Here’s a quick test for all the QSR operators out there — this one designed to gauge your menu trendiness quotient, albeit completely unscientifically. All you have to do is look at each of the following three pairs of menu items and answer which of the two you think is most likely to be the bigger menu trend in coming days?
A: Native American fry bread pizzas?
B: Or rainbow-colored cupcakes?
A: Sorghum-infused hand pies?
B: Or chardonnay-infused milkshakes?
A: Black-eye peas and collard greens?
B: Or pork belly with black garlic?
If you picked mostly “A” answers, food trend forecaster and Culinary Tides President Suzy Badaracco might well give you a big star-shaped cookie. In a recent interview with this website about the cuisines, flavors and foods that are either waiting to take the trend-setting stage or should be, Badaracco offered her best pointers on where the restaurant world is headed in the immediate future.
As anyone who’s ever listened to this type of trend predictor will tell you, the information they relay can be fascinating and very telling of the specific mindset of any given culture at different points in time. For instance, right now in the U.S. Badarracco said there is an overall feeling of “unease” that is sending restaurant patrons in search of the familiar and reassuring. That does not, however, mean offbeat and experimental takes on more comforting foods are off the menu, she said.
Her answers to a handful of questions from QSRweb provided great background for any restaurateur hoping to make informed menu innovation choices in the next year or so ahead. That is why we wanted to share it all with our readers along with Badaracco’s direction to brand leadership about staying ahead of the menu curve in ways that really boost business. Her answer to that question gets the interview going here.
Q: What would you tell brand leaders about how to approach their menu innovations in the coming year or so, as far as consumer sentiment in the U.S. is concerned right now?
A: There is an unease in the country right now … consumers are pulling back to the familiar. Not all the way back to comfort, but they are not in an all-out experimental mood right now.
They (consumers) do not need you (restaurant brands) to be their hero. They are the hero in their own lives. What they need is a guide that helps them attain their goals. (Restaurant brands) need to be ‘Obi Wan Kenobi’ and allow the consumer to be ‘Luke Skywalker.’ They are looking for safe experimentation, trusted sources, authentic recipes, ingredients they recognize, ease with pleasing the entire family and transparency.”
Q: So then, at a food trend level specifically, what types of trends do you feel have run their course and are now dwindling and why?
- Black garlic: It has limited application (and) is not approachable.
- Unicorn foods: These bank on high sugar, artificial colors, and highly processed (foods) — all things consumers are avoiding.
- Wine in milkshakes: It’s too limiting (and) easily outshined by other alcohols that fit milkshakes better.
- Pork belly: (It’s) high-priced and while good for media, availability is limited.
- Cupcakes: (They’re being) passed up by global comfort desserts that are far more exciting. Also passed by hand pies and doughnuts.
Q: How much longer can this hot and spicy trend continue for restaurant menus and how will it morph, if at all?
A: Forever. But it will occasionally change its “party dress.” (The trend) works on a continuum, with lots of cousins, like sweet heat and heat with flavor. It also fits with global (trends) with the seemingly endless single peppers that come into the spotlight.
Q: What types of cuisines and even historical food trends do you feel deserve attention from restaurateurs?
A: Native American, Cuban, Cajun, Ozark, Appalachian, Middle Eastern and Nordic cuisines, (along with things like) Mead, grog, grits, global pickles, hybrids, burrata, sorghum, turmeric, ocean greens, trash fish and desperation pies.
Q: Are there any types of cuisines or cooking trends that might be particularly well-suited for QSR brands, rather than other types of service categories?
A: No. Why limit yourself? Even pasta has found its way into fast food.
Q: So what kinds the cuisines and cooking styles are “ripe for the pickin'” right now in the U.S, particularly?
A: For cooking styles: Fermented, speed scratch, hybrids, dry frying, puffed and popped foods, as well as those cooked with cast iron, stuffed (and) branded. (Restaurant brands can either make unusual foods more approachable or the opposite by making a common food more interesting.
For (trendy) cuisines: Central American other than Mexico, as well as Argentinean and Middle Eastern regional, including Persian, Syrian, Lebanese and Israeli. (Also) Asian, including (those from the) Philippines, India and Nepal. And U.S. cuisines, including dishes from Appalachia, Ozark, the low-country, Hawaii, Native American nations, Puerto Rico and Cuba. All are already here, but hanging in the background a bit and poised to come forward and offer something a bit more interesting, but approachable.
Q: Which trends going on now do you think have the kind of staying power to last on into next year?
A: Plant protein and plant water and milks, along with beans and global grains tied to geography, history (will survive into 2019), while global comfort desserts (pies, tarts, kringles, s’mores, doughnuts with non-traditional fillings, babka, eclairs) join with foods free of artificial ingredients, low-alcohol beer, session cocktails and hard varietal ciders.
Feature photo: iStock
Inset photo: Culinary Tides