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Exploring the Industry ‘Trendscape’

Christopher Tanner, Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute

Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute (CCBI) uses an integrated approach to identify growth opportunities rooted in culinary insight. “We look at people and places we encounter on the job, cultural shifts, research and we go into restaurants,” Christopher Tanner, executive chef, Global Baked Snacks, Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute, told attendees of the NAFFS 99th Annual Convention.

“The first phase,” he said, “is discovery – where it emerges within a limited but influential group, such as fine dining restaurants, trendsetting chefs and cultural hotspots. The second phase is introduction. This is where you’re starting to see it reach a culinary-minded audience. It’s reached Bon Appetit Magazine and upscale specialty grocers like Bi-Rite, yet it’s still small. The third phase is adoption. It’s now gained traction with a larger audience. It has hit full-service chain restaurants like T.G.I. Friday’s, food TV, celebrity chefs and specialty chain stores like Williams-Sonoma.” The fourth phase is mainstream. “It’s now in fast-casual restaurants like Panera and Starbucks, mainstream media such as Better Homes & Gardens or the Today show and it’s well-accepted in many households.” Phase five is established. “That’s when I start to commercialize it,” said Tanner. “It’s reached a mass audience and is in quick service restaurants like Wendy’s, grocery retail products and packaged food.” Phase six is expanded – it has now reached a global audience and is internationally available.

The 2016 edition of Trendscape listed these at top trends.

  • Cooking with fire
  • Authentic Thai
  • French revival
  • Inspired Ice cream
  • Traditional fats
  • Veg 2.0
  • Asian noodle soups
  • Haute dogs
  • Simple & real
  • Caramel

Although people have cooked with fire for centuries, top chefs are embracing the open flame and rediscovering the range of flavors that can come from live fire cooking and building them into menus. “It’s a return to the simplest form of grilling (cooking with charcoal, cooking with wood), taken to the culinary extreme. And it’s all about mastering that irresistible back to basics aesthetic. Live fire cooking is the technique of the year,” Tanner said. Some are using specific types of Thai charcoal or wood to impart a unique flavor and wood-fired grills are making their way into cocktails, appetizers and even desserts. Talking about some of the dishes being created from this trend, Tanner noted Heritage – an upscale restaurant in Las Vegas – is serving Ash-Roasted Bone Marrow. L’Espalier in Boston is offering a Cuba Libre cocktail with charred lime. Trends include blackened avocado, broths made from wood-roasted onion, leeks smoldered right in the embers and fruit pies baked in cast iron over open flames. “There are also deliberately burnt foods – from bread to nuts to béchamel sauce,” said Tanner. And even burnt cinnamon, vanilla beans and honey are showing up on dessert menus, putting an edgy spin on the most comforting of flavor profiles. To enhance texture, there are restaurants using charred bits and powdery vegetable ashes to sprinkle over dishes.

As Tanner began to talk about the next trend – Authentic Thai – he said it’s no longer about Thailand as a whole; it’s regional authentic Thai. “Pok Pok – the name of a restaurant in Northern Thailand – got its name from the sound of the mortar and pestle used making green mango salad – a popular Northern Thai dish,” Tanner said. The chefs hand-grind chillis and aromatics together creating unique flavors that are added to soups, stews and salads. Northern Thailand is where you’ll find sticky rice. Central and southern Thailand is where you’ll find the coconut flavors, a variety of curry (red, green, yellow) and jasmine rice. “When you are looking at developing a flavor base or flavor system to make a curry paste, don’t think of the curry paste as coming out of a food processor,” said Tanner. “You need to make it in a mortar and pestle because it gives it a completely different flavor profile.” He cautioned not to beat it too much but rather to take a gentle motion to emulsify it. “You will get a much cleaner, much fresher flavor out of it. So when your chefs back at your companies are doing that, think of this and make sure you’re getting that authentic flavor profile in the right way.”

When moving on to the French Revival trend, Tanner spoke about Cassoulet, a white bean stew that’s cooked over three days which includes several meats, such as pork, goose, duck and sometimes lamb, depending on where in France you are. This is a phase two (inception/ introduction) trend so it’s not mainstream yet and is just starting to reach a culinary-minded audience.

“But we wouldn’t be talking about French cuisine if we didn’t mention pastries,” said Tanner. Kouign-amann – a traditional French pastry – is now being sold at Starbucks. So this is moving to more of a stage 3 trend and is expected to reach a broader but sophisticated market that welcomes tried-and-true French treats.

Inspired Ice Cream, Tanner said, is a stage 3 trend where it has been adopted. “I’m not talking about the typical vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream that you grew up with,” said Tanner. “Today’s ice cream makers are working their magic and reinventing the category by putting flavorful spins into the frozen treat. Who would have ever thought of putting sriracha flavoring in ice cream? So now there are vegan choices with a coconut base which makes sense – a coconut sriracha ice cream. Shops are popping up with unlikely ingredients like miso, absinthe, ghost chili, rosemary and olive oil,” Tanner said. These intriguing flavors change daily, which keeps curious customers coming back to see what’s new. And retail brands are beginning to pick up some of the unusual flavors and commercialize them now.

The Traditional Fats trend is in the Stage 3 adoption phase now, Tanner said. The return to fuller-fat foods is all about getting back to basics and embracing the inherent naturalness of traditional products consumed in healthy moderation. “It’s seen across the dairy aisle where whole milk sales are surging and new varieties of premium yogurt and butter are fuller in fat,” Tanner said. “Greek yogurt is already mainstream. Consumption of coconut oil is on the rise. Small-batch cultured butter is gaining in popularity and Land O’ Lakes came out with a European Style Super Premium Salted Butter. This trend supports being indulgent but in moderation.”

The Veg 2.0 trend is in phase 3 adoption as well, Tanner said. “We’re seeing a lot of chefs featuring vegetables in the center of the plate. It no longer has to be a steak. They are taking cauliflower, slicing it and cooking it in a brown butter sauce, featured in the center of the plate in place of a T-bone steak. And many restaurants aren’t calling themselves vegetarian restaurants; they call themselves vegetable restaurants. Eighty percent of India is vegetarian so they already know how delicious vegetables are. We’re just catching up to them,” Tanner said. “The food is delicious because a lot of it is based on what you do – herbs, spices and essential oils are added in the preparation that gives it the amazing flavor profile. We reported in 2013 that vegetables were trending but they were the cool vegetables, like a watermelon radish. Now vegetables are no longer the garnish; they are the center of the plate and the focus of the meal which is why we came up with a Veg 2.0 trend this year.”

Asian noodle soups is a level four (mainstream) trend. Ramen soup is no longer that stuff you ate in college when you had no money. It’s now $10 to $15 a bowl. Noodle bowls are showing up in Panera and even in fast food restaurants. The noodles are based off of Asian noodles, such as Japanese udon and Malaysian noodles. This one-pot meal is not going away anytime soon because it has endless customizable options and appeals to a global palate, Tanner said.

Haute Dogs – this iconic, all-American treat has been taken to a whole new level. “They are the latest trend in approachable but inventive comfort food,” Tanner said. “Just about anything can appear on top of a hot dog from pulled pork to lobster mac & cheese, transforming this versatile street food from hot to haute. Oscar Meyer and Hillshire Farms are doing some fun things with its hot dogs reflecting the level 5 (established) trend is here. The sky is the limit when it comes to changing up the traditional frank. NoMad in NYC is serving a bacon-wrapped dog on a brioche bun with black truffle aioli and Laika Dog in Detroit offers a signature dog, such as the PB&J with Thai peanut sauce. And don’t rule it out as a breakfast option – there’s also a breakfast dog topped with bacon and egg. It’s all about fun and trying different combinations.”

As for the Simple & Real trend, Mintel identified the clean label movement as the “new green” and simple ingredients appear as the most powerful influencer on this year’s Culinary Trendscape. It is a level 5 (established) trend. Consumers are demanding fresh, safe, ethical and healthy choices. Menus are adopting terms such as “clean” and “free-from” to encompass a range of concerns around food integrity that can include ingredient sourcing, additives, natural attributes and allergens. To coincide with this trend, Campbell is stepping up their initiatives to communicate what’s in their food. Its, an on-trend website, is designed to answer questions consumers may have about ingredients they use.

Caramel, Tanner said, is a level six trend (expanded). Not only is it all over the U.S., it is popular all over the world. In Southeast Asia they actually have a caramel catfish dish. This trend is seen across multiple categories, showing up in coffee, cocktail, desserts and entrees. Red Lobster offers a Caramel Appletini and The Slanted Door, an upscale Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco, serves a caramelized wild shrimp with caramel chili sauce. The salted caramel craze that originated in France has gone global and is expected to continue. Pepperidge Farm came out with Caramel Apple Pie and Salted Caramel cookies.

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