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2016 Top Ten Food Trends from The Food Channel

Our predictory look at what's happening in food!

The Food Channel® has released its Top Ten Food Trends for 2016. Based on research conducted by The Food Channel in conjunction with CultureWaves® and the International Food Futurists, the list identifies some of the significant changes expected to hit the food world.

“We’re seeing a huge emphasis on clean label, sustainability, functional food, and knowing the story behind a product,” said Kay Logsdon, editor of The Food Channel. “We’ve called out both flavors and industry behavior in this report, with something for the consumer and the food professional alike.”

This marks 28 years since The Food Channel began identifying trends around food. Highlights follow:

1. Clean Label

“Clean Label” is a term that needs no definition in the food world, where growers and food manufacturers are being asked daily to remove preservatives, artificial flavors, antibiotics and other potential allergens. Farm to table is no longer enough, given the realities of how we eat, not everything is farmers’ market fresh. Growers and food manufacturers are removing preservatives, artificial flavors, antibiotics, and other potential allergens in response to consumer demands for transparency.

2. A No Tipping Future

Restaurateur Danny Meyer is used to setting the standard—in food, in service, and in taking care of his employees. So we shouldn’t be surprised to see him leading the charge to change the way we pay at a restaurant. His policy is not without controversy as pundits debate the merits of incentive pay, but he’s also not alone. Joe’s Crab Shack is the first major chain to test a no-tipping policy. Leaside, a Toronto-based restaurant, dared to open with the policy in place, and worker-owned Casa Nueva has made the switch. Watch for phrases such as “hospitality included,” and for the impact to extend into the kitchen, where shared tips had become the norm. Will higher wages all around lead to menu prices that make us rethink the value of eating out, or will we adapt and love not having to pass judgment on our servers? Watch for “hospitality included” signs in the near future.

3. Tangy: the Newest Flavor Palate

As we look beyond spicy and sweet, we are moving into territory that incorporates a more nuanced palate. What used to be sweet is now savory, and vice versa.  Everything is getting flip-flopped as we try to figure out the newest and edgiest, or seek a new experience. It’s leading to stronger flavors that pack a punch to make sure we notice them.

4. The New Vegan

As we customize the way we eat, we keep assigning new terms to it with new definitions. This goes beyond flexitarian, beyond pegan (paleo/vegan), and into true personalization of what works for YOU. That may include figuring out how to eat at a fast-food restaurant on a vegan diet. Restaurants have been scrambling to accommodate this and are essentially making their own rules. We’re also seeing companies trying to fill the vegan niche with vegan alcohols. And we can’t forget what amounts to a rebranding of beans to accommodate the need. Check out the “pulse,” which is essentially the dry legume formerly known as the bean. India expects its pulse exports to double this year.

5. Searching for Super

Everyone is trying to find the next superfood. It has become a never-ending search, leading to the quick introduction of new foods, with quick turnaround if they don’t “stick.” While this appears to encourage innovation, it’s really become more about throwing an idea or product out there to see whether it takes off. The pattern is beginning to dilute our ability to enjoy “good food” when we require “super.”  That said, start watching for more seaweed on the menu—and not just seaweed, but different strains of seaweed! (We may also start calling it “seagreens” to appeal more to the masses.)  Other items on our radar are lingonberries and elderberries instead of blueberries, kohlrabi or collard greens instead of kale, avocado oil instead of coconut oil, and the everyday use of banana peel, BroccoLeaf, baobab, pitaya, chlorella and more.  

Watch the Video:

 

6. Merging Markets

Hershey and Krave. Hormel Foods and Applegate. Heinz and Kraft. Snyder’s-Lance and Diamond. Marriott and Starwood. Are we making better companies or just bigger ones? The merits of consolidation can be debated all day, but the reality is that mergers and acquisitions are big in the food and hospitality world. Some work and some don’t, as evidenced by the failed attempt to combine two major food distributors, U.S. Foods and Sysco. The reasons include everything from insurance against crop shortages all the way to calling it a sign of a maturing industry. It could also be that, outside of health, we haven’t seen a lot of true innovation in food in years—it’s been a lot of duplication, enhancement, or redesign—so that the only way to grow is to combine. That stimulates the competition to follow, since the only way to keep up is to grow. Some global implications come into play here, too, as some of the mergers include overseas acquisitions. That could pave the way for emerging world countries to boom in the food world.

7.     Cultural Diets

People are searching for their own culture, and, in doing so, are realizing that there may have been health benefits for their genetics and body type. The great American melting pot that is represented by our food may actually start to get sorted back out, as people embrace ethnicity without “Americanizing” it into something potentially unhealthy. Watch for cultural influences particularly from the American Indian and Nordic cultures. We believe this includes a shift into mixing lifestyle and food choices. Just look at the new Health Goth, or at entertainment such as Holy & Hungry, where faith and food are mixed, or at the growing interest in rituals such as Kung Fu tea, where part of the food pleasure is in maximizing the customs around it.

8.     Decadent Desserts

Decadence is making a comeback. If we are regulated everywhere, apparently we have to have an outlet somewhere. We’re seeing it big time in things such as boozy cereal milkshakes and fried milkshakes. We’re also seeing darker chocolate show up, thanks to the implied benefits from higher cacao. Then there is the move toward incorporating marijuana or hemp in recipes. It’s not just the THC-laced brownies of the 60s and 70s. Now we have foods with the hemp-based CBD additive that reportedly pulls the beneficial effects out without the psychoactive effects.

See our Brownies with Benefits article for more on the subject.

9.     Coffee Flavor and Flair

Instead of flavoring our coffees, now we are flavoring nearly everything else with coffee, caffeine boost included! We’re moving beyond mocha cakes and cookies and right into things like chewable coffee cubes, coffee candy, coffee rubs, and coffee beer. We haven’t really substituted home brews for our coffeehouse addiction—we’ve expanded it. Hotels and restaurants are incorporating a coffee process story into their brands, too—making the story as relevant as the flavor. Chains such as Fairmont Hotels, Marriott, Hilton and Le Méridien are all implementing higher standards of coffee service, and new hotspots are offering an all-decaf experience.

10.  Food Entertainment

We called this out in 2012 when we highlighted the trend toward TV, YouTube and celebrity chefs. Now we’re seeing it integrated into mainstream television and movies, with shows such as Fresh Off the Boat (based on Chef Eddie Huang’s life) and movies such as Burnt, just two of the latest entries into the entrée market. Also growing in popularity are the food-related movies airing on Hallmark Channel and the new Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel. They’ve gone so far as to adapt culinary mysteries into fun movies that include recipe references. It seems our appetite for food programming is still being fed, with no sign of anyone pushing back from the remote.

BONUS:  Redefined Snacking

Are we eating more meals a day, or are we just grazing and rarely sitting down to a real meal? If it's the latter, where are we getting our nutrients? Driven by the Millennial lifestyle, snack products are becoming need-specific to fit the consumer’s agenda throughout the day. This puts consumers in control of when they consume their smaller “meals” and gives them more voice in the type of products available to them.

See our Food Channel Video of the Top Ten Trends, too!

Recipes are also available for some of the trends:

Tangy:

Green Beans with Figs and Pears

The New Vegan:

Black Bean Chocolate Cake

Cultural Diets:

Navajo Taco Bread

Decadent Desserts:

Delightfulls™ Chocolate Chip Cookies

Coffee Flavor and Flair:

Espresso Cocoa-Crusted Cheeseburger Sliders

Food Entertainment:

Victimless Omelette