The Food Channel® has released its Top Ten Food Trends for 2017—the 29th year in a row that the trends-based company has predicted what will happen next when it comes to food. The trends are based on research conducted by The Food Channel in conjunction with CultureWaves® and the International Food Futurists.
This year we’re watching as what’s happening with food is starting to override what new flavors are emerging. That means the trends are no longer driven by flavors; instead the people who consume the food are driving them. The top 10 trends divided naturally into two groups—and that alone shows the way the industry is changing. It’s no longer simply about flavors and new items; it’s about the experience of food.
Whether you are among those who want food to be better tasting, rather than something new and crazy, or whether you simply want an update to some of your favorites, this may be your year to be on trend!
That said, here are the top ten trends we’ve identified as things to watch for 2017, divided into two distinct sections:
FOOD TRENDS ON THE MENU
1. Meats Out of the Mainstream
What to choose, what to choose! Will it be beef, chicken, or pork? Those meats have been our standard choices, but we see a big change on the horizon—and it’s not just bison. As people dig into new and replacement proteins, they’ve begun asking what else is out there that isn’t just a one-time adventure in eating (think alligator).
The answer is going to come soon, as new breeds—such as Mangalitsa pork—and newly accessible meats—such as lamb—come into prominence. After all, when Arby’s can run a promotion during deer season that offers venison burgers, and they sell out, well, it just may signal that America is ready to branch out a bit.
We’ve had new cuts and styles of meat before, of course. When Kobe came out of the gate, it was delicious, but found to be too expensive for every day, and not really home cook-friendly. It also came out before everyone was a foodie, so it lost its shot at the early “in the know” market.
One key to the future trend will be the traceability of these new meats. As lamb, for example, goes into more grocery stores and onto more menus, the public will want to understand where and how the animals were raised, the environmental impact all the way through processing and shipping, and how easy it will be to get the meat without damaging the budget. It’s an opportunity for new recipes and menu innovation that just may hit the market at the exact time the consumer is ready for it.
There is also such a thing as cultured meat, which is pretty much what it sounds like: lab grown meat that could reduce the need for large livestock grounds and processing.
Bottom line is people are always looking for a new sensation. The constant swarm of limited time offers (LTOs) has trained us to always look for something new from restaurants. We¹ve gotten into expectation mode, and believe that there will always be something new.
Just keep in mind: What’s new on the menu just may be meat.
2. Veggies as Center of the Plate
We know—we just talked about meat as though it were the only thing happening. But there is another side to the equation, and it’s no longer “just” a side dish. Vegetables are moving into prominence and the rest of the meal is now just as likely to be built around the veggies, as the veggies are to be the also-rans.
For all of those who have adopted the vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, there is a new haven to be found in the availability and expanded variety of fresh veggies. In fact, chefs are now leveraging vegetables in ways that really haven’t been tried before, like charring or flash frying them. What’s more, people are completely open to these ideas and are embracing both new vegetables and new ways of preparation.
Perhaps it’s because we got tired of how veggies were prepared, but you have to admit that some of the new menu descriptions are intriguing. It’s not only new vegetables; it’s new executions. Boiled Brussels sprouts, versus Crispy Charred Brussels Sprouts—which sounds better? Now think about ways to prepare and serve kale, salsify, and skerrit and you start to get the idea.
This is, of course, a health thing. It’s an easy way to address our growing interest in healthy food, and add nutrients and vitamins to a diet. So we are dressing up what used to be afterthoughts on the menu and giving them prominence.
3. No More Waste
There is a new class of sustainability that’s being demonstrated across most food categories. We’re seeing Farm2Table flowers, sustainably sourced seafood, repurposed ingredients, and restaurants worried about food waste. A turning point may have been the whole hog generation, which we called out in 2012 (Food Trend: New Agri Chef). That’s when chefs began to more frequently use every piece of the animal or vegetable, right down to the soup and celery stock.
The latest evolution of this is similar to what we’ve seen with “smart” houses. They aren’t just cleaner, or greener, or more morally sound—it’s about all of those ideas getting combined into something that offers a whole solution. In other words, the sustainability checklist isn’t item-by-item anymore. It’s functioning all the time, and is a barometer against which people check their food. As more people adopt sustainability, the standard has risen higher, and a multitude of things have to be in play at once to make it work. The food has to be grown “right,” harvested “right” and prepared “right,” and—even more—anything left over needs to be disposed of “right.”
Why are we so interested in restaurants not throwing away food, after years of either not noticing or not caring? We think it’s because we have a new national awareness of hunger, combined with concern over landfill size, combined with a knowledge of the impact waste has on the bottom line. So, when all those things stand up and smack us in the face, we have a rallying cry to use it up, reuse it, or give it away.
4. New Cuisines
We mentioned ethnic flavors, so now we have to go a little deeper and tell you what we see on the horizon in the world of global cuisines. We actually talk about ethnic flavors a lot—in 2015 we called out how ethnic was hard to distinguish, since food was getting “mashed up”. That has definitely happened, but the difference now is that there are a lot more cuisines entering the game.
For a few years now we’ve called out regions as opposed to “just” countries. However, even region isn’t niche enough anymore. It’s no longer Northeast. Now it’s coastal Northeast, or the Catskills. Hawaiian food differs from island to island, and even from part of an island to another, depending on the dominant culture of an area. Take Rick Bayless’ latest restaurant that opened in Chicago, Lena Brava. It’s Baja California-style cooking with a narrow focus on menu items that would be available seaside. Not just a seafood restaurant, but also a restaurant inspired by live-fire cooking in the style of a specific region.
We could go on with additional examples, but you get the point. Niche is getting more niche.
At the same time that the recipes are narrowing to a point of origin, our appreciation for food is expanding. We’re saying, “Here’s what I like to eat, and, oh, I like this, too. And look at this, I never knew about this, and, oh, I just found out my heritage and this is what my grandparents ate.” We aren’t funneling our food tastes down into one thing, but are instead approaching food communities as though they were archeological digs, with interesting things to be discovered.
We’ve got a lot of different areas on our radar, including Appalachian cuisine, Tropical cuisine, even Cuban cuisine, so watch for our Flavor Report due out in 2017 for more on this subject.
5. Ingredients as Condiments
Think about what comes with your meals today. While ketchup, salt, and pepper may be the staples on a casual dining table, restaurants are beginning to offer accompaniments to menu items that go beyond the traditional condiments.
Order a steak, and get a side of specialty salts that come with the main dish. Order chicken and sprinkle on your own herbs. These dishes are using spices and condiments not as part of the cooking process, but as part of the dining experience. Morton Salt is even beginning to position salts as a topping and a texture, not simply an ingredient.
We see this as the next step beyond “housemade,” which we called out in 2009.
FOOD TRENDS INFLUENCING THE MENU
6. Trend Layered Upon Trend
If you look on a menu today, it is likely to have an item description that reads something like this: A housemade, Indian-inspired, sustainable, sweet breakfast bread served with a touch of nutmeg and a sprinkle of toasted Himalayan pink salt.
It’s as though a description can’t offer just one thing anymore and be enough. It has to hit several different touch points in order to get our jaded attention. People are amalgamating all the food trends into each other, so that it’s now hard to call out singular things. Think of it this way: A few years ago, umami was a “thing.” Now umami is just part of something that has to be bigger, bolder, more ethnic, or more exciting.
Internet culture means everyone has access to the same information, and it seems like you can only truly be innovative for about a week, until someone else copies it. So innovation has started to be layered, with one idea on top of another. And, there are no set rules for innovation anymore. As long as it falls under a banner of innovative and artificial scarcity, it’s accepted as a trend/innovation.
For example, you can be a burger company and make a cheese stick! Case in point: Burger King introduced Cheetos-covered chicken fries. The outer shell is made of Cheetos, those cheese-flavored puffy snacks made by Frito-Lay. Think about all the layers. It’s 1) a portable chicken item; 2) it’s a meal in a snack; 3) it’s got a nostalgic flavor and ties to childhood that appeals to Millennials; 4) it’s a new sensory experience; and, 5) you can’t get anywhere else.
One trend just isn’t enough anymore.
7. The Language of Food
There are dozens of ways to sum up how we think about food, but the one that is gaining traction is pairing a food source with a food delivery. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been saying Farm2Table or Farm-to-Table or F2T or any other combination. To be really on trend you have to take it a little further. Here are a few examples:
Dock2Dine – Used to identify freshly caught fish and shellfish that is taken directly from the boat to the dining table, and sometimes even chosen by the diner on site. Newick’s Lobster House in New Hampshire has been letting patrons choose their own freshly caught lobster for years. Seems they had the right idea.
Seed2Glass – Agriculture is having a moment—one that we hope will last a long time, since it signals a crucial attention to the food supply. This is one specifically for those who imbibe, with wine now part of the traceability of our food, all the way back to the seed.
Farm2School – Way back in our 2009 Top Ten Back to School Trends we talked about the need for school lunches to be fresh, healthy, customized, and portable. That has now evolved into a specific direction for growers to meet up with educators, with urban farms popping up in the classroom and children actually getting their hands in the dirt.
There are many more but we’ll just call out one last idea—Printer2Plate. In our 2014 Top Ten Food Trends we called attention to virtual food, and we’ve watched with interest as more and more food has been run through the printer. This one is still evolving, but it’s not as far-fetched as it seemed even three years ago.
In a way, this attention to the terminology used in food is an evolution to a new type of food “snob”—one who knows more about the origin stories of food than most people, and is happy to share that knowledge with phrases and short explanations. It’s also a reaction to how we truly want to identify the source of our food.
Consider it the next level of food street cred. Now that anyone can be a foodie, people who are truly invested in food are upping the bar. It’s kind of like the tome of secret knowledge has been opened, and even your daily grocery store offers a charcuterie plate. One up them by asking for a Field2Plate recommendation and see what they have to say!
8. Pet Food
We admit to some hesitancy in mixing this idea with “people food,” but we might as well join the crowd! And there is no hesitancy in recognizing this as a trend. It’s actually a huge topic—people are now discussing pet food and pet food ingredients and comparing them to what they would eat themselves.
Beyond that simple co-mingling, add all of the other components of human food that are currently on the table. For example, organic pet food is becoming the new battleground around defining the term—is it organic? Is it sustainable? What is healthy, anyway? All of the things that have concerned us about human food in recent years are finding their way into conversations about our dogs, cats, and gerbils, too.
This all started when pets became an accessory to be carried around and, well, petted. Soon we had elevated our pets to the status of family members. “Pet friendly” became the new normal, extending all the way to previously forbidden restaurant territory. For example:
- Expanding on the popularity of homemade dog treats, mobile pet cafe The Seattle Barkery has opened its menu to the public. Positioned in local dog parks and posting its daily whereabouts via social media, its menu includes fresh bagels, pupcakes, pretzels and custom birthday cakes. Some human and feline items are also available, due to public request.
- Japan’s Neco Meshi cat café created a line of snacks that both humans and cats can enjoy together. Flavors include dried herring, smoked or dried bonito, and sardine, and are meant to attract both owners and pets.
- Velo café has a special menu for dogs, including a “poochy latte” that includes lactose free milk with parsley and liver. This café does not make all of the treats themselves, but works with Active Pet Products, which supplies a variety of cafes in Australia.
- New York City’s Health Department issued an advisory in March of 2016 that allows dogs to accompany human diners in restaurants that have outdoor seating. Dogs must be licensed and vaccinated to sit at the table, and restaurants have to inform the customers of the rules.
Pet food and human food are running parallel, as pet owners desire to give their animals a similar experience to what they are having.
9. Occasion Dining
Our meal plans are no longer centered around breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacking. Now we tend to plan to eat around occasions. The food is both an excuse and a magnet to draw people together. It’s no longer the idea of coming together to eat; now, we’re eating to come together.
We highlighted this in our recent story about the “friendsgiving” trend. Thanksgiving used to be all about the food. Now it’s about wanting to be together with friends and family. Food is the catalyst but it’s almost as afterthought. We’re seeing it with pop-up restaurants themed for pop-culture, as well as with chefs who are partnering for more interactivity with their patrons.
10. Good Is the New “New”
Here’s the new mantra: Stop focusing on making things new. Just make them good.
We’ve spent a lot of time in recent years asking brands and restaurants to deliver a new sensation. The constant swarm of Limited Time Offers—the GET IT NOW BEFORE IT GOES AWAY feeling—has trained us to always look for something new and exciting. We’ve gotten into expectation mode, and believe there will always be something new.
What we’re seeing for 2017, though, is a bit of a brake pedal coming into play. After all, have we really run out of ways to prepare good food? Our data shows that the consumers are quietly calling out for food to taste good, not just be new.
Part of this is the Global Flavor Curve that has had us paying attention to the amalgamation of American culture with ethnic flavors. However, the curve seems to indicate that restaurants haven’t yet fully explored the fact that ethnic doesn’t have to be authentic to be good. This could open up a whole new range of food ideas, where you aren’t worried about how to make something like the original, but are OK with it being something that works, and works well.
So, we’ll be OK if Big Fast Food comes out with the Pad Thai Wrap or Emerald Chicken Skewer, as long as the flavor is good. If they can’t accomplish that, though, let’s focus on doing those hamburgers really, really well.
- The New Agriculture – It’s becoming personalized. The idea of local has spurred a new small farm movement that is feeding into both consumer’s fridges, through farmers markets, AND local restaurants, through partnerships.
- Grocerants – Grocery stores are stepping up the dining game by offering full service restaurants within the grocery store, as well as offering home meal replacement options. Consumers are leveraging these in the same way they would restaurant take out or going out to eat, and we expect a shift in the industry as a result.
- Jams & Jellies – Flavors are getting flipped and people are experimenting with savory jams, or pairing sweet jams with tangy cheeses.
- Beverage as the new food story – For years, consumers have been becoming more interested in where their food comes from and how it’s made. That curiosity led to brands sharing origin stories. We’re seeing that same process happen with beverages, as the Craft movement goes well beyond beer and evolves into everything from coffee to soda.
- Gen Z – You think you know Millennials? Now try Gen Z.