Wouldn’t it be great to know what your guests will want to eat and drink not just next month or next season, but for the next two years? A recent Technomic forecast can tell you. The company has a menu predictive tool that includes machine learning, social listening tools and historical menu trends designed to map out consumer taste predictions for the next two years. Five items rose to the top: Is there a place for any of them on your menu? Two fiery sauces, Nashville hot and gochujang, will likely become widespread on menus in the coming months and years, according to Technomic’s findings. Nashville hot is a cayenne-based sauce that is associated with fried chicken – though the coming months may bring new applications. Gochujang, the Korean sauce made from fermented soybeans, dried chilies and garlic, manages to be spicy, salty and sweet. There were three beverages flagged for their anticipated rise in popularity: Ginger beer, Shochu and Mezcal. Ginger beer, which is made by fermenting ginger, yeast and sugar, is often non-alcoholic but has versatility as a mixer with alcoholic beverages. Shochu, the Japanese alcoholic beverage that can be made from ingredients as varied as sweet potatoes and barley, has a stronger taste than sake. Mezcal, a tequila relative, has a smoky flavor that is rising in popularity in both sweet and savory applications (one Washington, D.C. restaurant carries 35 varieties of the beverage).
Are your guests demanding plant-based substitutes on your entrée menu? If so, they may have a taste for plant-based ice cream. Until now, many of the dairy-free stand-ins for ice cream haven’t been as much about mimicking traditional ice cream but instead offering an alternative to it. Now, as the Impossible Burger and lab-grown meat aim to mimic the full experience of eating a burger, ice cream manufacturers are also harnessing technology to perfect a plant-based product. Eclipse Foods, which produces a dairy-free and allergy-free product that it says is indistinguishable from animal dairy, recently inked deals with the ice cream brands Humphrey Slocombe and Oddfellows, TechCrunch reports. Eclipse flavorings ranging from Miso Cherry to Mexican Hot Chocolate will soon be coming to plant-based ice cream pints in New York and San Francisco. Armed with funding from some heavy-hitting investors, their flavors may be expanding beyond the coasts thereafter.
Crescent rolls aren’t just for your bread basket. They’re more versatile than they seem, elevating both the appearance and craveability of your appetizers, sandwiches and entrées. Roll crescent dough around pepperoni, asparagus or the filling of your choice for bite-size appetizers. Encase scrambled egg and sausage in crescent roll dough for a winning breakfast sandwich, or layer turkey, ham and your choice of cheese in egg-dipped crescent roll dough for a melty baked sandwich. Crescent roll dough works well as a flaky, buttery crust too, so use it as a base for a savory pie on your entrée menu.
‘Tis the season for snacking – and dips are always a welcome part of the holiday spread. In Whole Foods’ recent report on food and drink trends for the coming year, dips and dippable spreads feature prominently. It identified a number of plant-based ingredients including grains, beans and seeds that mimic the texture of yogurt and other dairy products. Watch for these newcomers as potential bases for dips. Further, the company sees a growing interest from brands in developing dips and spreads that are not only keto- and paleo-friendly but are also mindful of the environment. Many of these dips and spreads eliminate ingredients like palm oil and include sustainably grown seeds and nuts. Beyond the usual spreads and dips with bases of tahini, chickpeas, peanuts, cashews and almonds, look for new options made from such ingredients as watermelon seeds and pumpkin.
As the plant-forward movement continues to build momentum, innovation is coming in the form of new applications of parts of the plant that haven’t previously made it to the menu. As Technomic’s recent forecast of 7 Key Trends for 2020 predicts, waste-averse chefs are finding uses for such ingredients as beet greens, sweet potato leaves and avocado blossom, as well as snacks, desserts and drinks made from seaweed and sea beans.
Interested in offering more plant-based proteins but can’t quite get past the texture problem? As technology firms attempt to make a burger or steak that replicates the experience of the real thing, they are experimenting with some futuristic ways of delivering it. The Spoon reports that such methods as 3D printing – Novameat and Redefine Meat are two companies using this approach – are being used to print plant protein into fibrous strands that imitate the texture of animal protein. Other companies, including Atlast Foods, Prime Roots and Emergy Foods, are using mushroom roots made through fermentation. But what seems to have the most promise in delivering meat-like texture is gelatin, which melts when cooked and more closely mimics the texture of a steak. Harvard scientists recently reported success in growing cow and rabbit cells on a scaffold made from gelatin.
Plant-based proteins, to this point, have largely been branded as a nice-to-have option for flexitarians. But a looming pork shortage (or what some may consider a bacon emergency) could make plant-based proteins a more urgent need. An NPR report estimates that by the end of this year, China’s pig population could be cut in half, which will result in high pork prices in the U.S. The Spoon predicts that the conditions will be good news for the growing number of producers of plant-based pork products – and bacon, in particular. Restaurant operators should also have sufficient bacon alternatives to offer on their menus.
If your guests enjoy Mediterranean flavors and diets, consider adding up-and-coming condiments like ajvar to your menu. Ajvar (pronounced eye-var) is a red-pepper and oil-based condiment from the Balkans that is just beginning to appear beyond Balkan restaurants, Flavor & the Menu reports. It works well as a marinade for skewers or as a dip option when paired with bread in a shareable appetizer platter, and its color and aroma can help to bring appealing and accessible global flavor to a menu.
Every season has its signature flavors, local specialties and guest cravings ― and as Starbucks demonstrated with its relaunch of its pumpkin-spice latte in August (when much of the U.S. was still sweltering in temperatures in the 80s and 90s), you have a number of weeks before and after the season to build momentum around a menu item’s comings and goings. Tapping into your POS data can help you capitalize on remaining seasonal ingredients in your inventory as you make way for foods that will help you build your next seasonal menu. Use it to pinpoint which ingredients you’re using in each dish and how quickly you’re using them, which can help you plan upcoming specials and avoid disappointing guests looking for a particular item. If you have a surplus of apples this fall, for example, try creating a special, low-priced menu item around them that you won’t be offering for much longer. Limited-time offers (LTOs) can not only help you use up this season’s inventory but also bring loyal guests back and get them excited about what’s coming next. As David Portalatin, food industry adviser at NPD, told Marketwatch, “A well-executed LTO can boost sales and serve as a competitive edge for restaurant operators and help food service manufacturers test new products and concepts.” Use the weeks before your menu changes to promote future items: Share samples with guests, collect feedback about what’s going over well and what needs adjustment, and consider offering an on-trend promotion that will bring guests back when you launch next season’s menu
The plant-based protein trend appears to be one with staying power ― sales of plant-based meat grew 37 percent between 2017 and 2019, according to the Good Food Institute, and demand seems set to increase further. Still, differences are beginning to emerge from operators weighing the pros of adapting their menus to the trend vs. the cons of integrating a processed product into the menu. The Spoon reports that Chipotle, for one, unlike many of its competitors, has decided against offering plant-based meat because it is processed (and therefore conflicts with the brand’s interest in knowing/sharing where its food comes from). Does your brand pride itself on offering fresh food and being transparent about its origins and ingredients? If so, how are you accommodating consumer demand for plant-based protein?