The National Restaurant Association just released the results of its annual What’s Hot Culinary Forecast. The What’s Hot survey was conducted in November-December 2019. More than 600 American Culinary Federation chefs rated 133 individual trends in 12 categories, identified in partnership with Technomic, Inc. What is clear from the survey is that sustainability, health and wellness are top of mind among chefs.
The top 10 overall trends include: eco-friendly packaging, plant-based proteins, delivery-friendly menu items, healthy bowls, scratch made, creativity with catering, revamped classic cocktails, stress relievers, specialty burger blends, and unique beef and pork cuts.
According to NRA, eco-friendly packaging received the highest ranking of any of the 133 survey options, and for good reason. Off-premises dining—takeout, delivery, drive-thru, curbside, and even food trucks—makes up 60 percent of all restaurant traffic. “With increased restaurant meal consumption happening outside of the restaurant comes a need for packaging materials that hold food quality,” NRA says. “Interestingly, interest in eco-friendly packaging may not be driven entirely by consumer demand; businesses are increasingly being guided by local legislation and regulations governing what materials can and can’t be used in certain markets.” Plastics, polystyrene and containers including PFAS have been specifically targeted in bans.
Chefs again rated zero-waste dishes highly, which repurpose scraps, trim, and other food items that would normally go into the trash.
Plant-based protein took high honors in both new menu items and protein categories. In recent years, many quickservice restaurants adopted meat alternatives, adding them to menus and to the mainstream conscience. Plant-based proteins and meat alternatives have been on chefs’ radars for some time, but this year NRA says they’ll take off in response to increased consumer demand. It’s now not unusual to find plant-based protein or meat alternatives on fine-dining and fast-casual menus.
Plant-based Protein to Remain Popular
According to research from the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Industry 2030 report, experts expect plant-based protein food products will continue to grow in popularity during the next decade.
According to a study commissioned by Beyond Meat with the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, a plant-based burger generates 90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 45 percent less energy, has 99 percent less impact on water scarcity, and 93 percent less impact on land use than a quarter pound of traditional U.S. beef.
Respondents ranked mushrooms the hottest produce item, above caulilini (baby cauliflower) and lesser known rabes (turnip, collard, arugula, and more). Mushrooms crept into the protein category too, with specialty burger blends—mushroom-beef among them—ranking just below plant-based protein.
Chefs ranked healthy bowls tops in the new menu items category. Healthy kids meals continue to be top-of-mind, too.
CBD snacks and sweets is the hottest Desserts/Sweets trend. CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a chemical compound from the Cannabid sativa plant. It’s a naturally occurring substance that’s used in products like oils and edibles to impart a feeling of relaxation and calm. Unlike its cousin, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the major active ingredient in marijuana, CBD is not psychoactive.
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