Last week, I had the pleasure - and good fortune! - of attending the Foodservice Forum on day one of the London Produce Show. Now in its third year, this boutique exhibition held at the swanky Grosvenor House in Park Lane, brings together a wide range of international produce buyers from the retail, foodservice and wholesale sectors. Coupled with a series of networking occasions, seminars and chef demonstrations alongside the exhibition, every attendee is presented with the opportunity to meet, share and learn with their counterparts from around the world.
The range of speakers on the day I attended was really impressive in terms of subject scope around the topic of fresh produce. Each presenter brought a unique perspective that was both fascinating and thought provoking, so here are my top five key trend take aways from a fun and informative day:
1) Flexitarianism is on the rise
Time and again, this trend was mentioned by the various speakers, suppliers and chefs who took to the stage. The best way to describe a flexitarian is a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish. While this opens up opportunities for restaurateurs and foodservice caterers to be inventive with their menu engineering, it was interesting to learn from the Chef Panel that this doesn't translate to a more competitive margin due to the extra preparation time it takes to produce interesting vegetarian dishes.
With his endearing American drawl and a deep booming delivery full of charm and confidence, Gerry invigorated the Wednesday morning crowd with a full gamut of ideas to make vegetable-based dishes the star of your menu. Listing a whole series of protein 'adds', his key advice to the auduence was to "make protein your partner", where meat and fish based ingredients are only added to vegetable dishes to enhance their core flavours. Ingredients like Anchovy; Bagna Cauda; Iberico style hams; 'Nduja; Meat ragouts; Meat broths; Dashi and Fish Roe were all highlighted for those umami-hit qualities we all love so much.
3) Brussel Sprouts are not just for Christmas. Really.
One of the big surprises for me was in seeing which ingredients were hot right now. In terms of being on trend, Brussel Sprouts are leading the way in some of America's hottest eateries. Who knew, right? If you don't believe me; here are The 15 Best Places for Brussel Sprouts in Los Angeles right now.
Other lesser-known ingredients Gerry mentioned were Watermelon Radishes, Maithake Mushrooms, Sun Chokes. He also talked about 'vegetable treatments' like Bagna Cauda, and 'Next-generation hummus' (such as Pumpkin Hummus). One other ingredient we all take for granted is Kale and it is here to stay since it features prominantly on the trendiest menus right now. Just take a look at this dish from Destroyer in LA. (If you have 5 minutes, I recommend you click on the link and scroll down to the footer - that folks, is an epic web interface!)
For more of Gerry's insight into the veg-centric trends right now, go to this great interview he gave Produce Business ahead of his guest presentation in London. Well worth bookmarking for when you need menu inspiration.
4) 'Healthier Eating' is the most important trend affecting menus
Giles Smith, Senior Client Service Manager at MCA Insight gave us a fascinating look at what's ahead for the Foodservice Market in 2017. This could have been an article in itself, so here are a few key points he highlighted:
- Turnover in the Eating Out market will see a slowdown in line with inflation at 1.7%;
- Frequency of eating out - especially for breakfast - has plummeted, however average spend is up with breakfast hitting a £5 spend per head for the first time.
- The market is set to grow by £1.7bn, driven mainly by the managed and branded pub sector followed by convenience stores; branded restaurants and coffee shops.
- The fastest growing channels this year are Branded Contemporary Fast Food (16% growth) and Street Food and Mobile Vans (14.4% growth). Conversely, Tenanted & Leased Pubs will see an 8.3% contraction, followed closely by Independent Restaurants and Independent Takeaways - especially those that fail to innovate and/or attract their locals in.
As I have been on a health drive recently, I found the stats around healthy eating to be intriguing. In a survey, 43% of respondants cited healthier eating as the most important current trend affecting food menus in the restaurant sector. Followed closely by Gluten-free (30%) and Other allergies (26%), it was interesting to see 'Flexitarianism' came in on par with 'Value' by 22% of respondents repectively. Compare this with 'Customisation' (13%) and 'locally-sourced' (13%) trailing just ahead of 'sharing plates' with just 9% of the polled responses.
5) Not all trends have to be, umm.... 'trendy'
It would be easy to conclude with another 'too cool for school' list of pop-ups, street food or even "craft everything" as Giles put it. However in closing, he gave some very pragmatic advice to operators who are facing those multiple headwinds of Brexit, the post-election uncertainty and climate change causing inflationery pressures. What then are the trends when it comes to producing a menu that offers to grow that margin while still offering 'value for money'? Here are four points that operators who were polled came back with:
"Being asked to Value Engineer product or plate coverage" (Marketing Manager, Manufacturer)
"Cheaper products" (Head of Food, Leisure Operator)
"Cheaper alternatives" (Head of Customer Insight, Contract Caterer)
"Less Protein, Smaller Portions" (Develpment Chef, Contract Caterer)
I am in total agreement with all of these suggestions. Had I been polled, I might be tempted to add one more... and that is to double down on improving your customer service experience. Consumers will pay a premium if they feel they are receiving a great experience. Especially with the almost unlimited choice available to them in supermarkets, through home delivery and simply by following that recipe themselves from all the books, TV shows and articles that bombard them everyday.
Whatever the trend, eating outside the home is more than filling a gap to save time, it is about experiencing something special that made that choice worthwhile and the bill seem like value for money. Trends come and go, but this fundamental principle will never go out of fashion.
My thanks go to Ivan Gonzalez who was the photographer on the day for sharing these photos with me for this article. Check out his website (www.ivangonzalez.co.uk) to see for yourself why I would highly recommend him for your next corporate event. I must also thank Jeni Edwards FIH for looking after me on the day having heroically worked behind the scenes to make the event such a big success.
And finally, a big THANK YOU to publisher of Produce Business and Vice President of the London Produce Show, Ken Whitacre for bringing this fantastic event right to our doorstep here in the UK. I wish you continued success with all those future shows you have planned Ken!
Thomas Kilroy FIH is a consultant and director of Kitchen Sync, an independent catering consultancy that provides objective advice to a wide range of clients on the management of their catering and hospitality services. If you would like to know more about how Kitchen Sync Consultancy can maximise your business, click here get in touch.