Food trends for the future
You are what you cook
Where did the food on my plate come from? How was it prepared? Does my meal fit in with my food philosophy? More and more people around the world are thinking about their nutrition, eating habits and enjoyment. Read on to find out about food trends like snackification and flexitarianism and how they are impacting our society's food culture – and what this all means for chefs and restaurant owners.
‘Food trends are the observable outworking of deeper shifts in our societal identities. If you learn to read them properly, you can read the codes that tell you the future.’
(Harry Gatterer, Managing Director at Zukunftsinstitut, Frankfurt)
Food is more than just nutritional intake. It is about enjoyment, socialising, health and happiness. Cooking is an art form. What and how we eat is influenced by our culture and society – and, increasingly, it expresses our outlook on life.
Food can bring people together or push them apart. ‘These days, food has become a powerful means of communication,’ writes renowned food trend expert Hanni Rützler in her respected ‘Food Report 2020.’
Restaurateurs and chefs are at the centre of all of this ... and it can be scary. But it doesn't have to be. There is huge potential in the growing significance of food. Plus, despite media reports of growing numbers of restaurant closures and the age-old problem of finding staff, industry sales in Germany grew year on year from €30 billion in 2011 to over €39 billion in 2017. Statistics portal Statista predicts further growth, reaching €45 billion by 2023. The out-of-home market is growing in the USA, too, with sales of $560 billion in 2017 predicted to rise to over $627 billion by 2020.
Hanni Rützler calls it, ‘The end of mealtimes as we know them’. By that, she means that several smaller meals will replace the traditional breakfast-lunch-dinner pattern. One reason for this is that nobody is eating at home with their family anymore. We all eat in the office or we eat out. However, these snacks have the nutritional value of a full meal. They are just small. They are things like Buddha bowls, tapas, ramen, smoothies and sushi, just as much as (vegetarian) souvlaki and burgers made from artificial meat. ‘Anything, anytime,’ as the saying goes. Some longer established trends play into all of this as well: wholefood, organic, regional, fresh, fairly traded, vegetarian or even vegan options.
Restaurateurs are advised not to try and have their fingers in all of these pies! Specialising in one area makes sense, economically and otherwise. You can find ideas for how to apply all this in our article on ‘Food service concepts – how restaurants, bars, and cafés are pulling in the crowds.’
‘In future, the demand for restaurants will be purely as a source of high-quality, freshly prepared small meals ... so concepts, portion sizes and service times need to be adjusted.’
Hanni Rützler, food expert, trend analyst, author of ‘Food Report 2020’
In layman's terms: if meat is not the centrepiece of someone's meals but they are not vegetarian or vegan, they are flexitarian. When flexitarians do eat meat or fish, it has to be high quality and organic. According to the online portal Statista, around 5 % of Europe's population are flexitarian and in the USA it is 6 %. In Asia and Africa, flexitarians already account for 16 % of the population. Flexitarians are motivated by the health benefits of their diet, as well as combating factory farming and its negative impact on the environment.
Greenpeace calculates that around 20 % of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by livestock farming globally. Increased meat consumption is also thought to be harmful to health. The German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommends a meat intake of just 300–600 g per week. Yet, in Germany, average per capita meat consumption is around 700 g per week. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued official advice to eat less red and processed meat due to the increased cancer risk. Flexitarians have therefore found the right and sustainable route towards better health and protecting our environment.
Consciously eating meat free is not a new idea. The ancient world also had its share of people choosing to eat a plant-based diet for health or religious and ethical reasons. ‘Everything that humans do to animals will come back on humans,’ was Pythagoras' ethos behind his vegetarianism. There are even rumours that Leonardo da Vinci was a vegetarian. Today, 9–10 % of the German population are vegetarian. For cultural reasons, that figure is much higher in Asian countries. In India, for example, 38 % of people are vegetarian. The vegetarian food available in Asia is the inspiration behind the current trend for Buddha bowls which combine grains, vegetables and fruit.
The figures may seem small at first glance but, despite that, vegetarians and vegans are definitely responsible for the plant-based boom within the food industry. When we consider efforts to improve animal welfare on farms and to reduce the CO2 emissions caused by livestock rearing, it is clear that vegetarianism and veganism have earned a special place as a sustainable trend within the food service sector – and most businesses have already adapted. Together with organic produce from the local farm and made into local specialities in the kitchen, it is the key to reaching an ever-growing target market.
The rest of the world is eating insects – will Europe follow suit?
There is one (meat-free) food source that is just starting to hit Europe: insects. If you have been on holiday to Thailand or India, you will be familiar with the boxes of creepy crawlies available on the markets. Around the world, there are about 2,000 species of edible insect according to Hamburg Consumer Association, and we can expect to see more of them soon. The EU has approved new legal requirements and the organic food association Naturland is in the process of determining its first set of standards. So why should we eat these critters? Well, they contain valuable protein, fats and B vitamins, and they are resource efficient to farm.
The ‘Future 50 Foods’ report was published in 2019 by Knorr and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). It identifies 50 foods which are sustainable, provide the human body with everything it needs and are tasty, too! Many foods on the list are good old favourites like spinach, lentils, watercress, red cabbage, amaranth and walnuts – but it also contains some lesser known options like wakame seaweed and orange tomatoes.
Jellyfish – the new superfood?
‘Jellyfish are nutrient rich and offer a similar taste and texture profile to oysters. They may be approved as a new food source and, if so, they may help to ease the burden on overfished areas according to EU funded research.’ This is the news from online platform foodnavigator-usa.com in a report on research carried out at the Italian Institute of Sciences of Food Production. In reality, though, the concept is not new. Jellyfish are actually a traditional delicacy in Asian cuisine.
Climate change, reduced CO2 emissions, sustainability: the food service industry cannot ignore these issues because their importance to customers is growing all the time. Especially when it comes to food. Now there is an initiative to support restaurant managers who wish to source ingredients and cook more sustainably: Greentable. It was founded by restaurants, cafés, producers and suppliers who use sustainable practices all working together. Greentable is committed to ‘valuing food, including regional and seasonal cuisine, to combating climate change and to social responsibility.’ The average CO2 emissions of a menu item currently stand at 1,583 g (source: Greentable). The founders aim to cut this in half. Restaurants that manage this will be recognised with the KlimaTeller symbol, a way to show diners that the menu items here are produced at a lower cost to the climate. Restaurant managers can use the KlimaTeller app to calculate the environmental impact of their menus. The project is supported by one of Germany's most powerful federal agencies, the Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.
Restaurant owners can also make impactful, sustainable changes in how they procure and store their food. Single-use plastics and the waste they produce should always be avoided.
Avoiding single-use plastics
Did you know that the average human ingests approximately 5 g of microplastics every week via food, drinking water and just breathing? That is roughly equivalent to the weight of a credit card (source: nature charity WWF). No wonder, then, that a representative survey carried out by Statista's partner Ipsos in 2019 showed that at least 80 % of the population in the UK, France, Spain, Poland and Germany view single-use plastics and their use critically.
You can find further information about how to avoid single-use plastics and wash reusable dishware in our white paper on ‘avoiding plastic waste’.
Snackification, flexitarianism and vegetarian or vegan cuisine are food trends that will have a lasting impact on food culture in our society. It is now up to restaurant managers to transform these trends into practical concepts and apply them. See our article on ‘Food service concepts’ for inspiration.