Originally printed in the January 2019 issue of Produce Business.
What’s in store for restaurants in 2019? New York City-based restaurant consultant Michael Whiteman of Baum & Whiteman International Food and Restaurant Consultants put together an informative and entertaining list of trends for the new year. Here’s a peek into his predictions.
1. THE AMAZON WAGE IMPACT
When Amazon announced it will increase its starting minimum wage to $15 an hour, restaurant managers shuddered. Finding employees for restaurants is already stressing the industry; the competition from Amazon will make things worse. Expect restaurant chains to ask for more value-added produce as they struggle to find ways to streamline operations.
2. THE RISE OF FAST-CASUAL
Fast casual restaurant chains have been the ones to watch for many years. With $10-14 check averages, they offer a faster dining experience with more premium ingredients. These chains (think Chipotle, Panera, Starbucks, and others) are now seeing competition in the form of independent fast casual chains that also feature counter service but much higher check averages of $30 or more. They’re offering the fast-paced Millennial diner the speed he or she wants with brag-worthy dining food experiences featuring ingredients such as bottarga, Porchetta, and hand-made couscous — paired with great wines.
3. AMAZING AUTOMATION
Rising wages and low unemployment rates are forcing restaurants to automate as much as possible, in some cases eliminating humans altogether. Whiteman astutely points out that the technology investment to create these types of operations means they are not yet profitable, but he expects more investment in this innovation over the coming years.
4. FOOD FROM THE STANS
Here we’re talking about food from countries formerly part of the Soviet Union, where the food cultures often use fresh produce in starring roles. Eggplant paired with noodles, fruit paired with meat, herbs used to fill dumplings, and rice combined with vegetables to create pilaf-like dishes called “plov,” are a just a few examples.
5. CBD FOR YOU AND ME
If you’re thinking of tearing out your lettuce fields and planting marijuana plants, you may be on to something. Whiteman writes extensively in his 2019 trends report about the proliferation of Cannabidiol (CBD) companies and restaurants offering CBD-oil infused foods and beverages. Who’s consuming this? Whiteman asserts Millennials, vegans, and vegetarians are exploring ways to relax. What about people seeking greater happiness? New research from the Produce for Better Health Foundation asserts people who eat the most fruits and vegetables experience the greatest sense of happiness.
6. MEAL KIT MANIA
Meal kit popularity soared when first introduced for home delivery, but apparently consumers are turning away from this model to buy kits from supermarkets and restaurants. We don’t like planning and we don’t like the pressure of putting ingredients in our fridge we may end up wasting, but impulse purchases that provide convenience such as pre-chopped produce we love. As the meal kit business model shifts, there are opportunities for produce companies to provide products that help make putting dinner on the table a bit easier.
7. SEDUCED BY SOUR
Persian food is the hero of this story, a cuisine that features several produce items that provide a sour taste to balance the flavor of a dish. Think rhubarb, sour oranges, fresh and dried limes, tamarind and pomegranate.
8. LAB GROWN MEAT
Ew. That’s all I have to say on this issue. I’d rather eat kale. Whiteman asserts if meat follows the same trajectory as dairy with competition from plant-based beverages claiming to be milk, this trend may be here for the long term.
9. CONTEMPORARY CHINESE CUISINE
Chinese has been part of the holy trinity of favorite ethnic restaurant cuisines (along with Mexican and Italian) since the 1950s. Today, we’re seeing new styles of cooking techniques such as hot pots and dry pots, as well as foods appear in Chinese restaurants. Whiteman notes the rise of bings — Chinese flat bread often served by street food vendors. Bings provide endless opportunities for produce to serve in a starring role as a topping. Bings provide two other benefits relevant to today’s demanding diner — portability and customization.
10. THE KATSU CRAZE
Pork katsu is the new fried chicken sandwich, available for topping with fresh produce and enjoying on the go. Called katsu sando for pork sandwich, this crave-worthy concept is appearing on menus from fine dining to street food vendors on the West Coast. A good sandwich always needs a sidekick, and fresh produce prepared in appealing ways can play that part.
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. She is the director of The Culinary Institute of America Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative and a consultant for the Produce for Better Health Foundation. You can learn more about her business at www.farmersdaughterconsulting.com, and you can follow her insights on food and flavor on social media @AmyMyrdalMiller