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TrendWire, June 2011

The Food Channel Trendwire
June 2011 • Volume 25, Number 3 • http://www.foodchannel.com
IN THIS EDITION

National Restaurant Show 2011: Mad for Social Media

In 2010 the buzz at the annual massive restaurant convention at Chicago’s McCormick Place was about mobile gourmet food trucks. This year it’s been more about the social media used to track down those trucks, and about ways to turn all those technology-savvy “followers” walking around with their smart phones into bona fide customers.

Today, 80 percent of restaurant operators say that social media will be an increasingly important marketing tool for them. The National Restaurant Association responded with an abundance of educational programs at this year’s show geared to address the issue.

Representatives from Facebook, Google, Living Social, Groupon and Social Grub were on hand to present and interact with interested restaurateurs and other attendees.

“Social media savvy consumers dine out more often and show a higher level of engagement in the restaurant community than other consumers, so building a strong social media marketing strategy is a smart move for restaurateurs,” said C.W. Craig Reed, Convention Chair for NRA Show 2011 and Director of Food and Beverage, Broadmoor Hotel.

Among the programs presented at NRA were these:

  • Making friends, building followers and turning fans into ambassadors through social media.
  • Using social media technologies to reward brand loyalty
  • Collective buying: how social commerce can help your restaurant find new customers
  • Debate: Are online reviews a good or bad thing?
NRA banner

With restaurants being the #1 category driven by word of mouth and consumer recommendations, it’s not surprising there would be this level of excitement over social media. A restaurant recommendation delivered via Facebook, Twitter or other platform can reach hundreds, even thousands, almost instantaneously.

One example: late last fall, Facebook Deals entered the foodservice picture, quickly signing up McDonald’s, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Starbucks and others to the program, which allows restaurants who sign up to access Facebook’s millions of users to deliver offers or perks to customers who are on premise or nearby their outlets. Customers who “check in” using mobile devices get rewarded with these “deals.”

Programs of this kind, known today as “location-based marketing,” come along so fast and furiously these days that it’s hard for smaller operations to keep up—but they don’t want to be left out.

Ron Wion, director of social media for McDonald’s, says it’s not about how many people are following you, it’s about getting them engaged with your brand. McDonald’s staffs its Twitter account, for example, with several executives from its communications department and several more from the customer satisfaction department to help the company take the “restaurant experience beyond the doors.” Wion recommends treating social media followers as you would your best customers—because that’s what they are.

Judging by the presentations and conversations buzzing around this year’s NRA show, it seems the restaurant industry is taking those words to heart.



Next Wave in Ethnic Cuisine: Latin!

A record number of American chefs are today embracing Latin cuisine for its mingling of robust spices, fresh ingredients, overall variety and resistance to all things bland.

Boasting flavors that are big and bold but not “blow-your-head-off hot,” Latin cuisine seems to finally be gaining widespread acceptance here and abroad, after earlier predictions of its trending failed to materialize.

Twenty years ago, Americans considered Latin foods to consist of tacos, burritos and enchiladas imported from just the other side of the Mexican border. Now we’re seeing a new influx of ingredients and flavors from not only the Oaxaca, Yucatán and Mexico City regions of Mexico, but also from Cuba, Brazil, Peru and Puerto Rico.

As Karen Fernau writes in the Arizona Republic, yesterday’s pan-Asian movement is being supplanted by today’s pan-Latin.

U.S. population trends are certainly one of the drivers of the wave. With a population exceeding 40 million, Latinos are now considered the country’s largest minority. By 2050 that “minority” could reach higher than 100 million, and nearly one quarter of the U.S. population. So the availability of Latin foods and ingredients is bound to expand.

Among the proponents of the Latin-American food trend is Randy Zweiban, owner of the Province restaurants in Chicago and Phoenix. His menus feature dishes such as Cuban Pork Bocadillo, a House Cured and Smoked Salmon Ceviche, and Mojo- and Honey-Glazed Chicken with Roasted Sweet Potato Hash.

Rick Bayless’s Chicago empire of contemporary Mexican eateries continues to expand. In addition to his Frontera Grill, Frontera Fresco and Topolobampo restaurants, he has recently opened XOCO, a kind of fast casual version of his previous efforts.

Worldwide, Latin American restaurants are gaining new-found recognition. Restaurants located in São Paulo, Brazil; Lima, Peru, and Mexico City have been named among the 50 best restaurants in the world by the prestigious San Pellegrino guide.

D.O.M. of São Paulo was listed in 7th place, climbing 11 places since last year.

Mexico City has two restaurants on the list: Biko, at Number 31 (up 15 spots) has made the list four years in a row, climbing higher each time, while Restaurante Pujol made it to the list for the first time, coming in at Number 49.

Lima’s Astrid & Gastón, also cracking the top 50 for the first time, was listed in 42nd place. Brazilian food critic Alvaro Cézar Galvão said that the new Brazilian cuisine’s contribution to world gastronomy is based on a “huge quantity of entirely unknown products and aromas that people go wild about.”



Food Channel Releases Dessert Trends Forecast

The Food Channel has released its annual forecast of what will be tempting America’s sweet tooth in the year ahead. The top ten list is based on research conducted in conjunction with CultureWaves®, the International Food Futurists® and Mintel International.

Here are some highlights.

  • The Unsinkable Cupcake. For the past few years, everyone and everything have been trying to unseat the mighty cupcake at the top of the dessert trend universe—trying to discover “the next cupcake.” It’s time to accept the fact that the cupcake has moved up the food chain to icon status. Amid all the trend fatigue and backlash, cupcake bake shops continue to spring up on corners all across the country. The trend now is more about the evolution of the cupcake. Today we’re seeing cupcake fondue, un-iced versions, savory varieties, flaming cupcakes, and shapes that are fat, skinny and mini—even cupcakes on a stick. The fact is, the next cupcake…is still a cupcake.

  • Wedding Cake Off the Guest List. In spite of what you may have seen at a certain recent royal wedding, the multi-tiered wedding cake is so yesterday. In its place are things like cake pops, macaroons and ice cream floats. Young couples want to express their personalities and today creativity is trumping tradition.

  • Desserts for Grownups. America’s sweet tooth is maturing. Expect to see more milkshakes with a splash of rum, wine paired with gelato, and beer partnered with doughnuts. Restaurants have caught on to the idea, using liquor add-ons such as a shot of Bailey’s or Kahlua with chocolatey desserts for a $3 upcharge. Great way to boost check averages.

  • Desserts in the Raw. The raw foods movement has invaded the dessert realm with choices like raw and vegan versions of cheesecake, ice cream cakes, moon pies and tiramisu.

Click here to review the full top ten list (with a bonus #11).



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