Datassential Experts Map Innovation to Culinary Trends

Julie Gallagher | 25 Sep 2020

“Even if you don’t sell into foodservice, so many culinary trends begin in restaurants and foodservice before they spread to specialty retail and many things get their start in the inception stage of the menu adoption cycle,” explained Mark Brandau group manager of Datassential, Thursday, during the session Mapping Your Innovation to Culinary Trends, part of Specialty Food Live!

Datassential tracks trends from inception through to adoption, proliferation, and ubiquity, explained Carly Levin, account manager and plant-based expert at Datassential.

“Think about kale 10 years ago,” she said. “Pizza Hut was the largest purchaser as they used it for decoration for their salad bars but today you can find it just about anywhere. McDonald’s has a burger with kale. But back when it was in inception you’d find kale mostly at fine dining restaurants and a specialty retailer or farmers’ markets. These are really early stage trends that consumers may be a little scared of.”

Next comes the adoption stage. “Once it hits adoption this is when your obnoxious foodie friend says ‘oh my gosh, you have to try this!’” Such foods can be found at gastropubs, fast casual operators like Panera Bread, and retailers such as Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.

“When a trend hits proliferation, and this is where kale is right now, you’ll start to find it in chains since it’s been adapted for mass consumption,” said Levin. “You can probably walk to your local retailer and purchase it. But the difference between proliferation and ubiquity, the last stage, is that in proliferation you can’t expect to pull a random stranger off the street who knows what it is, but in ubiquity you can.” Such foods can be found at family restaurants, K-12 foodservice, drug stores, and dollar stores.

Inception – Sober Curious

An example of a macro trend in the inception stage in sober curious which includes low alcohol by volume drinks and spirit-free beverages, said Levin.

“This was definitely booming just before the pandemic but then we were stuck at home with nothing to do but drink. So even though there was a slight dip with this one, it’s creeping back up, since we’re looking for more ways to wind down, without the adverse health effects,” she said.

About one in four consumers is interested in dry nights and events, while only one in five would consider committing to an entire dry month, according to Levin.

Products in the space include Seedlip, a distilled, non-alcoholic spirit; Kin, a beverage made with nootropics and adaptogens; and Curious Elixirs, alcohol-free craft cocktails.

“Mocktails have grown on beverage menus by almost 400 percent in the past four years,” said Levin.

Adoption – Functional Foods         

Found in trendy restaurants and specialty grocers, functional foods are in the adoption phase. “We’re all about ‘what specific benefits can I get from specific foods in my diet,’” said Brandau. “It’s about what do I start to include rather than restrict.”

Among the functional foods that are growing on menus are turmeric, up 119 percent over four years, due to its anti-aging and other health benefits. Apple cider vinegar’s appearance on menus has also more than doubled, and is up 114 percent, according to Brandau. Elderberry, which is rich in antioxidants and supports immunity, has grown 56 percent. The root vegetable maca has grown 31 percent on menus and is also showing up in products such as Lyfe Kitchen’s Adaptogenic Latte which contains ground maca root, cinnamon, and collagen extract.

Proliferation – Alternatives

Alternatives such as cauliflower rice, up 925 percent on menus over the last four years, vegetable noodles (115 percent), and quinoa (53 percent), have reached the proliferation stage. “As a vegetarian, it’s nice to feel like I’m eating like a normal person for once in my life,” said Levin. She cited as examples Noodles & Co.’s Cauliflower Rigatoni in Light Onion Cream Sauce, Lean Cuisine’s Roasted Garlic White Bean Alfredo, and even Chuck E. Cheese’s Super Cauli Crust Pizza. Levin is also seeing restaurants swapping out toast on their menus for a slice of sweet potato.

Ubiquity – Build Your Own

“Most restaurants offer a chance to customize and this trend was pushed by the growing need for specialty diets and it’s grown by 20 percent on menus,” said Levin. Restaurants offering such customization are doing so with classic staples such as pasta, bowls, sandwiches, and pizza.

“This is really nice from an operator perspective because you don’t have to plan a gluten-free, keto, paleo-based option, you can use ingredients from back of house that the consumer can select to fit into their particular lifestyle,” said Levin.

The trend has become so pervasive that even when you’re ordering online from Wendy’s you can customize your bun, veggies, cheese, and even meat, she said.

Related: Consumers Treat Food as Medicine During Pandemic; Kroger Drives Plant-Based Meat Sales.