American consumers embrace an expanding range of foods and beverages -- driven by ever more complex lifestyles and schedules, nutritional and dietary considerations, and culinary cross-currents. Which dishes and drinks did savvy food marketers and restaurant operators introduce or reinvent in 2009 to satisfy consumer needs?
According to the "Culinary Trend Mapping Report," a bi-monthly journal fromPackaged Factsand theCenter for Culinary Development(CCD), overall themes included nostalgia, healthful eating, comfort food, and distinctive regional or international flavors that offer a feel of authenticity.
Officials say the "Culinary Trend Mapping Report" pinpointed several trends that shaped the food landscape and foodie enthusiasms in 2009, using the CCD's signature five-stage Trend Mapping® technique, whereStage 1represents the emerging trend phase in fine dining or regional restaurants, andStage 5represents presence on mainstream grocery store shelves and quick-service restaurants.
Heritage grits: Stage 1 - American consumers who embrace heritage and artisanal food products may find themselves facing South. Heritage grits made from heirloom varieties of corn appeal to consumers' desire for natural and local products as well their taste for comfort foods. Food manufacturers and foodservice operators looking to capitalize on the New Southern trend can leverage these strong consumer drivers with dishes that both celebrate and update Southern food ways.
Breakfast for Dessert: Stage 1 - Dry cereal and other breakfast foods such as doughnuts, waffles and French toast are turning up on dessert menus. Small indulgences like restaurant desserts or ice cream sundaes made with cereal or breakfast flavors have struck a nostalgic, and whimsical, chord with consumers of all ages. A riff on this trend is chicken and waffles, offering hits of comfort, sweet-savory flavors and connections with Southern cooking.
The New Cocktail: Stage 1 - Creative bartenders are looking to the past and reinventing drinks using local and seasonal produce. The same consumers that value local foods, artisan products and traditional food preparation methods are finding those values expressed in the new cocktail movement with its glorification of pre-prohibition libations, micro-batch spirits and culinary inspiration.
Swanky Pork Rinds: Stage 1 - In 2009, consumers continued their celebration of all things pork. Bacon chocolate, pulled pork sliders and country ham all captured our attention. Swanky pork rinds illustrate natural pork's snack food form and connect to this year's gastropub trend, the newly updated tavern with tasty food and craft beers to match. The love of pig unites them all.
The Return of Pie: Stage 2 - Although a standard on restaurant and diner menus, pie has taken on new personas as pastry chefs and bakers embrace new varieties crafted in an artisan spirit, and look back to American classics long forgotten to regional cooking. "Fresh" and "homemade" pies with vivid natural flavors will up the ante for mass-manufactured pies, while old favorites, like chess pie, find new life.
Pho: Stage 3 - The popularity of pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup, has spread considerably over the past four years, particularly among ethnically diverse Generation Y. While pho is commonly found in mom-and-pop shops or Vietnamese restaurant chains, today it is starting to appear in mainstream soup restaurants and Pan-Asian noodle houses. We believe pho is Gen Y's chicken noodle soup with its flavorful broth, comforting noodles and herbal accompaniments for customizing.
21st Century Sodas: Stage 3 - Natural and flavorful alternatives to mainstream sodas are hitting all the right buttons. These new sodas are artisan, natural, nostalgic, comforting and even sometimes customizable -- a sturdy formula for success. Expect to see them proliferate in restaurant chains and on store shelves as consumers turn to new beverage options to match their values.
Red Velvet Cake: Stage 4 - With another tip of the hat to the South, red velvet cake, especially in cupcake form, has epitomized 2009's focus on frosted cake across the Trend Map®. Savvy Stage 1 and 2 bakers employed more natural ways to color their batters, turning to pomegranates and beets; both specialty and mainstream baking mixes lined store shelves; chain restaurants added the scarlet treat to menus, while creative moms and kids baked versions at home.
Soft Corn Tortilla Tacos: Stage 4 - Tacos made from soft corn tortillas are gaining popularity with U.S. consumers as they search for health, tradition and authenticity beyond the crispy yellow shell. These also are appearing in Stage 1 in a variety of street food venues -- upgraded taco trucks, push carts and the like -- where creative cooks are mashing global flavors into the popular carrier.
Stevia: Stage 5 - The big news in the beverage world this year was stevia, the USDA-approved herb that is the source of a new zero-calorie sweetener rebaudioside-A. Major and minor beverage manufacturers rushed new products to market, banking on stevia's naturalness to sell consumers wary of artificial sweeteners. So far, it's been a big moneymaker but it remains to be seen if more consumers will embrace it.
Information on purchasing "Culinary Trend Mapping" subscriptions and current issues is available at www.packagedfacts.com/landing/culinarytrends.asp.
CCD, San Francisco, says it is a full-service food and beverage strategic innovation company. Packaged Facts, New York, N.Y., is a division of MarketResearch.com, and publishes market intelligence on a wide range of consumer market topics, including foods and beverages, foodservice, and demographics.