LONDON – Unilever Food Solutions (UFS) expects unusual flavor combinations, feel-good foods and fresh ingredients to be some of the key trends influencing menus this year.
The predictions are part of the company’s 2023 Future Menu Trends report, which gathers insights from more than 1,600 chefs and analyzes more than 77,000 search keywords to predict key industry trends.
As one of its first trends, Unilever expects to see an increase in contrasting flavors, textures and cooking techniques that create multi-sensory experiences to entice consumers looking for new dishes. Possible pairings can range from a combination of sweet and spicy flavors to crunchy and chewy textures or even a mix of hot and cold elements in one dish.
Unique flavors, ingredients and techniques can also add an appealing twist to mainstream comfort food, another USF trend for 2023. Foodservice operators must tap into this trend to capitalize on the growing demand for innovative versions of classic dishes, especially among younger consumers.
Similar predictions come from reports from Technomic and the National Restaurant Association, which cite examples such as chicken sandwiches with flavor combinations or globally inspired salads.
“Diners love to rediscover the dishes they know well, in a new guise that keeps faith with the past, but by redefining possible combinations of ingredients, cooking methods and, above all, presentation,” says UFS Executive Chef Giuseppe Buscio. : Italy.
Some ingredient alternatives for these new variations may come from the trend in UFS feed ingredients. Edible flowers, berries, mushrooms, and algae are just a few examples of ingredients that can satisfy consumers’ desire for authentic and local flavors. Foraged ingredients also offer simple, sustainable alternatives that reduce food miles.
The next trend in the report sees vegetables moving from side dishes to the center of the plate. By making vegetables an exciting main dish, operators are creating an opportunity to save money at a time when 92% of restaurant owners say cost is a significant issue. The meals also present nutritious options that may appeal to a growing number of health-conscious consumers.
“Guests are increasingly concerned about their diet and want to eat much more consciously,” says René-Noël Schimmer, culinary consultant at UFS Germany. “Cooking with more vegetables not only adds more nutrients to the dish, but also expands your menu options. Therefore, you have the opportunity to bring new customers to your location.”
UFS also expects to see an increase in feel-good foods that combine healthy techniques and ingredients with appealing textures, flavors and colors. Popular techniques may include braising and other low-heat cooking methods that help limit calories while preserving nutrients and flavor. Functional ingredients such as turmeric and pickled radish are also included in this trend, adding that dishes can boost consumers’ mood or improve gut and skin health, for example.
The demand for feel-good products is evident in the food and beverage industry. Recent data shows that consumers are increasingly focused on the role of food in their health and well-being, with almost 75% of consumers believing that food can be the ‘best medicine’. Despite inflationary prices, consumers of all income levels also rank health over affordability as the most important factor for new products, further underscoring this trend.
Reducing food waste is another trend for 2023. UFS recommends using previously discarded by-products such as husks or husks to help operators maximize nutrition while reducing costs. Techniques such as pickling, curing, and fermentation can also increase the shelf life of ingredients and add complex flavors.
“Offal, they’re not called by-products anymore, they’re called new produce,” says Alex Hall, UFS executive chef for the UK and Ireland. “The waste that comes out of it is new products that we can use in our kitchens. We want to reuse, recycle and inspire with food.”
The trend toward increased ingredients has become a noticeable trend in the industry, with groups such as the Specialty Food Association, Whole Foods Market and the International Food Information Council anticipating similar increases in use. Sustainable practices may be of particular interest to Gen Z consumers, more than 65% of whom say sustainability influences their food and beverage choices.
Stability is also reflected in the report’s trend for alternative proteins, which predicts growth in foods made with plant-based proteins, such as grains, beans, legumes and tofu, as well as plant-based proteins. The trend has been particularly strong in the venture capital sector, seeing more than$1.05 billion was investedonly in the first half of 2022 among alternative protein producers.