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Eight food trends for 2018

Sysco SHAPE January 2018

Food waste, plant-based menu items, savory desserts, living foods will fuel menu changes this year.

As 2018 gets underway, chefs and operators find themselves wondering what the new year will bring. In answer to their queries, industry pundits have been busy deciphering the tea leaves in an effort to identify some of the food and business trends we might expect to encounter as the year unfolds. Among the more notable predictions are the following eight trends which could help shape the industry's progress in 2018.

Waste not

One of the most consequential food trends that the industry can expect to face in 2018 has more to do with what ends up in the dumpster than what appears on the plate. Increasingly, restaurateurs will find themselves on the front line in the battle to reduce the daunting amount of food waste being channeled into our landfills. ReFED, a food-waste reduction company, says U.S. restaurants generate 11.4 million tons of food waste annually. Matthew Britt, chef-instructor at Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts in Providence, R.I., calls food waste a "huge issue." He says chefs will have to plan meals more carefully with a strategic eye toward making ingredients do double and triple duty in the future — while at the same time donating more leftover food to the needy.

Mainstream embraces plant-forward movement

Americans are pursuing healthier lifestyles, with a growing number of restaurant patrons incorporating more plant-based foods in their diets. The shift away from meats toward more vegetarian fare is expected to go mainstream — a movement that has prompted Baum + Whiteman to dub it 2018 Trend of the Year and declare that more plant-forward chain startups will be seeking growth funding in the coming years. Meanwhile, the industry is witnessing a boom in legumes — in particular lentils. Scott Allmendinger, director of consulting at the Culinary Institute of America located in Hyde Park, N.Y., predicts a surge in the use of lentils in multiple menu items, including in mashups with different meats. The plant-forward movement also is expected to fuel interest in the local growing and milling of grains.

Going global

As chefs dive deeper into the riches of global cookery, experts predict that a number of largely untapped international cuisines will influence U.S. menu makers in 2018. San Francisco consultancy af&co. advises chefs to look to the cooking of Israel for inspiration in 2018, calling Israeli flavors "deep and vibrant, lending themselves well to both savory and sweet applications." Af&co. also foresees the rise of regional Mexican cuisines — think Oaxaca — with their "incredible variety." Meanwhile, New York consultancy Baum + Whiteman predicts three "next wave" cuisines — Philippine, Indian fast-casual street food and upscale Korean — will soon be making a splash on U.S. restaurant shores.

Sweet and savory

Johnson & Wale's Britt says he expects to see more sweet and savory combinations pop up on menus in 2018. Chiefly, he says, look for chefs to incorporate more savory ingredients into desserts. The pairing of salt and caramel has already yielded one universally popular combination, but Britt also expects to find such foods as olives — which also impart saltiness — worked into sweet dessert items like sponge cake. Mushrooms, with their earthy, umami qualities, are another savory ingredient which will likely find its way into breads and other sweet dishes.

Living food: The power of sour

Many professional culinarians are predicting an increase in the consumption of living foods, notably in the form of probiotics. Slightly sour tasting, foods containing probiotics provide beneficial forms of gut bacteria which stimulate natural enzymes in the body, helping to maintain digestive health. Fermented foods in particular are gaining traction on menus as chefs produce their own products in-house — a process that is only expected to gain momentum in the next year. Some of the most popular fermented foods which can introduce living bacteria into the digestive system are unpasteurized yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, miso soup, kimchi, soy sauce, tempeh and kombucha tea.

Rockin' the classics

What's old is new again as chefs and operators dig back into the classics for inspiration. With the world in such an unsettled state, consumers are once again embracing nostalgic dishes which provide an element of comfort and cultural warmth. Af&co. predicts the return of such items as meatloaf, wedge salads, deviled eggs, seafood towers and crudités. The trend toward reintroducing the classics is also reflected in restaurant holiday menus as chefs revisit vintage items such as roast goose, stuffed oysters, smoked ham, New England boiled dinner and soda bread made from scratch.

The rise of fine casual

Fine casual is a relatively new term to the foodservice lexicon, but experts predict it will be on more tongues than kale as we move into the new year. Some see it as a merger of fine, classic cuisine rendered in a more casual format — minus tablecloths and possibly even table service. Fine-casual concepts could showcase a limited palette of ingredients channeled into carefully devised menu items. Such restaurants might even feature elements such as a wine bar and optional tasting menu. Af&co. says fine-casual places will cater to consumers who value quality, speed and customization above quantity. Britt indicates they will offer elements of classical cuisine presented in an approachable form, reflected in high quality food that's affordable.

Ice cream with a kick

Restaurateurs looking to power up their dessert or snack menus a notch or two might want to take a look at the cool new trend of spiking ice cream with alcoholic beverages. Baum + Whiteman cites a New York operation which offers hand-dipped cones topped with adult ice cream flavors like dark chocolate whiskey, maple pecan bourbon and cake batter vodka martini. Beer-infused ice cream and red wine slushies are other examples of boozy dessert items that are catching on across the industry. Definitely not a treat for the kids.

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