Conference Beat® – SIAL Virtual Conference, Paris, October 2020

SIAL Paris (Salon International de l’Alimentation), the world’s largest food innovation exhibition that includes foodservice, retail grocery and food processing business sectors was a virtual experience this year. Even though there is nothing that can replace the personal interaction at this global conference, the virtual conference did not disappoint, with of-the-moment research and insight on the tumultuous world of the food business today. The theme of this year’s conference #Ownthe change invited food professionals to claim the change as their own. 

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The Global Situation in 2020 

New research was presented at the conference with updates related to the effect of the global pandemic. The Top Global Trends to consider include: 

Consumers Want Things to Be Better — 73% of consumers have changed their eating behaviors in the last two years, very largely to opt for a healthier diet (70%), as well as to eat more locally and seasonally (53%), to choose safer or more wholesome ingredients (44%), and to respect the environment (37%). In a word, people want things to be better: better products, better for their health. 

Diet As A Health Risk — dietary habits of consumers worldwide: on average, 70% of consumers consider that they have changed their dietary habits in favor of healthier ones, with figures as high as 83% in Spain and 81% in China. 

Paying Attention to Ingredients 

44% of consumers globally are paying more attention to ingredients. The figure rises to 50% in Russia, 56% in Spain and 61% in Southeast Asia. Depending on the country, up to 20% of consumers go so far as to stop consuming certain controversial ingredients altogether. This figure is particularly low for the United States (7%), the United Kingdom (8%), and China (8%). 

Source: SIAL Food 360 Study 

Three Major Trend Paradoxes 

Me Versus The Planet – Consumers want to take care of themselves, but there is a growing understanding of what is right for the planet and the food system. 

Proximity Versus Distance – Consumers are choosing to eat more locally and seasonally, yet increased use of delivery and distance purchasing is sometimes at odds with these choices. 

Simplicity Versus Sophistication – Increasing interest transparency, minimal processing and packaging co-exists with interest in exotic flavors and a quest for new experiences. 

Covid 19: Accelerating Consumer Expectations 

Global consumer research conducted by Kantar identified 5 major insights: 


The Covid 19 crisis has highlighted some aberrations in the supply chain and dependence on the basics of life, with particular emphasis on those produced by agriculture. There is also a greater drive to protect household budgets. 



The lockdown had an immediate impact on food and diets, and is expected to become the new normal for some. It provided the opportunity to cook more, and to begin or develop vegetable growing as consumers take back control of what they put on their plates. 


The global population has seen the positive environmental effect of the economic slowdown. The result is a heightened awareness in favor of a more sustainable diet that shows greater respect for the environment, animal welfare and people. 


Tighter household budgets and more assertive choices favor brands offering the best guarantees. 


New patterns of remote working and continued global anxiety about the pandemic are having a negative medium-term impact on away from home consumption, balanced by a positive effect on in-home consumption. 

Contact us at or 312-280-4757 to learn about our latest consumer studies with pandemic-era consumers. 

Copyright Culinary Visions® ( 2020 

Conference Beat® – Global Food Forum 2020 Virtual Conference, New York, October 2020

This conference gathers leaders in agribusiness, food production, consumer products, government, and non-government organizations to explore key risks and opportunities shaping the global business of food. This year a virtual conference replaced the high energy conference that was characterized by spirited discussions among over 25 keynote-caliber speakers in an exhilarating and interactive one-day session. 

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Corona Virus and The Food Business: The Outlook.

The focus for food producers this year has been on employee health and safety to supply the unexpected and wildly changing needs of consumers worldwide. American food manufacturing facilities have raised already high sanitation standards to the point that food plants resemble healthcare facilities. The importance of social distancing in food plants is expected to encourage continued automation in production facilities. When employees go home, environments are inconsistent and leading manufacturers have increased their attention beyond the factory to support workers and their families. 

Meat Versus Plants 

One of the most heated debates at last year’s conference was between representatives of the dairy, beef, and plant food associations regarding product labeling and regulation. The point of view presented this year was notably one-sided with no speakers from the dairy or beef industry.

Heightened Awareness of Health 

The global pandemic is driving awareness of health matters yet indulgence is here to stay. According to a recent study by Culinary Visions® ( of more than 2,000 Covid-era consumers, 83% said they are looking forward to returning to healthier eating, yet 72% agreed that a little bit of indulgence was likely to become part of their daily routine. 

Big Revival for Big Food 

At last year’s conference, the challenges facing big food companies were sobering. Today, time honored brands that have struggled to re-invent their appeal to consumers are working overtime to meet demand. Although the pandemic fueled disaster planning and a return to traditional comfort foods, this provided an opportunity for major brands to connect with a new generation of consumers. Big food companies are investing in marketing and innovation to continue to build meaningful value for future generations.

Implications for Food Marketers 

Cooking Confidence – Access to foodservice evaporated almost overnight, and the subsequent shift to retail food purchases is likely to be sustained as quick scratch products have increased consumer confidence in cooking meals at home. 81% of consumer participants in the recent Culinary Visions® survey agreed that their new normal included more dining at home. 

Brands With Purpose Matter – Today’s consumers are relying on brands they trust for the products they provide and the responsible way in which those products are brought to market. 

E-Everything – The impact of technology on every aspect of the food chain has been growing and the pandemic has accelerated this trend exponentially. 

Contact or 312-280-4757 to learn about new research on Covid-era Consumers 

Copyright Culinary Visions® ( 2020 

Conference Beat® – Institute of Food Technologist (IFT) Virtual Conference SHIFT20, July 2020



The goal of this year’s virtual conference was to bring together leaders from a wide range of disciplines in the food industry for a robust conversation that challenged the status quo and fostered new insight. SHIFT20 was about so much more than ingredients and processing techniques—it was about a shift in thinking that brings the world better food.

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Pandemic Conscious Consumers

Today’s consumers have adjusted their expectations for access to on-demand food at all times and places. They have driven a renaissance for many long standing brands that offer a flavor memory of simpler times. As consumers seek out their new normal, the desire for convenient comfort food is likely to remain.


New Research on Covid-era Consumers

Balancing Healthfulness with Mindful Indulgence

According to a soon to be released study by Culinary Visions® (, more than 2,000 Covid-era consumers have re-evaluated or reconfirmed their desires for healthfulness and indulgence.


Seventy-five percent of those surveyed said that indulgent comfort food was their salvation in recent months, yet 83% are looking forward to returning to healthier eating. Seventy-four percent said they are now finding that healthy food gives them comfort. Yet, mindful indulgence is certainly here to stay. Seventy-two percent agreed that a little bit of indulgence was likely to become part of their daily routine.


Inspired to Cook

Faced with weeks of sheltering at home, many consumers cooked more than they might have previously for their everyday needs. When this group was asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “I do not like to cook,” 63% disagreed. In fact, 75% agreed that staying at home gave them a chance to explore cooking new recipes, and 76% acknowledged that cooking at home inspired them to learn more cooking techniques.


Finding Comfort at Home

As in-restaurant dining begins to open up, consumers still feel some hesitance to dine outside their homes; 81% of consumer participants in the Culinary Visions® survey agreed that their new normal included more dining at home. With this level of hesitancy toward eating out, retailers have the opportunity to meet the needs of consumers who are looking for ways to enjoy variety and prepared meals within their own kitchens.


Packaging Reconsidered

The drive to minimize packaging has taken a shift in focus as consumers seek safety above all else in the food and beverage items they purchase.


Implications for Food Marketers

Brands Matter – reliance on trusted brands has become more important than ever. According to Innova Marketing Insights, 56% of global consumers said the story around a brand influences their purchase decision.


Transparency Feeds Trust – easy access to information builds understanding and trust of new technologies that make food better and more nutritious.


Feeling Good – consumers want to feel good about what they eat while consuming what is good for their bodies and the world around them. Better for you, ethical and community engagement continue to trend and show no signs of slowing.



Conference Beat® – Fresh Produce Insight: Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum, New York & FreshStart, Tucson, Arizona, January 2020

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Fresh ideas were presented in December 2019 and January 2020 at two conferences focused on foodservice opportunities for the fresh produce industry. Culinary Visions® participated in a panel discussion on Menu Innovation at the New York conference and Y-Pulse® presented research titled, Connecting with Gen Next Away from Home.

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Menu Development Turned Upside Down

Vegetable-centricity has changed the perspective on menu development. Today’s leading menu developers are looking at produce in the center of the plate and using protein – animal or vegetable – as the enhancement.


Menu Stars

Flavor & The Menu magazine previewed their 2020 trend forecast at Ideation Fresh with produce centric menu stars.


Vegan Cool – the benchmark of a rising star chef is becoming their innovative preparations of vegan menu items that are just as cravable for carnivores as vegetarians and vegans.


Root Vegetables – gaining attention paired with fresh, creamy burrata cheese or used in seasonal menus featuring root to stem cooking.


Watermelon is Having Its Moment – as a replacement for tuna in poke bowls, watermelon “ham” and watermelon burgers are making diners think again about one of summer’s favorite fruits.


Cauliflower Can Be Anything – cauliflower pizza crust, riced cauliflower and cauliflower tots are proving the mainstream versatility and appeal.


Beyond Beyond Burgers – although plant based manufactured “meats” are in the news, there is tremendous burger innovation with black beans, beets, sweet potatoes & kale that can be prepared in the kitchen rather than the factory.


Produce Highlights

Baby Vegetables – delicate and delicious, offering gourmet appeal and endless versatility.


Pastabilities – the varieties continue to expand on convenient vegetables, cut and formed to offer low calorie, gluten-free options to traditional pastas.


Fermented Foods – bold, often polarizing flavors with functional benefits like detox, unwind, de-stress or energize continue to draw enthusiasts.


Right Size Bowls – this mainstream trend is taking a new turn with curated combinations of mini bowls attempting to capture a share of snack business and appeal to a wide range of lifestyle diets.


Gen Z Setting the Pace

Y-Pulse® research presented at the FreshStart Conference noted that Gen Z consumers have a lot of confidence in the kitchen. They are watching food programming on traditional and digital media and creating their own content. According to Y-Pulse® research 44% of 15-18 year olds and 30% of 8-14 year olds say they are the best cook in their house.


Implications for Food Marketers

Sustainability Moves to CSR – Sustainable practices have become ubiquitous and no longer differentiate purveyors.  Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs and initiatives are now differentiating manufacturers with their customers.


The Next Generations of Foodies – Young consumers are eating more like adults than previous generations. The Kids’ Menu is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.


Lifestyle Nutrition Is Influencing Trends – Catering to lifestyle diets is becoming second nature to successful restaurants and retailers.


Conference Beat® – Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA), Chicago, November 2019

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The Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) is the perfect show to review at the end of the year because it provides a glimpse into which trends spotted through our research and attendance at all of this year’s shows and conferences are becoming mainstream products. The show continues to grow with 1,500 exhibiting companies from 40 countries and 25 international pavilions. A special feature of the show, The Idea Supermarket, showcased 468 new products.

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Spotlight on CBD

Cannabidiol (CBD) was prominently featured in the non-foods section of the show in health, wellness and personal care products. Although this category will continue to grow, there was little evidence of it in the food and beverage section of the show. A recent study by Culinary Visions® of 2,000 consumers identified the following important issues related to mainstreaming of food and beverage products made with cannabis ingredients:

  • 50% of those surveyed would feel more comfortable buying cannabis-infused products if they had the opportunity to speak with a knowledgeable sales representative.
  • 45% of those surveyed said they would trust products that are commercially made to be safe.
  • 42% said they would prefer to buy from a small-batch producer, rather than a big food company.


Ready for Mainstream

PLMA is the place to spot product categories with momentum to become mainstream.


Plant Based Foods – This category includes plant based meat substitutes as well as pastas, snacks and a wide range of dairy products.


Pizza – Perennially a popular product at this show, more options with vegetable based and gluten-free crusts were on display.


Natural and Organic – From condiments to prepared entrees, it’s common to find these options in many product lines.


Free-From and Fortified – Products free from ingredients like allergens and artificial ingredients were as common as those fortified with functional ingredients.


International Cuisine – Countries in the broad Mediterranean region received the most attention.


International Appeal

Foods from Italy dominated the international pavilions with 57 exhibiting companies presenting food and beverages. Italy’s dedication to the private brand business was evident from the size of the delegation at this show that was significantly larger than at restaurant and specialty food shows earlier in the year.


Implications for Food Marketers

Enhanced Variety – More varieties of pantry staples like flour, sugar and mustard seen at the show appeal to today’s more food conscious consumer.


Consumer Trust – The growth of trust in private brands often relates to the retail store, chef or celebrity behind the brand.


Favorite Mash Ups – Popular flavors in unexpected forms like pancake and maple syrup dessert bars add new appeal to favorite foods.


Conference Beat® – Les Dames d’Escoffier International, Nashville, Tennessee, October 2019



Members of Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI) convened in Nashville to taste, explore and debate the hot topics and latest trends in the food, fine wine and hospitality industry. The exclusive 2020 Trends report was released at this meeting, which is highlighted in this report.

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Restaurant Trends

Established & Growing – Plant-based menus, Pop-up/Experiential and Chef Driven Fast Casual


At its Peak and Losing Steam – Food Trucks, Small Plates, Hyper-Local and Lifestyle Diet Menus


Emerging – CBD Menus, Upcycling, Cashless and Cash-free


Making a Come Back – Family Friendly, Food Halls, Reimagined Small Plates


According to a recent study by Y-Pulse® ( look for the emergence of a new segment of the foodservice industry “marketplace fast casual” driven by the demands of younger consumers and shaped by the popularity of farmers markets and food halls.


International Food Trends

The most influential parts of the world on the American food scene today were identified as: Regional Mexican, Latin America and South East Asia. In the next 3 to 5 years, look for North and East Africa, The Balkans and Caucasus.


Many of these regions focus more on vegetables and grains and introduce unconventional varieties of fruits and vegetables. Smaller, flavorful portions of meat are seasoned with more herbs and spices.


Travel was identified as the number one source of culinary inspiration by those participating in the study. As global travelers seek out more undiscovered parts of the world, expect to see a direct correlation between emerging tourism areas and the popularity of unique flavors or specialty foods characteristic of their cuisines.


Catering is becoming a global party often featuring small stations with international foods and chefs and home cooks preparing foods very personal to their heritage.


Healthy and Sustainable

The consumer’s never-ending quest for a healthy and sustainable lifestyle is expected to drive awareness and concerns regarding food waste and environmental impact.  Anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric found in Southeast Asian cooking are also gaining a wider audience.


Although there is constant news about new superfood trends, the study identified popular and widely available foods as most likely to appeal to the mainstream consumer:  blueberry, avocado and salmon.


Cooking Renaissance

Modern cooking methods expected to make cooking more appealing to consumers include air frying and instant pots with microwave falling to the bottom of the list.


Implications for Food Marketers

Expect Gen Z to play an important role in food and cooking in the following areas:


Sophisticated & Adventurous – fearless exploration of new foods and flavors.

Health Conscious – a healthy body and a healthy planet are both important.

Environmental Focus – belief in supporting sustainable food practices with their purchases.

Demand Transparency – technology savvy since birth, they know how to seek out the information they want.

24/7 Culture – expect no-compromise, convenience and customization on demand.

Conference Beat® – Global Food Forum, New York, October 2019

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The Wall Street Journal’s Global Food Forum exclusive conference gathered leaders in agribusiness, food production, consumer products economics and government to explore key risks and opportunities shaping the global business of food.


25 speakers and 13 journalists discussed, debated and enlightened the audience on trends that are transforming the food business in this exhilarating and interactive one day session.

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Big Food, Big Dilemma

Insurgent brands with innovative products and disruptive cultures are changing the nature of the food industry. Big food companies are alternatively exploring ways to create greater agility in the innovation process to build value of time honored brands and exploring when acquisition is the right strategy.


Global innovation must respond to local cultures. Although there are global trends in consumer desires, the tactical execution of products is most successful when focused on the needs of smaller geographies with unique taste and flavor preferences. Success is increasingly found in speed to market as opposed to long-term research and development trying to create products with global appeal.


Millennial Parents Driving Snacking Culture

CEO Dirk Van de Put of Mondelez shared insights on the global snacking culture, pointing out that eating 7 smaller meals or snacks has become the norm in modern households.


He also pointed out that the global market for snack foods is 80% indulgence, 20% health and wellness, no matter what their in-depth research tells them. When defining healthful snack products, 33% of consumers want natural, clean label and simple ingredient products; another 25% want what they define as permissible indulgence.


Alternative Everything

One of the most heated debates at the conference was between representatives of the dairy, beef and plant food associations regarding product labeling and regulation. Yet in a free market environment, consumer demand and the realities of retail merchandising are compelling retailers to expand the offerings in their meat and dairy cases with additional varieties and alternatives in many product categories.


Implications for Food Marketers

Consumers expect to have it all – Products that offer indulgence with healthful characteristics feed the desires of today’s consumers at home. Healthful, delicious, accessible and sustainable menu offerings are driving foodservice.


Consumers are savvy – Marketing claims that create confusion or obfuscate facts are not well received by today’s consumers who believe they are smart enough to know what they are buying and are able to read an ingredient label when they need to know more.


Technology changes everything – Technology impacts every aspect of the food chain and is expected to continue to do so in order to feed the 50% increase in demand for food expected by 2030.


Global Syndemic

Three pandemics: obesity, malnutrition and climate change represent the global syndemic that affects most people in every country and region of the world. Corporate responsibility was discussed and challenged by speakers who passionately made the case for scalable solutions rather than small scale programs that were well intentioned but executed without sensitivity to local cultures and circumstances.

Conference Beat® – National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show, Atlanta, October 2019



The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show attracted nearly 23,500 visitors. Industry professionals converged in seminars and on the show floor to see the cool new products and learn about trends in the convenience retail business.

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Trend Spotting

A newly released report from Y-Pulse ( highlighted top trends driving consumers to convenience retail operations.


Healthful and Delicious

Young consumers are accustomed to making food and beverage choices without making sacrifices. Gen Z and younger Millennial consumers agree that they shouldn’t have to try too hard to eat healthy; 86% state that they expect healthy food to taste delicious too. Most importantly, they’re willing to pay a premium price to get what they want.


Everyday Elevated

Unique, high-quality fare continues to delight and attract young consumers. Young consumers regard convenience operations as great places to expand their tastes with 63% stating that they like to try new items when purchasing food at convenience stores.


Made for Me

Young consumers value their time, but when a menu item is customizable, this individualistic generation is willing to put their fast-paced lives on pause. 86% stated they would be likely to order menu items that they can customize, and 83% said they are willing to wait for a customized sandwich rather than buy a packaged one.


Protein Power

Squeezing extra protein into their diets is a high priority for many of today’s young consumers. 66% said that eating a high-protein diet is important to them, and 82% say that they love meat.


Cool New Products

Tried and true and trendy were on display with cool new products that debuted at this show.

  • Traditional snacks showcased new flavors and fusions – citrus infused beverages and savory snacks.
  • Hot and spicy, salty and sweet combinations were plentiful.
  • Super powered food and beverages with vitamins and other ingredients promising energy, strength and even hangover relief.
  • The vegetable-centric trend was seen in snacks with a wide range of root vegetables and crunchy legumes.
  • CBD infused gummies, drops and specialty items for people and pampered pets.
  • Stuffed versions of classic grab and go fare included: pretzels, doughnuts, pizza wedges, waffles and hash browns.


Implications for Food Marketers

Balancing Healthfulness and Indulgence – When it comes to convenience retail, there is room at both ends of the spectrum for breakthrough products that appeal to convenience retail consumers.


Elevating Everyday – Convenience retail is becoming a destination stop for many consumers craving specialty and gourmet products on the go.  Manufacturers are touting culinary and R&D expertise. Value is defined by satisfaction, not
price alone.


Powered Up and Pared Down – Today’s consumers want more in and out of products they enjoy on the go. Products with extra benefits like protein, vitamins and super-ingredients as well as less sugar, fat and artificial ingredients appeal.

Conference Beat® – American Culinary Federation (ACF) National Convention, Orlando, August 2019

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The American Culinary Federation (ACF) is celebrating its 90th year and met in Orlando for its annual conference this year. ACF is the largest professional chefs’ organization in North America, comprised of more than 15,000 members. The organization is considered the leader in offering educational resources, training and accreditation to enhance professional growth for all current and future chefs and pastry chefs.

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Food & Flavor Trends 2020 & Beyond

A global trend survey done by Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI) was presented at the conference by Sharon Olson, Executive Director, Culinary Visions and board member of LDEI during a panel discussion with six chefs from diverse culinary backgrounds.  Major topics of discussion included:


Mediterranean Flavors – these dishes, known for healthfulness, are expected to grow in popularity.  Expect more exotic flavors from North Africa and the Middle East to gain attention on menus.


Street Food Culture – affordability, convenience and cultural exposure are driving the growth of this portable culinary pleasure.


Plant Power on the Menu – expect health and lifestyle trends to encourage more consumption of fruits and vegetables with smaller portions of meat and amped up flavors.


Indian Spices – as exploration of Asian cuisines continues to fuel menu exploration, Indian spices and dishes are moving closer to mainstream appeal.


Light Footprint Living – growing consciousness among consumers of all ages is fueling behavioral shifts to less waste and more sustainable living.


Highlights from the Tradeshow

Trend Setting Tables – tableware that compliments the menu, from rustic fare to durable fine dining ware, was on display. There was also great attention to glassware to compliment signature cocktails and beverages.


Tools of the Trade – a personal selection of knives continues to be important to chefs. There was interest in the latest foodservice equipment that suits the diversity of the
modern menu.


Slow Food in The Fast Lane – there is no doubt that convenience drives much of foodservice, yet consumers have high culinary expectations.  Exhibitors were featuring a wide range of premium ingredients including, meats, cheeses and spice blends to fuel diverse menus and high volume feeding.


Implications for Food Marketers

Inspiring The Next Generation – Culinary educators and students are interested in engagement with manufacturers and suppliers for inspiration.


Culinary Inspiration is Immersive – Chefs want to be connected and explore first hand. According to the LDEI survey the top three places professionals look for inspiration are travel, cookbooks and farmers markets – internet and social media ranked fourth.


Conference Beat™ – International Dairy Deli Bakery Association Show (IDDBA), June 2019

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This family vacation destination and mega-chain restaurant dominated city welcomed leaders in the dairy, deli and bakery business to learn about the latest products and opportunities. Keynote speakers focused on personal and professional growth.

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Beyond Impulse Purchases

New retail formats like Amazon Go stores with limited staff and no cashiers put pressure on new products and innovative packaging to stand out and sell themselves to convenience driven consumers.


Deli and Bakery Trends

Elevated Everyday Catering – Unique and unexpected offerings add imagination and excitement to home parties like sushi cakes and dessert charcuterie.


Bento Boxes Liven up Lunch – Fresh ingredients and elegant composition make bento boxes appealing to adults and children who crave a fresh experience for an everyday meal.


Grocerant Evolution – Turnkey, stand alone themed concepts that offer ready to eat, ready to heat and all options in between are “evolutionizing” grocerants.


Sweet and Savory – These flavor combinations are endlessly tempting like sweet and savory waffles with toppings that serve up all day satisfaction.


Visual Branding – Retailers are taking tips from restaurants that create food items to be photographed.


Balancing Health & Indulgence

Customizing Lifestyle Diets – As the awareness of individually customized nutrition programs grows, consumers are becoming more mindful of their food choices.


Life in Balance – 61% of consumers in the US and several western European countries reported they use physical activities to balance their food indulgence.


Ingredient Focus – More than half (59%) of consumers in the same study limit certain ingredients in their diets.


Conscious Choices – The quest for clean ingredient statements continues. 75% of consumers said that eating less processed foods is important to them.

(Source: Culinary Visions Global Study 2019)


The Customer Experience

Reputation is everything to draw new customers and keep loyal customers, especially for deli operations. 88% of consumers said a retail store’s reputation was important when buying fresh foods according to a recent Culinary Visions® study.


Implications for Food Marketers

Build More with Less Products and packaging that allow operations to build menu offerings quicker and with fewer ingredients are in demand.


Small Brands Reaching Big Audiences – Modern marketing techniques and consumer acceptance of    e-commerce give niche products and start-ups a boost.


Private Branding – Private labels are considered specialty brands by consumers and often with a higher value perception than national brands.


Fresh Merchandising:

Techniques that Sell

  • Uncluttered and thoughtfully composed display cases
  • Transparent packaging that allows the food to sell itself
  • Fully stocked display cases communicate fresh, manage displays for high demand and off-peak hours



Conference Beat™ – National Restaurant Show, May 2019

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The National Restaurant Association (NRA) celebrated the 100th anniversary of its trade show, International Foodservice Marketplace, where over 2,300 exhibitors from around the world showcased their products to over 65,000 foodservice professionals.

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Industry Highlights

Restaurant industry sales are projected to total $863 billion in 2019, which is equal to 4 percent of the US gross domestic product. In total, the restaurant industry has a 51% share of the food dollar.


Trend Spotting

Products for Every Consumer: From luxury products to plant-based, showcased products included: vegan breakfast sausage, gluten-free pizza crust, beer-infused dough balls and portable mini fudge-dipped cheesecakes.


Ingredient Innovation:  Noodles made from seafood, coconut-based gelato and plant-based burgers are just a few examples of food items being made with non-traditional ingredients.


Smarter Equipment: Innovations included a wash basin for bars with settings that can be adjusted through an app and robot food runners.


Breakthrough Safety Innovation:  A new hand scanner with facial recognition offers a quick and easy way for employees to check their hands for indicators of food borne illness.


Upcycling Advances: Food byproducts created from the manufacturing process are being used as ingredients in finished foods, like a soy fiber cookie made from soy milk byproducts.


Ingredient Buzz

CBD and cannabis-infused food is predicted by the National Restaurant Association to be the hottest trend to hit restaurants this year. According to a recent Culinary Visions® report on CBD & Cannabis-infused products, 42% of respondents ages 21-34 prefer products that are infused with only CBD and not THC.


Kitchen Innovation

High volume, small footprint and high tech innovations were prevalent among award winners this year, including an automatic cup sealer and a robotic smoothie system capable of producing hundreds of items an hour.


Implications for Food Marketers

Green is still Growing: There continues to be an increase in green and sustainable products. Non-plastic straws, edible utensils, disposable plates and compostable plastic bags highlight the industry’s commitment to using sustainable products.


V-Commerce: Voice enabled commerce is the latest wave of technology enabled convenience.


Simple ingredients: Manufacturers are promoting products that have ingredients consumers easily understand. Even alcohol has become cleaner with claims of no added sugar, gluten-free and simple ingredients such as rose and chamomile.


New Industry Alliance

International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) announced an alliance with the Specialty Food Association that is a collaboration to represent mainstream foodservice manufacturers and specialty food suppliers.



Conference Beat™ – Sweets & Snacks Expo, May 2019

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The Sweets and Snacks Expo drew more than 15,000 industry professionals and 800+ exhibitors, 200 of which were there for the first time. Buyers represent supermarkets, mass merchandisers and specialty retailers looking for innovations that drive business success.


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Innovation is Key

$1.8 billion in new product launches last year joins the $51 billion in snacks and $36 billion in confectionery retail sales. New products account for nearly double in these categories compared to overall CPG.


Sweet, Savory & Approaching Healthfulness

2 for 1 – two flavors in one package were plentiful at the show, with duos, duets, and double drizzled products abounding among both sweet treats and savory items.


Crunchy Satisfaction – more companies are touting their textures with monikers like “hard bite” chips, “epic crunch” baked crackers, “frittle,” a fudge-like brittle, tempura seaweed crisps, multigrain snack puffs, snack mixes combining nuts with crunchy bar pieces, and the “best in show” award going to sour crunchy worms with a candy-coated shell.


Sugar Reduction – sugar is now part of the cadre of ingredients on the “free-from” avoidance list for consumers. Suppliers in multiple categories from candy to beef jerky hyped up their sugar-free or –reduced items, as well as those free from sugar alcohols.


High Protein Meat Snacks – everything from breakfast bars to meat snacks packed in the protein, with new jerky flavors like pineapple chili and sweet habanero. Biltong, a thicker version of jerky cured with vinegar was also prevalent.


Whole Fruit Snacking – more suppliers debuted snacks made from whole foods, not juices or concentrates. Think nothing-but-fruit roll-ups, leathers, chewy dragonfruit chips and many blends of freeze-dried fruits marketed toward kids.


Chocolate – covered everything from dry-roasted chickpeas to gummies. Ethically-sourced continues to be a niche.


Brand Licensing – manufacturers are teaming up with well-known brands to create flavors that emulate popular items, like Tony Roma’s chicken jerky, Jack Daniels pound cake, and Guiness stout cake with toasted barley to round out the flavor.


Bulk Vending Technology – a new premium vending machine with glass front and touchscreen allows consumers to mix and match flavors and choose the size of their snack, without the risk of contamination from traditional bulk bins.


Customer Insight

According to a recent Culinary Visions® study, 87% of consumers say they want to get more vegetables in their diets. Still, 82% of all consumers surveyed said they love meat. This trend continues to proliferate and is expected to affect all aspects of the industry.


Veggie Snacks Trend Forward

Consumers are redefining the role that snacks play in a balanced lifestyle. A plethora of new snacks were showcased with the aim of helping consumers increase their vegetable intake, with products like consciously crunchy puffs infused with spinach, turmeric, and cauliflower. Vacuum-fried crudites were a blend of okra, broccoli, and pumpkin. Single serve 20-calorie packs of vegetables included herb-marinated artichokes, asparagus and green beans.


Implications for Food Marketers

Snacks as Ingredients: Suppliers are encouraging new ways to use snacks as toppings, for baking, for smoothies and cocktail garnishes to enhance their product versatility stories.


Paralysis of Choice: Manufacturers are capitalizing on consumers being overwhelmed by too many choices with products where it’s possible to create multiple flavor combinations within a single product or package.


Simple Ingredients = Healthy: Products with no additives, no artificial colors, certifications of all types, and a minimalist approach to ingredient decks are creating a new category of “better than junk food” that consumers equate with good health.


Treats to Fit a Lifestyle: Snacks to fit wellness diets are increasingly on-trend, with many ways to communicate on pack, through brand colors, textures and names signifying simplicity and purity.

Conference Beat™ – SIAL Toronto, April 2019



SIAL Canada is the largest North American Innovation show that focuses on insight and inspiration for companies dedicated to the food and beverage business. It is one of eight exhibitions developed to extend the reach of SIAL Paris which is widely known as the global forum of food innovation.


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Convenience Elevated

Segment fusion has driven the emergence of specialty food operations that offer the appeal of a gourmet shop in a convenience format spurring innovation in traditional outlets.  Chef driven fast casual restaurants continue to challenge table service restaurants with destination flavors consumers crave.


Trends Driving Innovation

Value: Americans and Canadians agree that receiving a great value is a point of pride—and value is not necessarily the lowest price.


Delight: North American consumers are unwilling to forego enjoyment or deliciousness for healthfulness.


Healthfulness: Interest in health has not wavered over many years and is expected to escalate with aging, take-charge Baby Boomers.


Convenience: Modern lifestyles and the consumer’s unwillingness to make tradeoffs have driven innovation in retail packaging and fast casual.


Trust: Brand trust is essential for food manufacturers, and is driven by customer desire for transparency of production processes and product origin. Consistent pricing across channels and straightforward language in all communication is also necessary.


Global Flavors

Asian and Mediterranean flavors continue to dominate, yet more exotic and challenging flavors from all regions are finding favor to feed the demanding palates of modern consumers.

50 international pavilions were represented with Italy as the country of honor at this year’s trade show. Show attendees represented over 60 countries.


Consumer Insight

Consumers globally are taking more of a holistic approach to health. In a recent Culinary Visions® survey, 61% of consumers said they use physical activities to balance their food indulgence. When it comes to food choices, 75% said eating less processed food is important to them and 59% said they are ready to limit, but not eliminate certain ingredients.



Implications for U.S. Food Marketers

Authentic and Unpretentious: Products and companies that connect with consumers’ values are in demand.


Gen Z Influencing Trends: As members of this generation grow up, their influence is driving interest in international foods and technology enabled experiences.


Ingredient Insight: Canadian consumers lead the way with nationwide legalization of cannabis last year, and wide ranging exploration of functional ingredients.


New Product Highlights

Both ends of the spectrum from minimalist to luxe

  • “Unbun” paleo, grain-free, strarch-free, vegan, keto and gluten free.
  • Luxury lamb noted for its healthy diet of seaweed, grains, grasses and a pasture lifestyle.
  • Scoopable, edible raw vegan cookie dough.

New in 2019: F&B Start Ups and Cheese

Conference Beat™ – Research Chefs Association (RCA), Louisville, KY, March 2019

RCA 2019 CV website


The Research Chefs Association (RCA) conference is where new product developers, food scientists and R&D chefs meet to explore, debate, and inspire each other with ideas and techniques that will drive menus and product development in the years to come.

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Value Alignment

It is important for manufacturer and operator brands to align with consumers’ personal values. More than 80% of consumers have visited a restaurant or retail food establishment for the first time because they perceived that their values aligned with the brand.


Trend Spotting

Plant-dulgent – consumers want to eat something they feel good about and that tastes delicious. The majority of plant-based consumers are not counting calories, evidenced by trending indulgent plant-forward concepts; it’s about making a better choice for the world.


“Authentic” Falling out of Favor – the term authentic is exclusionary and the distinction between local and global food is blurring. Think kimchee made with locally-sourced ingredients.


Middle Eastern Flavors on the Rise – Levantine cuisine from countries like Cyprus, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey are becoming more mainstream, with baba ganoush eggplant dip, kibbeh blended meat and grain patties, and spices like zaatar and sumac growing.


Wellness Personalization – the era of food that makes consumers feel good is giving rise to uber-personalization with DNA-diets on the horizon, which tell users what to eat based on a blood sample, plus tips on exercise and skin health designed specifically for their DNA makeup.


Digital Menus of the Future – menu customization is being driven by artificial intelligence, where algorithms are making decisions for us. It is predicted that digital menus will populate choices based on dietary concerns and flavor preferences of user profiles, with the next generation of automation coming from smart appliances that offer up recipes based on what’s in the refrigerator, order groceries and adjust oven temperatures remotely.


New Head Buzz

Cannabis-infused food and beverages are picking up momentum as legalization expands, and cannabis compound callouts like CBD and terpenes are emerging. A recent Culinary Visions® consumer study found trust and traceability are top issues related to food and beverage products made with cannabis ingredients. The survey of 2,000 consumers found that 45% would trust products commercially made to be safe.


Implications for Food Marketers

Redefining Authentic Ethnic – honoring a heritage is becoming a more accepted way of marketing ethnic flavors and cuisines, allowing flexibility for a modern concept-specific twist.


Safe Experimentation with New Flavors – to make an LTO exciting, operators can add one ingredient from the inception phase of the trend cycle. QSR LTO’s are often ubiquitous builds with a sauce or topping that brings consumer interest to get a taste of what’s new and trending.


Processing as Intellectual Property Safeguard – savvy product development may include a new way to think about ingredients like natural flavors, colors, and modified starches – since it’s so easy for private label or a competitor to knock off clean label products, these ingredients could help protect formulations.


Factory Automation Hits QSR

Robot technology that has been in CPG for decades is now being used for repetitive tasks at QSR, increasing throughput based on labor costs, consistency, and food safety. Some examples include 3-minute wok-cooked bowls using robots, pizza delivery units where the roving robot is the restaurant, with no real estate and just one employee per unit, and a bot assembly line that builds burgers to order.


Conference Beat™ – Fancy Food Show, San Francisco, January 2019

Website Photo CV


The Specialty Food Association’s Winter Fancy Food Show is the first major industry forum of the year that attracts professionals in a wide range of business segments including: specialty and gourmet retail stores, supermarkets and foodservice operations. Unique features of the show include special areas dedicated to start-up ventures.

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Hot Topics

Customer Connections – technology enables, but cannot replace experiences with food and purveyors who are passionate about their products.


Meal Delivery Shakeout – consumers’ desire to dine out at home is driving innovation in delivery, grab and go and meal kits as suppliers struggle to find sustainable profit models.


Responsible Sourcing – 62% of consumers said that they seek out restaurants that offer responsibly produced foods on their menus in a recent Culinary Visions® study.


Light Footprint Living – Barely there and edible packaging appeals to consumers who are concerned about the environmental impact of packaging.


Vegetable Centricity – The veg-centric movement continues to gain momentum even with carnivores seeking more and more interesting vegetables in their diets.


Food and Flavor Trends

Fashionably Functional – whether it’s the allure of the forbidden with cannabis ingredients or the satisfaction of golden lattes made with turmeric, food and beverages with medicinal benefits are all the rage.


Unabashed Indulgence – over the top confections promoted the unique quality of their ingredients and recipes appealing to today’s consumers who want to balance their own choices of healthfulness and indulgence. A recent Culinary Visions® survey found more than half of consumers prefer not to see calorie counts on menu items.


Childhood Memories Driving Adult Choices – Birthday cake flavored organic cotton candy was made for grown up kids.


From Mundane to Modern – Everyday foods like cauliflower are showing up in new and exciting formats like pizza crust, tortillas and stir and go quick meals in a cup with international flavors like Peruvian Ceviche, Moroccan Harissa and Indian Curry.


Culinary Diplomacy

More than 30 countries showcased their food and culture, including 16 major pavilions. The largest were Italy, Japan and France. The Philippines, Mexico and Peru continue to build interest, and Cambodia appeared on the culinary scene.


Implications for Food Marketers

Conscious Capitalism – consumers expect honesty and authenticity in corporate behavior and employee practices.


Global Comfort Foods – global flavors have become so widely enjoyed that they are finding their way into modern comfort classics.


Lightning Fast Response Required – as culinary lifestyles have replaced diets, desired products and ingredients are changing quickly; this behavior requires food producers to be in constant search of what’s next.


Industry Highlights

U.S. specialty food sales are estimated at $140.3 billion, up 11% since 2015. The top 5 growth categories are: water, rice cakes, ready to drink tea and coffee, jerky and meat snacks and shelf stable cream and creamers.
Gen Next − 79% of consumers 18-23 purchase specialty foods. – Specialty Food Association


Conference Beat™ – Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum, New York, December 2018



The New York Produce Show and Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum brought together thought leaders in the domestic and international produce business with leading retailers and restaurateurs to explore what’s hot now and what’s on the horizon for fresh food.  This year’s conference focused on the unique perspectives of different demographic groups related to fresh food and produce.

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Fresh Perspectives

A new study by Culinary Visions® presented at the conference noted that more than 80% of consumers of all age groups consider locally sourced foods to be the freshest.


Product Highlights

Vegetable Candy – conveniently packaged grape tomatoes, branded “handy candy”, make it easy to grab and go with a healthy snack.


Fresh Veggie pastas – butternut squash rotini, kohlrabi linguine and sweet potato fettuccine offer chef-inspired cuts, low calorie and
gluten-free options.


Bold Beverages – made with fruits and vegetables, these beverages are setting out to replace energy drinks with benefits like detox, unwind, de-stress and energize.


Big and Little Bento Boxes – individual snacking or large parties, put vegetables front and center both everyday and for special events.


Nourishing Bowls – with curated mixes of fresh produce, they are filling the desire for endless varieties of bowl meals served hot or cold.


Gen Z Breaking In

Gen Z consumers are watching food programming on traditional and digital media. According to Y-Pulse® research 56% of 15-18 years and 39% of 8-14 year olds try to cook some of the meals they have seen in short-format “Tasty” style videos.


Boomers – Substance Over Style

55+ consumers continue to wield their purchasing power. According to Culinary Visions® 87% would like to get more produce into their diets and 36% enjoy dining at restaurants in trendy areas.


Implications for Food Marketers

Omnivores enjoy veg-centric food. Vegetables are moving to the center of the plate, but meat still plays an important and satisfying role for the vast majority of consumers.


Open kitchens cue freshness. Vegetable centricity is driving restaurant design with fewer freezers and open kitchens. When consumers see restaurant kitchens with lots of fresh prep, it enhances their fresh perception of the restaurant’s food.


Convenience Versus Flavor. Younger consumers, 18-34, are more willing to sacrifice flavor for convenience when making food decisions on the go, according to a new study from Culinary Visions®.


The Next Trendy Vegetable

Trend presentations at the conference suggest that the next new vegetable may be a time honored favorite that has been taken for granted – cabbage, carrots, cauliflower – reinvigorated with bold cooking and preparation methods.  Examples include: roasted cauliflower steak, carrot tartare and charred cabbage wedge, served warm.



Conference Beat™ – Private Label Manufacturers Association PLMA, Chicago, November 2018



The Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) show showcased more than 1,400 suppliers representing almost all consumer product categories, including fresh, frozen, and refrigerated meals, snacks, and beverages available to retailers and wholesalers for private label, store brands, and co-branding.  The PLMA is the perfect show to review at the end of the year because it provides a glimpse into which of the trends spotted through our research and attendance at all of the other shows and conferences of the year are becoming mainstream products.

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Trend Spotting

Tantalizing Textures – layers of flavors and multiple textures in captivating convenience
food options


Enlightened Indulgence – free from claims dominated labels in many product categories; nutrient-dense, protein-packed snacks fed the grab-and-go market


Handcrafted, Small Batch Specialties – handmade desserts in a glass that appeared pastry chef inspired and made to order


The Heat is On – Asian foods with hot, spicy, and challenging new flavors were packaged in single-serve portions


Old Favorites, New Forms – ready-to-drink Italian ice cream positioned as a contender in the luxury beverage category


Global Flavors – international exhibits were larger and more extensive than those seen at many of the foodservice trade shows this year


Comfort Classics

This show is known for its abundance of pizza manufacturers and this year both ends of the healthful and indulgence spectrum were well represented – numerous cauliflower and vegetable crusts as well as 5 meat stuffed crust pizzas.


Comfort Classics

This show is known for its abundance of pizza manufacturers and this year both ends of the healthful and indulgence spectrum were well represented – numerous cauliflower and vegetable crusts as well as 5 meat stuffed crust pizzas.


Implications for Food Marketers

Innovation Pipeline – speed to market, quality and value are the three big drivers for continuous private label product introduction.


Convenience Takes Many Forms – from convenient portion sizes and recipe flexibility to reusable to-go packaging with utensils built into the lid and single serve packaging for meals, snacks and toddler food.


Premium is Often Clean, Sustainable – consumer demand for mindfully produced products with natural ingredients is becoming the point of entry for premium products, along with a premium price tag.


Taste Talk Tweet

Social media chatter included:

  • Vegetables are being used as natural colorants and stealth health inclusions both for meat and plant-based proteins
  • Cauliflower is the new lower carb and calorie-conscious starch replacement for pizza crust, rice, mashed potatoes, tater tots, and more




Conference Beat™ – SIAL, Paris, October 2018



SIAL Paris (Salon International de l’Alimentation) is the world’s largest food innovation exhibition, with more than 7,200 international exhibitors from the food industry and 160,000 attendees over five days. Every two years, the expo serves as a source of inspiration for the world food market, where leaders in foodservice, retail grocery and food processing enterprises come to present their latest innovations and predict future industry trends.

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Among legacy products in the international pavilions, there were a number of on-trend new products that connect with consumers’ lifestyle demands.


Single Serve Convenience – individual packs proliferated, including freeze-dried guacamole made to be reconstituted with water, and grab & go ready-to-eat kid’s meals with organic grains and separate sauces packaged similarly to yogurt with mix-ins.


Healthier Snacks – snacks came in an array of formats and shapes puffed with air to make them lighter, with curls, wheels, rings and stars being popular; flavors included cauliflower puffs, pomegranate crisps and Thai curry bean chips.


A Bevy of Functional Beverages – there were many ways consumers could imbibe to attain their goals, from “lifted” teas that bring calm, harmony and wellness, to flavored waters, aloe drinks, and kombucha that deliver energy, anti-inflammatory benefits, memory retention, immune system boost or contain protein or amino acids.


Sustainably Sourced – new Japanese responsibly-farmed fish and harvesting processes preserve the texture and flavor of yellowtail and scallops for sustainable sourcing.


”Free-From” Proliferates – products like lactose-free dairy, gluten-free, preservative-free, and no artificial colors were widely available, often with marketing language like living free or being free.


Transforming Waste

Eco-friendliness is evolving into zero-waste, from edible straws to reusable bottle caps and some with marketable benefits beyond waste reduction, like the pizza crust with improved healthfulness using local spent grain, beer wort and yeast.


Global Consumer Insight

A new global consumer study from Culinary Visions® found that 87% of consumers, including those from France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain and the U.S., care about the quality of ingredients in their meals.


Implications for Food Marketers

Think Globally, Connect Locally – suppliers are working toward meeting consumer ideals and lifestyle choices, with more natural foods, clean label and functional benefits becoming mainstream the world over.


No Alternative to Innovation innovation is needed to find the right positioning in developing markets to find growth drivers and to create value in mature markets. It is estimated that half of the food products that will be on shelves in the next five years do not yet exist.


Trust Your Gut identifying and harnessing the role of gut microbes in diet-related health conditions will be key to product development in the coming years.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Protein pearls for industrial applications
  • De-lactosed ice cream, butter and oat-based yogurt make dairy accessible to more people
  • All-in-one meal kits without food waste


Follow us on Twitter @olsoncomm


Conference Beat™ – Les Dames d’Escoffier International, Seattle, October 2018



Members of Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI) convened in Seattle to taste, explore, and debate the hot topics and latest trends in the food, fine wine and hospitality industry. This year the group released their first annual global trends report.

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Restaurant Trends

The 2018 LDEI trends survey revealed:


Established & Growing – Chef-driven fast-casual, Farm-to-table, Family friendly


Emerging – Dog friendly, Upcycling, Hyper-local


Losing Steam – Buffet, Member only, Food trucks


Ethics on the Go

Modern consumers appreciate healthfulness integrity and sustainability and they are willing to pay a premium for it. According to a recent Culinary Visions® study 69% of consumers surveyed don’t mind paying extra for healthy snacks.


Catering Trends

As it becomes increasingly difficult to wow guests who have seen it all, successful caterers are striving to create great experiences as well as great food. Some trending techniques include:


Food stations spread around the room or venue, rather than large buffets.


Gracefully pared down budgets are driving smaller venues, bite size portions and unique destinations.


Participation and interactivity where guests take part in the action of customizing their choices.


Creativity at the bar is as important as creativity with food where parties are featuring mixologists, bourbon pairings and tequila tastings.


Convenience and Economy

Fed by consumers’ desire to have it all, chef-driven concepts that are inclusive, comfortable and affordable with a bit of an upscale environment are thriving.


Flavors of the Year

2018 is expected to be a year of culinary discovery, emerging flavors include:


Sour Citrus, Vinegar

Bitter Broccolini, Matcha

Simple Sweet Vanilla, Dates, Plums, Figs

Exotic Harissa, Turmeric, Za’atar


Implications for Food Marketers

International Flavor Trends – look to the Mediterranean, Latin America and the Middle East in the next year.


Healthy & Sustainable – expect consumers to pay more attention to overall wellness in their lifestyle and sustainable living.


News Cycles & World Dynamics – food trends are influenced by newsworthy places in the world and immigration patterns.


Undiscovered & Authentic – food trends can be linked to travel trends and consumers are interested in less travelled destinations and authentic experiences.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Botanical flavors are becoming more popular
  • National Farmers Day celebrates local ingredients and fresh food
  • Fresher water allows for harvesting more oysters

Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


Conference Beat™ – National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), Las Vegas, October 2018



Every year the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show attracts more than 23,000 industry professionals who are there to connect, exchange ideas, and spot the hottest new products slated to reach the convenience store market within the next year.

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Product Spotlight

Sparkling Hydration – bubbly flavored waters came in a plethora of flavors, such as watermelon, dark Morello cherry and mandarin passionfruit, and some packed extra energy with extended-release caffeine


Packaged Protein – products that pack a protein punch were abundant on the show floor, from mushroom jerky and dairy-free yogurt drinks to many iterations and flavors of meat jerky, like mojo, ghost pepper, pulled pork and sweet Italian sausage sticks


Incredible Eggs – new flavors and bold colors brought renewed interest to pickled and hardboiled eggs, with flavors like beet-brined, buffalo-style and mustard


Getting Warmer – updated warming and holding equipment makes foodservice operations turnkey with controls for humidity, temperature and multiple timers


Poppable On-the-Go Indulgence – easy to eat formats of household favorites were prominent among new exhibitors, such as authentic crispy cheese curds, ready-to-eat “raw” cookie dough, brownie bites with icing dippers, and other small format bites


Bowls Gaining Traction – bowls are making inroads in both foodservice and retail. Hot flavors included BBQ chicken breast with cornbread croutons, nacho chicken with Spanish rice and cheeseburger with diced potato pieces, while cold smoothie bowls featured superfoods like acai and matcha topped with granola


Flavor Combinations – several suppliers presented new products with flavor mashups, such as “duos” that share the same package or those that are split down the middle with two flavors colliding in one product


Coffee Cravings – cold brew continues to be on-trend, now with functional ingredients like collagen and protein, with cleaner and all-natural options on offer


Foodservice Packaging Insights

Consumers want to make food choices that leave a light footprint on the environment. According to a recent Culinary Visions® study, 65% of consumers say that they are concerned about the environmental impact of take-out containers and to-go packaging.


Implications for Food Marketers

Changing Demographics – the image of “bubba” as the typical c-store shopper is dissolving as new stores emerge in unexpected upscale formats, engaging new and different consumers.


Premium at a Value – when it comes to favorites like sandwiches and roller grill items, customers are looking for more elevated toppings and specialty breads; they don’t need c-stores to completely reinvent menu favorites to draw continued interest.


Convenience Meets Wellness – consumers are becoming more informed about what goes into the foods they’re eating. Suppliers should focus on the positive perceptions their products provide while communicating any negatively-perceived ingredients that have been left out.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Healthier and more natural ways of consuming caffeine are emerging
  • Interactive ordering systems are engaging consumers more in the buying experience
  • New product launches that meet dietary restrictions and lifestyle choices


Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


Conference Beat™ – Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), Chicago, IL 2018


This international conference about the science of food brings together more than 20,000 attendees and 1,200 exhibitors including food industry, government and academia, where they share the latest research and solutions among R&D, scientific and technical titles. IFT is about so much more than ingredients and processing techniques – it’s about food that changes the world.

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Trend Spotting

Boozy Byproducts – byproducts from craft beer are being used to produce flour for pasta and made into great tasting snacks with superior nutrition.


Intelligent Induction – in development now is a technology that heats food safely and conveniently in disposable packaging using the same device that charges a mobile phone battery.


Positive Processing – natural processing techniques help to preserve and enhance flavors, sometimes by making small changes to the production process.


Flour Power – super flours provide all the consumer appeal of traditional refined white flour but add substantial benefits in both nutrition and sustainability. Flours made from soy pulp, millet and even bananas stood out.


Insects Living On – edible insects prove to be more than a mere novelty as the industry advances beyond the cricket. Innovative insect-based ingredients such as TIP (textured insect protein) produce high-quality options that are gentle on the planet as well as delicious.


Bridging the Divide – new advances in technology allow for new forms of farming such as urban-friendly vertical farming to continue building toward a healthy and accessible food supply for all.


Essentials of the Value Proposition

Sell to the consumer’s interest – the old adage “what have you done for me lately” has given way today to “what have you done for anybody lately.” A recent Culinary Visions® Panel study found that 71% of consumers say they choose to support restaurants that support their local community over those that don’t get involved.


Repurposing Food Waste

Proper nutrition is linked to productivity in the classroom. Products that enable organic and affordable hydroponic farming are creating fertilizer from food waste and bringing healthful foods into schools where cost is a challenge. Relationships with food distributors in major markets is one key to securing such success.


Implications for Food Marketers

More and Less – today’s consumer wants more fiber, more protein and more flavor; meanwhile desiring less processing, fewer chemicals and fewer ingredients.


Transparent Marketing – when done right, the unknown can be appealing, not scary. Using straightforward consumer-friendly language to inform builds understanding and trust of new technologies that make food better and more nutritious.


Mindful Moves Mainstream – consumers want to feel good about what they eat while consuming what is good for their bodies and the world around them. Better for you, ethical and community engagement continue to trend and show no signs of slowing.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

– Sugar concerns are causing sports drinks to go natural.

– Experts say there is room for traditional agriculture and organic farming to co-exist.

– Algae, kelp and other sea plants are making an appearance in snacks and beverages.


Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm

Conference Beat™ – Education Segment Conferences, July 2018 School Nutrition Association and National Association of College & University Food Services



Education segments, including K-12 and Colleges & Universities, serve some of the most enlightened and demanding consumers in the foodservice industry. Leaders in both markets gathered in Las Vegas at the School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference (SNA) and in Providence, Rhode Island for the National Association of College & University Food Services National Conference (NACUFS), covering foodservice in self-operated, contract and hybrid schools.

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Breakfast Starts and Ends the Day

Breakfast all day continues to be a hit with kids and young adults. New concept testing from the School Meal Innovation Lab™ found that breakfast concepts, the banana berry smoothie, overnight oatmeal and Tex-Mex breakfast bowl, were among the top choices studied with kids and adults.


Trending Now

Global Comfort Food – diverse campus consumers are driving exploration and innovation in delivering international flavors in satisfying bowls.


Smart Snacking – pops, puffs and waves deliver satisfaction in crunchy snacks with fewer calories.


Handhelds Redefined – fun formats for center of plate and snack sizes include cheese fritters, empanadas, filled breadsticks and even smoothies on a stick.


Sustainable Packaging – new reusable aluminum water bottles are bringing waste reduction to campus.


Cooking Culture

Young consumers live in a food-centric culture and are important consumers of food media. According to a new Y-Pulse ( study of kids in K-12 schools, 52% like to watch “Tasty” style videos, and 46% try to cook some of the meals they see. Cooking classes on college campuses continue to be immensely popular as well.


Community Consciousness

Young consumers are more aware of food insecurity than ever before and they want to be part of a solution. Sharing stations are becoming available on campus and students are organizing to support community programs.  Kids and adults are in sync on this issue. According to a recent Culinary Visions® Panel survey, 71% of adults choose restaurants that support the community over those that don’t get involved.


Implications for Food Marketers

Feeding Omnivores – plant-based proteins can please vegetarians and meat-eaters with delicious and flavorful options.


Dispelling Myths – fact-based communications and parent education add credibility and validate the quality and nutrition integrity of food served at school.


Clean Labels are the Only Labels – clean ingredient statements are required to play in this space where wholesome often equates to quality.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:


  • School gardens allow districts to bring nutrition into the classroom
  • Finding ways to make meals “fun” increases engagement


  • Delicious dips let students customize flavors
  • Pizza is a perennial favorite




Conference Beat™ – International Dairy Deli Bakery Association Show (IDDBA), New Orleans, June 2018

The Big Easy welcomed leaders in the dairy, deli and bakery business to learn about the latest products and opportunities for their operations. This food-centric city offered as much inspiration around town as it did on the show floor.


Living in an Omni Channel World

Modern consumers have created a culinary lifestyle fueled by 5 meals a day that include a wide range of choices like mini-meals and snacks available from the retail, foodservice and online sources.

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Deli Trends

Elevated Everyday Experiences – many new products focused on traditional favorites with a twist to make every day dining more special.


Fresh Snacking – delis are in a unique position to offer fresh snacks that include cheese, meat, salad for consumers growing weary of healthy snack bars and craving of real food.


Prepared Meals for Health Conscious Customers – busy health-conscious families appreciate fresh ready to heat and eat meals.


Adding Wow – edible glitter dazzled on sweet and savory snacks.


Eating with our iPhones – no matter where food away from home is purchased mindfulness of iPhone appeal allows consumers to share the experience.


Business Insights

Fresh Evolution – consumers are shifting away from carbohydrates and sugar toward fresh produce and meat.


Small Brands Reaching Big Audiences – digital advertising and e-commerce are the great enablers allowing start-up and small batch producers to connect with sizable audiences.


Margin Pressures – category disrupters, most notably,  Aldi and Lidl are creating aggressive price competition.


Frozen Food Renaissance – companies with strong frozen food portfolios offering healthy, flavorful choices that meet the needs of modern consumers are gaining appeal as alternatives to pricey meal kits for time-starved families.

Source: Wall Street Journal Analysts


The Employee Experience

Employee perceptions of their workplace reflect in the quality of service given to customers. In a recent Y-Pulse® ( study, 88% deli employees agreed with this statement, “I am glad to work in a place that has really good food.”


Implications for Food Marketers

The Magic of Minis Bite size indulgence is on trend with today’s consumers.


Fresh Merchandising – There has never been a better time to consider cross-merchandising deli and produce departments to deliver fresh and flavorful experiences consumers crave.


Inside Out Branding – What companies do on the inside reflects on the outside perception of the brand.  Consumers value companies known for treating their employees, communities and the planet with respect.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Above all shoppers seek an in-store experience
  • Transparency equals trust – 70% of consumers tell us this is how they base their food purchase decisions
  • The best organizations make their employees a part of a CAUSE, not just a career


Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


Conference Beat™ – Sweets and Snacks Expo, May 2018

Pic for Web


The Sweets and Snacks Expo drew more than 18,000 attendees and 800 + exhibitors from around the world. The expo continues to grow, with over 350 first time exhibitors at this year’s show. Buyers represent supermarkets, mass merchandisers and specialty retailers who are looking for innovations that can drive business success.


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Business Challenge

The confectionery industry is committed to bringing all pack sizes down to 200 calories or less by 2020.


Sweet Treats

Candy for Breakfast – thin chocolate coffee candy with flavors like cold brew, caramel and hazelnut.


Chocolate – continues to move toward sustainably-sourced.


Mindful Matters – companies touting goodness were abundant, from functional protein to stealth health treats targeting kids.


Meal Replacements – breakfast cookies were a nutritional match for a wholesome breakfast.


Savory Snacks

Super Snacks – range from plant-based veggie “pops” to organic nuts and fruits. Broccoli, carrots, kale, chickpeas, bananas and mangoes are a few of the ingredients featured in healthy snacking.


Meat Snacks – provided delicious flavor combinations like Thai curry and offered new forms like bacon on a stick and meat candies amped up with smokehouse sauces.


Crispy Cheese – snacks are gaining ground in sophisticated flavors like Parmesan, bacon and sriracha.


Nut Free Nuts – companies are using beans like soybeans and grains to mimic nut products. They are gluten free and organic.


Customer Insight

According to a recent Culinary Visions® Panel study, 83% of consumers want to see more businesses use environmentally friendly practices. This continues a trend that will continue to affect all aspects of the industry.


Implications for Food Marketers

Mindful Snacking: Consumers today use a holistic approach; healthy eating is less about avoidance and more about what goes into a product.


No Missed Connections: Savory and better-for-you snacking peaks around midday. Around 8pm, after dinner, is when consumers reach for sweets.


Transparency Matters: Don’t rely on claims and ingredients to differentiate; claims are merely the point of entry and consumers need honest, open communication and substance behind the marketing.



Oil-free: air-popped, baked and freeze-dried snacks are all the rage with puffed forms taking shape in poppable spheres, curls and veggie-inspired shapes. Chickpeas, pea and legume protein and edamame were popular poppable ingredients.


Branded Partnerships: manufacturers are teaming up with restaurant brands to make flavors that replicate popular chain restaurant items or national brands, like Taco Bell brand sunflower seeds, The Cheesecake Factory Bakery at Home indulgent chocolates, and Jim Beam Bourbon salted caramels.


Ethnic Snacking: authentic flavors were represented in Indian cuisine with pappadum crisps in tubular chip packaging reminiscent of Pringles and Latin cuisine with horchata and mole-infused chocolates.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Beverages and the bakery mingle with unique flavors like banana bread beer and latte pastries.
  • Legal cannabis poses new industry challenges.
  • Burger flights with unexpected toppings allow consumers to try a little bit of everything.



Conference Beat™ – National Restaurant Association Show, May 2018

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The National Restaurant Association (NRA) International Foodservice Marketplace is an annual event where over 2,300 companies from around the world showcase their products to more than 67,000 foodservice professionals. This year’s show, the 99th, was a great place to see the fascinating and forward-thinking trends driving innovation in the foodservice industry.

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Industry Highlights

The show arrived at an opportune time, with same-store sales growth at 1.5% at the end of April, the strongest it has been in nearly 3 years, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. Restaurant sales reached $799 billion in 2017.


Trend Spotting

Asian for All: Korean sauces such as Gochujang have moved to the mainstream, with some being sold in dry and paste formats optimal for high-volume kitchen operations.


Indulgent Overload: Sweet and savory flavors melded together in unique applications to offer consumers the ultimate in indulgence.


Boozy Food: Waffles with rum maple syrup and smoky bourbon rubs were amongst the noticeable presence of alcohol-infused foods.


Impressive Packaging: As more consumers opt to order in, to-go boxes must now make the first impression. From fun, kid-friendly designs to sleek and elegant containers, packaging manufacturers are stepping it up.


Veggie Renaissance: Common vegetables like carrots have been elevated to center-plate status, working as a substitute for fish, and even being fashioned into their own kind of “steak.”


Customer Insight

Today’s consumers expect more than just a good meal when they go out to eat; many are looking for community support, as well. According to a recent Culinary Visions® Panel survey, 87% of consumers say they like to patronize restaurants known for treating their employees well, and 74% say they like to patronize restaurants that support causes they believe in.


Mindful Choices

Ethical concerns continue to influence consumers’ dining decisions, with issues such as sustainability, responsible sourcing and employee welfare coming into question. Restaurants like MOD Pizza are responding by touting their people-first mission which includes above-industry pay, benefits and community support, along with environmentally-conscious practices.


Implications for Operators

Flexibility: From equipment that can be used across dayparts to menus based around quick and easy customization, flexibility allows operators to stay on pace with the trends.


Products with a Purpose: Food that tells a captivating story never gets old.


Freshness in Focus: Fresh is the hottest selling point with consumers willing to sacrifice calorie counts and nutrition facts for food they perceive as fresh from the farm, field and kitchen.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Beverages and the bakery mingle with unique flavors like banana bread beer and latte pastries.
  • Legal cannabis poses new industry challenges.
  • Burger flights with unexpected toppings allow consumers to try a little bit of everything.


Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm

Conference Beat™ – SIAL Montreal, May 2018

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SIAL is the global network of trade conferences that focus on innovation, insight and inspiration for companies dedicated to the food and beverage business. The Montreal exposition is the largest food innovation trade show in North America and features exhibiting companies and educational programs for those in all sectors of the food business.

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Role Reversal

Fine dining continues to become more casual while quick service continues to move toward more premium offerings.


Trend Watch

Culinary Diplomacy Highlights Trending Global Flavors – Spain was the country of honor at this show following a strong global debut at Alimentaria in Barcelona two years ago. Other Mediterranean countries with large exhibits included Morocco, Egypt and Turkey. Korea and the Philippines made a big impression. Ecuador, Peru and Brazil led the represented South American cuisines.


Cuisine Desires Driving Restaurant Choices – Traditionally the restaurant was the first decision made when dining out, yet increasingly the type of food desired is driving the choice of restaurant destination.


The Rise of Bistronomy – Limited seasonal menus in unpretentious settings are bringing in customers who are often willing to pay more for smaller portions of higher quality foods.


Gen Z Focused – Marketers who have been focused on Millennials are turning their attention to Gen Z and their omnivorous cravings.


Technology Breaking Barriers – Eliminating order counters in favor of kiosk ordering is breaking down the barrier between the customer and the kitchen, actually encouraging a closer personal connection to food preparation that builds trust.



Curated Convenience Offerings

Catering to unique local markets, items like craft sodas, micro brews and small batch artisan goods are finding a place among national brands in the new wave of premium convenience stores.



Enormous food halls and markets are gaining momentum around the world by feeding the consumer’s simultaneous desires for small and big – gathering together many small artisan producers in enormous venues that make them worthy of a day trip experience. A recent Culinary Visions® Panel survey noted 60% of consumers say shopping at food markets is one of their favorite types of food experiences.


Implications for US Food Marketers

Right Size World – reasonably sized portions, less waste and straight talk rather than promotion are appealing to the modern consumer.


Consumers Lead a Double Life – healthfulness is a mega trend, yet restaurant experiences are much more about enjoyment with consumers being more careful with their food choices at home.


Omnivorous Desires – interest in eating more vegetables continues to rise while pure vegetarian and vegan lifestyles remain a very small percentage of consumers.


Premium Private Brands – private brands known for premium quality and fair pricing are gaining share over low cost private label and national brands.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Beer and cheese pairings delight consumers
  • Cannabis in food is a hot topic
  • Plastic-free sampling utensils reduce waste

Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


Conference Beat™ – Worlds of Flavor 20th Annual Conference, Legends of Flavor, Napa Valley, April 2018

For the past 20 years, this conference has explored culinary frontiers and raised thought provoking discussions on global food trends, food ethics and the responsibility of culinary change makers to educate as they entice consumers with the latest food and beverage sensations. Notable at this year’s conference was the large attendance of professionals from college and university foodservice and culinary educators from high schools on a mission to educate, nourish and capture the imaginations of the consumers of tomorrow.

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Trend Watch

The biggest change in the past 20 years is where the trends come from – no longer is fine dining the primary source of trends, street food and traditional home cooking methods are inspiring a new generation of chefs and consumers with accessible and delicious meals and snacks.


Chef Talk

Culture and Cuisine are part of the education on today’s college and university campuses. When immigrants arrive, cultures collide.

The Asian Wave is eclipsing Mediterranean and Latin cuisines as consumers become more aware and desirous of the subtleties and nuances of many different Asian cuisines.

Mixing Traditions defines modern food culture where professionals and home cooks embrace traditional, time honored methods with locally available ingredients.

The Perfect Bite is often curated by chefs with layering of flavors that assure consumers get satisfaction and enjoyment with every bite.

More Ambitious Cooking Methods bring slow cooked flavor to foods on the go for modern consumers.


Food Sovereignty

The conversation of food democracy has grown and expanded with mindfulness by today’s culinary professionals interested in fostering the empowerment that comes from control of food resources for everyone. One Native American chef activist received a standing ovation when he encouraged the audience to rethink things taken for granted in modern America, and the absence of Native American restaurants in a booming farm to table restaurant movement.


Never Just One Story

A panel of media professionals shared a candid perspective on the decline of editorial independence and the impact particularly of young consumers to dig into the back story.  A recent Y-Pulse study showed 79% of young consumers want to know as much as possible about what they’re eating.


Implications – Making it Real

In this non-stop flavor extravaganza, one ponders the question: How do foie gras ice cream and watercress cocktails translate to everyday foodservice?

Surprise and Delight – being fun and unexpected, but not too weird requires understanding of the audience whether it is quick service, fine dining or a campus.

Thinking Drinking – if something is delicious to eat, consider an on-the-go beverage that offers convenience and culinary satisfaction.

Green is Gorgeous – vegetable forward presentations – that are not necessarily vegetarian – offer fresh and healthful appeal across all segments.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Cooking is a dialogue shared around the world.
  • Most ingredients in any tradition are borrowed from someone else.
  • Bread is the lifeline of Arab culture and history.


Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm

Hot Spots & Hidden Treasures Restaurant Guide 2018

Hot Spots & Hidden Treasures Restaurant Guide 2018


As part of our 30th Pearl Anniversary, we are delighted to share our thirty favorite culinary experiences from the city of Chicago. Check out the pearls of wisdom on each page to get our insider’s opinion of each spot. There are always plenty of hot new restaurants around town, and our 2018 edition features all the new spots you won’t want to miss as well as our tried-and-true favorites. Be sure to make reservations early as all of these places tend to fill up quickly. Cheers!

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North of the River

Gene’s Sausage Shop & Deli
4750 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 728-7243

The ultimate pork emporium, Gene’s offers a unique, multicultural experience honoring all the best aspects of an old world market, hand-making 40 types of smoked sausage and butchering fresh meats in their pristine deli. Gene’s has been a staple in Lincoln Square for decades, located in the quaint shopping district. Not only does this European specialty grocer offer a large selection of prepared foods, smoked meats, sausages, cheeses, beer, wine and bakery items, but it also has a plant-filled rooftop beer and wine garden to enjoy the best Chicago has to offer during the summer. They pair a rotating selection of brews with their housemade sausage creations, stuffed cabbage rolls and pierogi with classic fillings like wild mushroom and sauerkraut and sweet cheese varieties.
Pearl of wisdom: The rooftop beer garden keeps summer hours – Memorial Day through Labor Day – but the indoor deli is worth a visit year-round.


2638 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 935-2000

Lincoln Park’s Juno Sushi has a lot to offer. Prepare to enjoy superior quality fish and a high level of attention to detail both from the sushi chef and the service staff in Juno’s contemporary and bright dining room. Pristine sushi is served with exquisite presentation. Also on offer are cooked dishes and a relaxing and unique omakase. The latter is a delightful experience as the sushi chef puts on a quality performance for guests starting at $125 per person. If ordering a la carte, compare the two types of uni from Japan and Santa Barbara. Also opt for one of the signature trios, a flight of three different species and preparations of one fish, such as eel, mackerel, salmon or tuna. Order at least one smoked nigiri; a unique presentation where the fish is smoked in the glass right in front of the diner makes for an engaging experience.
Pearl of wisdom: The omakase bar seats only eight people, so be sure to reserve your spot at least 24 hours in advance; and earlier would
be better.


The Langham Hotel – The Pavilion
330 N Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 923-9988

Treat yourself to an elegant and refined afternoon tea experience at the Langham Hotel. Located on the second floor, the Pavilion offers jaw-dropping city views through its floor-to-soaring-ceiling windows. The splendor of the space is punctuated by vibrant red and orange granite colors and a brown and bronze art installation hanging from the ceiling. You will be able to relax and unwind as talented local pianists perform at the grand piano. In this world of tranquility and voluptuousness, 14 teas including several house-blend and reserve teas are offered to guests. They are paired with an array of sweet and savory bites. Everything is served on tiered displays with the flourish of a traditional English afternoon tea service.
Pearl of wisdom: Scout your experience in advance; British high tea and seasonal American tea menus are available daily, with cocktails and light bites into the early evening.


Margeaux Brasserie
11 E Walton St, Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 625-1324
Step into a prewar 1920s Parisian brasserie at the Chicago Waldorf Astoria. The ambiance and décor set the mood for a delightful evening with leather booths, vintage tiled floor and bay windows. The menu offers some “incontournables” of French cuisine such as moule frites in garlic butter, timeless salade niçoise or escargots à la bordelaise. Margeaux also takes risks by introducing American flavors, such as the macaroni gratinée with its unique and elegant presentation, and by revisiting dessert with an exquisite caramelized banana tarte tatin paired with citrus caramel and honey ice cream that even the French would envy. The list of desserts does not stop there. The chocolate grand macaron is somewhat of an architectural prowess; raspberries, whipped cream and milk chocolate crémeux balanced in between an oversize macaron sandwich topped with Valrhona chocolate sauce and pistachio crumbles—it’s worth the visit. Don’t have time to sit in for a full dinner experience but are looking to add a French touch to your day? Swing by “Petit Margeaux,” the little sister on the first floor that offers just the right amount of sweet patisseries and out of the oven crispy baguettes.
Pearl of wisdom: Ask for a table in the nineties to get seated by the windows overlooking Walton Street.


Marisol at the MCA
205 E Pearson St, Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 799-3599
Eating in a museum has never been cooler. Everything about Marisol makes you feel creative, modern and artsy. The bright and magnetic figurative mural in the private dining room is captivating, a work of British artist Chris Ofili. The minimalist space is open with lots of natural light and fits seamlessly into the lobby of the MCA, with no museum admission required. The concept and name of the restaurant is a tribute to Marisol Escobar, a French Venezuelan pop art sculptor. Just like her, we would love to hang out with Warhol around Marisol’s signature dishes like chilled octopus with saffron chips, fried quail with cashew butter and winter squash with n’duja vinaigrette. Overall the menu is inventive, quirky and vegetable-forward; not surprising when we know that chef Jason Hammel is at the helm of this creative endeavor. Remember, he is the mind behind the incredibly successful Lula Café in Logan Square. Chef de cuisine Sarah Rinkavage is continuously changing up menu features to ensure inventiveness and an ever-exciting experience when dining at Marisol.
Pearl of wisdom: Get your caffeine fix at companion counter-service cafe, The Street, serving local Metric coffee and pastries. Exciting beverages include whey lemonade, oat milk hot chocolate and a smoked date horchata, in addition to the usual suspects, plus single-origin pour-overs and kombucha on tap.


Nico Osteria
1015 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 994-7100
Even the iced tea is special at this modern Mediterranean hot spot from One Off Hospitality (Avec, Publican, Big Star, Violet Hour) at the boutique Thompson Hotel. New chef Bill Montagne, former sous-chef at Le Bernardin, has eschewed delicate raw fish preparations for more rustic, homey flavors worthy of attention, like octopus carpaccio and the roasted candy onion soup with pine nuts and endive. Pastas are still beautiful house-made dishes that pack a lot of flavor; cooked al dente, sauced elegantly—think uni butter sauce—and full of textural delights like one with perfectly crunchy buttered breadcrumbs. Flavor bombs abound on the menu with balance on every plate. At lunch, salads wake up the palate alongside an otherwise easily accessible menu. Dessert offerings have always garnered buzz and the ever-changing pastry basket continues to get raves. For those who want just a bite, step inside the companion bar called Salone Nico for a compact menu of sandwiches, bespoke cocktails and coastal wines. Dinner reservations go fast.

Pearl of wisdom: Sundays are family-style affairs, serving a $35 price fixe dinner revolving around Italian-American Sunday Gravy, made of braciole, garlic and black pepper sausage, meatballs, polenta and horseradish gremolata, along with three other dishes to share plus gelato.


NoMi Lounge
800 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 239-4030

Have a sophisticated yet relaxed evening on the Park Hyatt’s stunning seventh-floor, NoMi Lounge. Voted one of the best rooftops in Chicago, NoMi Lounge is even more enjoyable during the summer when the property’s outdoor terrace is open. Overlooking Michigan Avenue, city views are breathtaking; an urban sanctuary supplemented by creative seasonal cocktails and bottles from the award-winning bar. Pair your wine with farm-to-table American bites, French delicacies or refreshing sushi. It is a great place to meet for drinks; those looking for an even more unique experience should book a table at NoMi Kitchen to enjoy one of Chicago’s finest and most elegant restaurants.

Pearl of wisdom: Fans of the multi-million dollar art collection displayed throughout the Hyatt Hotel can walk a few blocks over to River North and visit the longtime gallery specialist, Catherine Edelman Gallery, to enjoy some of the best modern works by American photographers.


101 E Erie St, Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 667-6796
Noyane means hidden roof in Japanese; head up to the 21st floor of the Conrad Hotel to enjoy striking views, creative drinks and world-class fish. The deck is spacious and designed with several fire features while offering multiple forms of seating. You can come sit back and relax while sipping classic cocktails with a Japanese twist or any of Noyane’s wide selection of Japanese sake, beer and whiskey. Answer some of your cravings with maki rolls, sashimi and nigiri or decide to share snacks, BBQ and hot stone wagyu with your table. The fish come from Japan’s notorious Tsukiji
market, and every detail is thought through to deliver a great experience. Even the rice receives particular attention and is soaked in house-made vinegar infused with umeboshi (pickled Japanese plums). It will not resemble any traditional sweet sushi you find on the market today; the whole experience will bring out that extra umami taste essential to this cuisine.
Pearl of wisdom: Newcomer Baptiste & Bottle is one floor down, a prime spot to sip rare Bourbons and whiskeys while still being in the heart of the action.


Sawada Matcha
226 W Kinzie St, Chicago, IL 60654
No Phone Number Available

The second U.S. Sawada outpost of this unique coffee shop is a collaboration between award-winning Japanese latte artist Hiroshi Sawada and Hogsalt Hospitality’s Brendan Sodikoff. Much of the menu is tea-forward and features matcha grown in the renowned Shizuoka region, of which they are the sole Chicago importer. The succinct menu focuses on impeccably crafted espresso drinks, teas and boozy steamers that are an experience for all the senses. Bites include a rotating menu of French macarons and matcha donuts from the Doughnut Vault. Go for their show-stealing Military Latte, which features a rich combination of matcha, espresso, cocoa powder and white chocolate topped with intricate latte art, or the new Black Camo Latte made with hojicha tea, a green tea roasted over coals, along with espresso to create a nutty, nuanced flavor. No drip coffee is available. This location is a small counter-service spot, more modern and sleek compared to the gaping industrial vibe in the West Loop.
Pearl of wisdom: When the café closes at 3 pm, the space transforms into Radio Anago for dinner service, the new sushi concept opened in March. Diners will navigate through curtains in the front cafe into the main dining room where a concise sushi menu and cocktails will be available in the chic dimly-lit space.


1112 N State St, Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 586-2150

Opened by Michelin-starred chef Lee Wolen from the Boka group in the beautiful new Viceroy Chicago Hotel, Somerset has all the right assets to become the new go-to all-American Club in Chicago. Come in for brunch, lunch or dinner to taste imaginative, accessible, seasonal dishes. Tall ceilings and art deco light fixtures provide an elegant and aesthetic feel to the restaurant day and night. Everything on the menu is well-portioned, and attention to detail is stunning. Start off with some hamachi crudo or homemade vegetable flatbread. Don’t miss out on the roasted broccoli side, served with yogurt, almonds and crackly chicken skin. The pasta menu includes a delicious duck leg gnocchetti dish, particularly delectable thanks to their rich parmesan sauce mixed with wilted kale and tender duck leg meat. Find well-balanced flavors and textures on the dessert menu with the Somerset sundae and its Meyer lemon-honey ice cream, crème fraiche sorbet, tangelo and speculoos crumble. Everything at Somerset, from the whole brined Cornish chicken to the refreshing baby lettuce salad with champagne vinaigrette, invites you to relax and appreciate uncomplicated but elevated food.
Pearl of wisdom: The Boka group also opened an intimate rooftop lounge at the top of the Viceroy called the Devereaux which also includes a “boutique” swimming pool.


12 W Elm St, Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 725-0732

Incredible attention to detail has been put into designing this bar. Tucked in a circa-1927 art deco apartment building in the Gold Coast, the bar has been inspired by a 1940s-era Havana hotel lounge. Dim lighting and the intimate seating transport you to the past and give you a taste of Havana in the 40s. The theme is carried through a rum-focused cocktail list and a rotating short list of European wines, plus 10 draft-handles. You can relax in cozy banquettes and booths and linger until late in the night. A few favorite drinks are the La Floridita #3, made with Panama white rum, maraschino, lime and grapefruit, and the Presidente cocktail with rum, Bianco vermouth, Curacao and grenadine. For a unique twist on a classic, try the Brooklyn, which is the “Manhattan’s more nuanced cousin.”
Pearl of wisdom: The retro phone booth is not only there for decoration; it also works!


The Spice House
1512 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 274-0378

This popular specialty shop has the freshest dried herbs and freshly ground spices available, both of which elevate flavors in the kitchens of local-area chefs and home cooks. Go for the scintillating aromas throughout the store, candied ginger and custom house-blended spices that are ground daily. It does not get any fresher or more delicious than this. Owners Patty and Tom Erd believe in the importance of the human touch at the center of life and business, and their friendly staff will answer questions, dole out bulk spices, and give you as many tastes as you can handle. For 60 years, the Spice House has been committed to high-quality spices and processes. The Spice House is easy to find because the aroma will lead you to it from several doors down. Stop in and pick up a seasoning blend that represents one of the neighborhood flavors of Chicago, or do a taste test with paprika flights from sweet to smoked to spicy.
Pearl of wisdom: Keep in mind that ground spices have a shelf life of about one year, after which they lose their essential oils. Whole spices, on the other hand, can be kept for years on end.


South of the River

564 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 667-0104
Rendezvous here to dine at one of Chicago’s newest upscale restaurants. A luxurious experience awaits in a room with white and dark-wood tones and elegant bronze-accented lighting. The avian-inspired art complements the lavish booths with majestic peacocks, a flying owl and plumed bird paintings bringing a mystical facet to the room. Once the tone is set, it is time to dig into an elaborate menu with rich layers of flavor packed into every dish. The shaved foie gras is a standout that surprises and delights as it melts in your mouth; a rich dish made light, served chilled and perfectly balanced with persimmon marmalade and brioche crumbles. Bellemore revamps oyster pie with a caviar makeover, topping the buttermilk and oyster custard with osetra. Even entrees are over the top, from the vegetarian hen-of-the-woods mushrooms with truffled robiola cheese and crispy potato to carnivorous 45-day dry aged Black Angus strip or a 21-day dry aged duck. The marble bar is aesthetically-pleasing and offers elaborate craft cocktails such as the Forager, a concoction of vodka blended with black trumpet mushroom and lime.
Pearl of wisdom: The oyster pie is a savory oyster custard topped with osetra caviar and paired with a glass of champagne for a once in a lifetime lavish appetizer.



12 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 792-3502

Located on the 13th floor of the Chicago Athletic Association, this former men’s club has been renovated into a hip hotel that is a scene in and of itself. Come to enjoy the panoramic views over Millennium Park and the lake. To accompany the astonishing views, sip one of Cindy’s curated cocktails such as the Grey Garden, a refreshing elixir with a note of dusty lavender and subtle crème de violette. This hot spot in the Loop serves refined family-style American plates meant to be shared and is renowned for their brunch and beautifully presented desserts. At dinner try the dry-aged duck breast with saffron pickled apple, roasted turnip, caramelized yogurt and kale. Weekday lunch brings crisp seasonal salads and a lobster roll tossed with Alabama white sauce and Asian pear kimchi.
Pearl of wisdom: Part of the allure is the number of hot, trendy restaurants on the premises of the Chicago Athletic Association. In addition to Cindy’s, there is also Cherry Circle Room, Milk Room and The Game Room, all providing different experiences with creative food and beverages. Ask the friendly concierge in the ground floor lobby to help locate your destination—they may even offer a complimentary tour of the grounds.


565 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 466-1950

Andrew Zimmerman is at it again, this time spanning the globe, paying homage to Spain, Vietnam, Indonesia and more with his small plates. Some dishes are true to their country of origin while others take some liberties. The airy and inviting room has vaulted ceilings and is handsomely accented with modern touches and textiles. Whet the appetite with veg dishes that range from a raw zucchini salad with mint and sheep’s cheese to a refreshingly herbaceous Thai beef salad. Forgo the burrata here and instead spring for the unexpected tempura elotes or potatoes “carbonara,” topped with an aerated hollandaise. Supple catfish in caramel sauce is an elevated take on the Vietnamese catfish in a clay pot. Stellar nightly specials change frequently. Barely-sweet desserts eat a little savory, like the avocado mousse with tapioca pearls and a Mexican chocolate semifreddo that comes topped in a cloud of Greek pastry kataifi. Excellent cocktails and gin & tonic menu plus thoughtful wine list. Competent service. Lively atmosphere that doesn’t impede conversation.
Pearl of wisdom: Sophisticated food and service, even late night. Late night menu 10pm-2am.


Revival Food Hall
125 S Clark St, Chicago, IL 60603
(773) 999-9411

Revival Food Hall is an all-local dining concept
spotlighting the best of Chicago’s acclaimed culinary scene under one roof in a “good food fast” concept. This food hall has a boisterous atmosphere and is alive with energy. The massive 24,000 square foot marketplace is located in the heart of Chicago’s central business district, on the ground floor of The National, a restoration of the historic 1907 Daniel Burnham-designed 20-story building, and is operated by Chicago hospitality collective 16″ On Center. This destination has become a cornerstone of The Loop neighborhood since it opened in 2016 and is home to 15 fast-casual stalls featuring many of Chicago’s favorite neighborhood restaurants, plus a handful of all-new concepts debuting from acclaimed Chicago chefs. Check out this outpost of Farmer’s Fridge, expanded beyond their typical upscale vending machine format with made-to-order healthful meals, using ingredients sourced directly from farmers. Communal tables are available as well as counter seating at most of the kiosks.
Pearl of wisdom: Go in off-hours to beat the lunch rush or be prepared for long queues at the most popular kiosks. Open Monday through Friday.


West of Halsted

The Allis
113-125 N Green St, Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 521-8000
Enjoy a fabulous all-day breakfast experience in this historic five-story industrial warehouse ideally located in one of Chicago’s trendiest neighborhoods, the West Loop. Every detail has been remodeled to make the former Chicago Belting Factory a statement in terms of décor and creativity on the first two floors of the boho-chic Soho House hotel. The Allis’ super-high ceiling and weathered wooden floor will instantly make you feel welcome to such a warm and charming place. Head to the Allis to enjoy crispy morning pastries, fresh vegetable juices and scrumptious brunch, under magnificent vintage Parisian chandeliers dripping with crystals. The menu ranges from mindful to indulgent with options like egg-topped avocado toast and smoked salmon to taleggio truffle mac ‘n cheese made crispy under the wood-burning oven. Rest assured the coffee will not disappoint, with a selection of Chicago-born Intelligentsia brews. Afternoon tea service is a special treat, with Rare Tea Cellar offerings and towers of savory scones, jam and clotted cream. Take your pick of any one of the mix-and-match assortment of plush upholstered chairs or comfy couches to enjoy a relaxing day in the Windy City or adequately get some work done. Service is friendly and casual.
Pearl of wisdom: Take a respite and enjoy a rejuvenating spa treatment or manicure at the Cowshed Spa conveniently located on the ground floor.


1604 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
(312) 929-4945
Prepare yourself for an eclectic, stimulating, extravagant evening at Beatnik. A multitude of elaborate crystal chandeliers, antique carved wooden facades and Persian rugs will make for a picturesque dinner and create a comfy vibe in a series of opulent rooms. The menu is as lush and diverse as the décor suggests. International influence varies from Spain, North Africa, the Mediterranean, Central and South America and South East Asia. The rabbit arepa is an incredible work of gastronomic composition; braised in a tamarind sauce, served on a masa cake and topped with liver crema. The cocktail list is impressive and surprising with boozy slushies. Exotic influences in the Second Fiddle whiskey sour cocktail are turmeric, tarragon and pineapple with lemon and tart sumac salt. All the drinks are incredibly refreshing and delectable, but be careful as they might turn out to be more deceiving than expected as the dinner goes on.
Pearl of wisdom: Don’t be scared to push open the door at 1604 W Chicago Avenue. The dim, candlelit interior can make it hard to see inside from the sidewalk, but Beatnik is worth the trip to Ukrainian Village. Plus, the circumspect outside only makes entering this boho-chic hotspot more transportive.


1012 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 661-2116
You can’t find a bad dish at this West Town neighborhood spot, with their refined German and French sensibilities distinguishing them from a typical steakhouse. Unlike any of Chicago’s traditional massive meat markets, a minimal, stripped-down design aesthetic with exposed brick makes for an intimate room. Grass-fed and grain-finished steaks like the 35- and 55-day dry-aged ribeye are excellent choices, served with classic bordelaise, béarnaise or au poivre. Seafood and vegetable selections do not disappoint. Exceptional house-made sausages and seasonal sides are divine, like the creamy polenta girded with cream, fennel spaetzle or stewed beans with Cipollini onion, mustard greens and smoked tomato. Always on the menu are hand cut beef-fat fries, elevated with a sublime malt vinegar aioli. Attentive, not intrusive service. Small but well-curated menu of cocktails, wine and beer. For dessert, try the blood orange upside down cake with salsify, coffee and white chocolate.
Pearl of wisdom: Dinner is popping with in-the-know locals, while the sleepy lunch-time service offers standout sandwiches and one of the best burgers in the city, made from their house blend of strip, hanger and tenderloin cuts, cooked to a perfect medium-rare with the textural delight of a seared crust to seal in the intense beef flavor.


Duck Duck Goat
857 W Fulton Market
(312) 902-3825 (DUCK)
Former Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard’s most recent foray is an upmarket Chinese concept in the bustling Fulton Market neighborhood. Swanky kitsch describes the dining room, with dramatically different designs from one end to the other, in homage to Chinatowns throughout the U.S. Dumplings are where they shine, in particular, the shrimp toast and jiaozi potstickers filled with succulent beef short rib and bone marrow. The made-to-order soup dumplings xiao long bao are a satisfying rendition, as are the pork buns. Green beans in fermented black bean sauce come topped with delightful crispy onions. Also on the menu are hand-pulled noodles and Stephanie’s favorite—fried rice, along with fun libations. Call ahead to reserve the Peking duck, or they will run out. Expect to eat early or late as reservations are snapped up quickly, or try your luck at walking in to snag a spot at the bar.

Pearl of wisdom: If you’re pressed for time, stop by the walk-up takeout window around the corner for dim sum to go, along with a deep selection from the regular menu. This literal street food window is dubbed “Duck Duck ‘ta Go” and closes at 10 pm daily.


El Che Bar
845 W Washington Blvd, Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 265-1130
A 10-foot hearth is the focal point of this newly-opened Argentinean-inspired restaurant, which prides itself on authentic dishes prepared in a wood-burning oven. This love letter from Chef John Manion to his childhood home narrates all the beautiful and luscious flavors of Argentina. A bevy of grilled seafood, roasted meat and smoked vegetable entrees are uniquely prepared right over the fire. The open flame releases remarkable flavor in the cooking of perfectly tender braised lamb ribs or the crispy grilled short ribs and their chimichurri sauce and charred onions. The prominent role played by meat is incredibly well-balanced with seasonal vegetables offered throughout the menu. The Parisian gnocchi, made with grilled mushroom, goat cheese, pomegranate and walnut pesto, is a ‘must order’ no matter what; their softness and generous sauce are to die for. End your meal on a traditional Argentinian dulce de leche, the alfajores, two cookies with sweet cream. Complementing the plates is an ambitious beverage program with innovative flavors ranging from smoke to acid.

Pearl of wisdom: A $44 three-course price fixe menu is available on Tuesday nights, typically with a choice of 10 oz ribeye or a fish entrée. Ask to be seated next to the raving flames for an unprecedented, sun-like warm dining experience.


Fat Rice
2957 W Diversey Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 661-9170
James Beard Award-semifinalist Fat Rice offers Euro-Asian comfort food native to Macau, a mash-up of Portuguese and Chinese cuisine. Its namesake dish, arroz gordo, introduces a stoneware casserole overflowing with prawns, clams, linguiça sausage, salted duck, tea-infused hard-boiled eggs, olives and assorted pickles layered with fragrant jasmine rice and a crispy bottomed crust. Come for unique flavors you won’t find anywhere else. The ever-changing menu always features unexpected dishes like the sweet and sour tamarind tofu with enoki mushrooms, ginger and fermented black beans. More familiar flavors lean toward Spain, like the fava bean escabeche and jamon iberico with persimmon. New additions to the famed spot include The Ladies Room, a stylish cocktail bar adjacent to the restaurant featuring potables with house-made elixirs, infusions and potions, plus rare wines and sipping spirits evocative of the global flavors that made this one of the most memorable spots for new flavors. The latest addition is The Bakery, a colorful café serving unique handmade sweet and savory breads and confections, plus Malaysian hand-pulled milk teas and coffees. Don’t miss the Portuguese egg tarts.

Pearl of wisdom: Call Chef Abraham two days in advance to arrange for a special Macanese whole fish preparation.


3209 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 252-0997
Belying its name, this diminutive 40-seat restaurant provides an upscale casual atmosphere, with a focused menu from chef Jason Vincent of former local favorite Nightwood. The petite space is lovely and straightforward, and the modern-rustic décor will make you feel right at home. With the help of the friendly and knowledgeable staff, you are in for a treat. The servings of seasonal New American fare paired with craft cocktails have the finesse and integrity worthy of a Michelin-starred restaurant. Kick things off with the uni shooter amuse-bouche, the crispy unpredictable flavor bomb, as well as the Jonah crab salad unexpectedly paired with handmade waffle “fries.” Then move on to Giant’s strong point, the pasta. Get them all—be it the pici fat spaghetti noodles with jalapeno and bacon, or the tagliatelle with king crab and chili butter, there is something to surprise and delight with each forkful. The energy, the atmosphere, the food and the drinks will make for a great night in the city.

Pearl of wisdom: Reservations are booked for prime dining hours at least a month in advance. Plan ahead; it is worth it!


Gideon Sweet
841 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 888-2258
Veteran chefs Matthias Merges and Graham Elliott have taken on the challenge to create a globally-inspired small plates restaurant. In this category, the competition is fierce with an ever-evolving and vibrant food scene in Chicago. Try the roasted heirloom cauliflower with dates and marcona almonds and end with halo halo and warm beignets drizzled with parsnip cream and cinnamon chocolate sauce. Gideon Sweet differentiates itself with its thought-provoking cocktails. Alex Bachman is in charge of the beverage list combining rare spirits with innovative flavor pairings. Approach the drink list like you would a three-course meal: start off with a culinary-inspired small pour, step up with a full-size like the Monarch’s Soda, a beguiling, sparkling wine-based potable imbued with galangal and green chartreuse, served in a glass soda bottle, and then treat yourself to dessert with one of many vintage spirits.

Pearl of wisdom: Reserve a table on the back patio during the summer.


Heritage Restaurant & Caviar Bar
2700 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 661-9577
Billed as Chicago’s first caviar bar, Heritage is a Humboldt Park neighborhood spot with an eclectic mashup of Polish and Korean dishes sharing the same menu. A casual, laid-back joint, Heritage is the perfect place to ease into the discovery of caviar, which is offered on platters or a la carte in increments of 15 grams in a wide range of variety and price points. If caviar is not up on your list, Chef-owner Guy Meikle will entice you with offerings like the velvety fennel-pollen-dusted potato soup; prepared in an oyster and crab stock blended with whipped ham, mackerel and cured tuna belly. Korean short ribs come with purple corn grits, gravy and kumquat mostarda. Brunch leans indulgent with items like the Dutch baby, a giant made-to-order pancake served in an oversized iron skillet, brimming with figs, heirloom apple butter, candied hazelnuts and whipped cream. Pastries are the result of a deft hand, with exemplary Polish kolaches at once flaky and buttery, with fillings of raspberry, orange and apricot. The pastry tree is filled with endless delights such as apple streusel coffee cake and playful donuts topped with homemade marshmallow.

Pearl of wisdom: Brunch is a Friday-Sunday affair, and features the not-to-be-missed pastries. Oyster happy hour is also a draw from 4-6pm daily.


Kai Zan
2557 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 278-5776
It is still hard to snag a reservation at this understated Ukrainian Village hidden gem, which offers playful Japanese dishes with a surprising twist, as well as one of the city’s best omakase experiences. Tucked away and almost unrecognizable from the street, this restaurant from the sushi twins of Chicago, Melvin and Carlo Vizconde, offers the perfect mix of classic and new for one unforgettable experience. Here you will find some of the most inventive sushi and sashimi around, plus nigiri, yakitori and timeless Japanese bar bites like takoyaki and karaage, all constructed with pristine ingredients and precise attention to detail. The dining room is casual and cool, but open enough for large groups to enjoy each other’s company without disturbing the other guests, making it perfect for an intimate night out and catching up with old friends.

Pearl of wisdom: Call ahead to make sure they have uni, and be sure to save room for dessert.


Lula Café
2537 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 489-9554
Lula Café has become an institution on the Chicago food scene. A precursor since its establishment in 1999 when it began offering one of the first farm-to-table experiences, it has found ways to reinvent itself and provide superb food again and again. Real food made with fantastic produce and well-informed staff keeps locals coming year after year. Step into an eclectic urban décor, always stylish, forever laid-back, and get ready to enjoy unique flavor combinations such as a hearty chickpea and sweet potato tagine with green harissa or a beef short rib with huckleberry jus, rutabaga and yogurt. The ever-popular weekend brunch offers unique pastries like poppy seed and fennel biscuits, chocolate sesame babka and pear and cranberry coffee cake. The dinner menu highlights fresh ingredients with dishes like squid a la plancha, citrus salad and beef short rib. Meat-lovers can also challenge themselves and try the incredible six-course vegetarian tasting menu. With fresh, vibrant plates and an extensive cocktail list, it’s no surprise that Lula Café is a favorite in Logan Square.

Pearl of wisdom: Reservations are accepted for dinner only. Arrive for brunch early since there is a high possibility of a line. Give your name to the hostess and then take some time to explore the neighborhood; there are plenty of independent shops within walking distance, such as Wolfbait and City Lit Books.


Mi Tocaya Antojeria
2800 W Logan Blvd, Chicago, IL 60647
(872) 315-3947
Modern Mexican hot spot Mi Tocaya has consistently garnered accolades due to breakout chef Diana Davila’s deft hand. Taking time-honored Latin traditions to the next level, Davila creates sophisticated flavor combinations like the “Tuetano con Sabores de Caldo,” which is essentially a deconstructed bone marrow burrito. The chef lets savvy customers assemble this dish at the table, spooning the salad-dressed bone marrow into a tender just-made corn tortilla. It’s rich, crunchy, unexpected and brilliant. The atmosphere is vibrant and playful, with a colorful mix of rustic brick walls and flourishing plants. The room is intimate and full of life from the open kitchen. Navigate cross-cultural mash-ups throughout the dinner; like the peanut butter y lengua, cubes of braised pan-seared beef tongue, resting on thick drizzles of peanut salsa reminiscent of a spicy Thai peanut sauce. End with the most luscious tres leches cake on earth and the lovely flan de queso, decorated with edible flowers.

Pearl of wisdom: There are tacos and a steak burrito on the menu for less adventurous diners; these dishes help to embody the full personal experience and knowledge of this young and adventurous Chef.


Piccolo Sogno
464 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60642
(312) 421-0077
Piccolo Sogno, or “little dream,” is sheltered from the busy street by the gorgeous landscaping of a lush green garden, making it one of the best outdoor patios in Chicago. Chef Tony Priolo has found the perfect combination of rustic Italian cuisine and an extensive all-Italian wine list, bringing his creation to a near 10-year success story. Affectionately known as just “Piccolo,” they deliver an authentic Italian experience through a wide range of dishes in the style of varying regions of Italy. Selections include homemade pasta, skillfully prepared fish and meats and hearth-baked pizzas.
Expertly balanced dishes using seasonal ingredients flirt with perfection. Be on the lookout for the light-as-air gnocchi or the branzino special, a whole roasted fish that’s filleted tableside. At lunch the spinach salad with wood roasted duck is satisfying while still remaining light. Pastas are available by the full or half portion, allowing more opportunities for tasting.

Pearl of wisdom: Ask Ciró (chee ro’) for recommendations, legendary Naples-born vino pro.


1239 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 846-1077
Chef Gillanders has traveled extensively in his life, and it has served his cuisine well. After visiting 16 countries in Asia, he has opened a restaurant in Pilsen honoring the dishes and flavors he has encountered throughout his journey. Local ingredients and exotic flavors are used and paired beautifully with one another creating enhanced pan-Asian recipes. The unctuous foie gras bimbimpap can attest to the originality behind the cuisine. The menu offers fresh hamachi sashimi with flavors reminiscent of Tokyo; S.K.Y.’s version is served with ponzu and black sesame seeds. The buttered Maine lobster dumplings with fermented chili sauce is another great hit influenced by Beijing cooking. For the restaurant itself, S.K.Y. pays homage to the neighborhood with convivial shared plates in a rustic industrial setting. The uncluttered aesthetic of the dining room helps bring attention to the beautifully plated dishes full of color.

Pearl of wisdom: During the week, opt for the six-course degustation menu for $49 with an optional wine pairing and embark on a unique culinary journey.


Let us know how you enjoyed your tour.



Conference Beat™ – Research Chefs Association (RCA), Savannah, Georgia 2018



The most-attended Research Chefs Association (RCA) conference to date, with more than 1,200 attendees and 140 exhibitors, this is where new product developers, food scientists and R&D chefs gather to find new solutions and insights for the year to come.

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Nothing to Hide

Labeling laws will be updated to require added sugar on the front of packages in about 2-3 years, and the industry is moving away from artificial flavors and colors, too. But when using carrots as a coloring agent merits an artificial label, manufacturers are using front of the package logos to proclaim everything that’s both in and not in their products.


Trend Spotting

Veg-Centric is Not Meatless – veggies are no longer the supporting act to center of plate meat, but this isn’t a meatless mindset; proteins are produce partners and deliver big flavor with sausage and fish components on veg plates on trendy menus across the U.S.


Addressing Food Waste – byproducts are being used for culinary and functional fodder: pelletized flour as a byproduct of specialty oil production is being used in pastries and to smoke bourbon, while spent brewer’s grains are touted as having more protein than quinoa and more fiber than whole wheat in baked goods.


Convenience & Sustainability – it takes a lot of packaging and fuel to get convenience foods and restaurant-delivered foods to the end user; brands are starting with eco-friendly biofuels and recyclables.


Designing for Visual Appeal – social media is paving the way for new products to be designed for visual appeal over taste; such as the “unicorn frappuccino” that many claimed was too sweet to drink but had good sales due to its popularity on photo-sharing apps.


Customization via Technology – technology allows hyper-customization through mobile ordering; brands like Denny’s have tapped into the millennial consumer set when on-demand ordering launched, doubling off-premise sales with a fresh consumer base who hadn’t considered Denny’s to be an option previously.


Momentum toward Transparency

From beverage menus that provide various levels of sweetness that meet consumer tastes to flavor companies creating natural compounds that allow for clean label packaged goods, transparency is on trend. A recent Culinary Visions® Panel study found that 94% of consumers say they appreciate when a restaurant is honest about what they offer.


Implications for Food Marketers

More Food Processing – we already grow enough food to feed population growth projections for the coming decades; we need more food processing to solve the hunger crisis, and not less as some media outlets which demonize the industry claim.


Interconnected Trends – savvy product development incorporates multiple macro trends into product concepts from the start.


Technology Reaches – social can extend a brand beyond the walls it normally plays in, while misunderstood ingredients can generate hysteria among consumers who have little understanding of substances that are naturally present and can’t be stripped out; education and apt labeling is key.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Diverse proteins accent veg-centric menu items
  • Eating insects may seem strange, but on a global scale, edible insects are ubiquitous: more than 2,000 different kinds of edible insects are consumed around the globe
  • Innovative efforts to reduce food waste


Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm



Conference Beat™ – Menu Directions, New Orleans 2018

Image for Website


Foodservice professionals gather at Menu Directions to share ideas on their businesses and their customers. In its 16th year, this conference is devoted to bringing actionable ideas and insights to foodservice operators in the non-commercial foodservice business.

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On The Horizon

Today, foodservice operators are blending mushrooms with meat for an umami hit that makes it easy to use less meat in meat centric-dishes. On the horizon is lab-grown meat with potential to sustainably grow endangered species.


Trend Spotting

Cooking techniques that add healthy flavor are gaining favor in professional kitchens – roasting, braising, searing, deglazing and poaching.


Sipping Satisfaction – consumers are becoming more inclined to drink to wellness with beverages that either replace a meal or add a good feeling to the day with bone broth, fermented beverages and green juices.


Look to Southeast Asian Islands and Eastern Africa for emerging flavors and trends like Tanzanian barbecue.


Handheld Flavor Bombs with global flavors make it easy to walk around the world and feed the
snacking wave.


Hot Pots are adding new excitement to shareable meals and communal dining experiences with cooking at the table that is not fondue and uses bone broth or stock instead oil.


Culinary Bowls – mindful composition of flavors and ingredients is what makes bowls craveable.


Sin is in with 71% of consumers saying they order indulgently when they dine out according to Technomic.


Stealth Health is out in favor of full transparency for consumers who want to know about the foods they are eating.


Ethics On the Go

Millennials have gained a reputation for leading the mindful dining movement, and they are willing to pay for food and beverage options that meet their standards. A new Culinary Visions Panel survey found 67% of consumers under 35 said they would be willing to pay more for snacks if they knew they were ethically produced.


Implications for Food Marketers

Making Everyday Exceptional – ideas that make it easy to make something ordinary taste extraordinary are in demand.


Mindful Merchandising – Foodservice professionals are using appetizing menu descriptions and premier placement of healthy items to encourage their customers to make mindful choices.


There is no one size fits all solution for non-commercial foodservice. Beyond big picture concerns with labor, safety and cost control each operation is as unique as its customer base.



Simply Healthful Recipes

Minor changes to foods consumers love can provide an equal or better experience for consumers. Imaginative plant forward cuisine and the “protein flip” where meat is served on the side rather as the main attractive are pleasing carnivores interested in healthful eating without compromising satisfaction.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Bowls are booming for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Millennials are more tempted to order a dish if there is an original sauce included.
  • Health is the number 1 driver behind plant based foods.


Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


Conference Beat™ – International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), New York City 2018

The International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) conference is where food influencers and content creators meet to be inspired and challenged as they examine issues related to food and the impact is has on modern lifestyles and culture. This conference defines the context of culinary conversation for the year ahead.


Next Frontier of Food Products

Scalable sustainability will push the boundaries of food systems as we know them today. New product concepts in ideation phase include using lab-grown meat technology to grow endangered species; for example shark fin soup is still culturally relevant but dubious in current sourcing practices. Another idea is a crop rotation cracker: using a different bean or legume in the formulation based on the principle of rotating crops to maintain the longevity of the soil.

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Authenticity Debate

According to the most recent Mindful Dining study from Culinary Visions® Panel, 94% of consumers agreed at some level to the statement, “it’s important to me that an ethnic restaurant’s food is authentic.” Possibly the most powerful and disputed word in foodservice today, authenticity is powerfully appealing to consumers. Yet the debate on defining what is an authentic experience among food professionals rages on.


Trend Spotting

What’s Out the term “ethnic” is out in favor of more fully defining authentic experiences from Asia and Latin America. One would never expect to hear Western European Ethnic, and countries around the globe are striving to define their unique cuisine.


What’s In – extra sensory dining experiences. Chefs who seek out unique and hard to find spices and ingredients and add a handmade touch to dishes that cannot be replicated at home are defining the new haute cuisine.


The American Palate – there is no dispute that Americans enjoy a much more diverse diet than they did even a decade ago, yet certain things just don’t work with a mainstream audience no matter how trendy they are with foodies, i.e. organ meats.


Rise of Casualization – has transformed foodservice where fine dining no longer sets the trends. Yet, snob-appeal has no limit with modern consumers seeking out experiences that are inaccessible to the mainstream with exclusive access, secret entrances and no reservations policies.


Dairy as Cutting Edge Eco-Packaging

The milk protein casein could be a future plastic alternative in applications where it’s formed into thin wrappers similar to the ones around string cheese.


Implications for Food Marketers

Invigorating the Classics – flavor and form twists on pantry staples can add new appeal to old favorites; think giant French fries or smoked olives.


Transformative Influences – cheap travel and digital photography are making the world accessible to a new generation of consumers.


Language Matters – diplomacy and cultural sensitivities are shaping the way we talk about, describe and interact with food and the people who serve us. Monikers that imply hierarchy or “otherness” are being replaced with more inclusive language.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Recipes are a snapshot in time, the portrait of a moment
  • Connections between cuisines: “Because of vanilla and chocolate, all desserts are Mexican”
  • Exotic fruit revelations that the majority of it is edible: fleshy fruity part, seeds, and stringy fibers


Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


Mindful Dining Study – March 2018

The Mindful Dining Study is the latest research from Culinary Visions Panel’s Mindful Dining Initiative™ project. It surveyed 1,500 U.S. consumers ages 18 and up about their dining attitudes and expectations regarding ethical decisions, responsible business practices, health perceptions, social dynamics, and more. The study explores the conscious choices that drive consumers’ ordering behavior when seeking food outside the home, and finds key discrepancies between the beliefs driving choices made by young adult, adult and senior consumers.


Read this study to know more about:

  • How younger consumers’ are seeking out sustainably raised proteins and options they view as ethical
  • How older consumers value friendly, face-to-face service, while younger consumers are more keen on kiosks and touch screens
  • Consumers’ evolving definitions of healthful eating and living, as many seem to be decoding the concept of diets
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Conference Beat™ – Winter Fancy Food Show, San Francisco, January 2018

The Specialty Food Association’s Winter Fancy Food Show is the first major food industry forum of the year where buyers and sellers come to see the newest foods, flavors and ingredient trends. With over 1,400 exhibitors from more than 20 countries, this show attracts a wide range of food business segments including: specialty and gourmet retail, supermarkets, mass merchandisers, foodservice operators and distributors.


What’s In and What’s Out

Diets are out and culinary lifestyles are in.  Lifestyle diet choices are driving innovation.


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Trend Spotting

Popped Perfection – popped and puffed snacks offered crunchy, salty flavor satisfaction.


Healthful Infusions – teas and herbal infusions offering health benefits made a wide range of claims including energy, detox, digestion and weight reduction.


Elevated Everyday – collections of premium condiments were suggested to elevate hot dogs, burgers and sandwiches.


Alternative Sweeteners – minimally processed cane sugar, honey, stevia and maple are trending as sweeteners. The appeal of maple continues to grow for this uniquely North American ingredient.


Turmeric – Golden lattes, sauces and specialty beverages promoted the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant benefits of this root.


Jerky Mania – from gourmet meats to meatless vegan jerky, the appeal of this leathery snack seems endless.


Super Food Snacks – nuts, seeds and dried fruits offered cravable flavor and captivating packaging.


Pleasure and Pain – ice cream and confections were irresistible indulgences. Hot sauces fed the tastes of rebellious consumers promoting the pain inflicted by gochujang, habanero & harissa sauces.


Beverage Bitters – handcrafted beverages and cocktails were all the rage. Collections of bitters in exclusive packaging were alluring.


Industry Highlights

U.S. Specialty Foods sales hit $127 billion in 2016. 15% of retail sales are specialty food, and the industry has grown 15% since 2014, compared to 2% for all foods. Foodservice sales have
grown 14% since 2014.


High Tech Artisan Touches

3-D printing techniques are enabling chefs to create intricate pieces of culinary art and replicate it at will using this new technology. It is possible to see a commercial pilot available for bakery later this year.


Implications for Food Marketers

Single Sensations – single servings in all types of product categories continue to thrive.


Ethical Claims are a Global Trend – according to Innova, ethical claims are up 59% globally. According to a Y-Pulse® Mindful Dining Study, millennial consumers are most interested in ethical claims.


Broadening Definition of Healthy – consumers are looking for food made with real ingredients that is good for them and makes them feel good about how it was produced.


Taste Talk Tweet

#fancyfoodshow tweets:

  • Plant-based food takes over
  • Nut butters continue to expand
  • Innovative sustainable seafood gains attention
  • Mushrooms are the new ingredient, from jerky to kombucha

Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


Conference Beat™ – Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum, New York, December 2017



The New York Produce Show and Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum brought together thought leaders in the domestic and international produce business with leading retailers and restaurateurs to explore what’s hot now and what’s on the horizon for fresh food.

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Fast and Fresh

Consumers’ lifestyles are igniting demand for fresh, healthy and handheld on-the-go choices. Whether it’s a portion pack of veggies with dipping sauce, a vegetable smoothie or a custom curated bento box, consumers crave healthy options to fuel their fast paced lives.


Omnivorous Cravings

Consumers are hungry for more plants in their diets. 88% of consumers surveyed by Culinary Visions® Panel said they would like to get more plants into their diets, yet 82% of those surveyed said they love meat. Building appealing vegetable dishes with an optional add of protein satisfies
the modern omnivore.


What’s In and What’s Out

Stealth Health is out, and full disclosure is in.  Consumers want to know about ingredients, allergens and practices that relate to ethical production.


Ugly produce is in, as consumer appreciation for sustainability and waste reductions grow. Root to stem cooking is intriguing and can be delicious.


Purple is the color du jour – Pantone announced Ultra Violet as the color of 2018 just as the show began, and it ignited the conversation about colorful produce centric plates.


Veggie noodles made with zucchini, squash, sweet potato and beets are filling the endless varieties of bowl meals.


Global Cuisines trending include: Peruvian, Ecuadorian, Korean, Filipino and Israeli. Modern takes on Mexican and Chinese are energizing these long time favorites.


Kids Challenge the Status Quo

Young consumers overwhelmingly enjoy vegetables, unlike many of their parents at the same age. In K-12 schools, kids are more open to trying new foods than their parents, when sampled and presented by school nutrition professionals and chefs. In restaurants, the kids’ menu is becoming a thing of the past, except with very young children (typically under 8 years old); demand
for the kids’ menu is often driven by parents.


Implications for Food Marketers

The new competitive edge is seduction – gaining loyalty with such extraordinary food and hospitality that customers cannot resist. It’s even more applicable in non-commercial foodservice operations where customers dine every day.


Lifestyle nutrition is driving demand for special menu offerings to please both young and old with unique menu choices that cater to individual desires.


Technology is disrupting the food business at a rapid pace with ordering and delivery systems that make fresh food available on demand in remote locations.


Taste Talk Tweet

#celebratingfresh tweets:

– The mission to reduce food waste continues

– Underrated bananas predicted to make a comeback

– Catchy apple names influence consumer purchases

– Avocados are the star of healthy eating and
innovative presentation


The next show we will cover is Fancy Food in San Francisco, January 2018.
Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


Senior Food and Lifestyles Study – December 2017

This latest study from Culinary Visions® Panel, explores the dining expectations, attitudes and tendencies of senior consumers. The study interviewed 500 senior consumers over the age of 55 in the United States and these included participants living in independent senior communities, assisted living, skilled nursing care and life care. Seniors not currently residing in a senior community were asked to consider care preferences for themselves as well as a friend or loved one. Topics included senior community selection criteria, foodservice characteristics and preferences, senior community perceptions and senior preferences.


Read this Study to know more about:

  • The dining expectation of “new” seniors – seniors that are not yet living in senior communities – compared to those already residing there.
  • How fresh foods are craved by “new” seniors and how this interest will impact the menus at senior living communities.
  • What “new” seniors want when it comes to dining styles and snacking options.
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Conference Beat™ – Les Dames d’Escoffier International, Newport Beach, CA, October 2017

Members of Les Dames d’Escoffier International gathered in Newport Beach, California for their international conference. This is a diverse group of culinary professionals in the food, fine wine and hospitality industry. It was a week of tasting, exploring and debating the hot topics and latest trends. There are always lively discussions and rarely unanimity on any issue when this group convenes.

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Search for Sustainability

A Green Tables keynote presentation shared thoughts on what members of the organization could do to enhance the lives and livelihoods of restaurant employees in the U.S. Sustainability is more than a good cause, it is good business. According to a recent Culinary Visions® Panel study, 68% of consumers surveyed said they seek out restaurants that menu responsibly produced foods.


Hot Topics Among Culinary Thought Leaders

Storytelling allows us to share food experiences and their life changing impact.


International Ingredients are part of the ever- evolving food language of the world.


Cultural Diplomacy fosters cross-cultural understanding by promoting a country’s cuisine. Bringing people to the table can often open a dialog and foster understanding.


Unpretentious Food speaks to the desire for pure food, plain and simple, as well as the educated consumer who reveals their own knowledge of what they like to eat and drink.


Implications for Food Marketers

Culinary Connections: Consumers crave connection, and social media is enabling great transparency in the path of food, from farm
to table.


Culinary Chic: The latest darling of the food and beverage business is just as likely to be
a new variation of a long time favorite, a succulent new super fruit, a new package or
a new image for a pantry staple that’s lost
its luster.


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.


The New Agri-Culture

Being a farmer has evolved into a revered and respected profession, driven by a consciousness of where food comes from and the growing respect for those involved in bringing it to the table.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Influences of Latinx cuisine in America
  • Sustainability in the seafood industry
  • Wine bottles that support music and art in schools
  • New California avocado tree varieties that allow for year-round harvests

Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


Conference Beat™ – National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show, Chicago, October 2017

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Every year the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show attracts nearly 24,000 industry professionals. The attendees converge on the show floor and see the new trends, products and technology available for convenience stores.

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Product Spotlight

Restoring Energy – many items touted functional claims; oxygenated water and energy drinks with stamina, metabolic and mental clarity advantages to “powerful” oatmeal


Cold Brew Coffee – multiple brands were showcasing their takes on the cold brew coffee trend, including several nitro varieties on draft and in bottles, and race car-inspired equipment designs


Premium Ingredients – premium ingredients were used in several new products ranging from breakfast foods and sandwiches to snack packs


Small Footprint Foodservice – specialty equipment to make foodservice hassle free and less intrusive in a small store


Less Is More – yogurt targeted at “what men want,” products with zero added sugar, no artificial flavors, sweeteners, non-GMO and gluten-free


Natural and Organic – the amount of drinks, meats and cheeses created with natural and organic ingredients is continuing to grow, and NACS showcased several new brands that were bringing organic ingredients to c-stores


All Day Satisfaction – several vendors presented their all day products, which were often traditional breakfast foods re-imagined to boost their appeal across all dayparts, such as hardboiled eggs packaged with cashews and Gouda cheese


High Protein – high-protein snacks were big at this year’s show, and packed a big flavor punch along with protein. New meat snack flavors were smoky bourbon, taco, and apple chardonnay, while new high protein mini cakes came in flavors like red velvet and birthday cake


Foodservice Business Insights

Upgraded food, beverage and merchandising are the most significant changes to foodservice in c-stores. From premium ingredients to tapping into fast casual trends, owners are realizing that the most profitable area of the store deserves extra attention.


Implications for Food Marketers

Going Digital – technology is automating everything from digital menu boards to loyalty programs tracking consumers’ purchase histories. Smart marketers are using this data to drive purchases with app offers and upselling at the point of purchase.


Packaging for Function – foodservice packaging for eating on the go continues to evolve, including trays to facilitate dipping sauces and combo meals as well as upscale bamboo and butcher-style deli wraps moving into this channel.


Something For Everyone – everything from state fair food served up in individual portions, to elevated chef inspired flavor profiles appealed to buyers. Managing product mix to appeal to consumers with different lifestyles can build business.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Finding ways to incorporate Smartphone use to connect with their customers
  • Retail trends translate to convenience stores
  • Better ways to connect your store to your community


Follow us on twitter @Olsoncomm

Ethics on the Go Study – October 2017

Ethics On the Go is Culinary Visions Panel’s latest study in their Mindful Dining Initiative™ project. It surveyed 1,500 US consumers’ attitudes on ethical decisions that impact their dining choices of convenience and portable foods outside the home. The study finds that while all consumers care about ethical eating, consumers under 35 years pay the closest attention to responsible practices behind menus. Consumers under 35 years have a deep interest in how their meals are made which indicates that food choices aren’t just about the body anymore – they are about the mind too.


Read this Study to know more about:

  • How consumers view “trendy” restaurants as ones who commit to ethical practices
  • How age demographics separate consumers’ opinions on organic and ethically produced foods
  • Consumers’ willingness to pay a premium price for ethically produced snacks, as well as their desire for more ethical convenience items
Read More

Conference Beat™ – Foodscape, Chicago, August 2017



The future of food was the focus of this conference, where industry leaders and entrepreneurs with cutting edge new businesses met to share fresh ideas and new thinking on food and technology.

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Healthy 3.0

The evolving definition of healthy has gone from weight management to wellness, and from sustainability to food that consumers feel good about eating. The new thinking consists of positive nutrition and functional food that does something more than simply nourish the body.


On The Horizon

Trending Flavors and Techniques

Hot sauces from Indonesia and the Middle East like Sambal and Zhug, nut and seed blends like Dukkah, new alternatives to favorites like balsamic vinegar (Saba) or sweet and sour (Agrodolce), as well as Morrocan (Chermoula) and Japanese (Umeboshi) flavors are trending. Fat-washing is a trendy technique that infuses fats into craft cocktails.


Cellular Agriculture

This new science makes production of agricultural products possible in a laboratory. According to research by Datassential, people who want natural and non-GMO food are likely to favor cellular agriculture.


Eliminating Human Touch Points

New quick service concepts are eliminating front of house staff with kiosk ordering. Consumers are encouraged to order delivery from websites or by smart phone to maximize their ability to customize and manage their order.


Age of the Omnivore

Although 71% of consumers say they eat meat, 57% are positively inclined to more plant protein in their diets. Plant based meats are being used by chefs in all segments from K-12 public schools to fine dining.


The Intersection of Healthy, Delicious & Sustainable

Product development is focused on this trifecta of satisfaction. Modern consumers are less willing to accept good enough flavor.


Robots Re-imagine the Workplace

Taking over repetitive kitchen tasks is only the beginning. Robots enable omni-commerce to give consumers service anywhere, anytime. When it comes to click & collect robotics, food is the fastest growing category.


Implications for Food Marketers

New science that promises to feed the world in a healthy and sustainable way is finding favor among the same consumers who have led the movement toward less processed food in recent decades.


New technologies enable and displace at the same time; they focus on training employees for the work place of the future.


The search for new super foods continues and spirulina (seaweed), which is abundant and sustainable, may be the next kale.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  •  Robotics in the kitchen
  • Cellular agriculture could change how the world eats
  • Have you tried chermoula, gochujang, or zhug?
  • Emerging unconventional and exotic food tech


Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm

Conference Beat™ – International Dairy Deli Bakery Association Show, Anaheim, June 2017



Leaders in the dairy, deli and bakery business gathered in Anaheim to learn about the latest products and opportunities for their operations. Conversations focused on solutions to the challenge of consistently delivering fresh, healthful and delicious food to consumers.

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Gen Z and Millennial Impact

Effectively engaging millennials as customers and Gen Z as employees can be a game changer for delis who understand the differences in winning younger customers without alienating core baby boomers.


The Deli Experience

A captivating experience like those found at food markets can entice customers to the deli.  According to a new Culinary Visions® Panel study, 60% of consumers surveyed said shopping at food markets is one of their favorite types of food experiences.


Deli Trends

Fresh is Everything to Customers – the fresh perception of the deli influences the opinion of the entire store. In a recent Culinary Visions Panel study, 67% of consumers believed that everything in the store is better if food in the deli is fresh.


Convenience – consumers crave convenience; the 150,000 convenience stores in the U.S. are serving more and more needs for today’s food shopper.


Clean Labels – consumers trust simple and authentic, and clean labels are an important validation.


Authentic Flavor – delis are in a unique position to offer authentic international foods that would be difficult to make at home.


Everyday Catering – more and more consumers look to the deli catering department and in-store bakery to feed family parties and celebrations.


Food and Flavor Experiences

Meal Kit Momentum – the momentum of meal kits continue to rise, enabling consumers to create meals at home that might once have been considered only as restaurant fare.


The Heat is On – Sriracha is becoming almost as mainstream as salt and pepper.


Bite size indulgence – consumers who are unwilling to give up luxurious sweets can have their indulgence in bite size desserts or sweet and crunchy snack thins.


Sampling Influences – 71% of the consumers surveyed by Culinary Visions Panel are more likely to purchase something that they may not have considered, if a sample is offered.


Implications for Food Marketers

Consumers Seek Affordability – Modern consumers are increasingly adept at balancing their needs for convenience and value.


All Day Execution – Delivering fresh and flavorful experiences has to be consistent throughout the day, it’s not just an opening act for peak shopping periods.


Forge a Connection – Today’s consumers want to be connected with the producers of their food. Whether it is a story or an in-store experience, sharing the passion of the producer matters.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Focus on abundance without food waste
  • Convenience takes center stage
  • Unexpected combinations like cakes topped with nacho chips
  • Salad bar concepts promoting lean protein


Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


Conference Beat™ – Sweets & Snacks Expo: Chicago, May 2017

The Sweets and Snacks Expo draws more than17,000 attendees and 760 exhibitors from around the world; buyers represent supermarkets, mass merchandisers and specialty retailers, who delight in the snacks and confections at almost every booth. The expo continues to grow, with over 200 first time exhibitors at this year’s show. It’s a captivating place to spot emerging trends in the sweet and savory snacks market.

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Business Dynamics

The total snack market accounts for $55 billion in retail sales, with 2.8% growth since last year. American consumers eat chocolate and candy about 2-3 times a week, averaging about one teaspoon of added sugar a day.


Consumer Insight

A Culinary Visions Panel study shows that 92% of millennials (ages 19-36) consider an item’s portability when making the decision to purchase a snack.


Sweet Treats

Breakfast All Day is being served up in confections like pancake and maple syrup jelly beans, cinnamon churro marshmallows, and coffee you can munch on, such as coffee-rubbed almonds, espresso bean inclusions in fruit bites, and trail mix with ground coffee.


Dippers include a new refrigerated cheesecake dip made for other snacks like cookies, pretzels and fresh fruit.


Beverage Flavors are lending themselves to confections, with gummy candies in flavors like sparkling wine, draft beer and soda flavors.


Hybrid Snacks

Grains run the Gamut from popcorn in flavors like cookies & cream, birthday cake and frosted sugar cookie to a new candy cup plus granola bar product which used the nutritive value of almond butter to create a health halo for this anytime snack.


Protein Snacks were packaged for portability and sports nutrition, while new jerky flavors included flame-grilled Bourbon BBQ, sweet BBQ pork, Seoul BBQ, maple BBQ, brew master’s pale ale, ancho pepper, and jalapeño.


Better for You innovations included carrot and green bean pickles in portable pouches, dried mushroom chips in flavors like chorizo jalapeño, and puffed vegetable crisps like roasted Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and sugar snap peas with low sodium and high fiber claims.


Trending Developments

Claim Your Stake: savory snack launches, especially those with protein and fiber claims, have doubled since 2012.

Grab and Go: enjoying snacks in the car has steadily increased over the last four years.

It’s All in a Name: product names will tell consumers when or even what moment to enjoy them. Examples include energy, post-workout, or a coffee break.

Calorie Conscious: America’s top candy companies have committed to providing consumers with more information and snacking options by 2022, half of individually wrapped products will be 200 calories or less and 90% will have calorie count on the front of the pack.


Implications for Food Marketers

Mindful Snacking: Consumers today use a holistic approach; healthy eating is less about avoidance and more about what goes into a product.

No Missed Connections: Savory and BFY snacking peaks around midday. Around 8pm, after dinner, is when consumers reach for sweets. Connecting throughout the day as their mindset changes is key.

Transparency Matters: Don’t rely on claims and ingredients to differentiate; claims are merely the point of entry and consumers need honest, open communication and substance behind the marketing.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Basketball star James Harden was on site, along with his infamous beard, promoting a limited edition “weird beard” shaped sour gummy.
  • Wisdom from education sessions provided the adage “there are no bad foods; only bad habits.”
  • The most Innovative Product award from a small business was a probiotic coconut chip.

Follow us on Twitter @OlsonComm

Conference Beat™ – National Restaurant Show: Chicago, May 2017



The National Restaurant Association (NRA) International Foodservice Marketplace is an annual event where over 2,000 companies from around the world showcase their products to more than 45,000 foodservice professionals. This year’s show illuminated trends that are sure to have a lasting impact on the
foodservice industry.

Read More


Industry Highlights

As consumers continue to allocate more and more dollars to eating out, it is estimated that restaurant sales will reach $799 billion in 2017, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. Consumers continue to shift their spending to more convenience-oriented foods with QSR growth projected at 2.5%.



Customer Insight

Ethical practices directly relate to consumer perceptions of food quality. According to a recent Culinary Visions® Panel survey, operators who develop and promote positive business practices and responsible ingredient sourcing, benefit from an overall halo effect. Consumers believe the food at restaurants known for ethical practices will be fresher (53%), healthier (49%), and taste better (47%).



Trend Spotting

Food with a Story: Whether hand-crafted, cultivated, or all-natural; consumers want to know the story behind the food.


Healthy Indulgence: The Mindful Dining movement has consumers rethinking indulgence with a healthy perspective.


Soups Reinvented: Whether Chicken Turmeric Bone Broth, Thai Curry & Lime or Gazpacho, soups are now available on-the-go. New innovative microwavable packaging resembles a disposable coffee cup.


Center-of-the-Plate: Protein suppliers marketed elevated forms of their products, showcasing premium cuts of meat, marbling, clean labels, global flavors and old-time production methods.


The Caffeinated Consumer: Nitro cold brews are making their presence known in the world of coffee and tea. Independent and corporate chains are adding a nitro-punch to their consumers’ caffeine needs.


Mindful Choices

Sustainability continues to gain momentum as consumers’ concerns about ingredients, animal welfare and ethical treatment of food producers grow. As the trend continues to unfold, operators are finding simplicity drives sustainability and are creating ethical solutions while continuing to operate profitably.


Implications for Operators

Minimalism: Products and brands touting clean labels, fewer ingredients, less sugar, non-GMO and generally less processing are in demand.


Technology Takes Center Stage: Automation is a driving force behind new and innovative technologies. Latte art makers and 3-D pasta printing machines provide a wow-factor for consumers and allow for great customization.


House-made, Made Easy: Operators are looking for clean labels and foods that look house-made, yet are economical and have the convenience necessary for high volume kitchens.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:


  • Hybrid innovation takes food and technology to the next level.
  • DIY donuts let adults play with their food too.
  • Distinctive craveable flavors are in demand and operators are answering the call.


Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


France Global Dining Study – May 2017

This French Consumer Dining Study is the latest report published by Culinary Visions Panel in its 2017 series of Global Dining Studies. Concurrent with SIAL Innovation Conference in Paris, Culinary Visions Panel surveyed over 1,000 French consumers about their attitudes and behaviors related to meal choices at home, in the workplace and at restaurants. The study finds that French consumers have high and varied dining expectations when it comes to healthfulness, such as desiring healthier snack options as well as dining choices that are both healthy and delicious.


Read this Study to know more about:

  • How the importance of food trust influences French consumers’ decisions at restaurants and supermarket delis.
  • French consumers’ interest in ethnic foods and their openness to try new flavors and dishes.
  • The comparison between consumers in France and America when it comes to dining behavior at restaurants, in the workplace and at home.
Read More

Mexico Global Dining Study – April 2017

This study is the third in the North American dining series where over 1,000 Mexican consumers were surveyed about their attitudes and behaviors related to meal choices at home, in the workplace, at restaurants and at the supermarket/deli. Consumers were asked about their trust in restaurant dining, their view on healthfulness and how convenience plays a role in their lives. Responses from this survey were compared to the US and Canada Consumer Dining Studies to reveal how consumers in all three countries are similar and different in their dining habits.


Read this Study to know more about:

  • How Mexico is a family centric dining culture, both in and away from the home
  • The regional cuisines that are trending in Mexico and how these can influence global menus
  • The differences between consumers in Mexico, the US and Canada when it comes to compromising taste for healthfulness
Read More

Food Market Culture Report – March 2017

1,039 consumers were surveyed around the United States regarding their expectations, attitudes and behaviors when visiting various food markets. Consumers were asked about their perspectives on a range of markets from farmers markets to food halls. Specific aspects of the market experience that appeal to consumers are the collaborative energy, extensive variety of vendors and social experience that offers a little something for everyone.


Read this Study to know more about:

  • How food markets make the connection between consumer and vendor, so that food trust is established
  • The comparison between consumers’ experience with famers markets and food halls as opposed to supermarkets and delis
  • The importance of food markets for multi-tasking lifestyles
Read More

Deli Destinations – February 2017

The subject of this 2017 study, explores the characteristics that draw consumers to make certain food venues their destinations when dining at and away from home. Over 1,000 consumers throughout the U.S. were surveyed to identify aspects of shopping in the deli that make it unique, crave-able and worth the visit (or wait). Consumers were asked about the importance of convenience, the need for unique deli options and the draw of food markets as destinations.


Read this Study to know more about:

  • The type of products that attract consumers to the deli as a destination
  • The reasons consumers are drawn to food markets & food halls, and how these experiences can be brought to the deli
  • How consumers crave restaurant quality at the deli and how this quality standard influences supermarket choice
Read More

Hot Spots & Hidden Treasures Restaurant Guide 2017

We are delighted to share some of our favorite culinary experiences from the richly diverse neighborhoods of Chicago. There are always plenty of hot new restaurants around town, and our 2017 edition includes a special section on Food Halls that you may enjoy exploring as this trend heats up around the country. Our recent consumer survey from Culinary Visions® Panel revealed that 60% of the consumers surveyed like to roam around with a beverage and absorb the whole environment of the market. We think you will too.

Read More


Food Halls

One of the hottest trends in today’s Windy City restaurant scene is food halls, but these are not the pedestrian, institutional serveries of the past. Instead, these gems include fare from some of Chicago’s hottest chefs in one location. Almost any type of dish, from barbecue to Asian to decadent desserts and even gourmet hot chocolate, can be found in various incarnations, such as prepared dishes, grab-and-go and all in a market format. Foodies and food-lovers alike will find food halls to be meccas for the palate.


3 Greens Market
354 W Hubbard St | 312-888-9195

This casual restaurant/coffee shop/grab-and-go market/bar appears to have been taken off a college campus and planted in an urban neighborhood. It offers a varied menu, with an 18-foot fresh salad bar, a pastrami shop and cheeseburgers and fries in a relatively small footprint. It also serves up small batch and bottled cocktails as well as both wine and beer, along with coffee concoctions. The 60s and 70s ambiance harkens to rec rooms and living rooms of past eras.


Chicago French Market
131 N Clinton St | 312-575-0306

Owned by the Bensidoun family, which owns more than 100 open-air indoor and outdoor markets in the U.S. and Europe, Chicago French Market has reinvented itself from a true French market to a modern urban marketplace. Close to 30 specialty vendors offer everything from fresh Vietnamese spring rolls to raw food offerings. And, yes, you can still get a made-to-order Croque-Monsieur.


Devour 205 − coming soon
205 W Wacker Dr

A new food hall from the owners of La Madia and Firecakes Donuts is slated for a spring opening downtown, promising upscale casual food choices. Check to see if this 10,500 square-foot project is open once you’re in town.


43 E Ohio St | 312-521-8700

Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich are the driving forces behind the successful Italian food emporium which still draws record crowds in the city. The enormous multi-level market looks exactly like the Eataly in Milan, with a seemingly limitless variety of authentic Italian foods that can be enjoyed on the premises or prepared at home. It’s a full-on immersion into Italian cuisine.


108 N State St, 3rd Fl | 312-795-4444

A bit hard to find in its third level location in a Chicago Loop mall, Latinicity aims to be the next food galleria of Latin American cuisine. This sprawling, modern food hall features a variety of south of the border cuisines and cocktails. With little space given to retail, this is a place dedicated to eating. Tortas, Latin-inspired sushi, grilled meats, seafood and burgers are all offered here at a relatively affordable price point. Latinicity is still gaining traction and might be worth a visit to see a new take on an old concept.


Revival Food Hall
125 S Clark St | 773-999-9411

One of the newest hot spots in the financial district, this all-local dining concept spotlights some of the city’s favorite independent food vendors within 24,000 square feet of space. Revival Food Hall is situated on the ground floor of The National, a restored 1907 building designed by Daniel Burnham. The 15 fast-casual stalls in a grab-and-go setting include new concepts from acclaimed Chicago chefs as well as old favorites.


McCormick Place/South Loop/Chinatown

McCormick Place convention center often seems like a city all its own for those attending trade shows there, but there is a richly diverse food scene just minutes away. Chicago’s Chinatown offers some great dining and other diversions. Walk around all of the sculptures in the Chinese zodiac to see if you match your sign or enjoy a stroll to idyllic Ping Tom Park. If it’s a nice day, this is a great place to fly a kite that can be purchased at one of the many specialty stores in the area.


1639 S Wabash Ave | 312-360-9500

Celebrated pastry chef Mari Katsumara is known for both unexpected flavors and beauty in her innovative creations. She begins the journey with pre-desserts like grapefruit, which combines the tart fruit with candied kumquat, marshmallow and fennel, and this then culminates into Japanese cheesecake, made with Anjou pear sherbet, buckwheat graham, almond crunch and honey.


2100 S Archer Ave, 2nd Fl | 312-326-6888

With Cai’s crystal lights and silk-covered chairs, dim sum in Chinatown gets a glam make-over. Outside of the occasional rolling cart, the best approach is to order off the lengthy dim sum menu. Bamboo steamers come filled with a variety of spring rolls, delectable meats and dumplings like puffy buns filled with sweet barbecued pork.



Chicago Oyster House
1933 S Indiana Ave | 312-225-8833

There’s no mistaking the theme of this restaurant, as the modernized nautical décor includes decorative fish on the walls. With a menu consisting of fresh oysters from both coasts, Chicago Oyster House offers seafood in many incarnations. This includes sushi, cold and hot appetizers, grilled oysters and entrees ranging from Cajun seafood boil, grilled lobster tail, and for those carnivores, filet mignon and lamb chops.



Chef Luciano
49 E Cermak Rd | 312-326-0062

Declared a Chicago landmark after undergoing renovations in 2010, Chef Luciano’s innovative and eclectic menu features dishes from the southern U.S., the Caribbean, Italy and India. Traditionalists will appreciate the fried chicken and tilapia dishes, yet if you’re looking for something different, the
Cajun catfish, jerk chicken, curry shrimp and a quinoa platter may be more your taste.



Kroll’s South Loop
1736 S Michigan Ave | 312-235-1400

If you’re yearning for an authentic Chicago bar and grill, Kroll’s will fit the bill. The warm atmosphere and American-style food are the perfect combination for a relaxing, low-key evening out. The extensive selection of salads, sandwiches and flatbreads range from steak caprese salad to a beer braised shortrib sandwich and brie and pear briolle flatbread. Burgers also are out of the ordinary, with brisket burger and Wisco brat joining the more ubiquitous beef, veggie and turkey burgers.


Ming Hin
2168 S Archer Ave | 312-808-1999
333 E Benton Pl, Ste 300 | 312-228-1333

With one in Chinatown and a newer location near the Maggie Daley Plaza, Ming Hin is a solid venue for authentic Chinese entrees as well as the popular dim sum treats. Its menu showcases flavors from Hong Kong, Macau and dishes from mainland China, and the interior features upscale
Chinese décor.


Rylon’s Smokehouse
67 E Cermak Rd | 312-794-5901

Chef Derek Rylon’s distinctive barbecue is first pit-grilled over wood and then sent to the smoker for finishing, which is the reverse process of most restaurants. This purportedly allows the meat flavor to come through, without an overwhelming smoky taste. Another thing that is absent at Rylon’s is sauce, as the focus is on the meat itself. And there is plenty of it. Plates include brisket, shrimp, pulled pork, turkey legs, chicken and even lobster mac and cheese. Sandwiches, tacos and housemade links round out the selection.


800 S Clark St | 312-588-1100

Translated from the word “social,” Sociale’s concept is based around small plates that are fun, flavorful and bold, along with seasonal hand-crafted cocktails. Chef/owners John McLean and Martin Murch’s creations include chicken liver mousse, house-made feta Burrata, sumac-crusted scallops and pickled beet salad. Burgers and sandwiches range from the cubano to grilled cheese. And the Chicagoan, Lisbon and G&T cocktails are made to please with top shelf liquor.


West Loop/Randolph Row

The West Loop continues to be a hot place for new restaurants, and it’s become a destination all its own. We could not possibly list every great place to eat in this area, so we focused on the newer openings. The recently-designated Fulton Market area is bringing new life to the neighborhood, with many favorite places showcasing the concepts of forward-thinking chefs and restauranteurs.


2Fun Chinese
905 W Randolph St, 2nd Fl | 312-877-5967

The counterpart to Won Fun Chinese, which is on the building’s first floor, 2Fun‘s dining room is dominated by an enormous bar and authentically festive red and black décor. Go to Won Fun for the food, sampling small eats like General Tao’s chicken wings or the Sichuan classics like Kung Pao chicken and fire fish, then settle in for the party at 2Fun’s with its wide selection of wine, cocktails, draft beer and whiskeys. Asian-inspired offerings include Open Says Me, with sesame gin, coconut, ginger and lime; Yuzu whiskey sour with bourbon, yuzu juice and mint; and Shanghai
Sky, combining mezcal, baijiu, lemon and violette.


615 W Randolph St | 312-377-2002

The result of a partnership between executive chef Paul Kahan, restaurateur Donnie Madia and wine steward Eduard Seitan, avec combines local Midwest ingredients with a rustic menu that harkens from Southwestern Europe. This restaurant is a good fit if you’re seeking Mediterranean fare and moderately-priced wine from small producers in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Small plates such as wood oven-roasted oysters and chorizo-stuffed medjool dates, and large plates like whole roasted fish with caldo verde and wood oven paella with confit chicken, as well as a selection
of cheese from avec’s cave, will not disappoint.


Bad Hunter
802 W Randolph St | 312-265-1745

This restaurant’s name is appropriate, given that the menu is centered around seasonal vegetables, with the occasional meat mixed in. Health-focused dishes prepared on a wood grill are complemented by moderately-low alcohol cocktails. With the ambiance of an English garden, this tranquil escape is complete with paved brick floors and greenery throughout.


1748 W Lake St | 312-366-2294

With a focus on fresh, local ingredients, many sourced from its on-site urban garden, Eden puts new meaning to the term “farm-to-table.” Although the selections are not overwhelming, they are carefully thought out. House-made pastas include braised pork agnolotti, smoked tajarin and pork tagliatelle, and lamb loin, seafood stew and fish of the day are among the entrées. Don’t leave without indulging in one of mixologist Alex Rydzewski’s cocktail creations, such as Writer’s Block with Reyka vodka, benedictine, campare, herbsaint and grapefruit bitters.



El Che Bar
845 W Washington Blvd | 312-265-1130

A 10-foot hearth is the focal point of this newly-opened Argentinean-inspired restaurant, which prides itself on authentic dishes prepared in a woodburning oven. A bevy of grilled seafood, roasted meat and smoked vegetable entrees are uniquely prepared right over the fire. Complementing the dishes is an ambitious beverage program with innovative flavors ranging from smoke to acid.



Elske Restaurant
1350 W Randolph St | 312-733-1314

The first collaboration of husband-and-wife culinary power couple David and Anna Posey of Blackbird and Publican fame respectively, Elske is short on seating but not on portions, as these increase as the ever-changing tasting menu progresses. A la carte creations, such as soft scrambled eggs with confit chicken thigh and crispy grains; veal sweetbreads with cabbages
and golden raisins; and fricassee of rabbit and escargots with parsley root and garlic panisse, are gourmet all the way.


951 W Fulton Market | No phone number available

Alinea’s Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas team up with The Avaiary’s executive chef, Andrew Brochu, to launch a new concept a la carte restaurant that is intended to be casual and approachable − at least more so than Alinea. Roister, which means “to revel noisily” in French, features an open hearth kitchen. Menu options range from a sourdough pancake with hearth baked beans to A-5 Japanese wagyu and a whole chicken brined in chamomile sweet tea served 3 ways − poached, buttermilk fried and confit with artichokes. Reservations can be made via the Tock ticket system, and a limited number of walk-ins are available.


738 W Randolph | 312-600-6105

Take a journey through the Caribbean into Central and South America at Ronero, a Latin restaurant/rum bar. Owned by Chicago restaurant veteran Nils Westlind of Parliament, the menu is divided into para compartir; carnes, aves, pescado; and el gran show. Sample a small bite, such as ceviche or an entrée like Colorado lamb chops with huacatay sauce and Peruvian potato. El gran show includes three shareable dishes served tableside.


Smyth + The Loyalist
177 N Ada | 773-913-3773 | 773-913-3774

Two restaurants and diverse dining experiences offered in one location, Smyth pays homage to the farmlands of Smyth County, Virginia with five-, eight- and 12-course menus in an informal space, while The Loyalist provides seasonally-inspired dishes in a more traditional format, albeit with limited offerings ranging from a burger and fries to broiled sea trout with kasu, red cabbage and pickled onion.



River North/Old Town

Also described as the Near North Side and bordering the famed Magnificent Mile, the River North/Old Town neighborhoods are go-to destinations for trendy dining at award-winning restaurants. Experience the late-night energy at the many upscale clubs, wine bars and cocktail hot spots throughout this area.


3 Arts Club Café
1300 N Dearborn St | 312-475-9116

Be prepared for a multi-hour wait or set up shop on one of the many sofa lounges at this tony Chicago hot spot. Cuisine inspired by Northern California and the Mediterranean melds perfectly with the indoor/outdoor feel of the light- and tree-filled grand courtyard, which includes a historic
restored fountain. The restaurant also features a coffee bar on the main floor and a wine vault and tasting room on the loggia.


218 W Kinzie St | 312-624-8154

This non-traditional steakhouse combines French flair with a casual ambiance that results in a unique restaurant experience. If you’re seeking authentic steak selections, you will not be disappointed, and neither will those looking for a lighter meal, which may include lamb chops, broiled salmon or roasted chicken. Fresh oysters from both coasts and house-made dessert round out the menu.


Bohemian House
11 W Illinois St | 312-955-0439

Inspired by the lighthearted, carefree essence of Bohemian culture, BoHo’s hearty dishes include Czech, German and Austrian fare. Chicken paprikash with pickled sweet peppers and Czech potato dumplings is sure to be a favorite, along with butcher’s goulash, featuring the contrasting yet complementary flavor sensations of spicy Hungarian kolbasz, beef shank, spaetzli and sweet and sour cabbage. Craft beers are center stage here, so prepare to choose a flight and sample a few of the 15 varieties on tap.



74 W Illinois St | 312-527-5586

Lighter Mediterranean fare is prepared by chef CJ Jacobson, and centered around spreads, dips and mezze small plates. Be sure to try Ēma’s specialties − spicy hummus, house-made stracciatella with vine-ripened tomatoes and lamb kefta kebas. Note that the restaurant shares a kitchen with Rotisserie Ēma next door. This casual space offers rotisserie chicken as its specialty, as the name implies.


GT Prime
707 N Wells St | 312-600-6305

A steakhouse with a twist, GT Prime executive chef/partner Guiseppe Tentori of GT Fish & Oyster has ventured into a meat-centric menu with ingredients sourced from local farms. Along with beef, offerings include bison, venison and lamb in a 4- or 8-ounce size. A number of hot entrees, like rabbit leg confit and veal cheek, as well as salads, provide alternatives if you’re seeking a departure from traditional steakhouse fare.


Kiki’s Bistro
900 N Franklin St | 312-335-5454

This old favorite, one of the first bistros to hit Chicago, brings a homey, French country atmosphere to the dining experience. Here, you will find considerable flair added to bistro classics, from daily fish specials to duck confit to escargots; but you’ll also find other rustic choices, like lamb stew loaded with vegetables. Save room for the crème brûlée.


The Spice House
1512 N Wells St | 312-274-0378

This retail store is well-known locally for an extensive array of spices and specialty house blends that are ground daily. It doesn’t get any fresher or more delicious. The Spice House is easy to find because the aroma will lead you to it from several doors down. Make sure to stop in and pick up the Chicago neighborhood seasoning blend of your choice.


SPiN Chicago
344 N State St | 773-635-9999

One of seven locations across the country and Canada, Susan Sarandon is a partner in this chain, which was conceived as a spin off from the naked ping pong parties in Tribeca about 10 years ago. If you’re looking for a one-of-akind experience and great-tasting casual fare such as flatbread pizza, salads and sliders, then get ready to get your ping pong game on at SPiN.


True Food Kitchen
1 W Erie St | 312-204-6981

Vegans, vegetarians and those seeking healthy fare need to look no further than True Food Kitchen, which features a surprising selection of super foods that will make you smile with each bite. And if you’re seeking an indulgent meal, you can’t help but love the spaghetti squash casserole, inside out quinoa burger, various bowls, pizzas and anti-oxidant filled desserts.


449 N Clark St | 312-661-1434

Mexican street food takes center stage at famed chef Rick Bayless’ popular eatery, which includes authentic tortas and house-made ice creams, along with chocolate beverages and specialty churros. Also not to be missed are his hallmarks − Topolobampo and Frontera Grill, both at 445 N. Clark St. − for a memorable meal experience.


Lincoln Park/Lakeview

This has long been a favored residential neighborhood, and a vibrant retail and restaurant scene has developed. On a nice day, Lincoln Park is a lovely walk, and the Chicago History Museum at the south end of the park is one of the small museum treasures that does not take all day to enjoy. On Saturday mornings, the Green City Market is farmers market theatre at its finest. Or if you are just in need of a little retail therapy, some of the best boutique shopping is in a small area starting at Armitage and Halsted Streets.


1723 N Halsted St | 312-867-0110

If you have been to Alinea before and thought one ride on this unique culinary adventure was enough, think again, as it has been reconcepted. This is one of only 12 U.S. restaurants to earn the coveted Michelin 3-star rating. Founded in 2005 by notable chefs Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, the menu is seasonal, the courses are plentiful at between 18 and 22 and the plating is as artistic as it is full of flavorful sensations like no others.


Big Jones
5347 N Clark St | 773-275-5725

Worth a visit, especially for breakfast, the cuisine here is an advancement of southern cooking. Dishes incorporate heirloom, organic produce and pasture-raised proteins, along with sustainable seafood, to create stellar comfort food. Descriptors like antebellum grits and heritage sea island peas hint at the story behind each dish, and Chef Paul will share the historical roots of his ingredients with interested parties.


City Olive
5644 N Clark St | 773-942-6424

A little north of this area and not to be confused with other stores that sell primarily flavored oils. The proprietor curates some of the finest olive oils from around the world. You will also find a wide selection of culinary treats in this small shop. Definitely worth the trip.


Ella Elli
1349 W Cornelia Ave | 773-935-3552

With its menu of globally-inspired cuisine, Ella Elli has something for everyone. Joining the pizza, pasta, seafood and meats is a nice selection of vegetable dishes that will appeal to carnivores and non-meat eaters alike. Start out with one of the many charcuterie and toasts and top it off with one
of the unique cocktails to make it an evening to remember.


3056 N Lincoln Ave | 872-206-8553

From the team at Fujimura and chef Brian Fisher, Entente’s evolving, imaginative dishes include seasonal game, seafood, meat and vegetables. Among these may be octopus, chicken, pork or lamb, depending on when you visit, but unlike the entrées, the extensive wine and liquor offerings are
always available.


Floriole Café & Bakery
1220 W Webster Ave | 773-883-1313

No longer the best kept secret in town, Floriole offers breads, pastries, breakfast and lunch sandwiches, salads, tarts, teacakes and cookies using local, organic ingredients whenever possible. Don’t miss the Kouign-amann, the flakiest, most decadent cinnamon pastry on the planet, or their dreamy quiche – tall, indulgent and baked into a perfect custard.


2300 N Lincoln Park West | 773-868-0002

For modern Chinese dim sum, schedule a visit to Intro during your stay, where unique versions of old favorites abound. Vegetables, bao, noodles and fried rice are among the many specialties enhanced by Intro’s chefs’ travels. Meals can be ordered either a la carte or shared family style. A Sunday dim sum brunch, recently added, can start your day off right. Don’t miss the truffle egg drop soup.


Kitsune Restaurant & Pub
4229 N Lincoln Ave | No phone number available

Focusing on bountiful ingredients from the Midwest, Kitsune’s concise, home-style Japanese specialties serve up a snack-heavy selection like oysters with yuzu and brown butter or chicken dumplings with black sauce, as well as a seasonal washoku menu served family style. Finish up the experience with a whiskey-glazed donut or any of the 12 beers on tap.


Read It and Eat
2142 N Halsted St | 773-661-6158

If you’re looking for a culinary experience via a good book, Read It and Eat will be just as fulfilling as a good meal. Choose from hundreds of reading material on cooking, travel, biographies and history. Check out the calendar of events for author/chef signings, discussions, demonstrations, tastings and cooking classes. Browsing for books has been turned into a social and culinary experience.



Wicker Park/Bucktown

A creative epicenter outside of the Loop, the Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood is young, hip and, yes, a bit gritty for those willing to venture out of their comfort zone. It’s here that some of the most talented of Chicago’s chefs have found homes for their innovative concepts, so much so that the area is well-known for its James Beard and Michelin-awarded chefs. Beware, the downside to this bounty of culinary delights is that tables can be difficult to come by.


The Bristol
2152 N Damen Ave | 773-862-5555

Nose-to-tail seasonal cooking is the highlight at Chef Chris Pandel’s casual neighborhood eatery. House charcuterie and pasta are complemented by a wine selection from more than 200 producers. A recent menu featured a smoked carrot salad with sumac yogurt and heritage pork shoulder with
stewed kraut.


Café Robey
2018 W North Ave | 872-315-3084

Chef Bradley Stellings serves up his creative French-American fare in an art deco building on the ground floor of The Robey boutique hotel. Breakfast classics, a more extensive brunch and authentic dinner options can be found. In the evenings, belly up for raw bar favorites, go in on shared plates or choose from classic fare, such as crispy duck confit, wild caught salmon and tagliatelle Bolognese.


Furious Spoon
1571 N Milwaukee Ave | 773-687-8445

Furious Spoon harkens to the authentic Japanese ramen shop, with hand-made noodles delivering as the showcase. Six bowls are available, with chicken, vegetables, beef or pork as main ingredients. A number of unique toppings, including poached egg, garlic relish and fury sauce, as well as sides such as pickled vegetables and spring rolls, promise a flavorful meal made as adventurous as you’d like.


Mott Street
1401 N Ashland Ave | 773-687-9977

One of Michelin’s 2017 Bib Gourmands, Mott Street is chef Edward Kim’s edgier incarnation of his Windy City debut Ruxbin. It has a casual vibe, but the Asian-inspired dishes served family style are getting a lot of buzz. Along with the burger, which is only available at the bar but worth the trip, offerings range from wings and pork chops to lamb belly ribs, bone marrow and a catfish claypot. Be sure to add a seasonal cocktail in the mix here.


Pub Royale
2049 W Division St | 773-661-6874

Named one of the country’s 50 best new restaurants by Bon Appetit in 2016, Pub Royale serves up Anglo-Indian dishes, such as samosas and Indian chicken, in a Bohemian-style setting. This gastropub also is known for its extensive beer list, with 24 varieties on tap at one time. The menu is more flavorful than plentiful, but the variety of options are sure to please.


Publican Anker
1576 N Milwaukee Ave | 773-904-1121

A tribute to the early 20th century saloons and breweries that once dotted this neighborhood, Publican Anker presents a new take on traditional bar fare that emphasizes light, clean and rustic dishes. Aside from the pub burger, which is sought after, you’ll find a host of vegetarian selections from the soil, such as grilled cucumbers, fried eggplant and apple salad, and dishes that originate from the farm and sea, including trout, blood sausage, roasted half chicken and mussels.


Takito Kitchen
2013 W Division St | 773-687-9620

The industrial atmosphere with modern elements sets the stage for executive sous chef Gustavo Urbina’s seasonal menu of shared plates, ceviches and artisanal tacos that are all gluten free and made with fresh ingredients. Though small in size, the menu is big on flavor, with taco varieties that include crispy fish, chicken al pastor, pork belly and lamb merguez, among the selections. Be sure to begin the meal with one of the innovative salsas for a different take on an old favorite.


1558 N Milwaukee Ave | 773-252-1558

Dare to dine on Greek cuisine outside of Greektown? You will be well-rewarded here. Veg-centric chef David Schneider gathers inspiration from local farmer’s markets, creating seasonal offerings of inventive Greek dishes. Superior vegetable pairings include okra sautéed with garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil and cilantro; or fried heirloom eggplant slices with yogurt sauce.



933 N Ashland Ave | 773-697-4961

With a 20-seat restaurant that has an 8-10 course tasting menu, it’s obvious the dining experience will be a memorable one. And considering the accolades surrounding Temporis, there’s no doubt that guests here are in for a special treat. A peek at the opening menu with its venison shank, hamachi, foie gras and sunflower in five forms, and among other dishes, will get those taste buds in gear for what’s to come.


2039 W North Ave | 773-661-1540

A contemporary American tavern in the heart of Bucktown, Trench showcases the creations of Michelin-starred chef Jared Wentworth. The small but mighty menu of snacks, small plates and large plates are varied, with iron roasted mussels, crudo of hamachi, braised beef short ribs and,
yes, the ubiquitous burger, albeit with beef fat fries, among the offerings.


The Violet Hour
1520 N Damen Ave | 773-252-1500

This high-end lounge touts a no-cell phone usage rule alongside a prominent cocktail listing. Creative descriptives include Juliet and Romeo made with Beefeater, lime, mint, cucumber and rose water, and Which Witch is Which, containing Laird’s apple brandy, Lustau Manzanilla and bitters. Look for the solitary light above a colorful mural, since there is no sign for this intimate speakeasy. Those in the know go in the early evening – the line starts to form at 7 pm on weekends.




Millennium Park and the Art Institute are favorite destinations in this neighborhood. Yet if you just want to soak in a little culture quickly at no cost, venture into the Cultural Center from either entrance off of Michigan Avenue and be sure to walk up to the second floor to appreciate the city’s stunning architecture. If you’re in the mood for a quick walking tour, the Architectural Society offers a wide variety of options around the city that provide an insider’s look into the buildings that make Chicago so distinctive.



Acanto | The Dearborn | The Gage
18 S Michigan Ave | 312-578-0762
145 N Dearborn St | 312-384-1242
24 S Michigan Ave | 312-372-4243

Restauranteur Billy Lawless created Acanto, an approachable Italian food destination as well as The Gage, a gastropub that offers rustic cuisine in a refined setting. His sisters Amy and Clodagh are behind The Dearborn, an urban American tavern that imparts eclectic twists on sophisticated classic dishes. All three are on trend and welcoming.


Chicago Athletic Association
12 S Michigan Ave | 312-940-3552

This former men’s club has been renovated into a hip hotel that is a scene in and of itself. Part of its allure is the number of hot, trendy restaurants on the premises. This includes Cindy’s, a rooftop restaurant with panoramic views and a seasonal menu, along with Cherry Circle Room, Milk Room and The Game Room, all providing different experiences and creative menus and wine. Shake Shack, a quintessential burger joint, also has a location here.


Cochon Volant
100 W Monroe St | 312-754-6560

This French steakhouse/brasserie offers a wide range of options for lunch, dinner and after hours. The menu literally centers around its dry-aged beef, which is served up with sauces such as mushroom truffle and Roquefort or “splurges” that include bone marrow and seared foie gras. A host of appetizers, seafood, shellfish, salads and French specialties, such as poulet and canard, will delight Francophiles.


Farmer’s Fridge
20 S Clark St
108 N State St
121 W Wacker Dr
125 S Clark St
200 W Jackson Blvd

This is the latest concept in fresh vending in the city that is easy to see because these vending machines are inside many office buildings across Chicago (see map for various locations). If you’re taking the food hall tour, you will find one in Revival Food Hall, or the location in the Merchandise Mart has a comfy adjacent seating area. Everything from salads, to fresh-squeezed juices and snacks is packed fresh and comes in a recyclable mason jar.


High Tide Poke – coming soon
203 N LaSalle St

Not yet open at the time of this publication, there has been a great deal of talk about this new seafood restaurant in the city’s downtown. With a scheduled early April opening of the 80-seat spot, the menu includes build-your-own poke bowls, salads and wraps.



53 E Lake St | 312-658-1250

With a number of locations throughout the city, Pastoral is one of the best cheese and gourmet shops Chicago has to offer. On a nice day, stop in to get a picnic lunch and walk a couple of blocks to Millennium Park for an unforgettable meal al fresco.


Toni Patisserie & Café
65 E Washington St | 312-726-2020

From scratch deliciousness is the hallmark of this European-inspired eatery. Breakfast, lunch and lighter dinner fare can be had here, including salads, baguette sandwiches and quiche. Of course, dessert options are plentiful, with mini versions of cookies and pastries, larger sizes to share and individual desserts that run the gamut from eclairs to tarts to brownies to lemon squares.



Logan Square

This working class, somewhat edgy northwest side neighborhood is chock full of new eateries that are garnering attention in the culinary scene. The craft beer craze is evident in both old and new corner bars and pubs. Here, the emphasis is on local where the entertainment, art and ingredients are concerned. For those seeking a true neighborhood vibe and a host of dining options, you won’t be disappointed in your visit to Logan Square.


Dos Urban Cantina
2829 W Armitage Ave | 773-661-6452

There has been much buzz around this newer eatery and its menu, with entrées segmented into vegetables, masa, seafood and meat. Tantalizing the taste buds are grilled maitake and shimeji mushrooms bathed in Oaxacan red mole; black lentils with couscous, watercress and poached egg; and beef pibil with black beans, habanero salsa and collard greens. Desserts are deliciously modern updates on Mexican favorites.


Fat Rice
2957 W Diversey Ave | 773-661-9170

James Beard Award-nominated Fat Rice offers Euro-Asian comfort food native to Macau. Its namesake dish, arroz gordo, features a stoneware rice casserole overflowing with seafood, chicken thighs, Portuguese sausage, tea-infused hard-boiled eggs and assorted pickles. Come for unique flavors you won’t find anywhere else. Ladies Room showcases a stylish cocktail bar adjacent to the restaurant and features cocktails using locally-sourced bitters, flavor-infused spirits and house preserved fruits and vegetables.


3209 W Armitage Ave | 773-252-0997

Belying its name, this diminutive 40-seat restaurant provides a casual dining atmosphere, with a focused unpretentious menu from chef Jason Vincent, formerly of Nightwood. Dishes are centered around an extensive homemade pasta program, along with seasonal delights that feature local produce and meats. The tight wine list features smaller producers from Canada, New York, Oregon and California, with some imports, too.


Longman & Eagle
2657 N Kedzie Blvd | 773-276-7110

A casual Michelin-starred no-reservations restaurant, this innovative concept harkens back to the past. The first floor’s public space is centered around a whiskey bar, while the adjacent Off Site Bar and patio serves sausages and snacks; and the second floor has six guest rooms that complement the restaurant below. Affordable yet adventurous farm-to-table fare changes with the seasons.


Lula Café
2537 N Kedzie Blvd | 773-489-9554

This popular café brings farm fresh ingredients to a thoughtfully-prepared menu. Surrounded by urban eclectic décor, get ready to enjoy unconventional flavor combinations like bucatini with feta, cinnamon, toasted garlic and brown butter, and hearty chickpea and sweet potato tagine with green harissa.


3201 W Armitage Ave | 773-252-9700

If you’re seeking gin-soaked cocktails and pub grub in an atmosphere with cozy nooks, then Scofflaw is for you. Burgers, po boys, scallops and bisque are among the offerings that can be paired with craft drafts or cocktails for a casual night of fun. Let the bartenders create a custom gin cocktail based on your mood.


Table, Donkey & Stick
2728 W Armitage Ave | 773-486-8525

Honoring the food and drink of the Alps, this eatery has received accolades from food and travel guides and has been named a Bib Gourmand by the Michelin Guide. The whimsical take on a traditional inn is the perfect backdrop for seasonal foods with French, Italian, Swiss, Austrian, German and Slovakian influences. A selection of small-production wine from Europe and the U.S. create a perfect pairing.


2456 N California Ave | 312-878-8571

A combination restaurant, mezcal bar and café, Quiote honors agave and the flavors of Mexico’s many regions. Whether you’re hankering for a gourmet experience that includes quesillo y jamon or bone marrow, are in the mood for an authentic taco or torta from the taqueria or stopping in for artisanal agave spirits at the bar, you’ll say “ole” and enjoy your stay.


Conference Beat™ – Research Chefs Association (RCA): San Juan, Puerto Rico, March 2017



The Research Chefs Association (RCA) is a conference where R&D chefs, product developers and food scientists gather to find new solutions, innovative techniques and development insights for the year to come.

Read More


GMO Insight

The goal for genetically engineered foods is to stay ahead of pests and viruses, and in the case of peppers and tomatoes, will be necessary in the future to remain viable as commodity food crops. Although the Arctic apple and white mushroom have had the gene for browning “silenced,” they aren’t considered GMOs since the DNA from another plant was never introduced.



Trend Spotting

Rebranding Functional Ingredients – flavor and ingredient companies are moving away from synthetic sounding names that include words like chemical, pharma, and science, in favor of monikers that connote taste and nutrition.

Clean Label is Here to Stay – manufacturers are using novel ways to address clean labels, from phosphate alternatives for curing and aging meats to partially fermenting soup bases to add more savoriness while reducing sodium and MSG content.

Rethinking Food Waste – coming to a menu near you are discarded coffee bean hulls transformed into flour or utilizing spent beer grains in scone batter.

Expanding Foodies’ Education – brands are pushing the boundaries of consumer acceptance by comparing a beloved consumer product to a new related product by communicating how they are similar, bigger, and better, which taps into existing preferences.

Marketplace Disruption – new experiences that can be curated and customized are changing the way consumers interact with food, including DIY restaurant ordering technology, home meal kit delivery and on-demand services.

Pop Culture Connection – brands that connect with pop culture icons stand to gain new audiences, whether that is via niche partnerships or social media.


New Technology

A new drying method unveiled at the expo can preserve more nutrients and create brighter colors in dehydrated ingredients than traditional processes like drum drying.


Implications for Food Marketers

Customer Collaboration – success means helping customers solve their pain points, often by working together in the same facilities with all the resources of R&D at their disposal; merely sending out samples and selling new products is no longer the way to do business.

Ingredient Origin – knowing the source of all ingredients is more important than ever for correct labeling and maintaining consumer trust.

Supply Chain Partnerships – vendors are stepping up to increased demands. A Culinary Visions® Panel survey found 53% of restaurant chains said they would rate the vast majority of their vendors as outstanding.


Taste Talk Tweet
Twitter chatter included:

  • Snacking is the behavior of the next generation
  • “Glocal” flavors: flavors from cultures around the globe, melded with local inspiration
  • Culinology’s role in fresh foods is ensuring visual appeal, especially in a cryovac package and after 5 days on the shelf


Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm



Conference Beat™ – International Association of Culinary Professionals: Louisville, March 2017



The International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) is a conference where food writers, cookbook authors and a wide range of culinary professionals gather to be inspired as they discuss and debate issues related to the impact of food on modern culture and lifestyles. This conference establishes the framework for the culinary conversation of the year ahead.

Read More


New Technology

Indoor vertical farming uses technology to transform agriculture by enabling local farming globally without soil or light. Old steel factories can be transformed into local farms that feed large urban communities.


Food Culture

Food Halls are curating urban environments into modern culinary villages, making it convenient for consumers to enjoy the offerings of local artisan vendors. According to a new Culinary Visions® Panel survey 62% of consumers surveyed in a nationwide study said they love the collaborative energy of a food market.


Trend Spotting

Oxy-modernism™ describes the trends that are creating the future of the food industry, where cultural contradictions are driving innovation.


Veg-Centric and Carnivorous Cravings Chefs and cookbook authors inspire Americans with new and delicious ways to enjoy their vegetables; yet, the average person eats three hamburgers a week.


Foodies Do Not Necessarily Cook – Americans are among the most food literate consumers in the world; yet, they cook less and eat out more often in restaurants.


Perfectly Imperfect – Ugly produce has become a mainstream trend, as farmers and chefs create innovative uses for commonly discarded items.


Local is Not Sustainable – There is rarely enough business within a 150 mile radius of a farm. Global demand for specialty produce creates business opportunities for farmers that are necessary to survival.


Global Prestige Brands and The Cult of The Maker – Mainstream consumers appreciate the prestige of global brands best in class for specific products, while the smallest producers enjoy a cult following among consumers who thrive on the secret find.


Global Perspective

Americans spend less time cooking and eating than any developed country, according to a global study by Gobble Gulp and Go was used to describe American food culture, by a noted author who discussed the insatiable desire for convenience.


Implications for Food Marketers

The Evolution of Training – in today’s food business, training has become more about sharing and taking people on a culinary journey they can embrace rather than teaching.


Hyper-Personalization – modern consumers demand an individualized experience even for everyday purchases, like specialty coffee with 87,000 possible ordering combinations.


Misused Words – organic and local are considered the most misused words in the food industry today.  Alternative words should be considered to engage customers with a brand or business.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Vegetables are the star in Southern cooking
  • American brandy adds elegance to cocktails
  • Tell a story & have a voice in your newsletters
  • Tech meets farm; urban farming is the future

Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm

Conference Beat™ – Fancy Food Show: San Francisco, January 2017


The Specialty Food Association’s Winter Fancy Food Show is traditionally the first major food industry forum of the year where buyers and sellers come to see the newest foods, flavors and ingredient trends.  With over 80,000 products on display from 1,400 companies, this show attracts a wide range of food business segments including: specialty and gourmet retail, supermarkets, mass merchandisers, foodservice operators and distributors.


Read More

What’s In And What’s Out

Super ingredients with healthful benefits are trending.  What’s out are GMO’s, gluten, added sugar and artificial ingredients.


Trend Spotting

Medicinal Notes – tonics, elixirs and foods with ingredients offering health benefits are available in almost every category.


Single Origin – especially in coffee and chocolate categories, the allure of an exotic origin with limited supply is irresistible.


Small Batch Production – the new term for artisan-made is small batch production; focusing on passion for quality and exquisite attention to detail of technique.


Hot Ingredients – chick peas, coconut, matcha and an expansive variety of grains are the focal point of many new products.


Comfort in A Jar – Classic comfort with a twist is perennially on trend.  The container du jour is the mason jar, and its creative presentations range from breakfast to cocktails.


Serious and Playful – Recognizing the diversity of consumers, there are products positioned as wicked and rebellious as well as virtuous and vegan – all have an audience.


Avoidance Behavior

Modern consumers are dieting less but avoiding particular ingredients like sugar and gluten. A recent Culinary Visions Panel study found that 56% of consumers surveyed said they were limiting certain ingredients from their diets.


Industry Highlights

U.S. Specialty Foods sales hit $120.5 billion in 2015, up 21.2% from 2013.  Foodservice is growing faster than retail in specialty food sales: 27% versus 19.7%.


Implications for Food Marketers

Tradition with A Twist Appeals – even new age snack foods often appear with traditional flavors updated just a bit, like pink salt, honey spiced barbecue and peppercorn ranch.


Convenience without Compromise – foods and beverages that are convenient and hassle free without any compromise in flavor or authenticity, charm consumers.


Wellness is Multi-faceted – whether it is energy, detoxing or relaxation, the power of foods and beverages to enhance life continues to gain momentum.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Seaweed snacks in unique flavors like chocolate almond
  • Macadamia is the hottest new nut based milk
  • Mayo made from coconut and avocado oil takes over
  • Brazilian cheese balls are the latest trending treat
  • Digestive drinks like vinegars & probiotic coconut water

Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


Conference Beat™ – Private Label Manufacturers Association: Chicago, November 2016



Over 12,000 food business professionals attended the 36th annual Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) tradeshow. The 2016 tradeshow was one of the largest in its history and featured more than 1,300 exhibitors from 40 countries. PLMA is largely focused on retail products, however there continues to be a growing trend of restaurants and chefs interested in building a retail presence through packaging and distributing their products for foodservice.

Read More


Business Dynamics

Store brand total annual sales reached $118.4 billion, an all-time record; an increase of $2.2 billion over the previous year. Annual sales of store brands have increased 5%, totaling $5.4 billion in combined channels.


Consumer Insight

Consumers want to travel the world while in their own backyard. A recent Culinary Visions® Panel survey, What’s Trending in Foodservice showed that consumers love local but want to explore the world through cuisine. Ninety percent of consumers surveyed prefer to order locally sourced food, yet 89% of those surveyed said they enjoyed exploring new cultures through food.


Trend Spotting

Hot n’ Spicy Wasabi dusted edamame, chipotle roasted nuts, harissa chickpeas and sriracha potato chips are what consumers are craving.


Coconuts – Coconuts are everywhere, from infused coconut water to salted caramel coconut chips.


Grab n’ Go – Bento boxes for a protein pick-me-up filled with nuts & seeds, cheese and dried fruit are more popular than ever.


Condiments Reinvented – Move over ketchup; Gochujang, harissa, wasabi mayo and habanero mango mustard are ready for the spotlight.


Dairy Alternatives – As consumers begin to seek dairy alternatives, distributors answer the call with almond milk coffee creamer, coconut milk and cashew cheese.


Ancient Grains – From refrigerated salads to heat-and-serve options, ancient grains are making a statement.


Bread is Back – With more options than ever, bread is a pantry staple once again; including gluten-free, nut & seed varieties and traditional ciabatta, bread is back.


The Power of Packaging

Sneak-a-peak packaging allows consumers to see the product. Bold colors with sleek designs are enticing to consumers. Neutral tones and textures are utilized for better-for-you and organic products.


Implications for Food Marketers

Food Truck Innovation – Food trucks have continued to give rise to handheld, grab n’ go options.


Baby Boomers – As baby boomers age, product placement in ads and on grocery store shelves is a primary focus for marketers.


Clean Labels, Sustainable Ingredients – Consumers want better-for-you options that have been sustainably sourced with clean labels and natural ingredients.


Old Favorites, New Twist – Old favorites like white chocolate & raspberry, lemon blueberry and apple cinnamon are finding new homes in sweet and savory products such as white chocolate & raspberry Zuppa Inglese, lemon blueberry grits and spiced apple and cinnamon syrup.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Food trucks lead to more handheld, on-the-go packaging
  • The slow food movement inspires artisanal cooking
  • Products with a healthy function gain popularity
  • Maple is the new sweetener in drinks
  • Mango is found in everything from drinks to desserts


Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


OxyModern – Cultural Contradictions Driving Foodservice Trends – September 2016



Insight from a wide range of experts working in varied creative disciplines that are important to modern consumer lifestyles was used to form the basis of exploration for this year’s trend report. What emerged from this inquiry was awareness of the impact cultural contradictions have on trends. For any major trends indentified, equally powerful counter trends appeared. Following this initial exploration, over 2,000 consumers were surveyed about their dining experiences away from home.


Read this Study to know more about:

  • Consumers who crave foods that remind them of childhood but also admire sophisticated flavor combinations
  • The desire for local, sustainable food is equal to the need for cultural cuisines with unique ingredients
  • How meals are expected to be both healthy and delicious as well as restaurant fare that is luxuriously indulgent
Read More

Global Dining Study – August 2016

More than 3,000 consumers in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada were surveyed about their attitudes and behaviors related to meal choices at home, in the workplace and at restaurants. Consumer trust in restaurants and supermarket delis was explored, along with the desire for healthfulness at and away from the home and dining in the workplace. All 3 countries displayed answers that reflected current dining trends while providing insight for future improvements.


Read this Study to know more about:

  • The similarities and differences in food culture among the US, Canada and the UK and how this knowledge can lead to greater success in the future
  • How food trust is pushing restaurants and supermarket delis to offer quality products to consumers
  • The importance of healthfulness and indulgence when dining out verses dining at home
Read More

Weeknight Dining Study – June 2016

This consumer study explored opportunities to create desirable and affordable meal options to make everyday experiences exceptional. Weeknight dinner is an opportunity for food marketers across all segments of the food industry, from grocers to convenience stores.  Consumers were asked about their weeknight dining experience (Sunday – Thursday), their attitudes toward cooking at home and their interest in purchasing meal kits.


Read this Study to know more about:

  • Consumers’ desire for easier options like meal kits to help create satisfying meals at home during the week
  • How consumers define cooking, and how their need for culinary adventure is driving the development of new offerings
  • The biggest obstacles consumers face when grocery shopping and preparing meals at home
Read More

Conference Beat™ – Les Dames d’Escoffier International: Washington D.C., October 2016



Les Dames d’Escoffier, a diverse group of culinary professionals in the food, fine wine and hospitality business, met in Washington D.C. to explore the continuing evolution of consumers’ taste for global foods and flavors and the desire for local and sustainable foods. It was a week of tasting, exploring and debating the hot topics with lively discussions.

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Chefs As Activists

The James Beard Foundation is training chefs on how to become effective leaders in the fight for food system changes through its Chef Action Network initiative.


Cultural Contradictions Driving the Trends

Culinary Visions® Panel coined the term Oxy-Modern Food Trends earlier this year to describe the cultural contradictions that were the topic of many discussions at this conference.


Loving It Local AND Exploring the World

A private tour of The White House Garden and kitchens featured sustainable food crops that feed the small local community and support some state functions. When foreign dignitaries visit they are treated to flavors or techniques from their home country made with uniquely American ingredients.


Healthfully Delicious AND Luxuriously Indulgent
The Tulane University Culinary Medicine program discussed physicians’ understanding of the role of food in overall health and its impact on public health. Another session entitled “Food Porn” talked about the evolution of food photography on social media and the power of irresistibly delicious and appetizing photography to influence consumers.


Unforgettable Food Experiences AND Food As Fuel
A lavish brunch at the Embassy of France was as captivating as the discussions of the Modern Mediterranean diet that fuels the everyday lifestyle of Americans.


Culinary Diplomacy

Many countries in the world, including the U.S., invest heavily in culinary diplomacy which fosters cross-cultural understanding by promoting a country’s cuisine. Bringing people to the table can often open a dialog and foster understanding.


Food Technology

Advances in technology and electronic communication are increasing awareness of the ways consumers eat and the industry that supplies their food. A panel of experts with widely diverse credentials on the subject discussed the ways technology is changing food forever. Biotechnology is creating challenges and opportunities as new options for feeding the world emerge.


Implications for Food Marketers

The Global Business of Food – although consumer awareness and desire for local foods is growing, the food business is global. Consumers in developed countries have a growing desire to enjoy the foods and flavors of the world.


Food As Medicine – cutting edge university programs are educating physicians on how to work with their patients in understanding the role of food and nutrition as an important component of recovery and wellness.


Demystifying Food – Consumers are looking for clean fuel for their bodies; demystified ingredient statements and product claims are only the beginning.



Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • The kitchen is the new venue for foreign policy
  • Healthy eating is crucial for healthy living
  • Food connects cultures and enables peace
  • Modern butchers offer local and humane meats
  • Food visuals make up 90% of content on Twitter

Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


Conference Beat™ – NACS: Atlanta, October 2016



Buyers and sellers meet at the National Association of Convenience Stores Show to see the latest foodservice programs and equipment, retail candy and snacks, operational developments, merchandise, technology, and fuel equipment and related services. Nearly 24,000 attendees converged on the show floor to network, learn, buy and sell.

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Trend Spotting

Coffee Continues to Trend – new cold brew varieties, nitro-capable aluminum packaging, flavor infusion stations and creamer innovations proliferate.


Prepared Sandwiches & Wraps microwavable and ovenable packaging boasted claims such as “handmade,” “handcrafted” and “authentic.” Innovative bread carriers included waffles, French toast, flaky foldable dough and pre-grilled panini bread.


Sausage and Bacon Jerky – marketed as breakfast meat snacks, they came in flavors like maple bacon and hot & spicy breakfast sausage.


Sriracha Flavored Products – ranging from smoked sausage and roller grill condiments to a salt blend for consumers to customize their own flavor experience.


Grab & Go Snacks new products included chips with dip, single serve guacamole pouches, salsa tube sleeves, and salsa con queso with strip shaped tortilla chips, plus creamy cheese and breadstick kits in adult flavors such as Swiss, single serve hummus packaged with ready to eat chicken and larger meal kits with trail mix, cheese and hard boiled eggs.


Indulgent Sweets – ready to bake s’mores handpies and refrigerated ready to eat cookie dough for foodservice, as well as retail packaged cupcake dipper kits with icing and cake pieces, new cookie forms with names like cake “crisps” and “chips,” and seasonal donut flavors such as caramel apple and salted caramel.


Natural Packaging – package design and merchandising in earth tones and kraft paper designs indicate more natural and less processed products.



Foodservice Business Dynamics

Convenience is front and center for all c-store food items, and the ease of eating on the go is paramount to entry into this market. A recent Culinary Visions Panel® study on trends in foodservice found that 66% of consumers prefer meals they can consume on-the-go.



Implications for Food Marketers

Singlehanded – products designed for single serve meal and snack occasions must be easy to eat with one hand while on the go.


Changing Lifestyle Dynamics – consumers’ lifestyles are driving their purchases, and new demographics are changing the landscape of c-store design to focus on fresh, flavorful and indulgent.


Framing it Up – prepackaged meal kits and snack packs as well as cross-merchandising to create full meals in different areas of the store help consumers with their purchase decision.


Communicating the Story – consumers in all segments want to have a restaurant-style experience and c-store is no different; merchandising and buzzwords that communicate quality draw them in.



Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter Chatter Included:

  • Consumers crave bold and spicy menu items
  • Nitro cold brew coffee continues to trend
  • Energy drink soda is the new beverage
  • Digital menu boards increase foodservice sales


Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


Conference Beat™ – SIAL: Paris, October 2016



SIAL (Salon International de l’Alimentation) is the largest food innovation conference in the world, housing over 7,000 exhibitors throughout five consecutive days. Every two years, the Parc des Expositions de Paris-Nord Villepinte (just outside the city limits) is transformed into a city of culinary exploration. Leaders in foodservice, retail grocery and food ingredient businesses come to present their latest product innovations and anticipate future industry related trends.

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Star Ingredients

Truffles are becoming a mainstream ingredient seen in a large number of everyday products, from burgers to condiments. Pulses (i.e. peas and lentils), chia seeds and kale continue to captivate consumer tastes.


Trends that Interconnect & Conflict

The Culinary Visions® Panel has identified OxyModern as the phrase for cultural contradictions driving trends in the food industry, and examples were displayed on the world stage of SIAL Innovation.


Food is Primary Source of Pleasure – indulgence, with unique presentation and preparations from chefs, defines eating out; it is balanced by an overall desire for a healthful lifestyle.


Ingredient Avoidance – gluten free has become globally desirable with products like gluten free puff pastry alternatives. “Free from” products like egg-free mayo and dairy free products were widely available.


Modern Veg-Centric Dining – vegetable centric dining has driven development of new plant based offerings and more delicious vegan cuisines.


Modern Mediterranean – Spain and Greece are both emerging as major food cultures in the Mediterranean, and each of these countries set up restaurants and cafés to showcase their cuisine in a cultural context. Turkey gained notable attention as the next major cuisine to watch, with bold contemporary marketing and major exhibits throughout the show.


Packaging Focus

Minimal packaging continues to dominate; yet, unexpected packaging like pure fruit emulsions served in foam canisters that looked more like health and beauty products drew great attention.


Global Consumer Insight

Consumer insight released at SIAL showed consumers around the globe are increasingly concerned with food prices and convinced that food can cause health problems. There is growing interest in organic produce and sustainable development.


Implications for Food Marketers

Dig Deeper for Innovation Insight – in-depth consumer insight that identifies core lifestyle values points to what’s likely to be the next big thing to capture consumer interest.


Food Trust is a Global Issue – consumers have less confidence in food quality and more confidence in food causing health problems. Interest in sustainable
development rises.


Modern Interpretations of Authentic International Foods – as global flavor experience grows, consumer interest in new flavor exploration expands.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Boxed water is on the rise, replacing bottled
  • Insects are the new sustainable protein snack
  • Microalgae is the future of food
  • Coconut water is a leader in healthy beverages


Follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm


Conference Beat™ – Institute of Food Technologists Expo: Chicago, July 2016



The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) annual conference attracts over 17,000 experts from scientific, academic, foodservice and technological communities. Professionals gather to explore industry trends, innovations in technology and applications which affect the global food system.

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An Urge to Splurge

Even though consumers are more consciously aware about their everyday health, comfort foods and indulgent food categories are thriving among the very same consumers. According to a recent global dining study by Culinary Visions® Panel, 94% of consumers in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States want a treat that is worth the splurge.


Emotional Appeal

Food science professionals believe that consumers are motivated by emotional rewards. Successful brands with long-term consumption patterns (i.e. McDonald’s) have consistently delivered emotional reward to consumers; however, new products have a harder time succeeding because they do not have the same longevity it takes to create an emotional appeal to consumers. Source:


Trend Spotting

Everyday Consumer, Athlete Approved – protein and energy ingredients are appealing to those beyond the weight room. Manufacturers are expanding the realm of healthy living by offering mainstream products that previously targeted athletes.


Processing as Nature Intended – modern processes are eliminating artificial ingredients in favor of creating ways to use natural ingredients on a large scale.


Flavor Innovation – exotic flavors continue to attract consumers who are looking for out-of-the-box experiences. McChocolate fries and Sriracha-infused seasonings are some examples of how marketers are pushing the boundaries on flavor expansion.


Senioritis – with an aging global population, manufactures are expanding the category of foods that appeal to active seniors (i.e. meal replacement drinks).



Food for the Brain

Sleep deprivation, stress and depression are among the top concerns associated with mental health in the modern era. With stress levels at an all-time high, food scientists are exploring how certain ingredients can have a positive effect on the human brain. Due to their affirming impact on cognitive health, tea leaves, lavender, black currants and turmeric are among the ingredients which are making their way into new food and beverage products. Source:



As ‘Real’ As They Come – consumers, specifically Millennials, want to know the real story behind where their food comes from. Telling a story and clear labeling of products gives a brand a more tangible feel to consumers beyond certifications.


Different Yet Familiar – consumers are willing to experiment with new products; however, they are also loyal to brands they have grown to love. Brands can stay relevant by taking their popular products and evolving them with consumer desires (i.e. Oreo thins).


Less Is More – consumers favor simple and easy to read ingredients when buying products.



Taste, Talk, Tweet

#IFT2016 Twitter Chatter Included:


#Soursop, also called guanabana, may start making its way into American food markets

#Clean labeling is proving important to consumers

#Honeytose and other rare sugars are on watch lists as traditional sugar alternatives


If you want to follow our observations in real time, find us on


Contact us at or 312.280.4573 to know more about our insights from the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) annual conference.


Conference Beat™ – NACUFS: Anaheim, July 2016



The National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS) conference allows foodservice directors to discover new products that will attract lifetime customers and uncover trends that will be important to foodservice consumers over the next decade.

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Business Dynamics

Campus dining is increasingly used as a recruitment tool to attract new student enrollment, with nearly 80% of C&U operators reporting this as a factor in decision making. A demographic shift toward more female students is causing foodservice directors to reevaluate healthy choices, with females topping 60% of the student population at many universities.


Consumer Insight

A Y-Pulse ( study surveyed college and university students, as well as foodservice professionals, about their use of social media related to on-campus dining services. Research showed that 93% of students agreed that receiving information on promotions, deals and discounts would encourage them to visit campus foodservice establishments; furthermore, 76% of students agreed that receiving information about nutrition and ingredients would encourage them to visit on-campus foodservice stations.


Future of Contracted Foodservice

Commoditized Pricing vs. Extraordinary Experiences – providing an exceptional experience that students value beyond pricing is a part of recent marketing strategies for contractors.


Food Stations Meeting Dietary or Lifestyle Needs – high-protein, low-carb stations are successfully attracting more than just athletes to dining halls, as they are becoming the most sought-out eateries on campus.


Changing Demands of Students – customization, authenticity and convenience are the most important demands that C&U’s are challenged with every day.


Branded Concepts – although students are familiar with the national branded restaurant concepts which contracted facilities bring, this can be limiting because their agreements only allow particular brands, and independent or proprietary brands which are popular on campus may lose their place.



Lifestyle Dynamics

Anytime dining, sustainability, ‘Meatless Mondays’ and social lounge rooms are some examples of how C&U foodservice directors are accommodating the modern student’s lifestyle. For example, residential dining hours have historically been out of sync with students’ lifestyles (often closing around 7:30pm). By extending the hours of operation and rotating available food stations, anytime dining gives students the flexibility and control to consume food when it works best for their busy lifestyles.


Implications for Food Marketers

Borrow Ideas from LSR – digital menu boards with rotating highlights on high-profit items raise purchase of those items by approximately 10%.


Marketing Assist – manufacturers can help campus marketing teams by offering assistance with seasonal marketing programs.


Speak Students’ Language – identifying foods that help make healthy heart and bones are not as attractive to students as glowing skin, bright teeth and fit bodies.


Digital Engagement – robust programs from tech savvy marketers engage students with promotions and limited time offers (LTO) from their favorite facilities.



Taste Talk Tweet

#NACUFS2016 Twitter chatter included:


#Reinvent how C&U students approach on-the-go snacking with options like trail mix bars

#Nutrition confusion caused by media headlines

#For the first time, Americans are spending more on dining out than on groceries


If you want to follow our observations in real time go to



Contact us at or 312.280.9061 to learn more about our insights from the National Association of College & University Food Services conference.


Conference Beat™ – SNA National Conference: San Antonio, July 2016

K-12 School Foodservice Professionals gathered in San Antonio for the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) Annual National Conference (ANC). These experts honed in on topics surrounding new products, services and programs to gain further education on their school’s meal curriculum.


Global Tastes

School Foodservice Directors from across the country discussed the challenges of how to deliver satisfying and culturally relevant meals to a diverse student body. A few suggestions included: featuring a food specific culture each week, engaging parents, providing lots of choices and sampling products.

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New Child and Adult Care Food Program Meal Patterns

USDA recently revised the CACFP meal patterns to ensure children and adults have access to healthy, balanced meals throughout the day. Under the new child and adult meal patterns, meals served will include a greater variety of vegetables and fruit, more whole grains and less added sugar and saturated fat. *Source: USDA


Trend Spotting

Healthy with a Side of Cookies – great ways to deliver better tasting and nutritious food included: offering fruit/vegetable juices or cups that credit as half of a recommended serving, 100% frozen fruit in cups and delicious whole grain cookies, chips, cakes and pizza.


Focus on Flavor – replace salt and unhealthy fats with interesting flavors like herb blends, mustards, sriracha sauce, sriracha ketchup and flavorful dressings. 


New Twists on the Classics – bite sized produce updates familiar items such as potato wedges with dipping sauces, packaged fruits and vegetables, individually packaged flavored raisins or cranberries and flavored popcorn.



Implications for Manufacturers

In a recent YPulse ( study, operators explained how industry can help increase participation:


Promotions Made Easy – supply cafeteria promotion materials, such as posters and static clings, for serving lines.


Digitally Accessible – provide electronic information that can be used on school district websites, menus or for social media. Sample public relations materials can be customized and sent to local media.


Training – hold in-service training of school nutrition staff.



Wise Words from Operators

In order to motivate and engage Gen Z consumers, experts discussed solutions which included blending food-cultures (i.e. Thanksgiving burrito or spaghetti tacos) and sending quick bites of information through social media, considering that is how Gen Z consumes information. School Foodservice Professionals stated that surveying and taste testing are the top two methods for deciding which new products make the menu. When informing individuals about new and healthy items, professionals found that inviting parents to lunch and having student ambassadors were also effective.


Taste Talk Tweet

#Farm-to-school is trending in local communities
#Photos dramatically increase engagement and popularity on social media postings
#Connect to Gen Z using new apps like Snapchat


If you want to follow our observations in real time go to


Conference Beat™ – NeoCon: Chicago, June 2016



NeoCon is widely recognized as one of the most influential trade shows for commercial design. This 48th annual conference temporarily houses over 500 leading companies within the commercial design industry, and attracts over 50,000 design professionals and business consultants. It is an important show to spot cutting edge trends in workplace design.


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Workplace Industry Highlights

Modern workplace communities offer a wide range of services, including extensive foodservice, to make the workplace more welcoming, enjoyable and productive for employees. Retail foodservice sales in this segment are estimated at just over $15.6 billion and expected to grow by 2% in 2016 and another 1.5% by 2017 according to Technomic®.


Consumer Insight

The reimagined workplace for the modern consumer is a global phenomenon, as evidenced by the large number of international attendees at NeoCon. A recent Culinary Visions® Panel study points to opportunity for growth with 80% of consumers in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada saying they wish their company had a café or dining room.


Trend Spotting

Together + Alone: Office layouts are expected to reflect an open-door identity with fewer segmented rooms and open floor plans that encourage collaboration; however, designers are installing mindfully individual spaces when solitude and concentration are important.


Purposefully Mismatched: Long gone are the days of buying a perfectly matched conference room suite. Contrasts of colors, textures and furniture pieces are adding excitement to the workplace.


Permanent & Impermanent: Offices are welcoming nomadic lifestyles by creating layouts that implement stackable, lightweight and easily transportable furniture. This is allowing employees to rearrange themselves without feeling static.


Work at Play: Adult jungle gyms and interactive game rooms have officially made their way into the coveted employee break area.


Implications for Foodservice

Dining That Creates Community: There is nothing that creates a sense of community like sharing a meal. Modern dining rooms are designed with spaces that encourage personal connection.


Outside In: Rustic aesthetic, which is trending in popularity among restaurants, is finding its way into on-site venues with repurposed wood, stone and other materials that create a unique sense of place.


Elevated Everyday: Delicious, healthful and unconventional foodservice is part of the whole new package of workplace benefits.


Hospitality in the Workplace

Commercial office spaces are being reimagined by offering employees more interactive meal options that extend beyond traditional expectations. Action stations deliver a custom crafted experience. Barista stations, beverage counters (i.e. smoothies, juices and alcohol) and local chef-inspired bites make their way into a vast amount of suggested office designs
and layouts.


Tour Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:

  • Healthy living in the workplace environment as ergonomic designs trend.
  • Office spaces reinforcing how and where employees go to relax with comfortable
    seating areas.
  • Pop up foodservice venues with notable local chefs doing limited engagements at work.

For insights in real time, follow us on Twitter @OlsonComm.


Conference Beat™ – National Restaurant Show: Chicago, May 2016

NRA Show Photo


The National Restaurant Association (NRA) annual International Foodservice Marketplace is an annual event where 2,000+ companies showcase their work to more than 63,000 chefs, buyers, designers and operators. This year’s show was a great place to see enduring trends.


Industry Highlights

The foodservice industry is poised to grow 3.2% in 2016, according to the NRA Economic Forecast. Retail platforms and hospital/nursing foodservices can expect to see the highest growth in 2016 at 5.8% and 5.2% respectively.


Read More

Customer Insight

Consumer demand for a constant flow of new menu items is shortening product lifecycles and making limited time offers (LTOs) a successful strategy for many operators. Increasing the pressure on operators, a recent Culinary Visions® Panel survey of chain restaurant executives reveals that the time it takes to introduce a new menu item has increased, according to 54% of respondents.


Trend Spotting

Urban Design Trends: Reclaimed woods and warm earth tones reinforce the trend towards rustic, farm-to-table concepts. Tableware and accessories that complement the trend are more imaginative and widely available.


Sensible Strategies: As consumer trends shift toward health-conscious and sustainable eating, integrating a clean and nutritious menu strategy has become a priority for operators.


Cooking Elements in Demand: Combination cooking technologies enable chefs to cook a full menu of items with outstanding results.


Fast Casual Success: Refined fast casual has really taken off. The combination of visual appeal, customization, premium products and chef-driven recipes are factors in its success.


Balancing Act: Mintel reports that consumers look for healthy and indulgent options, and many consumers want their meals in different sizes.


Mindful Choices

Operators are scrutinizing front and back of house choices with an eye toward the environment. Energy efficient kitchen equipment and eco-friendly tableware, made from palm leaves or bamboo, offer an alternative to standard paper plates and take out containers at restaurants.


Implications for Operators

Technology Disruptions: New systems enable visual customization of food, making online ordering and delivery faster. This is driving off-premise satisfaction.


Elevated Authenticity: Today’s design-savvy, self-labeled “foodies” have educated taste buds but don’t want to compromise authenticity.


Clean Menus: Cleaning up current products, introducing new balanced options and addressing consumer demands will lead to a successful menu.


Taste Talk Tweet

  • Leading operators emphasizing purpose-driven strategies over profits
  • Investing and empowering staff to drive growth
  • Tasty trends featuring pickled colorful vegetables and bacon-flavored spirits

For insights in real time, follow us on Twitter @Olsoncomm.


Conference Beat™ – Sweets & Snacks Expo: Chicago, May 2016



The Sweets and Snacks Expo is a mesmerizing experience as professionals wander through the McCormick Center with their bag of sweet and tasty snacks. This year’s show continues to grow with nearly 17,000 attendees and 750 exhibitors from around the world, a 20% increase from the previous year. It’s an exciting place to spot emerging trends in the sweet and savory snacks industry. Buyers representing supermarkets, mass merchandisers and specialty retailers all attend the show.


Business Dynamics

Confectionery items account for $35 billion in retail sales according to the National Confectioners Association. Most U.S. Consumers eat candy about twice a week and average 40 calories a day from candy.


Read More

Consumer Insight

A Culinary Visions® Panel study shows convenience stores are a top choice for purchasing snacks, followed by convenience stores and making snacks at home. Women make snacks at home almost twice as much as men, while men choose casual dining or fast casual restaurants for snacks more.


Sweet Treats & Savory Snacks

Chocolate: Sumptuous, single-origin dark chocolates, beer-infused chocolate truffles and toasted coconut petals rounded out this year’s selection.


Gum: New trends towards natural and earthy flavors continue to emerge. Selections include ginger, maple, fennel/licorice, cinnamon and coffee.


Yogurt-coated Snacks: This re-emerging trend brings cranberries, peppermint crunch malted milk balls and peanut butter bites covered with Greek yogurt.


Meaty Snacks: Jerky came in prime rib, tri-tip and hanger steak cuts alongside all natural turkey snack sticks. Marinades included Smoky BBQ, Korean BBQ, Sriracha honey, ginger orange and chorizo lime.


Grains Galore: Granola and oatmeal bars ranged from fruity granola nuggets to crunchy combination squares. Crispy popcorn kernels were ground closer to the hull.


Better for You: Snack versions of natural veggies included roasted and dried broccoli florets and chips made of lentils and root vegetables.


Savory Snacks: Potato chips fried in avocado oils, sweet and salty caramel cashews, and crunchy whole bean chickpeas showcased healthier snack options.


All in the Package

Grab and Go: Fun mini bites came individually wrapped in zip-top pouches and touted healthful ingredients.


Novel Engagement: Lollipops come with retractable plastic enclosures, and hard candies have sweet powder dippers. “Selfie” candies with online
ordering and photo uploading technologies enabled users to personalize hard candies.


Target Audience: Extreme, “hazardously” sour candies attract kids while organic, natural snacks appeal to parents.


Youth-Driven: Emojis were a popular wrapper theme for packaging.


Implications for Food Marketers

“Free From”: Positioning foods free from certain ingredients reflect lifestyle choices as this movement is no longer allergy-driven.


Gourmet On-the-Go: Consumers look for gourmet options even when they are on the move. Flavorful snacks inside convenient packaging are in demand for those with busy lifestyles.


Ethnic Explorations: The ubiquitous Greek yogurt has reached the ends of the earth as a snack ingredient. Latin and Asian flavors lean towards savory applications.


Taste Talk Tweet

  • Tennis star, Maria Sharipova, launches her own line of chocolates called Sugarpova.
  • Cartoon-branded treats include DC Comics candy lines and Marvel Hero-packaged snacks.
  • Luxury chocolates come fashionably shaped in stiletto heels.


For insights in real time, follow us on Twitter @OlsonComm.


Conference Beat™ – Edible London, May 2016

Les Dames d’Escoffier London create a bi-annual culinary symposium and tour of the London and international food scene exclusively for members of Les Dames d’Escoffier.  The event offers the opportunity to experience, discuss and debate emerging global food trends.

Modern Cooking

Today’s over-scheduled, over-programmed families appreciate meals made at home, but also crave the convenience of meal kits, simple and flavorful recipes, and speed scratch ingredients.  In the UK, chilled meals that can be picked up on the way home from work provide quick and delicious meal satisfaction.

Read More


Consumer Insight

Service Matters – food and hospitality industry professionals believe that outstanding service can be a game changer for restaurants.  A recent Culinary Visions Panel Survey of consumers in the US, Canada and the UK found that the majority of consumers in all three countries agreed that a server who loves the food and can describe it in appetizing detail impacts their decisions when dining out.


Trend Watch

Dumpling Shops – fresh dumplings are made to order with authentic ingredients.


Comfort Bowls – 40% of crockery sales in the UK are bowls; Buddha bowls and a wide range of global chicken noodle soups offer comfort and satisfaction.


Sharing Life Around the Table – whether at home or away from home, food creates community.  As consumers are sharing the responsibility of eating from the local harvest, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs continue to grow.


Handcrafted by Experts – food and beverage items created by experts with a passion for the craft seem to have no limit in their appeal.


Elevated Street Food

Some of the most captivating street foods are found in back alleys and under railway beds where artisan food and beverage makers set up their production kitchens and their impromptu serveries.  Popular vendors were those who offered craft gin, Scotch eggs made with a range of sausage flavors, and barbecued oysters that were shucked to order, slathered in butter and gently smoked on a grill.


Implications for Food Marketers

No compromise satisfaction – consumers are unwilling to compromise taste for healthfulness.


Redefining indulgence – an all organic pub in London has been proving that healthfulness and responsibility may be the new indulgence.


Losing Fear of Fat – the allure of low fat and fat free offerings is waning, as enlightened consumers are enjoying the gratification of olive oil, cheese and yogurt without added sugars.


Taste Talk Tweet

  • Indulgent street food like whole pork roasts
  • Local mushroom varieties from street vendors
  • Certified organic gastropub – first of its kind in UK
  • Hand-crafted cultured butter and honey


If you want to follow our observations in real time go to


Conference Beat™ – NAMA: Chicago, April 2016

This is the meeting where vendors and suppliers in office coffee service, micro-marts, and vending come together to build relationships and grow their hospitality business.  The lingo is somewhat different in this segment, where operators act as distributors and consumers are everyone who populates workplaces nationwide.  NAMA is the association representing the $25 billion U.S. vending and refreshment service industry, with more than 1,250 companies.


Business Dynamics

Refreshment services range from small businesses providing packaged snacks and drip coffee, to large corporations offering sophisticated specialty coffee brewing systems and catering service to keep employees engaged and in the workplace.


Micro-marts are gaining momentum in lieu of traditional vending, allowing for more consumer choice, fresh foods, and flexibility of payment and product selection.

Read More


Flavor and Format News

Coffee – single cup systems rule the marketplace with a wide range of brewers that make coffee with the touch of a button, as well as disposable pour-over style baskets that attach to any cup, some with functional claims like “lean” and “think” with ginseng and other nutrients added to the grounds.  A vast selection of flavored coffees, roast levels, and teas to suit every taste were on offer, while cold brew and nitro coffee are on the horizon.  Soup brewed in the same method as single cup coffee systems is an innovation in this channel, although it was curious not to see bone broth, which was trending for K-cup style brewers in 2015 in other segments.


Protein Snacks – inventive new flavors are hitting office refreshment, such as beef sticks packaged with string cheese, bacon jerky, and dried turkey nuggets with apples.  Handheld sandwiches touting better breads and meats didn’t pass the taste test, although they were more visually appealing than expected.


Sweet Snacks – innovation is slow coming in this segment, with few examples of premium sweet treats.  Notable products include chocolate covered whole freeze-dried fruits, crunchy nut clusters, and decadent Belgian waffles that satisfy without any topping.


Healthy snacks – products beyond produce are just starting to emerge in this segment, and include examples like beet tortilla chips, sweet potato “fries,” coconut snacks, Mediterranean staples like hummus, and specialty single ingredient dried fruit.


Warm Meals – emerging retail frozen products are the alternative to foodservice.  Premium new BFY meals have a one-year shelf life in options like the chicken chile verde, red wine braised beef and polenta, and tandoori inspired spiced chicken, and are designed to slide out of the heated packet onto a plate in an inexplicably composed fashion.


Oatmeal – single serve bowls were offered in bulk cases in steel cut varieties with claims like all-natural, non-gmo, and low sugar.  Trendy new flavors included salted caramel and blueberry apple with chia seeds.



Vending in the Digital Age

  • Newfangled vending machines amp up their ordering process with premium graphics on interactive screens.
  • New micro-market apps can take perpetual inventory with scan from
    tote functionality and shrink analytics.

Custom Vending

  • Non-traditional vending like the 24/7 pizzeria provide a fully
    automated experience.
  • Premium merchandise like high-end electronics or anything
    that is small enough to fit can now be customized to sell
    within a vending machine.


Implications for Food Marketers

Packaging Sells – packaging is key, especially for micro-marts where consumers can pick up and hold items before they make a purchase.

Grab and Go – products designed for grab and go that can be consumed easily at a desk or on the move with no dishware and minimal cleanup are important to consumers.

Productivity Appeals – workplaces are keen to offer free or subsidized perks in the break room to prevent employees from leaving the office for fuel or a treat to get them through the day.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter chatter included:  Compostable coffee pods, single-serve muffins with probiotics, k-cup dispensers for vending machines, micromarkets are here to stay, and the cold brew coffee craze continues.


If you want to follow our observations in real time go to

Hot Spots & Hidden Treasures – Chicago Restaurant Recommendations 2016

The Bird is the Word

From hot to honey, restaurants dedicated to crispy, brined and juicy fried chicken are emerging all over Chicago. Focused menus highlighting the bird and not much else are to be expected at most of these hot spots.


“Fried chicken is the next comfort-food favorite to be swept up in our food renaissance…New concepts focused around fried chicken as a flagship item differentiate with signature touches and affordable price points.” – Sharon Olson, Culinary Visions


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1700 W Division St


Carriage House has reconcepted into Buck’s, a hip cocktail bar with standout fried chicken and biscuits. Your choice of traditional or kickin’ yields large portions of properly brined meat and crackling skin, served with biscuits and homemade apple butter. Expect modernized southern staples on the appetizer menu like deviled eggs, pimiento cheese, and shrimp and grits.



2940 N Broadway Ave


One of the forerunners to the modern fried chicken-craze and still a favorite among many Chicagoans, Crisp serves juicy chicken with a crunchy crust dressed in savory Asian-inspired sauces. Seoul Sassy, a take on Korea’s popular chicken dish, is a snappy sweet blend of ginger and garlic, a perfect complement to beautifully fried chicken. Order at the counter and don’t be afraid to rub elbows with the mostly young Asian crowd chowing on bibimbap and of course, fried chicken.



847 W Fulton Market


Different than typical fried chicken, this small chain hailing from Memphis uses a highly spiced flour dredge to get their hallmark cracker-thin crust. The resulting flavor has a little southern kick, but is much milder than the Nashville Hot style. Don’t balk at the white bread, which is the standard accompaniment in the south, better suited to wrap around juicy bites of bone-in fried chicken than crumbly cornbread or biscuits. Stick to sides like fried okra and creamy mac & cheese in this brightly-lit no-frills space with a full bar.



3361 N Elston Ave


This casual eatery has mindfulness at the heart of what they do – from humanely-raised chicken and locally-sourced ingredients to honorable employment practices and biodegradable packaging; this fried chicken joint knows how to pull the community’s heartstrings. Order at the counter and await the juicy and tender fried chicken, sprinkled with an herby paprika spice blend. Don’t discount their signature whipped honey butter, which you’ll want to slather generously onto your chicken to get the full experience.



2952 W Armitage


Diners are greeted with retro diner-inspired décor inside, and an expansive outdoor patio with picnic benches and a ping pong table in the heart of Logan Square. The menu is loaded with hipster renditions of southern favorites, like the citrus, rum and habañero-infused Amish fried chicken, and hush puppies filled with Slagel Farms ham hock and cream cheese. Negroni slushies and canned craft beers fly out of the bar.



1467 W Irving Park | 312-261-5564

455 N Milwaukee Ave | 312-877-5738

The Roost does it right, with down-to-earth, simple scratch preparations and always fried to order chicken. Started as a food truck and now open in 2 brick and mortar locations, The Roost brings North Carolina favorites like chicken biscuit sandwiches to the Midwest alongside stellar mac & cheese and decadent bread pudding, all served on trays lined with checkered deli paper.



Hot off the Press

The Windy City’s newest dining alternatives are sure to make for an unforgettable experience.



4710 N Ravenswood Ave


Artistically inspired and driven by a team of former Alinea vets, Band of Bohemia is one of the first restaurants in Chicago to brew its own beer and then craft an inventive food menu to pair with those flavors. Dubbing themselves a “culinary brewhouse,” one-of-a-kind libations include a savory grilled apple tarragon beer, orange chicory rye ale, and a malty stone fruit and citrus ale.



Chicago Athletic Association Building

12 S Michigan Ave, 2nd Floor


Located across the street from Millennium Park on the second floor of the historic Chicago Athletic Association, Cherry Circle Room brings refined American cooking to a section of downtown inundated with chain restaurants. Its well-crafted drink menu features classic cocktails prepared with signature flourishes like the gin fizz infused with earl grey tea. This is a hidden treasure worth seeking out – head up the marble staircase onto the second floor; Cherry Circle Room sits obscured by an expansive adults-only Game Room complete with billiards, bocce, and shuffleboard, plus cocktail lounge from local luminary Paul McGee.



857 W Fulton Market


The already bustling Fulton Market neighborhood now has another wildly popular restaurant joining its ranks. Former Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard’s latest concept features an inventive take on classic Chinese cuisine. Enjoy hand-pulled noodles, made to order soup dumplings, sharable roasted goat and Peking duck as well as and chef’s favorite – fried rice, along with fun libations in the swanky but vastly different dining rooms, which are each an homage to Chinatowns throughout the U.S. Expect to eat early or late as reservations are snapped up quickly, or try your luck at walking in to snag a spot at the bar.



259 E Erie Street, 18th Floor


Both of these adjacent restaurants offer extensive ingredient-focused cocktail menus, but it’s the breadth of the offerings that sets them apart. While GreenRiver’s hearty Midwestern-fueled dishes include whole roasted duck, saffron spaghetti and an eight-course chef’s tasting menu, The Annex serves up appetizer-type fare, such as tuna and foie crudo, gin-cured gravlax and triple cream brie. The breathtaking city views from 18 stores high are definitely worth the trip. Reservations are highly recommended.



8 Maple St


This sleek three-story steakhouse opened in the Gold Coast and brought a rock star wine list with it. The opulent dining room is the perfect place to dive in to wood-fired, grass-fed only steak, along with fresh seafood and locally-sourced vegetables. Service starts off right with a complimentary mini martini and relish tray. Night owls take note – the first floor bar is open until 4 a.m.



951 W Fulton Market

No Phone Available

Alinea’s Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas team up with The Aviary’s executive chef, Andrew Brochu, to launch a new concept a la carte restaurant that is intended to be casual and approachable – at least more so than Alinea. Roister, which means “to revel noisily” in French, features an open hearth kitchen. Menu options range from a sourdough pancake with hearth baked beans to A-5 Japanese Wagu and a whole chicken brined in chamomile sweet tea served 3 ways – poached, buttermilk fried, and confit with artichokes. Reservations can be made via the Tock ticket system a limited number of walk-ins are available. Lunch and prix fixe dinner menu downstairs are coming soon.



Imminent Openings

These hotly anticipated restaurants are on the verge of announcing opening dates. Be among the first who get a taste.



802 W Randolph St

Opening: June 2016

This restaurant’s name is appropriate, given that the menu is centered around seasonal vegetables, with the occasional meat mixed in. Health-focused dishes, primarily prepared on a wood grill, are appropriately complimented by moderately-low alcohol cocktails. With the ambiance of an English garden, complete with paved brick floors and loads of greenery throughout, Bad Hunter provides a tranquil escape within the West Loop’s bustling Restaurant Row.



900 W Randolph St

Opening: May 2016

Renowned Frontera Grill chef Rick Bayless’ newest ventures have conveniently adjacent locations. Pop into Cruz Blanca, a Latin-inspired nano-brewery with tasting room and taqueria, then head over to Leña Brava, the hearth-driven, northern Baja-inspired seafood restaurant with a mescal-driven beverage program. Cruz Blanca is a serious brewery containing a 10-barrel brewing system, which adds up to many craft beer tasting opportunities. Be sure to sample Goose Island brewmaster Jacob Sembrano’s flagship beer, La Guardia, or take a growler to go. Large-format bottles are also available.



3209 W Armitage Ave

Opening: May 2016

Belying its name, this diminutive 40-seat restaurant provides a more casual dining atmosphere and unpretentious menu. Dishes are centered around an extensive homemade pasta program, along with seasonal delights that feature local produce and meats. The wine list focuses on smaller producers from Canada, New York’s Finger Lakes region, Oregon and California, with imports from Spain, France and Portugal. Take note that Giant’s cocktail list is more limited.



845 W Washington Blvd


Opening: Spring 2016

A 10-foot hearth is the focal point of this newly-opened Argentinean-inspired restaurant, which prides itself on authentic dishes prepared in a wood-burning oven. A bevy of grilled seafood, roasted meat and smoked vegetable entrees are uniquely prepared right over the fire. Popular blackened sweetbreads are first seared, then roasted. Complementing the dishes is an ambitious beverage program with innovative flavors ranging from smoke to acid. Although the cooking method may be primal, the dishes are quite creative.



4229 N Lincoln Ave

Opening: Spring 2016

Focusing on bountiful ingredients from the Midwest, Kitsune’s concise menu of home-style Japanese specialties serves up a snack-heavy selection of oysters with yuzu and brown butter and chicken dumplings with black sauce. The more limited entrees of ramen and shoyu-roast chicken are similarly inspired. Big groups can venture into the seasonal washoku menu, served family style. Top off the experience with a whiskey-glazed donut, sake or one of the 12 beers on tap.



Modern Ethnic


11 W Illinois Street


Inspired by the lighthearted, carefree essence of Bohemian culture, BoHo’s hearty dishes are inspired by Czech Republic, German and Austrian fare. Chicken paprikash with pickled sweet peppers and Czech potato dumplings is sure to be a favorite, along with Butcher’s Goulash, featuring the contrasting yet complementary flavor sensations of spicy Hungarian kolbasz, beef shank, spaetzle and sweet and sour cabbage. Craft beers also are center stage here, so prepare to choose a flight and sample a few of the 15 varieties on tap.



2829 W Armitage Ave


For those who think they’ve seen it all when it comes to Mexican cuisine, Dos Urban Cantina brings a fresh interpretation with a modern twist. There has been much buzz around this newer eatery and its menu, with entrees segmented into vegetables, masa, seafood and meat. Tantalizing the taste buds are grilled maitake and shimeji mushrooms bathed in Oaxacan red mole; black lentils with couscous, watercress and poached egg; and beef pibil with black beans, habanero salsa and collard greens. Chocoholics don’t miss the decadent Chocolate Cake on a Fancy Plate.



2957 W Diversey Ave


Recently nominated 2016’s James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef in the Great Lakes, Fat Rice offers Euro-Asian comfort food native to Macau. Talented chefs fuse together Portuguese, Chinese, Indian, and South East Asian cuisine and its worth checking out restaurant’s namesake dish, arroz gordo; the stoneware rice casserole overflows with prawns, clams, chicken thighs, Portuguese sausage, duck, tea-infused hard-boiled eggs, croutons and assorted pickles. Come for unique flavors you won’t find anywhere else. Newly opened Ladies Room showcases a stylish cocktail bar inside the restaurant and features cocktails using locally-sourced bitters, flavor-infused sprits and house-preserved fruits and vegetables.



2557 W Chicago Ave


It’s still hard to snag a reservation at this understated Ukrainian Village gem, which offers playful Japanese dishes with a surprising twist, and, one of the city’s best omakase experiences. In addition, you’ll find some of the city’s freshest sushi and sashimi around. The former owners of Kyoto and Kamehachi have given Chicago an authentic taste of Japanese cuisine with new, innovative twists. Check out their delectable oyster shooters, call ahead to make sure they have uni and be sure to save room for dessert.



954 W Fulton Market


Flavorful and stylish Brazilian cuisine in a casual neighborhood setting. Go for ceviches and cocktails during lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Enjoy unique dishes like the Rabbit Coxinha served with frisee and a whole grain mustard vinaigrette along with popular Brazilian libations. Classic American options are also available for those not wanting to venture too far from home.



3500 N Elston Ave


Descend into high-end Korean-American cuisine at Parachute, honored as a James Beard finalist in 2014. Selections change nightly and dishes are designed and proportioned to be shared, so be prepared to experience a feast for the senses. More familiar fare—chicken with artichokes, king oyster mushroom and garlic confit—sits side by side with the more exotic—tandoori sweetbreads, raita, potato and lovage. The wine, craft beer and spirits menus are both extensive and impressive. Because this 40-seat restaurant fills up quickly, reservations are recommended.



702 N Wells St


This authentic Robatayaki derives its name, Sumi, from the Japanese word for ‘charcoal’. Indeed, the focus here is on the ancient culinary technique of Robata grilling, originated by Japanese fishermen. The best seats in the house are along the Robata counter to witness Chef Gene Kato’s impressive skills at preparing vegetables, seafood and meat simply, yet expertly, to bring out the flavor of the food. A selection of sushi and both hot and cold appetizers properly round out the offerings.



118 W Grand Ave

Named 14th best restaurant in the world in 2015, Tanta is one of 32 restaurants in 12 countries commanded by superstar chef Gaston Acurio and a stunning outpost in River North area. Authentic Peruvian dishes and beverages are made casual and approachable using locally sourced products with an emphasis on sustainable farming and fishing. The atmosphere is upscale casual with knowledgeable service. Most dishes are small, giving customers the ability to try anything.



1400 W Randolph St

Chef Bill Kim’s Asian restaurant packs flavor bombs into the focused menu of dumplings, rice, noodles and sides. Order at the counter and enjoy the inventive menu at communal tables.



Contemporary Mediterranean


1329 W Chicago Ave


The concise menu at this casual Italian spot features brilliant pastas in full and half portions, plus appetizers, entrees and a limited selection of family-style platters from Three Aces chef Matt Troost. The space is a mashup of reclaimed farmhouse and industrial materials in the former West Town Tavern space.



925 W Randolph St


Upscale Italian grandmother cuisine merges with modern interpretations in a posh supper club space with tufted leather banquettes from the proven team behind Balena & The Bristol. Look for modern representations of old-school concepts like the relish tray, or stick to more traditional pasta with “Sunday gravy,” made from pork neck bones and other hearty meats. The world-class wine menu is curated by Steve Morgan, former sommelier of Alinea, and offers more than 600 varietals from around the world.



432 W Diversey Pkwy


This jewel-box restaurant is a glittering example of Spanish cuisine, with bright, fresh flavors and wines to match. Try the traditional cataplana brimming with cobia collar, clams, and shrimp or fideos, saffron-infused toasted vermicelli with vegetables.



1015 North Rush St


One Off Hospitality’s (Avec, Publican, Big Star, Violet Hour) authentic Italian seafood mecca dishes up beautiful house-made pastas and pristine seafood in the boutique Thompson Hotel. Dessert offerings are also garnering buzz. For those who want just a bite, step inside the companion bar called Salone Nico for a compact menu of bespoke cocktails, coastal wines, and other post-meal delights.



1558 N Milwaukee Ave


Dare to dine on Greek cuisine outside of Greektown?  You will be rewarded at Taxim located in Wicker Park. With an emphasis on vegetables, Chef David Schneider browses local farmers markets for inspiration, creating seasonal offerings of inventive Greek dishes. His understanding of ingredients is evident in his vegetable pairings: okra sautéed with garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil and cilantro; or fried heirloom eggplant slices with yogurt sauce. The Greek wine list is updated regularly.



No Frills Authentic Ethnic


5014 N Broadway St | 166 W Washington St
773-561-4424 | 312-346-3971

Fresh, authentic, handmade Vietnamese food from a French Pastry School grad. Go to the Uptown branch for the best bánh mì sandwiches in the city on freshly-baked French bread. French influence can also be found in their freshly made desserts – including macarons.



2100 S Archer Ave, 2nd fl.


With Cai’s crystal lights and silk-covered chairs, dim sum in Chinatown gets a glam make-over. Although there are occasional rolling carts, the best approach here is to order off the lengthy dim sum menu of 70 dishes. Blanket the table with bamboo steamers filled with a variety of dumplings, spring rolls, and delectable meats. Beyond the usual Chinese fare:  sticky rice with Chinese sausage, silken bean-curd skin stuffed with minced pork, and puffy buns filled with sweet barbecued pork are just a sampling.



3752 W Lawrence Ave


This long-standing Korean-Japanese BBQ restaurant features traditional cuts of meat like kalbi and bulgogi cooked over an open flame grill at your table served with the usual favorite side dishes. Every possible Japanese star from baseball to TV has been in, eaten and signed something at this restaurant. What folks don’t know is there’s also a secret Japanese meat menu that’s not featured (or sometimes hidden in the very back of the menu). If you look for it, you can get prized cuts of cow tongue, wagyu and more.



2501 W Lawrence Ave


This unsuspecting Filipino eatery will transport you on a culinary journey. Offering both traditional and Spanish-inspired fare, Isla Pilipina has a diverse menu. Delve safely into authentic Filipino food with the chicken adobo or pancit dishes. If you’re feeling adventurous, the deep-fried pork belly or mongo, a stew of mung beans, shrimp, tomatoes and watercress, are definite crowd pleasers. BYOB.



901 W Randolph St


Chicago’s favorite old school Italian deli never disappoints. It’s been serving up the classics since 1937:  sliced-to-order meats and cheeses piled on Italian bread with all the trimmings. If you’re in the mood for more Italian deli fare, look up Bari Subs & Italian Foods on Grand Ave.



333 E Benten Pl


With 2 locations in Chicago, one in Chinatown and a newer location near the Maggie Daley Plaza, Ming Hin is a solid venue for authentic Chinese entrees as well as the popular dim sum treats. Its menu showcases flavors from Hong Kong, Macau, and as well as dishes from mainland China, and the interior features upscale modern Chinese décor.



The Ramen Rage

The Japanese noodle-soup craze continues in Chicago. Here are must-tries and new entrants.



1571 N Milwaukee Ave


Furious Spoon is purported to be the closest iteration of an authentic ramen-ya in Chicago. Slurp house noodles made personally by Michelin-star chef Shin Thompson while bobbing to the beats of 90’s era hip-hop at this fast casual eatery. Sample tsukemen, which are seasonal for summer – thick, cold noodles served with a warm, reduced ramen dipping sauce, trending now in Tokyo.



112 N Green St |


This ramen comes together ala minute, made with 20-hour pork and chicken bone broth infused with miso, sesame, numbing pepper, black garlic oil, nori and dried Japanese chilies. The menu warns of tiered spiciness levels, described as pain followed by euphoria. Sip on sake, Japanese beers and slushy cocktails. Enter this raw subterranean space with just 16 seats through the alley of sister property Green Street Smoked Meats.



1385 N Milwaukee Ave


Ramen and bao, steamed buns, are the focus at this Wicker Park noodle bar. Ramen is heavy on the spice, and classics get spun on their head in fusion combinations like a red pozole-inspired ramen with cilantro, jalapenos and tomato, and a “saltimbocca” bao. Ramen noodles are made in house daily with traditional alkaline salts and egg whites.



213 E Ohio St


Be prepared for a wait at this newly-opened and popular ramen noodle shop. Part of a global chain, Ramen Misoya offers two basic broth styles seasoned with miso and filled with noodles, ground pork, bean sprouts, cabbage, a soft-boiled egg, fried onions and bamboo shoots. Choose add ins like pork, fried shrimp, fried chicken, spicy miso or vegetables. The Tonkotsu version, revered by ramen enthusiasts, also is available. For vegetarians, Vege Miso Ramen combines impressive helpings of seasonal vegetables in a seaweed soup.



2115 N Milwaukee Ave | 773-227-8180

819 W Fulton Market  | 312-666-7710 |

One of few Japanese-owned Japanese restaurants in the city, Wasabi and it’s sister restaurant Ramen Takeya specialize in ramen, and offer izakaya-style small plates and sushi. Wasabi features their 100% Berkshire pork tonkotsu bone broth while Ramen Takeya focuses on the Chicken Paitan broth. Vegans visit for the only animal-free ramen in the city. Wasabi is BYOB. Takeya features a limited drink menu.



Gourmet Fast Casual


24 S Clinton St |312-454-6125

227 E Ontario St | 312-255-1290

953 W Belmont Ave | 773-348-6255

Touting healthy, artisan ingredients and dough made from scratch, this California-based chain is as much about customization as it is about speedy service. The nine signature pizzas put a unique spin on the classics, with pepperoni enhanced by crumbled meatballs and red onion, and barbecue chicken taken to the next level with banana peppers, red onion and gorgonzola. There are also a bevy of meats, veggies, cheeses and sauces for those preferring to build their own pie, along with a half dozen salads to choose from.



22 S Wabash Ave


Spike Mendelsohn’s Chicago outpost of his DC burger chain featuring natural beef and environmentally-friendly business practices. Try the award-winning Prez Obama Burger with applewood bacon, onion marmalade, Roquefort cheese and horseradish mayo. Swap fries for Vidalia onion petals and gussy them up at the condiment bar. Four varieties of wedge salads and inventive milkshakes in flavors like toasted marshmallow, soursop strawberry and red velvet round out the menu.



1732 N Milwaukee Ave

This scaled down version of the celebrated Au Cheval stays true to its name, as the menu offering is limited to a simple hamburger, cheeseburger and fries. But don’t be fooled by the brevity, as this unforgettable burger will not disappoint. For those not patient enough to stand in its sister restaurant Au Cheval’s long lines, this is a viable and affordable alternative for a meal that’s just as memorable.



66 E Ohio Street | 312-667-1701

12 S Michigan Ave | 312-646-6005

This New York-based chain appears to channel a 1950s soda shop, complete with burgers, hot dogs, fries and shakes. Throw in Brooklyn Brewery’s Shakmeister Ale, Frog Leap’s Shack wine, ice cream add-ins from local bakeries and dog biscuits for the fur babies, and it’s evident a new era has begun. To top it off, Shake Shack’s frozen desserts are uniquely created for each location. Now that’s pretty cool in any era.



449 N Clark St


Mexican street food takes center stage at Rick Bayless’ Xoco (pronounced SHO-ko), focusing on eats like authentic tortas (Mexican sandwiches) and house-made ice creams. Through the exposed, interactive nature of the kitchen and counter seating, Xoco is designed to create the feel of purchasing from a street vendor. Don’t miss the drinking chocolates and specialty churros. If you miss it, be sure to check out Rick Bayless’ other QSR, Tortas Frontera, at terminals T1, T3 & T5 inside O’Hare airport.



Tiny Treasures

These teeny hot spots pack a sizeable punch of flavor.



5644 N Clark St


Foodies will appreciate this gourmet food store’s meticulous selection of top notch estate extra virgin olive oils, one of its specialties, hence its moniker. But the down-to-earth displays also feature an impressive cache of olives, vinegars, jams, tapenades, spices, pastas, mustards, honey, chocolates and even linens from around the world. While visiting, take note of the authentic European antiques that range from a Russian-made cash counter and a display case from the Czech Republic housing oils and vinegar.



23 N Wacker Dr | 312-384-1011

500 W Madison St, 2nd Floor  | 312-281-6782

Hormone-free and naturally raised ingredients are the focus at Eastman Egg, where breakfast staples like eggs, sausages and bacon are built into gourmet sandwiches, bowls and sliders. Variations with wilted spinach, toasted chili mayo and soft ciabatta bread make for quick and comforting meals enjoyed with a hot cup of coffee or fresh tea-infused juice. Eastman Egg has two cozy café locations, as well as a food truck that travels throughout the city.



2008 N Halsted St

Rear, Walk-Up Window, Enter From North Side of Armitage Between Halsted & Dayton


Nearly impossible to find but well worth a trip, this tiny treasure offers freshly made pastries, soups, sandwiches and salads. Christine McCabe, a former Charlie Trotter pastry chef, turns out delightful strawberry vanilla pop tarts, morning buns, and various other baked goods. Seek out this tiny walk-up spot with a takeout window in the ally off Armitage near Halsted in the Lincoln Park/DePaul neighborhood.



1512 N Wells St

This popular specialty shop has the freshest dried herbs and freshly ground spices available, both of which elevate flavors in the kitchens of chefs and home cooks. Go for the scintillating aromas throughout the store, candied ginger, and custom house-blended spices.



Tried & True


20 W Kinzie St


Bringing an elevated and innovative approach to seafood, this elegant eatery combines what one might expect from a restaurant of this type with the unexpected. Dishes such as sautéed whitefish in lemon butter and seared Bigeye tuna with caviar and peppercorn sauce will appeal to the traditionalists, while the more adventuresome will be drawn to Greece’s dorade and branzino fish varieties. Whole fish designed for sharing and a four-course prix fixe elevation menu, complete with champagne and wine pairings, provide added opportunities to experience the bounties of the sea.



300 W Hubbard St


This reliable favorite features rustic, Tuscan-inspired Italian fare on a seasonal menu, where both traditional ingredients and contemporary techniques shine. Expect an all-Italian wine list and a great atmosphere- provided by the converted loft space with exposed timbers offset by white-linen tables. Defines rustic meets fine-dining.



900 N Franklin St


This old favorite, one of the first bistros to hit Chicago, brings a homey, French country atmosphere to the dining experience. Here you will find considerable flair added to bistro classics, from daily fish specials to duck confit to escargots; but you’ll also find other rustic choices like lamb stew loaded with vegetables. Save room for the crème brûlée.



937 N Rush St


A fine dining setting serving classic French Vietnamese food. The bar upstairs is a great meet and greet spot, but ask for a table by the window to assure a fabulous street scene. Expect great service, along with a very romantic setting. The steamed fish and other vegetable dishes, like grilled eggplant in a spicy basil lime sauce or steamed okra in a ginger lime sauce, steal the show.



2610 N Cannon Dr


A recent James Beard Award nominee, North Pond derives its seasonal inspiration from the local market and farms. Special attention is given to the ingredients in its six main courses, among them the olive oil-poached black bass filet with green asparagus, saffron handkerchief pasta, Meyer lemon, yogurt, capers and honey lemon broth, as well as the grilled whey leg of lamb that includes braised meat tortelloni, fava beans, fennel, hedgehog mushrooms, shaved feta and candied seeds. Open at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday and for Sunday brunch. Business casual attire is requested.



464 N Halsted St

Sheltered from the busy street and accompanied by gorgeous landscaping and heaters, Piccolo Sogno has the best outdoor patio in Chicago. Piccolo offers the complete Italian experience through it décor and its wide range of dishes from multiple regions in Italy. Selections include rustic homemade pasta, skillfully prepared fish and meats, as well as hearth-baked pizzas. The Italian wine list is extraordinary; ask Ciró (chee ro’) for recommendations.



837 W Fulton Market


An eclectic menu inspired by simple farmhouse fare, this European beer hall is the perfect backdrop to the unadorned beef heart tartare, country ribs and signature Farm Chicken accompanied by both fresh and pickled vegetables. Be prepared to sit side by side with other diners at a large communal table in a style reminiscent of 16th century European banquets. It’s hard not to be impressed by The Publican’s broad and descriptive beer, wine and spirit listings. Note that reservations are highly recommended.



1443 W Fullerton Ave


This pizzeria feels like you’ve entered a café in Naples. Nella, the restaurant’s namesake, and her family are cranking out Italian favorites – like burrata served with prosciutto di Parma and toasty bruschetta, and fresh seafood antipasti. If you want something hearty, their wood-fired pizzas are cooked until blistered and chewy. Try the fiery diavola, topped with red pepper flakes, basil, olive oil, and spicy salami. Buon appetito!



500 N Michigan Ave


Nose-to-tail shared plates highlight the menu at this Mediterranean hot spot, including balsamic braised pig’s tails, veal mortadella, and sheep’s milk ricotta with pork neckbone gravy. Vibrant vegetables and fish dishes are perfectly balanced with acid while wines are emphasized through the accessible selection of European vinos served by the glass, bottle or quartino. The upscale casual atmosphere is convivial with long communal tables and late-night hours.



Food Scenes


43 E Ohio St


Celebrity Chef Mario Batali and restaurateur Joseph Bastianich’s most successful Italian food emporium still draws record crowds in downtown Chicago. Spanning an entire city block, it houses 23 food concepts – nearly a dozen of them restaurants – including a brewery, soft serve gelateria, mozzarella bar, bakery, Neapolitan pizzeria, and more, including several retail departments and fine dining restaurant, Baffo.



108 N State St, 3rd Floor


Latinicity aims to be the next food galleria of Latin American cuisine. This sprawling, modern food hall features a variety of south of the border cuisines and cocktails. With little space given to retail, this is a place dedicated to eating. Tortas, Latin-inspired sushi, grilled meats, seafood and burgers are all offered here at a relatively affordable price point. Latinicity is still gaining traction and might be worth taking a look at a new take on an old concept.



116 N Aberdeen St

With a constantly changing menu on wheels, this is a meet-up spot for food trucks in the West Loop. It has all the excitement of street food but with indoor seating. This is also the permanent parking spot for The Garage founders, The Salsa Truck.



1817 N Clark St | 773-880-1266

801 W Fulton Market

Saturday and Wednesday farmer’s market featuring fresh, locally-grown, sustainably-raised foodstuffs, with biweekly chef demos. Aimed at connecting farmers with urban shoppers, chefs, and restaurateurs. There are now two markets: one market at the south end of Lincoln Park between Clark and Stockton Drive and a newer, smaller one is in Fulton Market.



Carnivorous Cravings


218 W Kinzie St


Touted as one of the city’s top steakhouses, this Jazz-inspired speakeasy is a contradiction to the traditional formality expected in restaurants of this type. The steak offerings, including wet- and dry-aged ribeye in addition to three versions of filet mignon, are a carnivore’s dream. Butcher’s Cuts of roasted bone marrow, beef tongue and steak frites help round out the menu, as do traditional entrees like meat loaf and broiled salmon. As if that wasn’t enough to stimulate discriminating palates, Bavettes also serves up seafood towers and oysters from both coasts.



300 N LaSalle St


A high-quality steakhouse with innovative amenities, such as a wine list app for paramount accessibility and a 100-seat outdoor patio overlooking the Chicago River. Premium seafood and prime dry-aged beef, some in double cuts, are complemented by revered local chef Jackie Shen’s (ex Red Light) vast culinary skills. Be sure to save room for the chef’s signature chocolate dessert.



809 W Randolph St


Focusing on local ingredients and global flavors, this shared-plates hot spot was created by Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard. Goat-centric menu items include smoked goat pizza with tart cherry sofrito or grilled shrimp with spicy goat and kohlrabi kimchee, but there’s plenty of other meat, fish, and vegetable dishes that change seasonally to please every palate. Be sure to try the signature wood oven roasted pig face with tamarind, potato stix, and a sunny side egg.



844 W Randolph St


This farm-to-table hamburger house behind a barn front door in the West Loop is serving up meat and veggie patties on house-made buns. Choose from veggie and bean protein, grass-fed beef, or free-range turkey, and a variety of cheeses and toppings. Be sure to check out the pie safe and cocktail-inspired milk shakes. American beers, cocktails, and rotating wine selection for those who imbibe.



112 N Green St

Unlike most barbeque joints that shine in only a few categories, everything on the menu at Green Street is worth ordering. From Texas renditions of beef and pork ribs, decadent sliced brisket, pulled pork and smoked salmon, Brendan Sodikoff (Au Cheval, Bavette’s, Cocello) has carefully thought through every detail when developing his menu in this reclaimed warehouse space with communal picnic tables. Go early and order luscious Q by the half pound at the counter.



825 W Fulton Market


Paul Kahan (Publican, Blackbird, Avec, Big Star) has taken the meat market concept to a new level. This market/café is a chef-driven establishment, located across the street from Publican restaurant. Meat cases situated along the east wall display grass-fed beef, house-cured charcuterie, free-range chicken, and Berkshire pork from local sources. House-made condiments and other specialty items line the white-tiled wall, while freshly baked breads are stacked in nearby baskets. Beer is the beverage of choice to accompany meat-centric sandwiches such as mortadella on griddled rye with peach mostarda or braised pork belly on flatbread with gyro-style accompaniments.



1000 W Fulton Market


Recently nominated for a James Beard award, you’ll find this already popular American steakhouse located inside the brand new Google Building. Top notch cuts of steak include Australia and Chile-sourced Wagyu beef, as well as the supreme A5 Strip Loin from Japan. Well-prepared side dishes include potatoes au gratin with country ham and charred carrots with candied walnuts. The interior is intimate and impressive with old-style touches throughout. Look to the sweets section for more on this restaurant’s desserts.



Farm to Fork

The trend continues to flourish in Chicago’s dining scene, where chefs bring fresh, locally-grown ingredients (sometimes grown right above your head) to the table in inventive ways.



2545 W Diversey Ave


Located in the Green Exchange Building in the burgeoning Logan Square neighborhood, Arbor takes local seriously. The café, which sits next to an event space and non-profit co-working offices, boasts its own rooftop garden, which provides much of the produce for their kitchen. The restaurant offers a flawless yet affordable “Midwestern omakase” where the chef customizes a 3, 5 or more course menu based on the diners’ desires.



5347 N Clark St


The cuisine here is an advancement of southern cooking, and uses heirloom, organic produce and pasture-raised proteins along with sustainable seafood to create stellar comfort food dishes. Descriptors like antebellum grits and heritage sea island peas begin to tell the story of each dish. Chef Paul will expound upon the historical roots of his ingredients to interested parties. The dining room is simple and bright with friendly service. Complimentary beignets are a highlight during weekend brunch.



228 W Chicago Ave


Forget farm to table, this farm-to-tavern eatery keeps it simple and seasonal with dishes like Rushing Waters Rainbow Trout, Smoked Pork Tenderloin and Dry Aged Grass Fed Burgers. But it’s the 28 craft beers and Michigan wines on tap that bring the Midwestern vibe to the next level. The décor also pays homage to Chicago history, with remnants that include furniture from a south side factory. Ask the bartender to point out the many reclaimed pieces from famous and infamous Chicago bars.




Approximately 25 downtown kiosk locations; including the following:

627 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60661 inside the 7-Eleven

108 N State St, Chicago, IL 60602 in pedway near red line CTA station

121 W Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL 60606

600 W Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60654

This unique farm-to-finger concept aims to bring a fast casual experience to vending machines. With the push of a few buttons, you’ll receive a clear, plastic “mason jar” containing your fresh salad, fresh squeezed juice or snack, each prepared fresh and delivered each morning. Afternoon purchases often come at a discount to keep the fresh perception strong. Farmers Fridge takes quick service and healthy food to a new dimension.



2537 N Kedzie Blvd


Tucked in the up-and-coming Logan Square neighborhood, Lula Café brings farm fresh ingredients to their thoughtfully prepared menu. Surrounded by urban eclectic décor, diners can enjoy unconventional flavor combinations like bucatini with feta, cinnamon, toasted garlic and brown butter, or a hearty chickpea and sweet potato tagine with green harissa. The chef is particularly proud of serving adventurous fare for vegetarians, including a six course nightly tasting menu, although sustainable seafood and meats are also available.



1800 N Lincoln Ave


This modern, farm-to-fork restaurant has reinvented itself, bringing fresh, local ingredients to the table. Chicagoans go here to enjoy boozy brunches and intimate dinners that feature American favorites done with a Perennial Virant twist. An indulgent PV Omelet combines shaved pork, fresh chevre, seasonal in-season vegetables and basil pesto.



316 N Clark St


A farm-to-table bistro with a haute rustic vibe, The Kitchen’s dishes emphasize ingredients sourced in the Midwest. Among the unique creations is yogurt-marinated Cornish hen atop flageolet beans flavored with Tuscan soffrito and basil and pan-seared Lake Superior whitefish with beluga lentils and sautéed greens. Enjoy a view of the Chicago River while indulging in one of the city’s most extensive seafood bars filled with lobster, oysters, smoked mussels and more. On Mondays at 7 p.m., a prix-fixe four-course dinner is served family-style at a communal table.




Beer breweries are here to stay in Chicago after a sharp decline since Prohibition and into the late 1980’s. These Chicago-owned craft breweries are expanding a typical beer drinker’s palate and elevating drinking experiences to a new level.



1746 W Chicago Ave


The city’s first botanical brewery, beers here are crafted from barks, stems, blossoms, saps, herbs, spices, leaves, bark, flowers, honey and roots. Choose from a limited yet unique and thoughtful selection of bar snacks, such as Gochugarou Popcorn and lamb jerky; small and large plates ranging from fried giardiniere to duck breast aged for 12 days; or share a cheese plate filled with some of the best artisan creations the Midwest has to offer.



1800 N Clybourn Ave


This well-known brewpub’s primary location has been creating its ales and lagers, including the famous Bourbon County Stout, since 1988. Yet, many Goose Island enthusiasts are not aware that, along with more than 25 draughts and seasonal beers, the brewery serves up authentic pub classics like fish and chips, poutine, burgers, wings and a Create Your Own Cheese and Meat Board for one to three people. For those inspired by the tasty brews, brewery tours and tastings are available Saturday and Sunday afternoons for $10 per person.



4257 N Lincoln Ave


Crafting American micro beers with a raw intensity utilizing brewing materials and a natural process, Half Acre’s original location includes a brewhouse, tap room, full kitchen and retail shop. Come for the beer, whether it be an IPA, lager or exotic brew, and stay for the gourmet-inspired burritos ranging from chicken noodle to goat picadillo. Groups looking for innovative fare to share will appreciate the varied selection of the tried and true nachos and hush puppies to the more decadent salmon rillettes and yuzu-glazed pork belly.



1102 W Webster Ave


The brewery’s skull and crossbones motif and blasting heavy metal music signal this is a place for those looking to tap into their inner headbanger. The theme extends to the craft brews, with 28 on tap and 94 bottles appropriately named Off Color Fierce, Jester King Funk Metal and Exorcist, among the selections. A New Orleans-inspired menu of Po Boys, crab cakes, jambalaya and muffaletta, serves up the best of the Bayou. Other options include extensive taco selections and Appetizers for Destruction ranging from creole wings to blue crab quesadillas.




3925 W Dickens Ave

Sans a tap room, bar and phone number, this craft draft and bottle shop’s innovative brews are sought after by a growing number of beer aficionados. Toss back Troublesome, a wheat beer combined with an overly acidic brew fermented with lactobacillus, or delight in the dry finish and fruity bite of Apex Predator, a farmhouse ale. At Off Color, it’s more about the quality than the quantity, though it’s worth taking advantage of the limited time offers and collaborative craft brews, when available.



2323 N Milwaukee Ave


Illinois’ largest craft brewery, Revolution consists of a brewers lounge, production brewery and tap room to showcase the 50 different beer styles produced here each year. The rotation of what’s on tap varies and may include Anti-Hero IPA, described as an American hop assault or Cross of Gold, a crisp, golden ale with a delicate hop finish. The passion for perfection extends to its plates, where local seasonal ingredients are the highlight of sandwiches, salads, pizza and entrees such as lamb shank pasta and trout stuffed with bacon and shrimp.



1815 W Berteau Ave

One of Chicago’s top nanobreweries, beer is all that is here and Spiteful takes its brews seriously. Offerings are categorized by Staples, Hoppy Beers, Porters and Stouts, God Damns, Belgian and German, Big Beers, Seasonal Beers, and Gruit. Always present are Spiteful IPA, Working for the Weekend Double IPA, Alley Time pale ale and God Damn Pigeon Porter. Located purposefully next door to Half Acre’s brewery, Spiteful distinguishes its offerings by also providing canned versions of its brews.



After Hours

For night owls looking to grab a bite or a night cap, there are a number of options worth checking out.



19 E Ohio St


Located inside the Freehand Hotel, this restaurant’s offerings are a departure from standard hotel fare. Think handcrafted cocktails paired with a street-food inspired menu. The drinks are the star of this show, segregated into Chicago Inspired, Broken Shaker Hits, Old School and With a Little Help from My Friends. Though entrees are more minimal, the burgers, charcuterie, mojo roasted pork loin and seared Spanish octopus provide a unique alternative to the traditional nachos, buffalo shrimp and chicken wings. Beer and wine also are outnumbered by the cocktails, sherries and shaker favorites.



Inside the Green Door Tavern Restaurant

678 N Orleans St


If you need super secret spot with good drinks, look no further than here. Wait, actually, you may have to keep looking. In the fashion of Speakeasies from the Prohibition-era, venture to the historic Green Door Tavern restaurant, and tell the bartender that you want to go to “The Drifter”. He or she will give you instructions to venture down the maze-like hallway towards the bathroom to find a hidden door along the way. Behind the hidden door will be one of Chicago’s few gems modeled after a real speakeasy. Enjoy while you can because your time may be limited there.



Chicago Athletic Association

12 S Michigan Ave


Reservations are required for this exclusive and pricey eight-seat microbar, located inside the historic Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. Cocktail connoisseurs will delight in the classic cocktails showcasing not only extremely rare and vintage spirits, but also difficult-to-find ingredients. A limited menu of shared plates also is offered. Advance tickets through the Tock ticketing system are available for $50 each, which is applied to the drink tab. This designates a seating time that will be limited.



4337 N Lincoln Ave


The city’s first cider bar, The Northman has more than 18 ciders on draft and 80-plus by the can and bottle. What’s unique about this pour is its length. Using a popular method from Spain, the cider is sent through the air in a thin stream while being poured, which is meant to aerate the beverage for a more intense flavor. Not a cider fan?  Check out one of the city’s largest selections of calvados, a French apple brandy. A selection of beer and spirits also are available here.



1520 N Damen Ave


One of the first things people notice at this high-end lounge is its rules, which include no cell phone use and proper attire requested. The cocktail listing also is prominent, touting creative descriptives like Juliet and Romeo made with Beefeater, lime, mint, cucumber and rose water, and Which Witch is Which, containing Laird’s apple brandy, Lustau Manzanilla, Strega and orange bitters. Those looking for a bite can choose from a number of traditional appetizers, including a selection of slider varieties, spinach dip and chicken wings.


A Java Journey

Take a break from the mainstay coffee chains and sample Chicago’s unique and signature local roasts. From the delicate to the downright intense, there are plenty of caffeinated adventures to be had in this city.



Star Lounge Coffee Bar: 738 N Western Ave | 773-697-8472

The Mothership Roastery & Espresso Bar: 2521 W Chicago Avenue | 773-384-7827

Osmium Coffee Bar: 1117 W Belmont Ave | 773-360-7553

This local roaster brought an edginess to the coffee scene and has garnered a cult-like following. On the forefront of trends like boozed-up coffee and bottled cold brew, Dark Matter roasts a wide range of balanced and complex flavors in its beans, all of which are directly sourced from plant to cup. Limited edition roasts come in colorfully illustrated bags, while unique barrel-aged coffees are not to be missed for their intense flavor and extremely limited availability. Try their intense cold brew coffee for an instant buzz, or take home a growler to go.



345 E Ohio St | 312-929-4007

343 S Dearborn St | 312-846-6103

860 N Dewitt Pl | 312-600-6346

For Metropolis coffee with a side of Hoosier Mama pastries or pies, pop over to one of Dollop Coffee & Tea’s three city locations. Take in the view from the patio, while sipping on this local, fair trade, artisan brew, which is roasted in small batches. Not looking for a java jolt? Tea varieties are in abundance here, as well. Those seeking something more substantial than libations can choose from a variety of sandwiches, including Elvis’ favorite peanut butter and banana.



955 W Randolph St | 312-733-0707

1552 N Damen Ave | 872-829-3681

5158 N Clark St | 773.250-9907

Those seeking Wi Fi are out of luck here, as the focus of this East Coast-based roaster is purely on the coffee. Specialties of the house include drip coffee, espresso drinks and French pastries from the city’s acclaimed Floriole Café & Bakery. Java junkies will appreciate the wide selection of home coffee brewing equipment for sale. Don’t miss this chain’s unique cold brew draft latté line, and be sure to grab a bag of classic, reserve or Columbian coffee to go.



4363 N Lincoln Ave | 773-868-1876

4115 N Ravenswood Ave | 773-883-1864

3601 N Southport Ave | 773-868-1857

This uniquely Italian café, whose only US presence has 3 locations in the city, is one of few full-service cafes where you can grab coffee to-go, pop in for a pastry or sit down for an entire meal. Dark, robust notes are central to their coffee blends, perfect for pairing with decadent Black Forest Cake made with Kirsch mousse and brandied cherries. Live music from classical harp to edgy, soulful rock can be heard on the weekends.



112 N Green St


The first U.S. outpost of this unique coffee shop is a collaboration between award-winning Japanese latte artist, Hiroshi Sawada, and Hogsalt Hospitality’s Brendan Sodikoff. The tight menu focuses on impeccably crafted espresso drinks, inventive boozy steamers and a selection of donuts from Doughnut Vault. Go for their show-stealing Military Latte, which features a rich combination of matcha, espresso, cocoa powder and white chocolate topped with intricate latte art. Know the address before you go – the front door is artfully hidden by graffiti.



Sweet Spots & Eats

Celebrating delectable desserts at the restaurant or on their own.



1639 S Wabash Ave


One of the most celebrated pastry chefs in the city, Mari Katsumara is known for both the unexpected flavors and beauty of her innovative creations. The daughter of legendary chef Yoshi Katsumara will start the journey with pre-desserts like Grapefruit, which combines the tart fruit with candied kumquat, marshmallow and fennel; transcending to Avocado, featuring an avocado shell sprinkled with Kyoto coffee and housing flavors of vanilla and basil; culminating into Japanese Cheesecake, made with Anjou pear sherbet, buckwheat graham, almond crunch and honey. Buckle up for the ride!



4610 N Western Ave


The original founders of Bang Bang Pie sold their interest to open this new bakery in Lincoln Square, where they mill their own flour for bread, pastry, pie, and to sell by the pound. Baked goods are available until they’re sold out, along with a limited all-day breakfast menu, including house-cut grain bowls with veggies, meat-filled hand pies, and corned beef with grits.



2051 N California Ave


This former food truck has turned brick and mortar in the heart of Logan Square. Enjoy a seasonal slice of pie or big fluffy biscuits with house made jam and butters, and wash it all down with small-batch roasted coffee. This quaint neighborhood shop has a rotating menu due to the season or the strike of inspiration. Savory biscuit sandwiches are featured on the weekend. Hurry, because they go quickly.



1729 N Halsted St


Boasting many accolades, including six consecutive Michelin stars, Boka’s desserts from pastry chef Meg Galus combine familiar sweets with unusual savories and sours, producing flavors like no others. Mango & Citrus with coconut, earl grey and angel food; Malted Crème Fraîche Ice Cream with pistachio, gianduja and dark chocolate; and Chocolate Stout with butterscotch, black cocoa and rye come alive even more when paired with one of the many dessert wines and rare teas available. This is a meal topper that shouldn’t be missed.



2152 N Damen Ave


Taking sweet comfort food to a whole new level, chef Celeste Zeccola’s dessert creations span from the delectable Basque cake with citron jams, candied almonds and crème fraîche ice cream to the appealing nutter butters peanut butter cookies married with chocolate and caramel crèmeux. Pair this with an inventive after dinner cocktail, one of the many coffee creations available or The Bristol’s thoughtful tea offerings to make these treats even more memorable.



1220 W Webster Ave


No longer the best kept secret in town, Floriole offers breads, breakfast pastries, breakfast and lunch sandwiches, salads, tarts, teacakes, and cookies. Bakers use organic ingredients from local farmers whenever possible, courtesy of the bakery’s roots in the famous Green City Market. Depending on availability of seasonal ingredients and creative whim of the bakers, menu items change frequently. Don’t miss the Kouign-amann, the flakiest, most decadent cinnamon pastry on the planet, or their dreamy quiche – tall, indulgent, and baked into a perfect custard.



259 E Erie Street, 18th Floor


Making a big splash with just four desserts, pastry chef Ji Hyun Yoon’s creative combinations offer widespread appeal. Choices range from the fruity Mango-Calamansi Curd with Matcha Milk Jam, pistachio and St. Germain Sorbet along with the Rhubarb Crip with cinnamon oat crumble and Tahitian vanilla ice cream to the sweet/savory combo of the Root Beer Panna Cotta with gingersnap, apple, and parsnip ice cream. Chocoholics will appreciate the dark chocolate mousse topped with coffee cream, banana caramel and rum raisin ice cream.



1747 N Damen Ave


Local and seasonal comfort food cafe from Mindy Segal, celebrated for her pastry-chef beginnings at MK, Marché, Charlie Trotter’s, and Spago. Famous for its sweets including nine varieties of hot chocolate, each topped with house-made marshmallows, Chef Segal also offers up composed savory dishes, like grilled octopus with bone marrow vinaigrette and a bacon pork chop topped with rhubarb chermoula. Concluding with dessert is a must, from fruit pies, to ice cream, and delightful milk & cookies.



1015 North Rush St


Modern Mediterranean hot spot, Nico Osteria, has consistently garnered accolades due to pastry chef Leigh Omilinsky’s deft hand at dessert. Taking the time-honored Italian tradition of not-so-sweet desserts to the next level, Omilinsky creates sophisticated flavor combinations like Meyer lemon panna cotta with grapefruit agrodolce, Campari granita and basil, as well as sourdough bombolini with butter braised pineapple and black pepper graham cracker gelato. Her ever-changing pastry basket at breakfast is also getting raves.



123 N Jefferson St


Pastry chef Cindy Shuman’s sweet treats, while absolutely indulgent, provide unique twists and turns along the way. Some of the simply scrumptious offerings are the pear ginger rum tart with ginger snaps, crème fraîche ice cream and maple pear coulis along with the chocolate shortbread with chocolate custard, marshmallow, salted caramel and peanut. For those with a more adventurous sweet tooth, check out the olive oil cake with blood orange ice cream, a semolina crisp and rosemary or the flavorful cinnamon raspberry semi-freddo with chocolate and pistachio sable.



1000 W Fulton Market


With four Jean Banchet nominations from her time at NoMI, pastry chef Meg Galus is the perfect partner at the helm Boka group’s dessert program. Galus’ handiwork can be seen in her mastery of gelato and playful deconstructed classics such as Boston cream pie. Top off a night of indulgence by delving through the layers of chocolate in the black bottom pudding, or make your selection from the roving cart filled with bite-sized chocolates and candies.







Conference Beat™ – SIAL Canada: Montreal, April 2016

SIAL is the global network of trade conferences that focus on innovation, insight and inspiration for companies dedicated to the food and beverage business.  There are eight major shows throughout the world that draw over 300,000 visitors from 200 countries. The Montreal exposition is the largest food innovation trade show in North America, and features exhibiting companies and educational programs for those in the gourmet retail, deli and foodservice sectors of the business.

Innovation Insight

Interest in trying new products is high with North American consumers – 78% of Canadians and 76% of Americans like to try new food and beverage products.

Read More

Consumer Insight

Healthfulness continues to be one of the hot topics of discussion, yet research shows that North American consumers choose food for flavor first – 70% of Canadians and 72% of Americans.  Only 13% of Canadians and 12% of Americans consider health first when choosing what to eat.


Trend Watch

Gastronomic Snacking – small portions of gourmet foods like specialty cheeses and meats


Noble Ingredients – added luxury to everyday comfort foods like truffle mac and cheese


Freshness & Lightness – texture and infusion of fresh flavor in popular foods like mousse textured yogurt or sorbet bites enrobed in dark chocolate


Bold & Daring Flavors – intense, hot flavors of single origin products from small producing regions, like Ghost Peppers, are nearing mainstream status.


Ancient & Modern – traditional favorites with a modern twist like ancient grains with trendy vegetables


Plant Pleasure – flexitarianism is growing as meat consumption is minimized in favor of vegetables.


Pleasure without Gluten – 21% of consumers in developed countries say they feel better not eating gluten.


Nomadic Lifestyle – busy lifestyles drive innovations that make quality meals more convenient; 64% of Canadians and 67% of Americans want products that make life easier.


Products with Benefits – 87% of Canadians and 83% of Americans are looking for products that fuel their hunger and enhance their health.


Implications for US Food Marketers

Bistronomy – bistro style, experiential menu offerings and unpretentious settings drive new restaurant concepts.

Minimalism – fewer ingredients and simpler processes for food and beverage items boost appeal.

Super-ingredients add value – super fruits, super vegetables and super seeds are in demand.

Genuine Benefits – right size portions, less waste and fewer promotions that encourage oversize spending provide real value.


Crafted with Care – homemade touches, little luxuries and classics with modern ingredients attract attention.


Exotic Flavor Exploration

Consumers are exploring new gastronomic territory by diving into micro-cuisines of small regions around the world and enjoying imaginative fusions of favorites. Look for flavors from Morocco and the Philippines to be on the rise.


Taste Talk Tweet

  • Peruvian grains and sauces
  • Artisan tonics
  • Maple syrup, honey and olive oil innovations
  • Natural bison meat as a health benefit
  • Ready to eat quinoa



Look for a new Culinary Visions Panel consumer study that compares consumer perspectives on food at home, at work and in restaurants in the US, Canada & the UK, coming June 2016.


Copyright Culinary Visions Panel ( 2016

Conference Beat™ – Fancy Food Show: San Francisco, January 2015

The 40th Winter Fancy Food Show continues to thrive with more than 19,000 attendees and 1,400 exhibitors from around the world. Buyers attending the show represented many of the nation’s leading gourmet and specialty food retailers as well as major supermarkets, mass merchandisers and foodservice industry segments including college and university, healthcare, airlines and restaurants.


The largest food categories represented at the show were cheese, meat/poultry/seafood and chips/pretzels/snacks. The fastest growing exhibitor categories are nut/seed butters, eggs and frozen desserts according to the Specialty Food Association.


Gourmet Retail Market Dynamics:

  • Conscious capitalism characterized many of the exhibiting companies that were proud to showcase their efforts to make a positive difference for those involved in bringing their products to market.
  • Incubators and accelerators are helping entrepreneurs move out of their kitchens to meet the demands of consumers’ heightened interest in small batch producers.
  • The movement toward mindful dining has consumers rethinking indulgence with a healthy perspective.
Read More


Specialty food industry highlights

Specialty food sales in the U.S. have reached $88.3 billion, up 47% since 2008. Retail represents $70.2 billion and foodservice $18.1 billion.


Specialty food industry highlights:

  • 50% of adults have purchased specialty food in the past 6 months
  • The top 5 categories of specialty food purchased are: chocolate, olive/specialty oil, cheese, coffee and salty snacks
  • The most likely purchasers of specialty food are women, younger adults, affluent households and Hispanics
  • Consumers aged 25-34 are the most likely to shop for specialty foods at food trucks
  • Younger affluent adults (18-34 years old with income between $75K and $99K) frequent the widest range of food retailers. Older shoppers are more likely to shop at supermarkets
  • 84% of specialty food shoppers say better quality foods are worth paying more for
  • 52% purchase foods that support charities, up from 46% last year
  • 63% watch food or cooking shows on television or the internet


Low Tech versus High Tech

Although this trade show has long been called Fancy Food, the focus has evolved to simpler foods, cleaner ingredient statements and products less processed.


On the digital frontier, 3-D printers are giving food makers new opportunities to reinvent food. It is no longer science fiction; real life examples include hand sculpted chocolates, customized wedding cake decorations and dinosaur shaped quiches.


Old School New Age Packaging

Packaging has to be captivating for gourmet foods and producers go to great length to entice consumers with seductive packaging. Packaging offered something for everyone including old school mason jars, new-age squeeze pouches, super bright colors and earth tones.


Mason jars are popular for products positioned as handmade home recipes, some even featuring labels that appear to be handwritten. In Chicago, there are kiosks called Farmer’s Fridge that dispense fresh produce based meals and snacks in mason jar type containers.


Hand size squeeze pouches were popular for kid-friendly snacks and beverages as well as kitchen sauces.

What’s Next

Confections – the hunt for the next cupcake has been on for several years and the macaron seems to be moving in with its more complex preparation that is not easily replicated at home.


Condiments – mustard, barbecue and a wide range of specialty sauces all have a following. One new line of sauces even claimed to have the first probiotic condiments. Ketchup took center stage with lots of artisan makers featuring flavored ketchup and more tomatoes in every bottle. One producer claimed over four pounds of tomatoes in each bottle, lower sugar and gluten free.


Butters and Spreads – we have been waiting for competition to Nutella® as the consumer’s favorite premium spread and this year we saw premium nut and seed butters take off. Indulgent cookie butters made with all natural and organic ingredients were drawing crowds. There is even coconut butter for those following the Paleo diet.


Crunchy Snacks – think thin with cookie brittle, brownie thins, ciabatta thins and pasta chips. It is a large and growing category with almost endless flavor and texture innovation.


Super Seeds – Chia seeds continue to be popular. A new portion packed yogurt featured chia seeds already mixed in. One producer of flavored pumpkin seeds went so far as to name their brand Super Seedz.


Chocolate – single origin, fair trade and avante-garde flavors have kept the excitement in this category going. What’s new? A stone ground chocolate that is a love-it or hate-it product that often challenges the palates of chocolate aficionados. Craft chocolatiers are using ancient Aztec and Mayan techniques to create a dairy free, low fat product with a gritty consistency and earthier flavor than European-style chocolate.


Veggie of the Moment – Beets are red hot and are seen in ice cream, veggie kefir, ravioli stuffing mixed with goat cheese, savory tea and kimchi. Beet pearls come packaged like caviar to provide little flavor bombs for beverages, salads and desserts. For young foodies, squeezable kid friendly beverages contained juice blends and yogurt blends with beets.


Gourmet Beef Jerky – a c-store staple has taken on new allure made from a wider range of meats and with gourmet flavors. One example is Jim Beam bourbon small batch beef steak strips. It was noted that the ancient method of meat preservation and the modern name jerky came from a word used by the Quechua people of Peru – ch’arki.


The Local Food Scene

The Union Larder is curated rather than stocked with a limited number of items to appeal to well heeled sustainably minded foodies with little cooking knowledge or time. It is a combination grocery, restaurant and wine bar with a big focus on fine meat and cheese.


The Hall, in the gritty mid-Market neighborhood, is a permanent pop up with a collection of artisan vendors in a space that was slated to be torn down. What was scheduled to be a temporary project to harness the power of food to build a community has become a runaway success.


Reclaiming space for a marketplace can also be found outside of the city. The Barlow in Sonoma County which is a 12+ acre industrial park is now a restaurant, retail and arts destination that showcases local businesses.

Global Flavors

The size of international delegations at this show gives a glimpse into global flavors ready for American kitchens. Peru and Ecuador were the largest among South American countries. Japan had been absent for several years, but came back strong this year with one of the largest exhibits they have ever had. The Philippines had a large presence with live cooking, proving once again that anything that can be wrapped in a hand held format or served in a bowl is destined for success.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter devotees continue to be captivated by tea at this show, with unique varieties of brewed matcha, kombucha, and tea crafted for cocktails coming down the pipeline, as well as new 5-lb box packaging for flavored black teas.


Vegetables were infused into more products than ever before, with tweeters mentioning veggie chips made from Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and an arugula and cabbage combination. Plant-based waters in flavors like artichoke, and yogurt in savory flavors such as beet, butternut squash and tomato further fueled the healthy veggie trend.


“Cold” seems to connote a more natural production process, with examples like carbonated cold brew coffee soda, cold-brew coffee concentrate pods for “brew-it-yourself” convenience, and organic cold-pressed vegetable juices with chia seeds new on the market.


Spicy flavors popped up in multiple products from Buffalo Wing Monterey Jack cheese, to Sriracha potato chips and Sriracha-tomato ketchup.


If you want to follow our observations in real time go to The next conference we will cover is NAFEM North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers, February 19-21, 2015.



Implications for Food Marketers

  • Small Batch Production. Consumer interest in knowing where their food is made and who made it is driving interest in small batch specialty foods that are unique, but not necessarily local. Food accelerators like L.A. Prep are helping entrepreneurs build up to meet the demand.
  • Less Is More. Products and brands touting less sugar, non-GMO, no pesticides and generally less processed are in demand by consumers.
  • Brand Storytelling. In specialty food, the brand story supports the value of the products whether it is multiple generations of family or a celebrity chef who enjoys meeting customers and fans in the booth at the show.
  • Ancient Replaces Artisan. Many companies in the specialty food business dropped the word artisan from their vocabulary as the word became ubiquitous and failed to differentiate. Now, ancient is all the rage from ancient grains to ancient methods of production.



Conference Beat™ – Private Label Manufacturers Association Store Brands Reality Trade Show, Chicago November 2014

It was another record breaking year for the Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) show. 2014 was the largest in the association’s 34 year history; over 4,250 visitors and 1,335 exhibitors.


The global presence of private brands was very much in evidence at this show. The Idea Supermarket® showcased products across North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America.


Private label brand growth continues to outpace national brands. According to The Nielsen Company, private label unit share in supermarkets has reached 23.4% and dollar share is now at 19.4%.   Total store brand sales reached $112 billion last year.


Although this show is largely about retail products, there has been a growing representation of companies who package foodservice products and work with chefs and restaurant brands interested in building a retail presence.


Private Label Market Dynamics:

  • Successful companies in the private label business are moving from a quick follower strategy to a greater focus on innovation
  • Understanding shopper needs is at the core for successful brands
  • New product focus is evolving to greater specialization to capture niche markets
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Eating Well – Protein Packed and Fibered Up

Healthfulness was on trend with some of the most popular ingredients in demand by consumers today. Protein power added with hip new ingredients receive more attention than traditional protein packed foods. The inclusion of beans and other legumes is adding the one-two punch of healthfulness with fiber and protein.


Chia seeds are the trendiest of ingredients incorporated in everything from muffins to smoothies. Ancient grains and ingredients that increase fiber were seen in many everyday staples like soups and pancake mixes. Quinoa has achieved mainstream status. Even though there are many people who cannot pronounce it; it is in demand.


Gluten Free

Gluten free offerings were seen across every conceivable category. There is no greater testament to the popularity of gluten free as a mainstream preference than to see products sporting gluten free claims in almost every aisle of a show dedicated to private label.


 Flair, Style and Originality

In a keynote presentation by Martha Stewart, she talked about the importance of flair, style and originality in successful brands. Private brand products and packaging seen in the Idea Supermarket were clear evidence of this, and looked more high-end food boutique than supermarket. Rather than undifferentiated pantry staples, these products featured fresh contemporary design, authentic ethnic cues and photography that looked delicious and irresistible.


Barely There Packaging

Minimal packaging was featured for foodservice products in particular. Packaging featured just enough to maintain product integrity and make storage hassle free and nothing more. Second life products from recycled materials are also winning a larger audience.


From Value Add to Value Capture

Recently the conversation has been about adding relevant consumer value rather than manufacturing driven value that may build revenue or margins but does not connect with the customer. Yet the latest conversation is about innovative ways to capture value and build sales by redefining target markets and go to market strategies.


Celebrity Chef Brands

Celebrity chefs known for championing causes that are important to consumers are finding an audience among consumers. Chef Jamie Oliver is featured on a line of prepared foods in Canada. According the a new study by the Culinary Visions® Panel chefs using their celebrity status to do good can also have a significant impact when they support causes. 53% of consumers surveyed said they follow local chefs/restaurateurs that do good for the community.


Taste Talk Tweet

Tweeters commented on packaged spice blends for roasting vegetables, water flavor enhancers in new, smaller package sizes as small as lip balm, nutritionally balanced and better-for-you frozen kids’ meals, and how store brands are beginning to capitalize on opportunities in the fresh perimeter of the store. Others noticed the Keurig brewing cups in new flavors like root beer float, chicken noodle soup, and instant rice side dish, as well as a spreadable yogurt marketed as a topping for waffles, pancakes and bagels.


If you want to follow our observations in real time go to The next conference we will cover is the Winter Fancy Food Show, January 11-13, 2015.


Implications for Food Marketers

  • Brand Blueprinting. Brands built on needs and wants are driving successful private brands.
  • Consumer Connection. Brands that create a personal connection with consumers are making questions about lowest price less relevant.
  • The Brand Buzz. Although social media is always in the conversation, leading voice industry believe that buzz starts on television because of its reach and credibility with consumers.
  • Brand Architecture. With the proliferation of brands within brands, attention to brand architecture is vital to assuring that brands remain relevant, fresh and unique to consumers.

Conference Beat™ – Les Dames d’Escoffier International Conference Boston, November 2014

Members of Les Dames d’Escoffier International gathered in Boston for their international conference. This is a diverse group of culinary professionals in the food, fine wine and hospitality industry. It was a week of tasting, exploring and debating the hot topics and latest trends. There are always lively discussions and rarely unanimity on any issue when this group convenes.


Hot Topics Among Culinary Thought Leaders:

  • Old Fashioned is in vogue including heritage recipes, heirloom produce, ancient grains and vintage methods.
  • Sustainability is the imperative for farmers and fishermen.
  • Accessibility of high quality food as a basic human right.
  • Storytelling about flavor memories and food experiences with life changing impact.
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Culinary Stamps

Seemingly fun and frivolous, the conference opened with a city wide event in Boston to celebrate the introduction of a new series of postage stamps featuring gastronomic heroes including: Julia Child, Joyce Chen, James Beard, Edna Lewis and Felipe Rojas-Lombardi. The event sparked many conversations about culinary heroes and heroines and how food impacts culture.


Boston Tea Party

A tea tasting session enlightened everyone about culinary tea and tea cocktails. In early New England, punch was made with a base of tea and brandy with a balance of sour, sweet and spicy. Citrus was cherished by the wealthy for their tea punch while others enjoy more affordable vinegar as an ingredient. The tea sommelier from L’espalier restaurant in Boston shared stories about the long tradition of tea and how it has continued to evolve. Today, a green tea gimlet is the best selling cocktail at L’espalier.


Authors, Advocates and Renegades

Many of the best selling cookbook and culinary literature authors were on hand to discuss and sign their books. Among this group are some of the most vocal advocates for causes like child nutrition and food democracy. Noticeably absent from the conversation on school lunch were some of the most successful foodservice directors in the U.S. who are reshaping the way children think about food and a healthful lifestyle.

Traditions Re-Invented

On Halloween night the Dames of Boston treated everyone to a Harvest celebration and the traditional New England clam bake became a haute happening. The food, fine wine and hospitality proved that there was no fear on indulgence this Halloween.


As a modern day feast, there were accommodations made for vegetarian and gluten intolerant participants.


Taste Talk Tweet

Dames tweeted about tea sommeliers who curate historic and modern tea cocktails, not buying wine just because you like the label, and about millennials revitalizing food history.

Ancient and whole grains were also a source of inspiration – tweeters implored support for local grain farmers, who have often been left out of the farm to table movement, and also to soak whole grains before cooking, to achieve more appealing texture.

If you want to follow our observations on the latest global innovations in signature brands from the Private Label Trade Show (PLMA), November 16-18, in real time follow us at



Implications for Food Marketers

  • Sustainability Drives Sales. Desire for local, seasonal food is always a first choice, but boredom sets in when consumers are deprived of their favorite foods that are not local or in season. Verifiable sustainability has become a sign of quality.
  • Culinary Connections. Consumers crave connection and social media is enabling great transparency in the path of food from farm to table.
  • Common Principles. Consumers want to buy food from restaurants that share their values about food, the people involved in creating their meal and the planet.
  • Accessible Value. Consumers are interested in food experiences at all price points and in many different venues.



Conference Beat™ – National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Annual Conference & Show – Las Vegas October 2014

A glimpse of the attendees wearing everything from suits to blue jeans at this major national conference is immediate evidence of the diversity of offerings found in today’s convenience stores.


The U.S. convenience store industry has over 151,000 stores and accounts for nearly $700 billion in sales. More and more time-starved consumers are turning to convenience retail operations for on-the-go meals and snacks. The industry continues to evolve fron gas stations that happen to sell food to food retailers that happen to sell gas

  • While convenience stores have offered fresh, prepared foods for years, it is only over
    the last decade that the trend has accelerated. Food prepared on-site accounts for more than 62% of total foodservice sales.
  • The trend toward quality fresh food programs and trusted brands continues to grow.
  • Foodservice can deliver new customers inside the store, and at a higher profit level
    than gas.

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Fresh Foodservice is Hot
Even in c-stores where quick service is critical to success, consumers are craving a fresh experience that they can customize to their taste. Competition with quick service and fast casual restaurants is causing leading c-stores to continuously review and improve their foodservice offerings. Look for greater variety in condiments and toppings for sandwich items and fresh produce packages to-go. Examples from the show floor include specialty mustards, wasabi and sriracha sauces.


Anywhere Anytime Snacks
Snacking has become a way of life with American consumers and c-stores are top of mind destinations for snacking. A recent survey by the Culinary Visions® Panel shows convenience stores as the top choice for snacking among millennial consumers followed by quick service restaurants.


Big Dippers
Dipping has become a favorite for adults and kids alike with many products deconstructing a handheld product or creating a new package that is self-contained for dipping convenience. Examples include Oreo® churros with a separate container of vanilla dipping sauce and Nutella® packaged with breadsticks for dipping. Vegetables with ranch dip and apple slices
with caramel dipping sauce have become standard fare.
Haute Convenience
From gourmet flavors to heritage ingredients, many of the items seen on the show floor were similar to those seen at gourmet and fancy food shows. Beef jerky, for example, now comes in gourmet flavors like chili lime and jerky may be made from game meats and salmon.
Health and Indulgence on the Run
C-store customers can have it all with everything from chia seed bites to cake balls on the run. The scales were balanced with a wide range of offerings at both ends of the spectrum. Classic comfort foods converted for handheld convenience were a big draw, including sausage and gravy stuffed biscuits and mac and cheese bites.
Making a Splash with Kids
Kid-friendly flavor shots for milk are adding a cool factor with colorful graphics that would appeal even to grown-ups. Flavored waters provide a more healthful alternative to other beverages choices.
Baby Bites and Bold Flavors
Small is big in c-stores with tempting bite size portions of classic dessert items like pumpkin pie and cheesecake. Stuffed hash brown potatoes turn a delicious but messy side dish into a handheld pop of flavor.
Body Fuel
Restaurant trends are making their way into c-stores as well. High protein Greek yogurt is coming on strong as a breakfast and snack item. Organic milk protein shakes tout a healthful recovery to maintain peak performance. Oatmeal cups with gourmet flavors are positioned as a healthful, high fiber alternative to doughnuts. There is no end to the appeal of energy shots for a quick boost, yet new shots claim enhanced focus or even calming effects.
Taste Talk Tweet
The talk on Twitter centered on new flavors and line extensions for snacks, such as crispy M&M®’s in 180-calorie packs, PB&J flavored Jones soda, and juice-infused waters with health halo claims like “purify” and “cleanse.” Energy drink companies also touted their product innovations, like new fruit juice and punch flavors, new packaging and reformulations for zero-calorie and no sugar products. If you want to follow our observations in real time go to The next conference we will cover is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference, October 18-21, 2014.


Implications for the Manufacturer

  • Line Extensions Energize Brands. Successful new products in the c-store market are often line extensions rather than innovations from a blank slate. Line extensions that offer new flavor profiles can build a mature category and infuse it with new energy.
  • Merchandise Fresh. Fresh has become the most powerful way of communicating quality to consumers.
  • Laser Sharp Customer Focus. C-store customers are unique to each community, and there is no one-size-fits-all loyalty program. The best loyalty programs are invisible to the market at large, but direct and highly relevant to customers they target.
  • Hyper-Choice Can Inhibit Trial. Although consumers crave new products, offering too many at one time detracts from quick decision making and encourages customers to choose tried and true favorites.