CHICAGO — Based on the dishes showing up in retail delis and food-service departments, retailers seem to be responding more quickly to the latest trends in restaurants, a researcher from Mintel noted.
Today's restaurant menus are expected to feature new Latin American flavors and foods, Mintel's latest research showed. Items once considered exotic, such as Peruvian blue potatoes and new varieties of fruit that are high in antioxidants, are now showing up on menus in fine dining establishments.
Interestingly, the road from restaurant menu to home kitchen has gotten much shorter, said Maria Caranfa, director of Mintel Menu Insights.
“Aside from the growing variety, what surprises me about all this is how quickly new menu items are appearing in retail,” Caranfa said. “There has always been a trickle-down from fine dining restaurants to the more casual and then to supermarkets, but it's getting faster. I've seen that happen over the last couple of years.”
It's a result of television's Food Network, celebrity chefs on other TV channels and, as much as anything, the increasing amount of time people spend traveling and dining out, she said.
“They want to recreate at home some of the things they've had in nice restaurants,” she said. “I know that when I have had something I like at a restaurant, I want to try it at home. It's convenient and less expensive.”
As a leading global supplier of consumer, product and media intelligence, Mintel provides trend insights through a number of ongoing studies. Launched in 2004, Menu Insights regularly tracks menus from fine dining restaurants all the way down to quick-service chains. Caranfa made her predictions late last month, based on the latest surveys.
Fusion cuisine, hot a couple of years ago, has given way to more-specific fare. In fact, regional cooking is taking center stage, Caranfa said.
No longer serving just generic Mexican food, restaurants have been showcasing the cuisine of particular regions of Mexico, for example. The same is true of other cuisines. Mintel's researchers first noticed the regional-cuisine trend appearing in 2006.
New products often open the door to related items, Caranfa said. For instance, the popularity of chipotles opened the door to many other varieties of chili peppers, both on menus and in supermarket produce aisles, she said. The arrival of the blue potato from Peru is a harbinger of other Peruvian dishes likely to show up soon in the prepared foods arena.
Mintel's researchers spotted other trends, including the emergence of healthy items such as the acai berry and the acerola cherry, and the promotion of the antioxidant properties of dark chocolate and red wine.
Unique flavor pairings are starting to show up, too, Caranfa said.
“This year, sweet-and-spicy flavors are moving in the direction of black and white peppercorn paired with fruit,” she said. “In addition, there will be opportunities for more sweet-and-salty pairings, from salted peanut brittle to desserts finished with flavored sea salt.”
Mintel's most recent menu survey also spotted some new flavors such as prickly pear, yuzu and blood orange. “This year promises that we'll see more from these trailblazers,” Canafa said. “And new citrus elements will be added, including Buddha's hand, kumquats and more [varieties of] grapefruit.”