Originally printed in the January 2024 issue of Produce Business.
Each year, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) partners with the American Culinary Federation (ACF) to survey ACF members on what they believe will influence the food and culinary world in the coming year. This is how I believe produce can fit into the top 10 trends identified in the NRA What’s Hot 2024 Culinary Forecast.
World Stage Soups and Stews, the No. 1 trend, creates endless opportunities to feature produce in supporting and starring roles. While many of the soups and stews listed in the report feature animal or marine protein, vegetables, aromatics and herbs contribute to textural contrast, depth of flavor, bright acidity, or beautiful colors when included in a comforting bowl of soup or stew. Included in this category is ramen, which has been growing in popularity for many years. Interest in gluten-free dining creates opportunities for vegetable-based noodles. Will spiralizers return to professional kitchens? We’ll see.
Root Vegetables are listed as a top ingredient in professional kitchens. Expect to see more potatoes, onions, radishes, carrots, parsnips, beets, and other root vegetables being prepared and presented in ways that entice the diner to crave bite after bite. Techniques like smoking, roasting or pickling create enticing aromas, flavors and textures. After roasting a root vegetable, many chefs will add herb- or chile-based sauces to root vegetables to add bright acidity or alluring heat.
International Barbecue is the No. 3 trend in the Top 10 list. While most people think first of the protein in a barbecue meal, the sides are an important part of the meal. Fruits and vegetables can both be stars of the show when prepared thoughtfully so their flavor profiles marry well with the flavors applied to the meat. Produce can also become part of the sauces used in many types of barbecue. Chefs who take pride in house-made sauces may be clamoring for more chiles, tomatoes, garlic, mango, and other produce items for sauce production.
Nashville Hot is predicted to be the top flavor in 2024, moving beyond chicken to many other categories. The obvious for produce is Nashville Hot Cauliflower, but this flavor profile also works well with sweet roasted root vegetables. Is anyone else interested in ordering a side of Nashville Hot Baby Potatoes with a side of cooling house-made ranch?
Chile Crisp is noted as the top condiment. Chef RJ Harvey, culinary director for Potatoes USA, is already showcasing on his Instagram account how this oil-based condiment can be used to add heat to various potato preparations. I can see roasted whole carrots drizzled with chile crisp being served as a vegan entrée at high-end restaurants.
Stuffed Vegetables took the No. 7 spot on the Top 10 list and included a nod to classics like Stuffed Cabbage Rolls and Stuffed Bell Peppers, as well as Chiles en Nogada, stuffed poblano peppers topped with a creamy walnut sauce and garnished with pomegranate arils. Chiles en Nogada is traditionally served at Christmas in Mexico, but many Mexican restaurants have been offering this year-round due to its popularity. The most recent version I tried at a restaurant in Northern California featured a pepper filled with sauteed zucchini, onions, tomatoes, and raisins in lieu of cheese, chicken, or other traditional animal-based fillings. What else could we see under this category in 2024? I expect to see more vegetables being stuffed with elote corn, which has been exploding in retail for the past two years.
Produce companies with active TikTok accounts must pay close attention to trends that include their ingredients.
The report includes one mega trend ACF members believe will drive significant menu development in 2024, and that’s the influence of social media, especially TikTok. When a recipe goes viral on TikTok, chefs take notice, but likewise, when a restaurant menu item goes viral, diners take notice. Produce companies with active TikTok accounts must pay close attention to trends that include their ingredients to stay relevant.
Another trend that provides opportunities for small and midsize produce companies is the No. 8 item on the list: Regional Menus. This trend creates opportunities to showcase local growers and produce items unique to a specific climate or growing region. This farmer’s daughter from North Dakota would love to see menus in the Red River Valley calling out the name of the farm growing those beautiful red potatoes on a menu the next time she visits Fargo, perhaps paired with bison from a local ranch and a rhubarb dessert to finish off the meal. Just don’t offer me North Dakota wine. I’ll pass on the chokecherry wine.
The No. 9 trend is somewhat concerning for me. Streamlined Menus hit the restaurant industry hard in 2020, and produce was often the first category of ingredients stripped down. As the restaurant industry continues to struggle with labor challenges, the produce industry must be prepared to make fruits and vegetables manageable and profitable for restaurants. Value-added processing is important, and so is creating relevance to trends that will drive interest, traffic and check averages.
Share this article with your sales team, distributors, and customers to ensure produce on the menu is a strong, powerful trend in 2024 and beyond.
Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND is a farmer’s daughter from North Dakota, award-winning dietitian, culinary nutrition expert, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, Inc. You can learn more about her business at www.farmersdaughterconsulting.com and follow her insights on food and flavor on social media @alaheartamy.