Food trends that shaped 2009

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 29th December 2009

American-based market researchers have shone light on some of the emerging trends that surfaced in the world’s largest consuming country, highlighting possible opportunities for Australian food industry players in the years ahead.

According to the Culinary Trend Mapping Report, a bi-monthly journal from Packaged Facts and the Center for Culinary Development (CCD), overall themes for the year included nostalgia, healthful eating, comfort food, and distinctive regional or international flavours that offer a feel of authenticity.

The top trends (listed below) are ranked in order from Stage 1 – which represents the emerging trend phase in fine dining or regional restaurants to Stage 5 – representing presence on mainstream grocery store shelves and quick-service restaurants.

Breakfast for Dessert: Stage 1- Dry cereal and other breakfast foods such as doughnuts, waffles and French toast are turning up on dessert menus. Small indulgences like restaurant desserts or ice cream sundaes made with cereal or breakfast flavours have struck a nostalgic, and whimsical, chord with consumers of all ages. A riff on this trend is chicken and waffles, offering hits of comfort and sweet-savoury flavours.

The New Cocktail: Stage 1- Creative bartenders are looking to the past and reinventing drinks using local and seasonal produce. The same consumers that value local foods, artisan products and traditional food preparation methods are finding those values expressed in the new cocktail movement with its glorification of pre-prohibition libations, micro-batch spirits and culinary inspiration.

The Return of Pie: Stage 2 – Although a standard on restaurant menus, pie has taken on new personas as pastry chefs and bakers embrace new varieties crafted in an artisan spirit, and look back to classics long forgotten to regional cooking. “Fresh” and “homemade” pies with vivid natural flavours will up the ante for mass-manufactured pies, while old favourites find new life.

Pho: Stage 3 – The popularity of pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup, has spread considerably over the past four years, particularly among ethnically diverse Generation Y. While pho is commonly found in mom-and-pop shops or Vietnamese restaurant chains, today it is starting to appear in mainstream soup restaurants and Pan-Asian noodle houses. The researchers believe pho is Gen Y’s chicken noodle soup with its flavourful broth, comforting noodles and herbal accompaniments for customizing.

21st Century Sodas: Stage 3- Natural and tasty alternatives to mainstream soft drinks are hitting all the right buttons. These new sodas are artisan, natural, nostalgic, comforting and even sometimes customizable – a sturdy formula for success. Expect to see them proliferate in restaurant chains and on store shelves as consumers turn to new beverage options to match their values.

Red Velvet Cake: Stage 4- With a tip of the hat to the South of America, red velvet cake, especially in cupcake form, has epitomized 2009’s focus on frosted cake across the Trend Map. Savvy Stage 1 and 2 bakers employed more natural ways to colour their batters, turning to pomegranates and beets; both specialty and mainstream baking mixes lined store shelves; chain restaurants added the scarlet treat to menus, while creative mums and kids baked versions at home.

Soft Corn Tortilla Tacos: Stage 4 – Tacos made from soft corn tortillas are gaining popularity with consumers as they search for health, tradition and authenticity beyond the crispy yellow shell. These also are appearing in Stage 1 in a variety of street food venues-upgraded taco trucks, push carts and the like-where creative cooks are mashing global flavours into the popular carrier.

Stevia: Stage 5 – The big news in the beverage world this year was stevia, the USDA-approved (and FSANZ-approved) herb that is the source of a new zero-calorie sweetener reb-A. Major and minor beverage manufacturers rushed new products to market, banking on stevia’s naturalness to sell consumers wary of artificial sweeteners. So far, it’s been a big moneymaker but it remains to be seen if more consumers will embrace it.

“As the trends of 2009 show, (consumers) across demographic and generational groups continue in their quest for new foods and eating experiences,” the researchers said. “As they look for foods to meet their needs, desires and values, opportunities to meet these needs grow. With strategic thinking and grounding in current trends, savvy foodservice operators and grocery manufacturers can anticipate consumer cravings and set the table for the future.”