age of Social Media, Douglas Holt explains the concept of crowd-culture and the importance for brands to understand the need to monitor “digital” or “online” crowds. Holt stresses why companies need to understand trends identified in their content analyses of social media – to better project their own brand values and “cut through the clutter” in order to connect with the appropriate audiences. Our own sense of the digital conversation leads us to believe we will see continuation of certain food trends into 2017 and the arrival of a few new ones of course. Here are a few of our favorites for 2017:
- House-Made Condiments. It’s not unusual to see a handful of dedicated chefs preparing an abundance of house-made condiments, maybe even up to 40 house-made sauces in one day. At Vesta Dipping Grill in Denver, Colorado, Executive Chef Brandon Foster has created flavor combinations such as ghost chili BBQ and a pineapple marmalade infused with the flavor of bacon. Chefs today are using their creative engines to drive a tasteful condiment revolution. Cheers to fig jam and all fig spreads.
- Veggies, Veggies, and More Veggies. With the population of vegetarians increasing and customers requesting more options that put vegetables at the center of the plate, restaurants have set their sights on incorporating more options for vegetarians. Restaurant concepts surrounding the idea of vegetarianism are appearing, such as Veggie Grill and By Chloe, and even fast casual chains, such as Taco Bell, (which in 2015 coincidentally represents the first quick-serve restaurant to be certified by the American Vegetarian Association). How many of us are also enjoying the variety of roasted beet entrees and salads available on menus today? Hooray!
- Breakfast and All-Day Breakfast. Not only are quick service restaurants investing in all-day breakfast, but an all-day breakfast that now offers ethnic options. Boston-favorite Tatte Bakery & Café prides itself in an all-day brunch served on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays with dishes including Shakshuka and Jerusalem Artichoke Frittata. The Taco Shack in Austin, Texas aims to serve their customers a variety of ethnic Mexican items, such as breakfast burritos, tacos and “scrambler” plates.
- Global Cuisine/ Street Food. Chefs are looking to provide customers with dining experiences from around the world – without having to leave their seats. Menus are being designed around the concept of “street-style” dishes native to specific areas of the world. In doing so, customers have the option to “travel” to a specific country for the night and get a taste of the unique cuisine.
- Bowls. Sweetgreen, Dig Inn, and of course Chipotle concepts revolve around the concept of “portable” bowls in order to make meals faster and more convenient. The idea of a bowl rather than a plated meal gives the customer a sense of mindfulness, feeling fuller faster while being able to savor every flavor and texture with every bite.
- The Art of Charcuterie. There’s something about a wooden board dressed with delicate portions of the finest meats, thick cut blocks of aromatic cheese, and some hearty slices of tasteful bread that has people feeling fancy. Attach a French term that they may not be able to pronounce, and you’ve got a meal worth talking about!
- Flavors from Around the World. Millennials in today’s world have a desire to expand their global taste palates. Four distinct flavor trends that this experimental generation is hot for right now include: the meaty flavor of Umami, the Island flavors found on the famous Poke bowls, Global spice blends from India, Africa and the Middle East, and even Spicy Breakfast flavors found in the popular egg-tomato dish known as Shakshuka.
- Wine & Dine for All. Traditional food and drink pairing experiences were perceived as exclusive and expensive. This year, chefs will prove that this experience can be enjoyed more frequently without having to visit those high-end tasting-focused restaurants. Chefs will design menus with creative dishes to be paired with wines or other beverages for that matter, at a fraction of cost.
- Remote Region Wines. Countries such as Argentina and Chile have experienced over eight years of growth in wine production. This production is due to the fruit-friendly terrain, low-cost agriculture, and an earlier harvest period compared to those around the world.
- Cocktails are going back to basics. According to the Bacardi Trade Advocacy Team’s top cocktail predictions for 2017, Bartenders will aim to revisit the use of vodka in their creations. In addition to this, bartenders will bring about the return of classic cocktails such as Pina Coladas and Appletinis with use of only fresh, quality house-made ingredients to do so.
- House-made Ginger Ales and Beers. It seems that Ginger is the new “it” girl when it comes to drink offerings, says our friend Roger Drake of Drake Marketing. From fresh Ginger Ale made in house to cocktails infused with the sweetness of ginger, various restaurants are utilizing this delightful flavor and incorporating into their menus.
As for the branding techniques foodie marketers will utilize? The essentials remain:
- Storytelling. What better way to describe a brand then through a story? Customers will be more captivated when the brand is told through an easy to follow and easy to remember storyline. Foodie and beverage marketers along the lines of Jack Daniels or Ketel One Vodka successfully share their family and people stories in their marketing, branding and awareness outreach, for example.
- Powerful Visuals and VIDEO (VIDEO AND MORE VIDEO). Today it seems as if even more people are taking pictures of their food before it barely touches the table. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have served as sources for customers to post appealing, stimulating, mouth-watering photos and videos of their favorite meals, with credibility to the restaurant. Facebook Live allows video in real time to be even more inventive as diners can enjoy their spicy breakfast or healthy veggies and share it with their followers to tell the powerful story.
- Engagement. Communication between you and the customer should continue to be two-way. Messages should not only be told to customers, but it needs to lead into a conversation that creates positive action, feedback, dialogue, questions and enduring engagement. Whether this is through social sites which relish the two-way conversation or opportunities for interactive communication in person or pre and post experience.
- Remarkable / Memorable Experiences. Sharing your food and beverage story, and marketing that message to cut through the clutter of infinite messaging is only significant if the diner truly enjoys a remarkable and memorable experience. If the experience results in positive remarks, and guests can share their experiences with friends or TripAdvisor, Yelp, Open Table communities, that’s what we strive for. And of course, we want to deliver the experience that leads patrons and diners to come back for more.
Lots to think about for 2017. Perhaps this quick review of our favorite foodie and drink forecasts can inspire you to cut through the clutter and share your food and beverage story. For a deeper dive into the visual presentation of this article and the opportunity to share your projected food trends, contact Leora@lhlcommunications.com or Ally@lhlcommunications.com.
The authors wish to thank professional colleague and friend Roger Drake for his food and beverage experience and discussions.