Months after chefs and food industry analysts alike identified cannabidiol (CBD) products as top food and beverage trends of 2019, the CBD industry continues to, shall we say, fly high. In a recent survey of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted by a market research firm focused on the cannabis market, 1,500 respondents said they had used CBD products in the previous three months. The survey also found that 40 percent of consumers aged 21 and older would try CBD products. Consumer interest in the products has driven restaurant operators to provide them – but considering CBD has still not been approved by the FDA and is readily associated with marijuana (despite lacking its psychoactive effects), it has put operators in a tough position. Local health departments in New York, California and other states have begun cracking down on restaurants serving CBD foods and beverages – this despite the passage of the farm bill in December making most applications of CBD legal at the federal level. While many restaurant operators offering CBD products have taken the “ask for forgiveness later” approach with health regulators, the risks may outweigh the benefits. A New York Post report said that restaurants violating the CBD ban could be fined up to $650. In Los Angeles, the Atlantic reports, the county health department said it would start docking points on restaurant inspections this past July. If you’re thinking of including CBD products on your menu, make sure you understand the implications. In the meantime, it may make sense to keep the CBD recipes in mind (but perhaps off the menu) and keep close tabs on regulations as they evolve.
Clamoring to sell a plant-based burger than can pass for meat? There may be good reason to be a late adopter. Amid the rise in demand for plant-based proteins, a number of industry experts have questioned the more processed options available. (Case in point: The Impossible Burger has been criticized for its inclusion of the ingredient heme, which Food Dive describes as an iron-containing molecule made by fermenting genetically modified yeast.) Further, an article published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association by doctors, nutritionists and public health specialists advised that further research was needed to determine if plant-based meat alternatives designed to mimic the real thing were in fact as healthy and beneficial to the environment as they claim to be.
At a time when sugar continues to be in the crosshairs when it comes to the American diet, sugary drinks are becoming not only more plentiful at large restaurant chains but also sweeter. That’s according to new research from Harvard that was recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The research, based on the analysis of beverage offerings available at 63 quick-service, fast-casual and full-service brands between 2012 and 2017, found that the number of sugary drinks climbed by 82 percent. Further, the sweetness of drinks increased too: Among newly introduced sugary beverages including sodas, fruit drinks and sports drinks, the number of calories per drink increased by 50 and the average amount of sugar reached 63 grams, approximately double the American Heart Association’s recommended daily sugar threshold. Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and warnings from medical associations are creating downward pressure on sugar levels in the beverage industry, but in the meantime, restaurants have an important role to fill in providing flavorful drinks that don’t pile on the extra sugar. Think craft seltzers, fruit-infused waters, herbal teas and kombuchas as stand-alone options or extra ingredients that can add interest (but not all of the sugar) to your beverage lineup.
Hummus is a menu workhorse. It can help you deliver on-trend spices, serve as both a condiment and a main attraction, and add interest to a broad range of different dishes. Flavor & the Menu suggests it as a base with such ingredients as eggs, onions, pickles and harissa oil. Its versatility also helps it add depth when added to sandwiches, as a base for grain-and-vegetable bowls or meat skewers, and even as a salad dressing.
The assault on sugar continues. Food + Tech Connect’s latest U.S. Food and Beverage Startup Investment Report was released recently and reports on the continued decline of sweeteners in the American diet. It said that according to the USDA, per capita sugar consumption has declined for four straight years and is now at a 30-year low. What’s more, alternative sweeteners like stevia and monkfruit have not won over American taste buds. The trend is sparking startup activity as companies develop food and drink designed to replace sugary or artificially sweet items. It’s a trend to bear in mind as you develop dessert offerings and describe menu items. Ingredients that offer inherent sweetness – without any help from sugar, artificial sweeteners or even natural, low-calorie sweeteners – are more apt to win with consumers.
Does your breakfast menu need a new creative twist? Try to boost your breakfast options with on-trend savory flavors. Restaurant Business reports that combinations such as bean-topped grain bowls are on the rise this year, along with such global dishes as shakshuka and chilaquiles. On the side, consider offering new varieties of sausage with seasonings ranging from Cajun to jalapeño.
As consumers have demanded packaging that’s friendlier to the environment, operators have quickly replaced plastic straws with paper alternatives, and plastic containers with packaging containing natural materials. But as an investigation by the New Food Economy found recently, the fiber bowls that are widely used in place of plastic contain chemicals known as PFAS that don’t biodegrade and aren’t really compostable, despite being labeled as such. On the contrary, they may actually be making compost more toxic. San Francisco is the first city to ban the bowls, effective in January, and to date, there are no known commercially viable alternatives according to the report. In the meantime, Eater reports that after McDonald’s in the U.K. and Ireland phased out plastic straws in favor of recyclable paper ones that generated customer complaints, the brand introduced a thicker paper straw to replace the first solution. But new reports indicate it is non-recyclable. So what is a restaurant brand to do to become more eco-friendly? Modern Restaurant Management advises operators to first understand the terminology. The term “biodegradable,” for example, sounds eco-friendly but is only indicative of a product that will decompose – and that could take several hundred years. Working with organizations that research and certify environmentally friendly options can help too. Modern Restaurant Management suggests Green Seal, an environmental standard development organization that tests and certifies products, services and venues like restaurants and hotels, then awards certification based on performance, health and sustainability criteria.
The complimentary bread-and-butter basket has become a relic from the past at many restaurants around the country, but according to recent menu trends research in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles by Flavor & the Menu, that’s just leaving space for bread to occupy a more important place on the menu. The report says some restaurants are elevating bread by focusing on creating small-batch varieties of butter – with such flavors as olive and lemon, bacon fat and malt to make the bread more special – while others are raising their bread game with homemade biscuits, cornbread and grilled focaccia. The showstopper in the trends research was a bread sharing platter at Chicago’s Tied House, where a bread course including locally made breads and a range of housemade spreads such as miso butter, crème fraiche with honeycomb, green tomato marmalade and chicken liver mousse sells for a cool $32.
Meat replacements are getting a lot of attention lately. But the recent EAT-Lancet Commission report compiled by top nutrition science experts has put a specific target on the amount of meat consumers should eat each week for optimal health and minimal stress on the environment: 3.5 ounces, or just one serving of meat per week. The report also calls for less consumption of poultry and dairy — and says replacing those foods with nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes could prevent as many as 11 million premature deaths per year. As guests clamor for the Impossible Burger and other plant-based proteins, consider working in some of these Mediterranean staples as additional health-focused menu options.
Vegan cheese is on the rise, according to a new report from Persistence Market Research. The report found that globally, 75 percent of the global population is lactose intolerant. That, paired with growing consumer interest in and acceptance of plant-based foods, has resulted in a predicted annual growth rate of nearly 9 percent for vegan cheese over the next decade. That means that vegan cheese is becoming less of an afterthought and more of a canvas for popular flavor on menus. New Food Magazine suggests looking for varieties such as cream cheese, parmesan, cheddar and ricotta.