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“I never actually knew a job like this existed … it was by chance that I connected with someone who told me they ‘wrote about food’. I couldn’t think of a better job!” [Interview]

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Due to the fast-paced, consumer-led nature of the food and beverage industry, it can oftentimes prove a challenge to keep up to pace with the latest market trends, developments, and insights. In order to keep abreast with these trends, it is necessary for F&B professionals to collect, collate and analyse a great deal of data, insights and experiences. In this expert interview, Elizabeth Freier, Senior Research Manager at Technomic, provides an insight into her career journey in the F&B sector, sheds light on the current and future trends driving the industry forward, and shares her advice to those operating in the F&B space.

Lizzy, you’re a senior research manager at Technomic – can you tell us about what the company does and your role within it?

"Technomic is a research and consulting company dedicated to providing foodservice clients around the globe with data, insights, and recommended actions they need to enhance their business strategies. As a subject matter expert on menu trends and analysis, I am in charge of taking both our syndicated data as well as my own menu analysis and creating content for our clients and the industry as a whole. That content may be writing whitepapers or reports or presenting webinars or at conferences."

You studied English literature at university - did you always see yourself working in the F&B industry? What attracted you to the industry and how has your career path evolved into where you are today?

"When I was in college, I never actually knew a job like this existed. When I was nearing the end of my senior year, it was by chance that I connected with someone from growing up who worked at Technomic who told me they “wrote about food.” I couldn’t think of a better job!"
"For fun, I actually wrote restaurant reviews—tracking everything from the flavor of various menu items to restaurant décor—so this seemed like a perfect opportunity for me. When I started at Technomic, I originally covered off on the UK restaurant scene. Since then, that has evolved to the US, where I tracked menus as well as concept trends, convenience stores, global food trends and so on. I’ve since found my niche, which is US restaurant menus, from independent restaurants up through the top chain restaurant space."

What does a regular day entail for you?

"There is no regular day in my role, especially amidst the pandemic. Given our clients’ changing needs, a day could be everything from digging into our syndicated Ignite Menu tool (which tracks thousands of menus on an interactive online interface) to predict future menu trends on the horizon for a conference presentation to tracking the KPIs for our tool, asking clients what they like and don’t like and ideating around ways to improve our products for clients."

You focus on menu trend tracking and analysis for independent restaurants, emerging chains, and top chain restaurant brands. What ingredients have been the most popular over the past year? Has the Covid-19 pandemic influenced this at all?

"Looking at some of the fastest-growing ingredients on menus from pre-pandemic to today, we’ve got a lot of functional immunity boosters, including dragon fruit (+57.8% in the past year) and spirulina (+22.9%); plant-based fare, including plant-based protein (+33.3%), oat milk (+23.4%) and cashew milk (+16.7%); and comfort fare, including gemelli (+28.0%) and honey butter (+18.5%)."
"On the alcoholic beverage side, it’s all been about RTDs, especially hard seltzers, the fastest-growing ingredient on the menus since pre-pandemic times, up 83.9%."

Looking to the future, what do you expect the next big trends will be in this space?

"At Technomic, we use artificial intelligence and machine learning to come up with menu trend predictions up to two years out. We do this by looking at historical menu trends, use social listening tools and consumer sentiment to come up with these predictions."
"At the moment, we’re predicting some of the fastest-growing items up through Q2 2023. With that being said, a lot of macro trends in the list include plant-based elements, such as plant-based poultry (predicted to grow 298% in operator penetration in the coming two years), oat milk (+173%), plant-based fish (+100%), plant-based cheese (+52%) and plant-based pork (+27%)."
"Global sauces are also popular in the list, including chamoy (+88%), gochujang (+29%) and lemongrass marinade (+25%). And immunity-boosters and functional ingredients are also predicted to be on the rise, including Meyer lemon sauce (+100%), kombucha (+51%) and acerola (+43%)."

It is important for ingredient manufacturers, restaurant owners and other F&B professionals to keep up to pace with the latest trends and consumer demands. Do you have any advice, tips, or tricks on how best to do this?

"Absolutely, it’s incredibly important for food and beverage professionals to understand the current state of the industry and be able to predict where trends are headed. Understanding how menu trends evolve through a lifecycle is the key to predicting where menu trends are headed."
"Technomic has a number of predictive tools and lifecycle tools to help manufacturers/suppliers, distributors and operators understand where the industry is headed."

Plant-based diets, immune-boosting ingredients, and sustainability are just a handful of the key trends driving innovation in the F&B industry today. If you had to place a bet on which one trend or ingredient will be the most dominant over the next 2 years, which would it be and why?

"I am always in awe of how some of our biggest macro trends evolve, namely health, global fare, and social media-driven innovation. It’s hard to pick just one, but those three seem to be topics we’re constantly discussing, and the micro trends within each of them are constantly evolving. That being said, I’d be curious to see where each of those are headed in the coming few years."
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