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10 Food Trends to Watch in 2017

SHAPE January 2017

It's January once again, and members of the foodservice community are wondering what the new year holds in store for them. As expected, experts gazing deep into their crystal ball or reading the tea leaves are identifying a broad — and occasionally conflicting — set of trends. We can expect to see vegetables continue their steady march into the culinary spotlight while over-the-top milkshakes threaten to explode well-intentioned diets. Menu makers will explore the cuisines of other countries while they also seek inspiration closer to home from our regional American food favorites. Meanwhile, we can look forward to new and exciting flavors, food preparation techniques and ingredients in 2017. Here are 10 trends to keep an eye on as the year unfolds.

It's a tasty world after all
Ethnic and global dishes will continue to gain ground on menus, with operators taking them in new directions by providing a contemporary twist. According to Andrew Freeman & Co.'s annual forecast, chefs and restaurateurs are modernizing such cuisines as Indian, Turkish, Korean, African and Middle Eastern. “People are embracing flavors farther eastward in the Mediterranean and Middle East,” says chef John Griffiths in the AF & Co.  2017 Trends Report. “I expect to see a further incorporation of Turkish and Middle Eastern spice combinations and dishes. With so many men and women of the military stationed abroad in these regions and Afghanistan, I think our acceptance of those cuisines will increase.”

Southern pride
Don't look overseas for all of the hot food trends, though. The foods of Dixie are rising again. Biscuits, long a staple of regional menus, are increasingly popping up in the Southland, and are even forming the cornerstone of several new concepts. Look for biscuit sales to heat up everywhere in 2017, says Fred LeFranc, CEO and president of Results Thru Strategy. In addition southern fare in general is helping to shape more menus. But while traditional southern food is finding new proponents among restaurateurs and chefs, the key is to make the classics like the galactically popular fried chicken more nutritious, says Sharon Olson of the Culinary Visions Panel in Chicago. “It has to be delicious and healthful,” she says.

Breakfast bonanza
With breakfast still promising opportunity for growth, operators will look for ways to differentiate themselves from the expanding morning menu pack. Taking a cue from the groundbreaking — and evergreen — Egg McMuffin, many QSR and fast casual operators are seeking inspiration in the breakfast sandwich arena. “Think breakfast sandwiches on dinner menus and Michelin-starred restaurants doling out egg sandwiches paired with exceptional latte art in the morning,” says Andrew Freeman & Co. in its 2017 Trends Report.  AF & Co. points to trendsetting operations offering selections like a bacon, egg and harissa sandwich on the dinner menu, or a cinnamon roll French toast breakfast sandwich served all day.

Consumer's choice
Millennials and Gen Zers will continue to explore world flavors, including vegetable-centric cuisines. If there is any economic uncertainty, consumers may once again turn to comfort food favorites, predicts Amy Myrdal Miller, founder and president of Farmer's Daughter Consulting. For older diners in the Midwest, that may mean a return to dishes like meatloaf and mashed potatoes. And for younger diners on the coasts, that may mean the comfort of a warm bowl of vegetarian ramen or curry.

Fermenting flavors
Look for the popularity of fermentation to grow in 2017 as chefs take the age-old technique in new, more adventurous directions. Matthew Britt, chef instructor at Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts in Providence, Rhode Island, says there is a lot of curiosity surrounding the fermentation process, and chefs are taking foods normally served in a fresh, natural state and allowing them to ferment in-house where they're able to “develop nuances of flavor. The longer something sits, the more flavors develop.” Ingredients such as black beans, cabbage, garlic and peppers are subject to a chemical change that yields a flavor unlike any other, proponents say. However, Britt cautions, the process “takes a lot of management.”

Validating all of the veggie
Move over farm-to-table and nose-to-tail; the root-to-leaf movement is gathering momentum. Like the nose-to-tail trend in which every part of the animal is employed, root to leaf advocates the use of the entire vegetable in the dining experience, Johnson & Wales' Britt says. Previously underutilized parts of the vegetable like beet greens or carrot tops become a component of the dish. For instance, Britt points to one example where pumpkin soup is served in hollowed out mini pumpkins. “We're seeing a lot more chefs get creative with vegetables,” he says.

Balancing the plate
The rise of the vegetable in the professional kitchen is bringing about a tectonic shift in plating strategies. Restaurants are finding that meat and veggies can coexist nutritionally on the plate, but the emerging “plant forward” movement recommends that a greater share of plate real estate be allotted to vegetables while the meat component is reduced, according to Scott Allmendinger, director of consulting for the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.   Prompted by rising food costs, wellness concerns and sustainability, “the category is taking hold quickly,” Allmendinger says. Also, look for more vegetable-and-meat blends, like mushrooms and ground beef or turkey.

Bowled over
Pack up your plates, and welcome to bowl nation.   New York-based international consultancy Baum+Whiteman says players in the fast casual segment can't get enough of the trendy bowl concept, a do-it-yourself, multicultural catch-all idea that can encompass any ingredient fancied by an operator or customer. Bowl concepts are popping up everywhere, Baum+Whiteman says, led by both veterans and operators new to the scene. One chain features a stir-fry bowl with more than 40 customizable options which include proteins, sauces, vegetables and starches. Limited only by a menu maker’s imagination, these bowls have a place in every daypart and at a variety of price points.

Turning sour
Inspired by the success of the in-house pickling trend, chefs are growing more adventurous when it comes to sour flavors, according to the CIA's Allmendinger. He expects that foods and beverages jazzed up with a sour component will become more menu friendly, much as peppers and hot foods have done in recent years. Allmendinger cites as an example the popularity of such drinks as sour ales and drinking vinegars. Chefs also will find other uses for preserved and pickled vegetables in recipes, like curry flavored with pickled blueberries. The mantra, Allmendinger predicts, will be “how sour can you go.”

Super shakes
Just when you thought it was safe to open the dessert menu again, along comes the “Freakshake.” This double-barreled indulgence, which has been rocking menus in Australia and the U.K. for several years, is beginning to detonate diets in the U.S.   A 50-megaton nuclear calorie bomb, this type of freestyle milkshake can be topped with ice cream, rivers of sauce, mountains of whipped cream and “insane quantities” of cake, cookies, donuts, ice cream sandwiches and candies — including gummy bears, reports Baum+Whiteman. Apparently not for the faint of heart, Freakshakes also can be supercharged with a selection of alcoholic beverages.


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