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Emerging flavour trends from the food service industry [Interview]

Some of the biggest flavour trends on the market have tended to originate from the food services industry. Emerging from smaller independent restaurants, these trends tend to make their way into the larger mainstream chain restaurants and retail stores. We caught up with Lizzy Freier, Senior Research Manager of Menu at Technomic, to find out more about the flavour trends and pairings we can expect to see coming through in the near future.
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Can you tell us a few things about how you collect your data and what data types you have?

“I primarily focus on our menu data. Technomic has an enormous database of over 30,000 menus ranging from top chains down through high-volume and local independent restaurants. We collect menus via company websites, phone call/fax or mystery shopping, and our experts review the data to make sure everything meets quality expectations.”

“Our database allows you to search in thousands of different ways to pinpoint the latest menu trends and see what’s on the horizon.”

“But beyond menu data, we also have industry, consumer, brand and other data research. And this data extends from the U.S. to other countries globally.”

What are some of the main trends you’ve seen within the food service industry?

“Wow, so many to discuss! If we were to talk about some macro trends, I’d have to say plant-based, functional ingredients, menu cleansing, umami, global sauces and spices — all of these have tons of micro trends beneath the surface.”

How big is the plant-based trend across the food service industry? Can you give us some examples of exciting meat alternative dishes?

“This is one of the fastest-growing trends right now, but it really flows in a lot of different directions. Plant-based food vs. plant-based beverage are two very different worlds. 3.5% of  menus mention an item described as plant-based, though the growth has been extensive. For example, mentions of imitation meat burgers are up 57.7% year over year. Plant-based mentions in beverages are up 71.4% in the past year.”

“Plant-based iterations of proteins have gone mainstream with plant-based beef, pork and chicken products, though on the horizon are plant-based bacon, seafood, eggs and more. Beyond proteins, plant-based carbs have also been popping up, like plant-based noodles and rice.”

“And then on the beverage side, we’ve seen plant-based milks by way of almond, coconut, soy and oat milk going mainstream, while on the horizon are other nut or seed milk, such as sunflower seed, hemp seed or cashew nut milks, as well as fruit or vegetable milks beyond coconut.”

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What exciting flavours have you seen coming out recently? 

“From a mainstream perspective - meaning it’s popping up in leading chains - I’m excited to see things like turmeric and oat milk gain momentum. I think we’ll see more umami or bitter flavours start to gain ground in the independent restaurant space over the coming year, to take more hold in chains.”

What types of flavour combinations are currently trending and what flavour pairings do consumers find most appealing?

“Almost two-fifths of consumers (37%) strongly agree that they want more restaurants to offer foods that feature a combination of flavours, according to Technomic’s 2019 Flavour Consumer Trend Report.”

“Spicy flavour combinations are highly appealing, appearing in a variety of meal parts, from entrees to desserts, so multiple kinds of flavour combinations highlighting spiciness are pleasing. More specifically, half of consumers find spicy and smoky, spicy and savoury, and spicy and sweet combos appealing.”

“While sweet flavour combinations are among the most appealing, some (sweet and sour; sweet and smoky) are decreasing in appeal, perhaps because they’re more traditional choices.”

How do you determine whether a flavour trend has staying power?

“We look at the evolution of that flavour trend through a lifecycle. Typically, flavours start to emerge in small independent restaurants, then possibly trickle into emerging chains, and then into potentially larger mainstream chain restaurants and retailers.”

“If a flavour trend were to just pop up suddenly in a mainstream chain, it likely isn’t one with much staying power.”

What are your predictions for the food service industry over the next 3-5 years?

“Given the impact that COVID-19 has had, predicting what our world will look like in 3-5 years is tricky. I think in the short term, we’re going to see safer limited time offers in terms of supply chain and complexity. Menu cleansing will be a big part of that.”

“That being said, I don’t think stunt LTOs and menu exploration are going away. People look to food and beverage as a form of safe exploration, but they’re certainly looking for comfort. I therefore think that we’ll see a sense of these opposing trends coming up together.”

Be sure to catch Lizzy Freier’s presentation ‘U.S. Flavour Trends & Insights’ during our virtual Fi Europe CONNECT 2020 event.

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