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Challenged by some of the toughest economic times on record, foodservice operators — from restaurateurs to supermarketeers alike — are employing menu innovations to entice recession-weary diners.
Technomic foresees five menu trends as standing out in the foodservice segment:
New Spin on Old Favorites: Comfort Foods. An increased menuing of upscale comfort foods continues, with an explosion of simple foods with a small number of “real-food” ingredients. There’s a fresh, premium or high-quality spin on familiar, humble foods, such as artisan cheeses used in macaroni and cheese. There’s no waning in the interest in premium burgers and burger concepts, with even greater emphasis on freshness, customization, toppings, and condiment bars. Sandwich and other concepts are focusing increasingly on hearty melts. Cassoulets, chili and other rustic bean-based dishes are getting new respect.
Exploring New Corners of Asia (and the World). Korean foods, including Korean barbecue and Korean-style tacos, are hitting the mainstream, and there’s new interest in Indonesian and other Southeast Asian fare, as well. The fascination with global street foods is playing out in the proliferation of Baja-style fish tacos, now moving beyond Mexican restaurants. Expect continued interest on regional versions of ethnic cuisines, especially Mexican and Italian dishes.
Frontiers of Flavor. It’s time for “umami,” the Japanese word for “savoriness,” to become a household word. Expressions of the savory, earthy “fifth taste” range from burgers and other hearty meat dishes to truffle- or truffle oil-accented pasta, cheese, French fries, and pizza. Beverage frontiers include tropical ingredients like hibiscus flower, agave nectar and pure cane sugar. Starring in the American regional flavor pantheon is bourbon, used to sauce or spike everything from burgers to chili to desserts.
Back to the Future: Tending Our Gardens and Farms. With the first lady now tending an official White House garden, look for more chefs to follow suit with proprietary herb or vegetable gardens. The emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients is growing and flowering. Fascination with signature farm products — from tomatoes to pork — goes on, so look for a flap of interest in heirloom poultry breeds by the 2010 holiday season.
Breakfast ’Round the Clock. Breakfast is breaking out of its traditional boundaries with breakfast-style fare available all day — and night. As fast-food restaurants expand and upgrade their menus of budget-priced breakfast sandwiches and wraps, more full-service operators will be offering hearty brunch buffets well into the afternoon on weekends. A recent Technomic study highlighted a growing number of customers seeking all-day breakfast options from restaurants.