Every new year brings a new set of food trend predictions. This is when we are reminded that it's not always easy to see into the future.
“A good trend is like an Impressionist painting,” said Dana Cowin, the former editor in chief at "Food & Wine" to the “New York Times.” “It’s something that looks like one thing, and then you dive in and see it’s really a collection of many little points of paint.”
Not to mention, trends don’t just occur over night and they have a habit of sneaking up on you.
“True food trends move at kind of a glacial pace,” said Annika Stensson, director of research communications for the National Restaurant Association (NRA) to the “New York Times.”. “It can take a decade or more to reach the mainstream.”
Last year, we saw consumers gravitate to high-quality, locally-sourced ingredients, cleaner foods, gluten-free foods, Vegan foods, seasonal menus, ethnic foods like Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, alternative protein sources, sustainable food, hand-crafted beverages, and more.
Are any of the above just a temporary? Or was it just the beginning?
We decided to sit down with Stensson, who leads up the research effort for the NRA’s What’s Hot chef survey and the annual Restaurant Industry Forecast, to see what food trends are expected to emerge, gain more momentum, or slip away in 2017.
What food trends from 2016 do you think will emerge even stronger in 2017?
Stensson: True trends develop rather slowly over time, while fads can come and go quickly. When talking about true food trends, we’ll see further evolution and mainstream spread of the larger trends toward local sourcing and eco-friendly food this year.
Many food trends have recently taken a turn to become more concept-based than single-ingredient-based, and I think we’ll see more evidence of that in the year ahead. House-made food items and global cuisines in various forms will also pick up speed.
What about new food trends, what do you predict we will see on menus this year?
Stensson: With trends broadening into wider ideas, it’s not so much about whether kale or cauliflower will be the hottest trend, but whether that kale and cauliflower is grown locally and in an environmentally conscious way, and how it’s prepared that will matter more.
Some trends that are also gaining momentum are non-traditional ethnic cuisines – especially African flavors – food transparency, fancy takes on street food, and ancient grains beyond quinoa.
Will we see these trends impact all segments, including quick-serve?
Stensson: While many restaurant visits are occasion-based, consumers tend to view their dietary habits in a more holistic way these days. They want to stick to their chosen diet no matter how, when or where they dine out. Because of this, food trends tend to run fairly similar among restaurant segments.
Do you see plant-based and alternative proteins playing a bigger role in 2017
Stensson: Non-meat protein options have been brewing as a trend for a while. Protein-rich grains are in the top 20 food trends, according to our What’s Hot in 2017 chef survey, and veggie-centric cuisine is also coming on strong as a trend.
Meanwhile, insects top the “yesterday’s news” list, indicating that those are more of a novelty on the American culinary scene at this time. It’s not likely that these protein sources will replace animal protein anytime soon, though, but serve more as a complement to offer a wider variety of options to consumers.
What segment, quick-serve, fast casual, casual dining or fine dining- do you see as the one growing the most next year and why?
Stensson: As the economic outlook for the restaurant industry continues to be mixed into 2017, we’re likely to see more of the same as in 2016.
Restaurant operators will be working their way through some pretty strong headwinds from several directions, but the industry as a whole will still advance at a moderate pace, with some variances by region and segment. We’ll likely continue to see limited-service outpace fullservice when it comes to sales growth, as consumers are still cautious with spending in an uncertain economic environment.
[Note: the NRA’s 2017 Restaurant Industry Forecast was not completed as of the publish date of this article.]