This is Part I of a two-part series, listing the Top Ten Food Trends for 2014 as identified by The Food Channel®, in conjunction with insights company CultureWaves®. Click here for Part II.
1. The Midwestern Food Movement
This is all about farm fresh and local taken to the next level, using the types of food readily available in the Midwest. After all, the East Coast is known for Italian; the West Coast for seafood—perhaps its time the Midwest became more than a flyover state. In fact, chefs such as St. Louis’ Gerard Craft at Niche are beginning to focus on the ingredients available in the Midwest and doing interesting things with root vegetables, steaks, and more. But there is nothing more Midwestern than a buttermilk soaked fried chicken, which led us to Amy Thielen, host of Heartland Table on the Food Network. Her new cookbook, The New Midwestern Table, is inspired by her Minnesota roots. We expect to see more Midwestern style cooking in this true food movement, as more chefs discover and put their own twists on some traditional foods that Midwesterners have kept secret for all these years.
2. Low Tea
Bet you thought it was “high tea,” didn’t you? The reality is that the designation was more based on table size than anything! High tea was served at the dinner table, usually to the middle and lower classes, and was more substantial since it held them over while they served dinner to “the family” and may have replaced lunch (and maybe dinner, too) for them all together. The upper classes had a “low tea” that was more likely to be served in the drawing room or parlor, on a low table. It was meant to sustain them prior to evening activities.
The influence of Downton Abbey (which returns in January 2014) may reign here, but it’s just one of the reasons we’ve called out the celebration of tea. It's also attributable to European roots and the desire to emulate great experiences at white table restaurants and bring them down-to-earth. Grandmothers everywhere love creating tea parties for their grandchildren and are pulling out all the stops to create delicacies and milk-laced tea for their grandchildren. Those who have found more frequent small meals suit them better than three heavy meals a day have added afternoon tea for a quick pick up meal. Some might even consider it a follow up to brunch, since teatime recipes are often downsized brunch concepts. Let’s just say we’ve developed a taste for tea.
Low tea is a light meal or snack, usually served around 4 pm, and often shared with guests. We see a return to this “extra” meal and are creating some interesting recipes to help you recreate it, too. So check back for our follow up series of great recipes suited for a fabulous tea party!
3. Distracted Dining
You do it at home, especially when you eat on the run. Now restaurants are beginning to put their menu items into forms that accommodate the cell phone obsessed—so you can eat with one hand, while the other holds the phone. Sandwiches, wraps, small bites are all sticking to the menu and growing because they don’t require two-fisted dining. These restaurants have given up the fight to have people concentrate on their food (or on their companion) and are bowing to the pressure to make it more convenient to eat and not run. Of course, we see the other side, too, where restaurants are creating “no cell phone” zones. But to accommodate the masses, we predict you’ll see more catering to the multi-tasking.
4. Bread Rises to the Top
We’ve talked a lot about artisanal breads in the past, even calling out the now-mainstream trend toward pretzel bread. If you need an example, fast food chain Wendy’s is launching a new limited time offer with brioche (replacing their more recent LTO, pretzel bread). Our culinary teams are looking carefully at what’s next, but breads continue to be big, even in a gluten-free world. As we look at the overarching trend, it’s about the flavor experience of bread and how it’s moving more to the center of the plate. Expect breads in more flavors, more forms, and dipped in more than just egg batter in the future.
Some of this is led by a return to home baked bread, but it goes beyond that to bread with benefits (flax seed, anyone?), salted bread, flavored breads and bread as the main course. Instead of being a carrier, bread is now surrounding itself with a variety of proteins and flavors. Bread salad, breaded meatballs and meatloaf, bread pudding, muffin cups, flatbread pizzas, stuffing casseroles—all of these are making us rethink how bread impacts a meal.
5. Investing in Food
Even in the worst days of the Recession, you’d hear people say, “invest in food—we all still eat three times a day.” The financial community has begun to take notice, with restaurant investments becoming hot property and restaurant stocks soaring. The overarching trend here goes beyond investing and is more about the way the food world has begun building trust. In previous years we’ve called out Food Insecurity issues and Local Somewhere, which are all ways to build trust with the world. Those in the food business take it seriously. After all, one attack of food poisoning can hurt a restaurant’s image irretrievably. The fact that stocks such as Potbelly and Darden are trusted means that investors have decided the food world knows what it is doing. We’re beginning to trust what they serve—even when the discussion begins to revolve around extending food expiration dates and addressing world hunger in new ways. We get behind their causes, we support their staff, we even use our own social media to help build their brand equity.
Look at is this way: for a number of years, entertainment has driven celebrity chefdom, which eventually leads to those chefs opening restaurants. The tide has turned and great restaurateurs are finding ways to entertain, without having to give up their restaurant in the process—they are more believable because they continue to invest in the passion that made them popular in the first place. We’ve found “brand sanctuary” and are placing our trust in something we understand. After all, we still eat three times a day.
For Part II of the 2014 Top Ten Food Trends, click here.