Flavor Experience – Newport Beach, California August 2014

Chefs and foodservice professionals from many segments of the industry and their food & beverage suppliers gather for this annual conference about the business of flavor and innovation to learn about new ways to delight their customers.  It is a non-stop flavor and tasting experience.


What’s New In The Business of Flavor:

  • Fresh and healthy continues to inspire menu development, yet indulgence worth the splurge is back in vogue.
  • New flavor experiences from Asia, the Americas and Mediterranean countries continue to captivate.
  • The quest for authentic experiences is driving a reinvention of “eatertainment.”
  • Forget dinner; it is always snack time in America.



Trend Acceleration

The life cycle of trends is compressing.  Traditionally, a trend cycle was 10-12 years; today the average life cycle of a trend is 5-6 years.


Restaurant chains are finding that it is becoming more important to jump on trends earlier in the life cycle.  In the 1950’s and 60’s maturity was the sweet spot for chains to capture the impact of commonly available items on their menus.  By the 90’s and 2000’s the sweet spot moved to the growth phase, and today chains are looking even closer to the beginning of the curve when trends are still unique and hold potential for differentiation.



Culinary Economics

The foodservice industry has traditionally been considered a leading economic indicator and there is no question that the U.S. economy has driven a great deal of culinary innovation in recent years.


In 2007 restaurant visits declined sharply with the economic downturn.  By 2009 the term “food democratization” emerged.  In 2010 the casualization of cuisine was bringing more customers back to the table with chef casual cuisine.  And, in 2014 small plates and snacking away from home are part of the new culinary lifestyle.


One featured artisan talked about their mission of bringing wine country quality to a gas station snack with their gourmet jerky for discriminating patrons. Elegant popcorn flavors like sea salt caramel and pumpkin pecan praline added gourmet flair to a favorite snack.


Cathy Holley, editor and publisher of Flavor & The Menu magazine, led a discussion of the trend in “downscale dining” with an upscale flavor twist.  Some key menu innovations included:

  • Pub Grub – pub food with culinary flair is the mainstream evolution of the gastro-pub
  • Street Food – the marketplaces of Asia and Latin America inspire flavorful handheld foods in many segments of the industry
  • Peasant Food – time honored slow cooking methods add comfort and satisfaction to less expensive ingredients
  • Down Home Comfort – grits, bacon and cheese add great appeal to a wide range of dishes
  • Kitschy Snacks – a simple treat turns luxe; for example, a gourmet ice cream sandwich


Clockless Eating

Consumers are defining eating occasions for themselves, and savvy foodservice professionals are making satisfaction and delight available to them around the clock.  Snacking has become a way of life with American consumers.  Breakfast is available anytime and even beverages are being “snackified” with luxury ingredients.  Snacking became an official meal period when Starbucks introduced the Frappuccino® in 1995.


Millennial consumers are growing up, yet their on-demand lifestyle continues to impact the food business.  New research by Culinary Visions® Panel and Y-Pulse® showed Millennials enjoy snacking on a wide range of items throughout the day and do not limit the consumption of specific foods to times of day, but rather to their individual tastes.  Baby Boomers, who remain a considerable target for foodservice, have a more limited repertoire of foods they choose to eat and specific times of day they like to enjoy those foods.



Emerging Segments

Driven by consumers whose lives are constantly in motion, convenience stores are become c-restaurants with greater variety and premium quality offerings the demand.


Grocery cafés are emerging and food courts are moving out of malls as a wide range of mobile options are offering consumers delicious and affordable meals and snacks on demand.
With food trucks becoming a widely available mainstream option, the new mobile is becoming shared plates on wheels.  The classic dim sum cart is delivering the mobile experience in restaurants like State Bird Provisions in San Francisco.  This is a millennial driven experience that is friendly to service styles in family style restaurants and makes for a dramatic, immediate and interactive experience.


Airport lounges may be the new destination restaurant/bar.  HMS Host shared concepts in airports nationwide that are as appealing as free standing operations catering to travelers with planned or unexpectedly long layovers in airports since edible in-flight foodservice is a romantic vestige of the past on domestic flights.



 Vegetables Take Center Stage

Vegetables are at the center of everyone’s attention and moving to the center of the plate.  A tasting session explored whether kohlrabi might be destined to become the new kale because of its unexpected versatility in hot and cold applications and its nutritional power.


Beets were declared the new red meat.  Beet-based sandwiches, salads, desserts, beverage garnishes and chips were a hit.  Vegetables also have the ability to make many popular favorites “invisibly healthy” which is widely appealing to consumers when dining out.



Extreme Local

There is no denying the appeal of local ingredients to consumers. Garden to Glass is the new trend in culinary cocktails.


Honey was a topic of discussion among operators and purveyors as some talked about offering zip code honey and the conference hotel featured signature bottles of honey from their rooftop hives.  Purveyors lamented the difficulty in getting certifications like non-GMO when being asked to chronicle the travel pattern of their bees to assure that they don’t interact with non-GMO plants.



Radical Transparency

Radical transparency may be the next level in food trust which is a significant factor in brand choices.  This concept gives consumers an insider’s look at what goes into delivering a finished product.  It has taken hold in the fashion industry with companies like Everlane®, which encourage consumers to buy direct, circumventing traditional channels.



Ultimate Culinary Customization

Consumers are looking to customize their culinary lifestyle at home and away from home.  New ways for customers to enjoy chef inspired meals at home, like Blue Apron and Plated, deliver all of the ingredients and a recipe for a complete meal to give the home cook the joy of cooking without the hassle of shopping.


For those who enjoy shopping, a supermarket in Germany, Kochhaus, displays all of the ingredients for a single recipe together to facilitate marketing; or ingredients can be delivered if desired.


Munchery takes it one step further with a chef who delivers the meal.  Made with local ingredients and delivered in sustainable packaging is only the beginning.  For every meal ordered, one is donated to someone in need.



What’s Cravable

Through all of the presentations and tasting sessions, several characteristics emerged about what makes a menu item cravable.  Flavor first is the imperative.  Items made with great ingredients, complex layers or flavor, and multiple cooking methods were among those heard most often. 



Taste Talk Tweet

Tweeters were excited about alcohol beverage trends including flask-bottled moonshine cocktails and a salted caramel Old Fashioned.  Inventive serving ideas included cheesecake ice cream cones and putting a signature touch on prepared desserts by hand-dipping in chocolate.  Loyalty programs were part of the conversation, with consumers preferring open programs, meaning they are able to gift points to friends and family.


If you would like to follow our observations in real time, please follow us at http://twitter.com/OlsonComm.  The next conference we will cover is National Association of Convenience Stores Show in Las Vegas, October 7-10.



Implications for Food Marketers


  • FOMO driving innovation. The consumer’s fear of missing out (FOMO) is driving innovation in new types of customer experiences.
  • Ingenious Indulgence. New ways to deliver indulgence that are delicious, playful and captivating are irresistible and worth the little splurge.
  • Surprise and Delight Flavors. Today’s consumer is enchanted with new flavors and varieties of favorite foods with a new twist.  Sweet and heat combinations are topping the list.
  • Shared Values. Consumers want to buy food from restaurants that share their values about food, the people involved in creating their meal and the planet.
  • Accessible Experience. Consumers enjoy food experiences and are interested in experiences at all price points and in many different venues.
International Dairy Deli Bakery Association Annual Seminar and Expo – Denver, Colorado June 2014

Leaders in the dairy, deli and bakery business gathered for the association’s 50th anniversary.  Over 9,000 professionals and more than 1,500 exhibitors gathered to be inspired by keynote speakers and learn about the latest new products and opportunities for deli and bakery operations.  Conversations focused on (more…)

National Restaurant Association 2014 – The International Foodservice Marketplace

Chicago, May 18-20, 2014 — The National Restaurant Association (NRA) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show has been quietly rebranding their national conference the International Foodservice Marketplace as the foodservice industry and the audience for this show has evolved.  The show has indeed become a marketplace of buyers walking the aisles with their shopping lists, designers, and (more…)

Hot Spots & Hidden Treasures – Chicago Restaurant Recommendations 2014

New Hot Spots


671 N St Clair St


A focused Venetian-inspired menu sets Chef Michael Sheerin’s (Trencherman) second concept apart.  Small plates honor the floating City with house-cured sardines, crackly flatbreads, and a bold tomato-chili seafood stew brimming with shellfish and puffed wild rice. Desserts include (more…)

International Pizza Expo – March 2014

The International Pizza Expo draws over 7,000 pizza makers who come to see the latest products, techniques and business technologies among the 475 exhibiting companies.  Some also come to compete in the pizza challenge that includes (more…)

Culinary Change Maker Conferences: Chefs and Culinary Professionals – March 2014

Several notable conferences filled the early weeks of March; the Research Chefs Association (RCA) held their annual conference in Portland, Oregon and Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR) and the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) both held national conferences in Chicago.


Those who attend these conferences are the culinary change makers on the forefront of innovation gathering to discuss and debate the trends.  Research and development chefs meet to explore, debate, and inspire each other with ideas and techniques that will drive menus and product development in the year to come and beyond.


Here are some of the hot topics of discussion at these conferences: (more…)

Culinary Educators Dish on The Next Generation of Chefs

New survey reveals the focus of today’s culinary education 


(Chicago, March 20, 2014) – A new study by Culinary Visions® Panel surveyed culinary educators and students about topics, techniques and trends that are being taught in culinary schools around the country.

Culinary instructors felt that local and sustainable are the menu development imperatives for today’s chef to understand.  Classic preparation methods are important, yet modern cooking techniques are also on the curriculum.  Today’s culinary students are learning about traditional and unconventional foodservice venues and working with ingredients from around the world to gain an understanding of authentic ethnic and ethnic inspired foods.  Students are also being challenged to create delicious menus that hit important health and wellness goals.


Following are trends industry professionals believed were important to culinary students:

  • Practicing local and sustainable menu development
  • Understanding classic European cuisine and modern cooking techniques
  • Creating delicious menus that hit health and wellness goals
  • Understanding unconventional venues like food trucks and pop-ups
  • Working with a global pantry of ingredients to prepare a wide range of ethnic offerings


Culinary instructors and students were asked to identify the ingredients they cannot live without.  They agreed on the top four items:  salt, garlic, olive oil and butter.  Completing the list of the top five, instructors noted fresh herbs and students chose pepper.


“Culinary educators are in a unique position to have a significant impact on the menus of tomorrow through the knowledge and passion they share with their students.  Understanding their perspectives give us a glimpse of trends to come,” said Sharon Olson, executive director of Culinary Visions Panel.


When culinary students were asked about their favorite meals to prepare, tried and true comfort foods and holiday meals were mentioned by almost everyone.  Thanksgiving dinner, lasagna, braised short ribs with mashed potatoes and soup were the most widely noted favorite meals.

Winter Fancy Food Show – Executive Summary

San Fransisco, CA. – The Winter Fancy Food Show continues to grow, showing three consecutive years of solid growth, with more than 18,000 attendees and 1,300 exhibitors representing over 35 countries and 14 international pavilions this year alone. New international exhibitors were from Uruguay, Israel, South Korea, India and Thailand. There were close to 100 first time exhibitors with a diverse range of handcrafted products including (more…)

Mindful Meal Decisions Drive Food Trends for 2014

trends graphic 2014


(Chicago, December 2013) Mindfulness was a common theme among foodservice professionals and consumer foodies when surveyed by the Culinary Visions® Panel in 2013.  During the year insight was collected from primary research with over 3,500 consumers and analyzed along with research gathered from culinary professional groups and (more…)

Trend Setter and Thought Leader Conferences

Executive Summary

Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI) Conference

International Foodservice Editorial Council (IFEC) Conference

Two conferences that attract the food industry’s opinion leaders convened during two consecutive weeks this month.  LDEI was held in Austin, a city well known for Latin flavors.  IFEC was held in Portland, Oregon, the hometown of James Beard and a city that celebrates local food and beverage and responsible production.  These diverse groups of culinary professionals in the food, fine wine and (more…)