Sunday, January 2, 2011

What’s Up With Food Trend Predictions for 2011?

Posts with predictions for food trends in the new year are everywhere. After a review of a healthy list of articles (all my references are at the bottom) from a number different outlets a few things became clear:
  1. The article “Food Trend Predictions For 2011” is the basis for many of the other articles and few of those derivations provide any additional context for the trends.
  2. For hardcore foodies, food-city dwellers and in many cases regular folks, there really isn’t anything new here.
  3. The majority of the predictions are focused on people eating and drinking outside the home.
Food Trend Predictions and Context

After reading all the articles and drawing the conclusions above I got to thinking about how I could present an interesting and thought provoking review of the predicted trends and what they could mean for 2011.

How do we put these food trends into context? While I was reading a few articles jumped out, either because they provided additional context or they presented a unique take that is worth looking at.

The Fresh-Picked Seattle blog took several of the predictions and paired them up with upcoming Seattle area food events related to the trend. Making the predictions real for readers in this way is a great example of context. Leslie Seaton, the author of Fresh-Picked Seattle and other sites, even remarks that she already thought Macarons were a big trend. So did I! (More on that when we get to point number 2).

The list for 2011 from Food Channel (not the TV network) had some interesting predictions including several I didn’t see anywhere else. Their independent thought is surely refreshing. Men’s aprons, the corporate mindset being bad for the food business and “Eating for Sex and Other Things” all show that the folks at the Food Channel are actually thinking about what real people are doing in their relationship with food.

Most of the other articles merely presented the predicted trends, but didn't necessarily provide any reasons why we should expect them to get attention or how individuals might expect to be influenced by them.

Why Isn’t There Anything New Here?

Most of the food trend predictions don’t represent new activities and even the least food-informed person will recognize that for some of the trends. Why is this?

I think a couple things are at work here. Firstly, the inspiration for these predictions primarily comes from activities that are already underway but are going on at a dull roar. These predictions boil down to guesses on what activities are going to blow-up, go mainstream and be sound bites on the national news at some point in the new year.

Macarons are a good example for of the conclusion above. Starting in the spring of 2010 I saw macarons showing up on foodie blogs everywhere, and I kept seeing them. Funny thing was I had never seen them before and didn’t know anyone personally who could tell me what the big deal was. Just last month I finally asked a fellow food blogger at the Eat. Live. Travel. Write. blog (thanks Mardi!) what was going on. The answer came in two parts, obviously not having ever had them I was missing something AND they represent a challenge to make. That seems reasonable, and I can clearly say based on the year I saw macarons have, they aren’t new!

The foodies that are already pioneering and enjoying the trends that are ready to blow up are already well known in the underground and with luck will be rising stars as the trends reach primetime. Remembering that we all must be careful what we wish for seems to be prudent here however.

Secondly; eating, drinking and entertaining are trending up across the whole of our society making prediction much more difficult and nuanced.

I took a look at articles from some of the same outlets for their predicted 2010 food trends. What I found was interesting. In 2009 Epicurious shared both the front burner (2010 up-trend) and backburner (2010 down-trend) ideas for the then new year. Mixologists and Mad-Science Cocktails were both on the down-trend list and the supporting statements actually seemed laden with a personal dislike of the trends rather than a genuine feel for where the masses would go. And guess what, both trends saw new heights in 2010! Notice for the 2011 the format of the predictions from the same outlet is absent of the sinking trend predictions.

Swapping one trend for another isn’t a good play in the current food context. With rising tides across all the food and drink oceans we should expect trends to have more longevity and die slower deaths as more and more people cycle through them in their food relationships.

Let’s try out an example of putting an ongoing food activity in context for a potential trend. Based on my food perspective I could predict, like others already have, that canning and preserving is going to go mainstream in 2011. But I don’t think that makes sense. Canning and preserving works out to be a cash-flow friendly activity. This makes it very attractive to some in a down economy, but for most people it represents effort they don’t want to expend. The novelty of having your own home-canned goods alone isn’t enough. For those who do can and preserve we should expect they will continue to do so. My prediction for the trend here is that those who already embrace this activity will develop stronger bartering links, maybe even informal co-ops, to share the varied bounty. You should also expect some of these folks to spin off small businesses to sell the locally canned foods to everyone else.

Where Food & Drink Can Be Really Exciting

In my informal survey of friends, family members, co-workers and fellow food bloggers I found that we all enjoy food and beverages at home a majority of the time. By extension food trends can have the most profound impact and on the most people when they prepare exciting meals and drinks at home. A review of the published predictions doesn’t exactly hold up here. The majority of the trends, like food halls, one ingredient restaurants, pop-up cafes, mini-plates, food trucks, etc have to do with eating and drinking outside the house. The exceptions are of course:
  1. Local ingredients, farm markets, CSA’s, foraging, etc
  2. Individual ingredients like sweet potatoes
  3. Swapping out meat for vegetables
A couple predictions are definitely positive for our restaurant dining experiences. Let’s hope they come true.
  1. Minimalist menus. Stripped down jargon and clear descriptions of what will be on the plate.
  2. New self-financed, “mom & pop” restaurants with highly involved owners.
Many other of the trends that will likely play out in the restaurant & bar scene should also be expected to get continued attention from hardcore foodies and food bloggers at home. A few examples are:
  1. Breads
  2. Unique ice creams and frozen yogurts
  3. Smoking both meats and vegetables
  4. Alcohol infusions and aged cocktails
  5. Homemade beers & wines
A local outlet, the Boston Globe’s, lists local ingredients and sustainable foods in their top 3, and micro-distilled/artisan liquors and locally made wines and beers toward the bottom of their 20 food predictions for 2011. All of these things are already happening and are more mainstream than these predictions would suggest. Thankfully all of these trends are accessible to everyone for their eating and drinking at home.

My goal when I kicked off my new blog format in 2010 was to find a sweet spot where I could be the glue between food & beverages and people who wanted to try new things at home and when they entertain. This idea is important to me not only because of health and economic forces, but also because some of the most innovative, creative and interesting results come from regular people who are empowered to try things for themselves. Professional chefs have training, access to considerable resources and lots of money backing their activities. They have the time and location to do amazing things, things that will never be as interesting to me as what one much less trained person can do on a limited budget and in their own kitchen.

So for 2011 you should expect me to continue this trend, embrace others who do and share all of it far and wide. My hope is that each time someone steps up to their home stove they consider trying something new or have plans to do more of the “food processing” themselves. What an exciting prospect!



{ References }

2011 Trend Predictions -

2010 Trend Predictions -

Trends for the next decade -

The Rest of the List
     2010 Trend Predictions -
     2010 Restaurant Trend Predictions -


Gayle Martin said...

Interesting post.

My own take is that as long as unemployment remains high and job security remains in doubt people are going to economize and continue eating out less and eating at home more.

Over the past year I've noticed fewer and fewer people eating in restaurants, and even the once busy Friday and Saturday night crowds are becoming more and more sparse. Until the economy improves I don't see this trend changing.

Tastemonials said...

I think the eating at home trend is definitely still on the rise. While in Napa this weekend we were able to dine at restaurants on short notice where before you needed reservations weeks in advance. And nothing was crowded. But I sure didn't see the minimalist trend on the menus! Whatever is on the horizon for the next year will be fun to explore.

Barbara @ VinoLuciStyle said...

I love that the eating at home trend is on the rise...whoo hoo; I will FINALLY be trendy!

The one 'craze' of this year that I gave some time to was macarons. And for me, I quite honestly do not see the fascination. For all of the steps, the anxiety over results and the overall end product I would much rather put my efforts toward something else. I guess in a word (or more correctly a phrase) for me...they're just not all they're cracked up to be!

Nice post Jason; interesting information.

Belinda @zomppa said...

Boy! You are one good researcher. =) What a compilation. I think micro-distillaries are going to be it!

All That's Left Are The Crumbs said...

I saw in the January issue of Food & Wine magazine that they are predicting savory cupcakes as a trend. As much as I love a good cupcake I am somewhat ready for the trendiness of them to die down.

Meghan@travelwinedine said...

This is a fantastic piece. As much as I am into food and wine, I generally don't go after the trends, I don't think. Changes in my own cooking and eating come from education and experience. This past year we finally had the means and understanding to do a ton more local shopping, and I see that being a change that is here to stay, at least for me. These days, I would also much rather cook at home than go out. Maybe it's the weather or my lack of a job or my desire to experiment more in the kitchen, but we have had a few recent nights where we canceled plans to go out in order to cook at home.
I enjoy macarons, but I am so tired of photos of them, and as an only-sometimes meat eater, bacon in everything can go away too!

Kate @ said...

Great post - thank you for sharing! I hope that home cooking will stay and new cuisines will make it into the mainstream. I've had enough of Italian, Mexican, Chinese.

Island Vittles said...

Well said on so many points! Here's to forging new food trends (and thereby becoming the trend setters) in 2011 & 2012! Theresa

Claudia said...

I've also been reading about the trends - and also haven't found much new. I think reading food blogs is one of the best barometers for trends.

And I would be so pleased to see more Mom and Pop restaurants and less corporate involvement in food. May 2011 make that a reality.

Magic of Spice said...

Very nice lineup here...there are several on your list that I have yet to read, but like you I have seen many. I am primarily seeing trends in the organic and sustainable areas. I agree thus far no surprises really and depending on your area they may be ahead or behind in the trends.
Great read :)
Hope your 2011 is starting off fantastically and will remain so :)

Pam @ Sticks Forks Fingers said...

Thanks for doing all this research for us, Jason. Trends tend to make me nuts... I don't really have the time in my day to read the umpteenth cupcake or macaron post/recipe, or some "ordinary" thing I can look up in Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. I also agree with All That's Left... bacon in chocolate, bacon in peanut butter, bacon in scones and muffins; I get it already. It's good, thanks! Moving on...

Gayle also makes a tremendous point. Many of the people I work with in my day job have food security issues. For a person who has never gone through that, it can keep me awake at night to consider that some of the meals I eat (at home or out) could feed a family of four for a week or sometimes more. Not only am I blessed, but spoiled. This awareness does affect my choices more and more.

I love going out for a terrific, interesting meal and always enjoy all the touches that make it special, but in my heart of hearts, home is where it's at. Whether it's just the two of us, our extended families or friends, the best times and best meals come from our own kitchen, I think. That's a "trend" that will never go out of style for me.

Thanks again, Jason, for helping us take a critical look at food journalism and form our own thoughts.

Torviewtoronto said...

Happy new year Jason to you and family
do try the naan it is delicious

MyMansBelly said...

Great recap!

Trends are fun to try and maybe experiment with (sometimes what's trendy sticks with some people - mullets anyone?). They're something to take you out of your comfort zone.

But I agree with you and many of the others that the cooking/eating at home things isn't really a trend, but a way of life now. The home cook has access to many of the same equipment, tools and foods that are found in restaurants. Combine that with the internet and outside of being in an open and social atmosphere, eating at home can give you the same experience.

Spice Sherpa said...

Nice post and insight Jason! Like You I also checked out the trends and find them amusing. I found the equivalent of comfort foods on one list (why is that a trend?) and "Discomfort" foods on another. I had fun finding the common ground between the predictions. And guess what? I've never had a macarone and still adore cupcakes which are considered so old news. Oh well. That's my prediction--sticking to your guns on what you like (along with trying the new). :-)

Jason Phelps said...

Definitely some great conversation here. I was hoping for that since this really boilks down out relationship with food and how it evolves from one day to the next. We are all the proverbially converted with all the cooking and foodie research we do so I think some of these things would seem strange to the non-foodie types. 2011 will prove to be an interesting year no matter!