Conference Beat™ – 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  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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *