Kerstin Kühn: Food trends for 2016

The Staff Canteen

As the current year comes to a close, LA-based food writer Kerstin Kuhn takes a look at the biggest US food trends for the year to come. From local sourcing to chef-driven fast-casual concepts and ethnic cuisines, here are the food trends to look out for in 2016.

Local sourcing and environmental sustainability will continue to rule US menu trends in 2016, as chefs remain focused on reducing food miles, waste and energy consumption.

These are the findings of the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot in 2016 culinary forecast, an annual survey of nearly 1,600 professional chefs and members of the American Culinary Federation. Locally sourced meats and seafood top the chefs’ list of the biggest 20 food trends for 2016, with locally grown produce, hyper-local sourcing, natural ingredients, environmental sustainability and sustainable seafood all ranking in the top 10. When asked which current food trend had grown the most over that last decade, 44% of the chefs surveyed said local sourcing, while looking ahead, 41% said the trend they felt would grow the most over the next 10 years is environmental sustainability.

“True trends evolve over time, especially when it comes to lifestyle-based choices that extend into other areas of our everyday life,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the National Restaurant Association.

"Chefs and restaurateurs are in tune with over-arching consumer trends when it comes to menu planning, but add their own twist of culinary creativity to drive those trends in new directions. No one has a better view into the window of the future of food trends than the culinary professionals who lead our industry.”

These are the NRA Chefs’ top 20 food trends for 2016: Locally sourced meats and seafood Chef-driven fast-casual concepts Locally grown produce Hyper-local sourcing Natural ingredients/minimally processed food Environmental sustainability Healthful kids' meals New cuts of meat Sustainable seafood House-made/artisan ice cream Ethnic condiments/spices Authentic ethnic cuisine Farm/estate branded items Artisan butchery Ancient grains Ethnic-inspired breakfast items Fresh/house-made sausage House-made/artisan pickles Food waste reduction/management Street food/food trucks

The second biggest trend the NRA’s chefs identified for the year ahead are chef-driven fast-casual concepts, which already started to flood the market in 2015. Celebrity chefs with fine dining backgrounds, including David Chang, Daniel Patterson and Roy Choi, Joshua Skenes and José Andrés, are all part of this movement, which the survey predicts will get even hotter in 2016.

Indeed fast-casual is the fastest growing segment of the US restaurant industry, which is outpacing all other sectors having grown from $8b to $35b between 2002 and 2013. An increasing number of chefs is entering the sector, with new food-driven concepts that are elevating the fast-casual arena.

In terms of specific foods and flavours, chefs are finding a growing interest in ethnic cuisines as reported menu trends that have gained momentum in the past 12 months include African and Middle Eastern flavours, and authentic ethnic cuisines as well as ethnic condiments and spices. Items that lost popularity include healthy ingredients such as kale, quinoa and gluten-free dishes, as well as underutilised fish. In fact, after being the fastest growing item last year, underused fish dropped the most, by 11%, while at 20% African flavours saw the biggest increase in chefs declaring it a hot trend for 2016. Meanwhile top US food consultancy firms, New York’s Baum + Whiteman, and San Francisco-based Andrew Freeman & Co, have predicted that the biggest issue facing the US restaurant industry next year will be the debate about tipping.

“Danny Meyer’s recent announcement that all Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants will be “hospitality included” is a game-changer,” says Freeman & Co, while Baum + Whiteman insists that the discrepancy in pay between front and back of house is largely to blame for the increasing heat surrounding this topic. “In truth, the restaurant industry's amazing growth over the past five decades has depended on artificially low prices that are based upon underpaid labour,” the firm says.

Baum + Whiteman adds that possibly the biggest disrupter to the industry next year will be online food delivery, which major internet companies such as Google, uberEats, Amazon Prime Now, Postmates, Grub Hub, Yelp are all muscling into. "

“None actually makes food; they're middlemen connecting restaurants and customers, collecting fees and personal information about who orders what, when and from which restaurants,” the firm says. Both reports also point to “clean menus” and the "healthification" of fast- and fast-casual food as a major trend for 2016, with Freeman & Co insisting that restaurants removing GMO and other ingredients not immediately recognisable to guests increasingly gain consumers’ trust and therefore an edge over their competition.

Finally, foodie trends set to hit menus across the USA next year according to the two reports, include poke, the Hawaiian raw fish bowl; spicy condiments such as Sriracha; and an increase in vegetable-centric dishes; as well as sliders and fried chicken.

>>> Take a look at some other food predictions for 2016 here

Kerstin Kühn is a freelance food and travel writer, specialising in restaurant and chef stories. The former restaurant editor of Caterer and Hotelkeeper, she relocated from London to Los Angeles in 2013, where she lives on the city’s trendy East Side. With a vast network of chefs from around the world, Kerstin has profiled the likes of Michel Roux, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, the Roca brothers and Massimo Bottura. She is a regular contributor to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, FOUR Magazine, M&C Report and Spinney’s Food, and also writes her own blog, La Goulue.

You can follow Kerstin on Twitter @LaGoulue_

>>>Read more of Kerstin's blogs here.

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Editor 31st December 2015

Kerstin Kühn: Food trends for 2016