Avocado is the ingredient of the year, food trend expert Nancy Kruse declared in her annual State of the Plate address at MUFSO.

Kruse said the fruit, which is appearing in everything from the latest version of Chick-fil-A’s Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap to desserts such as the Avocado PopSorbetto at Popbar, “plays well with other ingredients” because of its mild flavor and creamy texture.

Additionally, she said, its green color suggests freshness — an essential cue in dining — and probably makes consumers feel good about themselves for eating it.

For guests looking for food that’s better for them, restaurants are offering “food with benefits,” such as the avocado, which has vitamins and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, she said.


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Kruse noted the shift from the “subtraction model” of the past, when food was touted for having salt, fat and sugar removed from it. Now, the “addition” model touts the addition of added fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Even cruciferous vegetables — those members of the cabbage family including Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Swiss chard — are showing up on menus in items such as Mellow Mushroom’s Chicken Curry Pops with Sriracha Broccoli Slaw, and California Pizza Kitchen’s Brussels + Bacon Pizza.

Kruse observed that cruciferous and other vegetables also were appearing with more regularity on breakfast menus and pointed to First Watch, which has added a broccoli and turkey frittata to its offerings.

Protein, too, is an important star on menus these days, she observed, noting that, of the three macronutrient types in the human diet — carbohydrates, fats and protein — protein was the only one that hadn’t been demonized. Now it’s being highlighted in “superfood” ingredients such as Greek yogurt and quinoa, she said.

She said some of those better-for-you items are now targeting men, such as the Power Protein Menu currently in test at Taco Bell, which features items with 20 or more grans of protein and fewer than 450 calories.

Whole grains also are appearing on more menus, especially in breads, where they’re replacing specialized items such as ciabatta and focaccia, she said.

High-protein quinoa is a breakout in the “ancient grain” category, Kruse said, noting that those items appealed to the roughly one third of Americans who said they were trying to cut down on or eliminate gluten, according to NPD. However, she noted, “My strong sense is we are at the top and starting to downslope, noting that those chains who could add [quinoa] to their menus have already done so.”

She added that, similar to the Atkins Diet fad, most customers would likely come back to gluten soon. 

Kruse pointed to Sriracha sauce — now a flavor gracing chain menus across the country — as one of thee currently “cool” ingredients. Another is the pretzel — a popular sandwich carrier and an element in increasingly popular sweet-and-salty desserts, such as Dairy Queen’s chocolate-covered pretzel Blizzard.

The third cool ingredient is beer, which is being used in fondue dips, as a braising medium and in desserts, such as Red Robin’s Oktoberfest Beer Shake. Craft beer is also growing in popularity, she observed.

In a subsequent session, David Henkes, executive director of Technomics’ Adult Beverage Insights Group, said craft beer now accounts for 15 percent of total beer sales in restaurants.

The State of the Plate keynote address was sponsored by Reinhart Foodservice.

Contact Bret Thorn: bret.thorn@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary