Wednesday, December 16, 2009
In a back-to-basics economy perhaps it is natural to return to basic ingredients. This isn’t about retro, or comfort food, or even cost. It’s about determining the essentials and stocking your pantry accordingly. It is about pure, simple, clean and sustainable. It is—dare we say—a shift from convenience foods to scratch cooking, now that we have more time than money and more food knowledge and concerns.
It is a natural shift, when you think about it. The trend is toward concentrating on quality, basic ingredients and building a menu from there. That’s where the value is going to be in 2010. It’s partially based on how chefs eat at home—something we all know more about thanks to the increase in sharing from celebrity chefs, cooking shows and foodie blogs (a trend we predicted in 2009). It’s economy driven to a point, but think about it—we aren’t all digging out the Spam®. Instead, we’re exploring the extendability of known ingredients to prepare ourselves for the long haul of economic recovery.
Basic ingredients are trending high because people are still eating more at home, and they need a foundation for nightly meals. Expect to see more education that focuses on what you need in your refrigerator and pantry. Expect online shopping to focus less on luxury items and more on basics. People will be willing to spend more of their money on basics and will find that, in the long run, they end up spending less because they have less waste, higher quality and more value.
This will include some variety and the general acceptance of “new basic,” with some items we consider essential that our grandmothers may not have used—for example, olive and other oils in different flavors and styles. So while we are keeping it real, we’ll also be redefining what the staples are in many kitchens. We’ve already made a substantial shift in how we shop, prepare food, and eat, and we don’t expect this to change even if the economy improves. We are done with excess, and ready to knuckle down for an extended period to the essentials of life and of food.
When’s the last time you sat down to fine dining at a taco truck? If you live in L.A., chances are you’ve at least given it a try (Kimchee quesadilla, anyone?). How about selecting your own wine by the glass after sampling a few from an Enomatic system, the way you can at Nora’s Wine Bar & Osteria? Or, you sit down at a restaurant like Avec in Chicago and the complete stranger sitting next to you offers a sample of his focaccia with taleggio cheese, truffle oil and fresh herbs.
Restaurant concepts are in flux as people redefine what going “out” to eat means. Gastropubs, fusion dining, shareables, and communal tables are all being tried. While this started because of the economy it will finish because consumers will indicate what works for them and what doesn’t. New concepts around “fresh” and DIY will do well—what started as omelet stations in hotels are going to be extended to more involvement and choice in freshly cooked foods. You may even see restaurants that eliminate the server in lieu of a redefined self-serve (of course, food safety is a primary motivator in whether this will work or not).
The restaurant chains are losing ground in an over-saturated market, and we expect a market correction. We’re beginning to see some creativity, like the building that is a breakfast restaurant by day, and an Italian bistro by night. Sure, it’s a bit complicated, but the idea of fully utilizing space, sharing rent and utilities, and even sharing advertising . . . you have to admit that’s pretty innovative.
Restaurants that bring excitement to family dining will show gains, particularly because the “family” we go out to eat with may, or may not, be actual family. Who you are eating with is going to be more important than what you are eating. Experimentation is the trend, so we’ll see some concepts come and go. Here’s a tip: If you want to know which restaurants are in trouble, visit their restrooms. It’s usually the first sign of neglect.
We predict growth in grocery stores, particularly as private label assumes prominence. Those old generics have morphed into their own brands, so that there is a blurring and less of a caste system—there is no particular glory in using a “name brand” anymore (unless you are ketchup). Why would you when there is little to no difference in quality, and the price differential is significant? In fact, you may see some co-branding between private branding and the big guys.
And that’s not the only way grocery stores are growing. They have been paying attention to the trends and are doing things such as upgrading their delis and fresh take out sections, all the way to returning butchers to a place of prominence. Yes, we know that we’ve spent years eliminating the in-store butcher, but we think you’ll see more of a specialty butcher presence in locally owned grocery stores. Just as in restaurants, the stores that can help redefine the family dinner table are going to show the most gains. We’re all looking for meal solutions for dinner that take us beyond fast food to good food fast. In fact, we’ll go so far as to say that grocery stores will be stealing share from take out when they offer good quality, pre-prepped convenience. Anyone who has picked up a rotisserie chicken knows exactly what we mean.
Grocery stores may well begin catering more to the aging population, both in selection and accommodation. Aisles that allow for mobile chairs, shelves that place things at eye view—it won’t be overnight, but it will happen.
And, expect people to shop everyday without apology. Yes, we’ll still buy some things in bulk to save money, but we’ll also be willing to supplement our practicality with fresh, wholesome ingredients that we pick up on the way home. Grocery shopping, in other words, is less of a chore and more of a way to provide personalization, fresh ingredients, and create less waste in the long run.
By the way, social networking will help with this, as we learn to use Twitter and locations searches to find the best deals and the best experiences, pre-sorted for us by others who have gone before—maybe just minutes before! This is happening in restaurants, like Order Pizza, a free iPhone app that lets users order from any number of local pizzerias. Yowza gives you coupons from multiple places. Watch for this to grow across everyplace you find your food.
This is all about flavor delivery. Immigration has come to the plate, and we are now defining a new Global Flavor Curve. Part comfort, part creativity, the latest flavors are coming from the great American melting pot. So, it’s about grandma’s food, but the recipes may be written in Japanese. American food is distinctive in its lack of identity outside of the hamburger—until, that is, you mix in our heritage. This is the year we’ll do it in a big way. The presentation of food, the flavor, and the experimentation is coming into its own in 2010.
It’s really a redefinition of “ethnic” to take it beyond even traditional thinking. Flavors from Africa and Japan and Asia are joining with Mexican and Italian as top-of-mind choices—“Let’s go out for Thai” is as common in many American cities as “I’m craving Mexican.” And, the menu in that Thai restaurant may well offer a side of French fries.
It’s not just about restaurants, of course. The true American ethnic is a merging of flavors at home. We’re taking those old recipes, and we’re applying our own cooking knowledge and available spices to make them “original” all over again. We’re pairing things differently, too—a little from this country, a little from that, and we have a new flavor and texture combination that is distinctly American. It’s a great time to be a spice.
Yes, some of these recipes and this experimentation means we are spending more time in the kitchen, but we’ve decided as a country to make that part of what defines us—cooking is part of our relaxation, our sense of accomplishment, and our social engagement.
You are what you eat, and we are big into understanding ourselves! That’s what’s leading this trend—our constant need for assurance that we are eating the right things, that our food is safe, that we are not ingesting pesticides or anything that will someday prove harmful. If we can provide jobs, help the economy, protect animals and ensure a sustained food supply at the same time, well, that’s all the better.
Call it food vetting, sourcing or whatever you want—the issue is that people are asking where their food comes from. We call it the “new luxury food” because it can be more expensive to include that traceability into delivery, but we want it anyway. It’s everything from looking for mercury-safe seafood to wanting to know that humane treatment was given to farm animals. It’s about no hormones in meats, and organically-grown fruits and vegetables. It’s about Fair Trade chocolate and spices.
It’s about branded meat coming into its own so that you can trust the source and make your choices based on what the animals were fed, where they were pastured and how they were slaughtered. Expect to see more like what Dean & Deluca is doing with its Brandt Beef:
With roots in quality livestock dating back to the early 1900s, this single family of American beef producers has made it their passion and decades-old tradition to raise cattle sustainably, humanely . . . naturally.
We might even begin tagging our food so we can follow it from source, to purchase, to table.
While society is more than one step removed from much of its food source these days, Food Vetting is an attempt to pull us closer and give us an element of control. We want to know where our food comes from, how it’s grown and harvested, and whether it is truly good for us or not.
We think people have mainstreamed sustainability. Unlike a year ago, when we were somewhat afraid to use the word, now it flows trippingly off the tongue. America in particular is just now learning how to be sustainable, and Americans are holding themselves responsible. They aren’t doing this to create an illusion—there are a lot of “green echo” people out there trying to make it look like they are green. In 2010 we’ll see people and companies becoming sustainable for authentic reasons; they are doing it to make a difference. After all, that’s what comes with understanding.
If we are going local and sustainable, some things are going to change. “Nearby” and “hometown” may help clarify that “local” designation. After all, how does a town like Las Vegas, that doesn’t really grow anything, offer local vegetables?
Packaging will be another key difference here. You’ll see more bamboo and biodegradable, and “nude food” that is more transparent with less packaging. Of course, it extends to the food itself as well. Eating local will be recognized as a sustainable way to eat. Eating seasonal and fresh is sustainable. Biodegradable packaging is sustainable. Grass fed beef—something we predict you’ll see more of in 2010—is all about sustainability as well as flavor. We are assimilating sustainability and making it work for us instead of fighting it.
Call it what you will—nutritional, healthful, good-for-you—but this trend toward beneficial foods is growing at a pretty big rate. Expect food to either have nutrients added, or have the word “free” (gluten-free, allergy-free). Just last year we talked about “functional food,” which was really about adding ingredients to pump up the nutritional value. Before that, it was “fortified.” Next year we see this idea morphing into a grown-up version.
Sara Lee, for example, is coming out with its new “Soft & Smooth Plus made with DHA Omega-3—the nutrient that has been identified as supporting healthy brain development during the formative years. We’ve mainstreamed probiotics, like Activia with Bifidus Regularis. We’ve become used to food with calcium added, or vitamins identified, but this year we’ll see a stronger statement—we will be defining “good for you” as, “includes specific vitamins and nutrients.” And, it will be across both food at home and away from home, so look for some company or companies to get on the bandwagon and be the ones to establish a uniform code so we can understand more about what we are buying. In fact, a leader is coming out of private branding with the NuVal™ Nutritional Scoring System. It is designed to help you cut through confusing nutrition information so you can make decisions about food quickly and easily, and feel good about your choices.
This is where we change the way we feed our children, starting with a response to education funding cuts and making sure that school lunch menus are built with beneficial foods and not just “cheap” foods. Expect to see more about how to feed a family for pennies and still ensure nutrition. Before we trusted; now we know more and we are getting involved with our food to know what it’s made from, what’s been added to it, and why we should care.
The “foodie” has settled into a more universal designation of someone who loves food—not a food snob. They are just as likely to want a PB&J as they are to try the latest soft shell crab sushi. And they may put French fries on it! The point is experimentation and a willingness to try new things. They are the ones who find their adventure leaning over the cookstove rather than climbing the mountaintop—although a mix of both would be just fine.
The new foodie is driving all kinds of adventures in flavor, too. A little butterscotch on my bacon? Sure. Onion rings on top of my double-cheese hamburger? Why not. We all love the juxtaposition of lobster with macaroni and cheese; it’s the startling mix of high brow and low brow that raises eyebrows! That’s a trend in and of itself: the whole idea of formal and relaxed going together, in one event, one meal, even one dish.
You can also expect more game meat to be found in fine dining (pheasant ravioli, anyone?). Smoked food is gaining traction. And, we’re seeing the trend toward upscale bar food (sushi instead of wings) and the new “bar chef” concept. It’s as though once we realized that there could be a new taste sensation (thanks to the identification of umami, the savory taste found in meat, fish, vegetables and dairy) to join sweet, sour, salty and bitter, we opened our mind to see what else might be out there! Mood foods? New colors? Surprising flavors? Who knows?
All of these mini-trends can be rolled into a new way of thinking about food and a new willingness for adventure and experimentation. Will the next interesting invention be yours?
We’ve called it “the rental economy” and just plain ol’ bartering. In an era when you can rent a name-brand purse for a special event, we want to know how we can apply that same concept to consumables.
We’re hearing phrases such as “bring the bounty” tossed around in the UK, and we’ve heard all the past year about Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA’s. Farmer’s Markets have become a major commodity and roadside stands are considered chic. So what do we do in a bad economy when we have more time than money and skills that we still want to put to use? We barter.
It’s not a straight trade anymore, because people have come to realize that what one person makes may not be what the other person needs. But someone out there needs it—that’s why barter-exchange companies like BizXchange are springing up to redefine banking with “trade dollars.”
We predict that we’ll all see more of the barter system come into play now that technology can assist with the connections. You see it on everything from Craig’s List to Bright Neighbor. We’ll be trading skill and time for food, and vice versa. Not necessarily one-to-one, but through new networks made possible by technology.
We’ll also see a version of barter during this holiday season, as we exchange our old idea of a retail gift for a homemade dish. That giant red bow you used to see on top of a car? Put it on a casserole dish with the recipe attached. Exchange a little food comfort with your friends—beyond cookies; think homemade soups that you’ve frozen and paired with a loaf of homemade bread. And think a box of tomatoes in exchange for babysitting. It’s a simple idea that starts simply, and that we will embrace like never before.
It really is about you. It’s the rise of the individual. While sharing has come into its own in restaurant concepts (goodbye additional plate charge), there is a separate but equal trend toward individuality. It’s part of the reason why we are making our own cheese, smoking our own meats, and making our own specialty desserts.
Blame the cupcake, which brought attention to the individual dessert trend, but people are now casting about for the next cupcake. Even pizza delivery got into the game with Domino’s individual lava cakes. Expect more attention to the individual, but it’s not just about portion size—it’s also about food that reflects personality. Expect places like Flat Top Grill, where you pull all your own ingredients for any meal of the day (what will you put in your pancake?) to thrive because they cater to you.
With the decline of the economy, it’s more important than ever that you have a voice. We are not letting go of our own M.O. In the Great Depression, people lost their individuality and became “the masses.” In this Great Recession, we are fighting to maintain our identity. So, we pull out the camera phone before we pull out the forks, snapping away at the food we have either prepared or special ordered to capture the creation.
Think about it—do the casual dining establishments have much personality, or do they all run together? The reality is most of them have a limited repertoire when it comes to seasoning, because that’s the only way they can control things with untrained cooks in the back-of-the-house. The trend, though, is toward infusing food and establishments with personality, and it’s why some of them have claimed celebrity chefs and more interesting menus to go along with it. Expect the flavor to begin to accommodate the rise in personal preference and expectations.
This special blog is a reprint of an Email I received from my friend Harry Roberts who knows I understand the food industry. It’s with his permission that I am sharing it with you. Foodservice Solutions of Tacoma, WA is the global leader in the Grocerant niche. View my complete profile at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/grocerant or leave a comment or question below. www.foodandbeverageunderground.com/grocerant-trend.html