by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
Eating patterns are changing, there is more competition for your food dollar, and consumers are more aware and concerned about where their food is coming from. Food has become a cultural product to discover, share, make and trade. We are trading out traditional food routines for new ones that reflect our desire to experience variety in a complex food world. In my article today I will share some food trends for 2016. First, here’s a quick overview of recent new government guidelines.
Early this month, new guidelines were issued that are intended to help us prevent disease and obesity. The main message has not changed much over the years. Do what mom told us and eat your fruits and vegetables. Plus, add whole grains, increase your seafood, and keep sugar and salt in moderation. The big recommendation in this report is to try and reduce our sugar intake that adds empty calories to the diet. The main culprit is sugar-sweetened beverages that, according to the report, comprise 47 percent of the added sugars that we eat every day. The other primary issue is still salt consumption. The report states that the average person eats 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, and we should shoot for 2,300, or about a teaspoon.
This past week I researched some food sites and spoke with local chefs regarding their observations for the New Year.
Convenience and Choices Chef Mike Higgins, owner of Maldaner’s Restaurant, in discussing trends says one of his challenges is all of the choices people have today and the resulting intense competition for the food dollar. Grocery stores, retail stores and even gas station convenience stores have or are becoming restaurants with their offerings. Technology is also playing a large role. Food can be ordered easily over your smartphone, and you’ll receive loyalty points, pay and never speak to a human being. In the larger cities, and I am confident will come to Springfield, is food delivery. Google, uberEats, Amazon Prime Now, Grub Hub and countless others are there for you. None actually makes the food-they are just the middlemen connecting restaurants and customers. In addition, Amazon, in some cities, will now deliver your groceries with dinner. I just saw where Amazon is teaming up with Fresh Nation to bypass the supermarket entirely and deliver food from farmers’ markets directly to homes. Other new sources (Blue Apron, Chefday, The Purple Carrot and others) are offering all the precise ingredients with instruction for “dinners-in a box.” Great incentive to use all the new stainless steel equipment in the kitchen.
Clean Menus I think most would agree that Chef Michael from Maldaner’s has been a leader in the Farm to Fork Movement. He, along with other area chefs such as Augie from Augie’s Front Burner and Jordan and Aurora from American Harvest, have been incorporating more local product into their menu selections. Consumers are becoming more aware of what chemicals are in the food they purchase and seek out restaurants and products that are eliminating or reducing additives. Panera just listed more than 150 artificial flavors, sweeteners and preservatives that it will no longer use in 2016. Even McDonald’s is ridding its chickens of antibiotics used by humans. Be careful though, because replacing artificial additives with natural additives means there are still additives: natural strawberry flavor shares no genes with real strawberries.
Is Pasta Endangered? I hope not. Not sure what I would do if they took my pasta and bread away. An article I saw was all about the decline of pasta. According to the article, pasta sales dropped six percent in America as we focus on proteins and shed our carbs/gluten. Recommended alternatives for carb lovers like me are quinoa, chickpeas and even chia. Replacing pasta are vegetable spiralizers: zucchini, asparagus and beets are all becoming available in ribbon shapes.
The rise of vegetables. I come from a traditional Midwest meat and potato home. There seems to be a combination of forces that is pushing meats aside. Rising prices, horror over hormones, health and diet concerns and growth of farmers’ markets are all contributing to the disappearance of meat on a daily basis. We are being blamed for too many animals that poop up the environment. Food journals I receive write about vegetable only restaurants. Bon Appetit recently named Al’s Place in San Francisco’s Mission District as a best new restaurant of 2015. I checked it out and most of the meat is listed under their side dishes. Featured is sun choke curry with black lime, cod and grapefruit; fermented French fries with smoked applesauce. The citrus peel is transformed into flavored oils that are frozen for freshness. Not sure if my palette is ready to adjust. Sales at heathy fast casual chains totaled about $384 million in 2014, up approximately 30 percent from 2013. Even White Castle now has a veggie slider; of course, served on a vegan bun. UGH!
Tipping and wages Danny Myer, owner of a number of great restaurants in New York, has created quite a buzz. Last year he implemented a no tipping policy and increased the menu price, all in order to raise the wages for all shifts/staff, both front and back of the house. The impact of this new policy will be interesting. Many local governments are passing “livable wage” laws which of course will ultimately raise labor costs to restaurants. For now, the no-tipping policy seems to be only at upscale restaurants but I predict it will trickle down. Cash strapped governments are making it more and more difficult for the independent restaurant in their accounting for tips, benefits and meals, which is another reason for them to think about giving everyone a more livable hourly wage.
Do you know poke? This past October when we were in Los Angeles, I saw for the first time “poke” (pronounced poh-key) on the menu. A Hawaiian mainstay, it is basically a bowl of chopped or cubed raw fish (often ahi tuna over seaweed seasoned rice). The fish is tossed in a marinade of soy sauce, macadamia nuts, avocado, sesame oil, ginger green onions and other Japanese seasonings. Pokerias are starting on the West Coast. Some Whole Food markets are introducing pokie bars by the pound.
My final trend for today and one I am guilty of is snacking. Consumers are moving from three meals a day to snacking four or five times a day. Our snacking habits are shifting from sweet to savory and from high-carb to nutrient dense high-protein, and sweet is being combined with spicy. Some examples are all the new flavors of hummus, potato chips and even seaweed popcorn. Hershey recently acquired Krave – purveyor of Jeff’s Famous Jerky with flavors like sweet teriyaki and cranberry jalapeno. Sour is replacing sweet, thus explaining why fermented condiments like kimchee and pickled vegetables are becoming so popular.
Food traditions are radically changing. With all of the choices out there, we are no longer bound by our family food traditions nor limited by our own cooking skills. Shifts in technology, travel and trade have placed our food decisions back at the center of everyday life and culture. Food is fun and important. Fresh, less processed food continues to be a goal, and we associate quality with this attribute. Consumers today want to participate with their food. We are increasingly trading out mass food brands and chains for unique local and fresh food experiences. The foods that I grew up with are now considered comfort foods and the emphasis is on adding new foods, dishes, flavors and ingredients. For 2016, let’s resolve to seek out a new ethnic restaurant, try a new green item or spice you never heard of, take a cooking class and enjoy good wine.