Avocado's rising popularity is due to its mild flavor and creamy textureHealth-conscious Millennials are driving such food and beverage trends as whole grains, high-protein items, avocados, green tea, flavored vodkas and sweet wines, MUFSO panelists said.

In her annual State of the Plate address, menu trends expert Nancy Kruse noted that healthful restaurant items tout nutritious ingredients — fruits, vegetables, and grains — rather than noting reduced fat, calories or sodium.

Those characteristics were on display on the floor of the Supplier Exchange, where frying oil exhibitors touted the high levels of heart-healthy, long-shelf-life oleic acid in their products, rather than the absence or low levels of trans fat, saturated fats or linolenic acid, which spoils quickly.

Expect avocados, herbs on menus

Kruse said protein had become consumers’ favorite macronutrient, as fat and carbohydrates had unhealthful connotations. However, she declared high-fat avocados the “ingredient of the year.” Kruse said reasons for avocado’s popularity included its mild flavor, which pairs well with other ingredients, and its creamy texture. Plus, she said, its green color connoted freshness in the minds of consumers.

Kruse said she also expected to see more herbs, which add flavor, green color and freshness cues to dishes, to appear on more menus in the near future. Suppliers showcased freeze-dried herbs, ready to be rehydrated. Puréed herbs were mixed with high-protein whey, which lowers microbial activity, extends herbs’ shelf life and lowers their freezing point, for storage in frozen tubes that are squeezed out as needed.

Technomic Inc. executive vice president Darren Tristano noted separately that health and wellness descriptors were becoming more widespread, as well as terms such as organic, which rose 26 percent on menus, and natural, which rose 22 percent.

Gluten-free items jumped 144 percent in the past year, but fat-free items fell 2 percent, he said.