What is in this article?:
- Bret Thorn, Nancy Kruse look back on 2012 culinary trends
- Carrying 2012's R&D creativity into 2013
In a monthly series, menu trend analyst Nancy Kruse and NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn debate current trends in the restaurant industry. This installment is also part of the 2012: Year in Review series from Nation's Restaurant News, which recaps notable news from the restaurant industry over the past year.
2012 food trend predictions hit and miss
NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn takes a look at how the culinary trends he predicted for 2012 actually fared.
Nancy, for the past few years I’ve been making predictions about what food trends we’re likely to see in the coming year. I’ll be doing that again soon, but first I’d like to take a look at how my predictions panned out this year.
In December of 2011, I predicted that consumers would continue to seek convenient foods on some occasions and more healthful foods on others, and that on occasion they would be willing to splurge on calories, money, time or all three.
We’ve seen all three of those trends take shape over 2012. From a convenience perspective, for example, we saw pizza become even faster, with the emergence of a fast-casual pizza segment among chains and a growing number of independent restaurants offering thin Neapolitan pizza that cooks in 90 seconds in super-hot wood burning ovens.
In the health arena, Subway teamed up with the American Heart Association to label some of its sandwiches with a Heart Check logo. We also saw a growing use of “ancient grains,” such as faro and, of course, quinoa.
We also saw improved performance at steakhouses and chains at the high end of the casual dining segment as consumers sought levels of service, food and ambience that they couldn’t get elsewhere. And this year’s holiday season looks promising by many accounts.
But when I became more specific with my trend predictions they became more hit-and-miss.
As I expected, pistachios grew in popularity this year, thanks in part to a strong marketing campaign. But my prediction that bananas Foster, with its low food cost and high nostalgia value, would make a comeback, was a complete flop.
I predicted that chefs would get more creative with their local sourcing, and I lucked out in suggesting that we might see proprietary oyster beds, something Todd English did, indeed, introduce in 2012.
I also expected that more chains would find ways to source locally, and in 2012 we saw chains like Jim ’n Nick’s and Sweetgreen get creative by raising their own hogs in the first case and working with mainline distributors to visit local farms in the other.
I did not anticipate the prevalence of rooftop beehives in hotels, however.
I predicted that Asian ingredients would go even more mainstream, and indeed they have, with Sriracha, the Thai hot sauce, being one breakout hit; it not only has made it to the menu of Pei Wei Asian Diner, but also to Red Robin, where it’s on a spicy burger called The Cry Baby.
At independent restaurants, the Korean pickled vegetable kimchi became a darling of chefs, with some even making their own. Actually, pickles in general practically took the country by storm, and I didn’t see that coming.
I predicted there would be more manufacturing in fine dining restaurants, but by that I really was thinking of sous-vide cooking and other modernist techniques that require more precision than artistry. Instead what we saw was an outpouring of pickles and no small amount of house-made charcuterie.
I also thought we might see more cooking at chain restaurants. With commodity costs going up and the labor pool staying fairly loose, I figured chains might start doing more value-added in-house cooking. Unless I missed something, that didn’t really happen this year.
How about you, Nancy? Did 2012 food trends happen as you expected?
Next: Nancy Kruse’s response