It seems to happen every Fall: a Pumpkin Spice Craze. Lattes, scones, cookies, ice cream, soft drinks, tea, pies, cakes – if it’s edible or drinkable, it’s pumpkin spice. And from Pumpkin Spice Season, we move into the holidays with eggnog or peppermint taking pumpkin’s place in our food choices.
But are food trends really that predictable? The nature of food trends is that they move quite slowly through American society. They start in the food industry, of course, in restaurants and the food media, becoming popular first in larger cities, and then slowly evolving to becoming a part of the mainstream American’s diet.
What are the food trends we should be looking for in 2017? Well, there are a lot – 81 to be exact. Eater.com collected the 2017 food trends into one handy, comprehensive reference here. And what’s interesting is that many of these won’t just be showing up on plates, but also in beverages, according to Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, in Food Business News.
We can’t review all 81 foods, but let’s look at some of the flavors (covering a group of foods) that seem to pop up on just about everyone’s list of 2017 Trends:
- Char, Smoke, and Burnt. Cooking over an open flame has been trending for a while, starting in more casual settings. Now, this style of cooking and the resulting flavors are moving into fine dining. Good news for those who still have their grandmother’s cast-iron pans: these utensils are often used to create these smoky flavors (especially in combination with a wood-burning fire). As with other food trends, smoke flavor is no longer limited to meats but is being added to fish and vegetable dishes as well as cocktails. While barbecue is old news, many experts put char, smoke, and burnt flavors at the top of 2017 food trends.
- Florals. Beyond using flowers to decorate your plate, think hibiscus, lavender, and rosewater as added flavors. Let’s throw citrus in here as well. While citrus has been a long-standing trend, new varietals of citrus fruits, such as kefir lime or yuzu, make the tried-and-true lemon, lime, and grapefruit more exciting and cool.
- Seaweed. Chefs value seaweed for its different tastes, from red (dulse, usually powdered) to brown (known as kombu). Beyond snacks and sushi, seaweed is also valued for its sustainability and nutritional properties. Again, beyond sushi, this additive and thickening agent will be found in many places, including bread and baked goods, in soups, and with vegetables.
- Middle Eastern flavors. Many Americans are already familiar with some foods of the Middle East, including tabbouleh, hummus, and pita. But increasingly, spices such as za’atar (a spice mix), Turkish chilies, harissa, and sumac are being included in foods that are not traditionally Middle Eastern and North African.
- Tart, tangy, and fermented. Use of fermented foods such as vinegar and kombucha (a beverage) is growing not only because of their tastes, but also because they are good for you. Again, cocktails (also a major trend) are being made with fermented syrups or fruits and even many vegetable-based elements. Apparently, chefs are embracing the tart, salty, and acidic nature of this taste and experimenting with pickling and fermenting nearly everything. Kefir, anyone?
- Umami. Many of us were taught that there are four categories of taste: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Enter the fifth: umami. In 2002, umami was recognized as the fifth taste category, and, while hard to define, it is often defined as savory. (Umami is also related to the trends for fermentation and seaweed.) Molds and mushrooms are becoming more popular ingredients as sources of this prized umami flavor.
So, what does this all mean for marketers, especially if food trends move slowly from origination to the family dinner table? Not only do marketers need to keep abreast of trends through the media, but they should also be in constant touch with their consumers to understand what new foods/flavors are being tried and used both inside and outside of the home. When marketers see a new flavor gaining traction, they can use that information to develop and then conceptually test new flavors for their products. They can also put out ‘feelers’ for new food or flavor uptake by making recipe suggestions through social media and seeing how they float. Brand users could also be asked how they are integrating new flavors/ingredients into the category.
Think Sriracha sauce. Trendsetting chef David Chang put it on the menu at his acclaimed New York restaurant Momofuku Noodle Bar; other restaurants soon followed suit. Next thing you know, Sriracha is sweeping the country both as a condiment for sale at the grocery store and on the menus at regional and national sandwich and restaurant chains.
Food trends may not be predictable or successful… Anyone remember the fat replacement ingredient Olestra? Or how about clear colas? While there is no such thing as a sure bet, investing the time to scour the landscape for early ideas followed by thorough consumer testing are surefire ways to increase any marketer’s odds of success!