2017 Culinary Forecast: Local Foods Drop in Popularity

Restaurant Menu Trends for 2017

2017 What's Hot Culinary Forecast
Global flavors are hot trend for 2017. Pexles via Pixabay

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) released its annual What's Hot Culinary Forecast for 2017, outlining its predictions for popular menu trends at restaurants in the coming year. After several years of coming in the top three spots of the survey, local and sustainable foods were related less popular trends for 2017. Replacing them in the top three spots are new cuts of meat, street food-inspired dishes and healthy kids meals.

Other food themes that emerged in the report include globally influenced menu items, house made ingredients, and ethnic cuisine. In addition to the top 20 food trends for 2017, the NRA also outlines menu trends that are heating up as well as those that are cooling down. The report also highlights menu items and trends that are consistently rated Perennial Favorites by the the nearly 1300 chefs polled in October, 2016.

Top Food Trends for 2017

A quick glance at the Top 20 Food Trends of 2017 Culinary Forecast shows the diversity of the American dining experience. It’s a mix of exotic and local, rating heirloom fruits and vegetables alongside African flavors and Ethnic spices.  While not every menu trend is right for every restaurant concept, the annual Culinary forecast is a great tool creating a unique menu that reflects your personal brand. The Culinary Forecast also offers insight into consumer preferences, which is always important to understand, especially if you are considering opening your own restaurant in the next year.

 

10 of the most popular food trends for 2017 include:

  1. New cuts of meat
  2. Street food-inspired dishes
  3. Healthful kids’ meals
  4. House-made charcuterie
  5. Sustainable seafood
  6. Ethnic-inspired breakfast items
  7. House-made condiments
  8. Authentic ethnic cuisine
  9. Heirloom fruits and vegetables
  10. African flavors

Is This the End of the Local Foods Moment?

Locally sourced meats and seafood fell from the top food trend of 2015 and 2016 to number five on the NRA’s list of Hot Concept trends.

While many people like to know where their food comes from — a trend that is especially strong among millennial customers — it doesn’t necessarily have to be from a local source. One reason that local foods aren’t might not be seen as a “hot trend” is because in some areas Farm to Table has become an expectation for many restaurants. For 2017, locally sourced meats were outranked by other feel-good food trends including house-made charcuterie, free-range pork/poultry and heritage-breed meats. Locally sourced produce also saw a slip in ranking this year, falling from third place to fifth.

It’s interesting to note that despite the decline of local meats and produce, Hyper-local sourcing (e.g. restaurant gardens, onsite brewing, house-made foods) was the top concept trend, indicating that consumers still value the local experience — even if it isn’t from a local farm, per se. House-made ice cream, pickles, sausage, condiments and charcuterie were all listed in the top 20 food trends for 2017.  Despite its fall in popularity, there are still many benefits for  restaurants to buy local food including better quality ingredients and keeping money in the local economy. 

Fast Casual Concept Continues to Dominate

Fast casual continues as one of the most popular and successful restaurant concepts into 2017.

Gaining popularity following the 2008 Recession, fast casual brands like Chipotle and Panera Bread have a strong following among Millennial diners. Unlike assembly line fast food, fast causal menus feature fresh, high quality ingredients. Fast causal menus have also helped increase the popularity of the food truck movement, offering gourmet burgers, pizza, sandwiches and desserts.

Are Food Trucks Over?

Along with hot trends, the NRA lists those rends that are expected to “cool down” in 2017. Most notably on this list is Food Trucks — a food trend that has soared in popularity over the past five years. Food Trucks may have started out as a cheap alternative to a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but they have become one of the strongest business models in the food and beverage industry. Still, the love affair with the food truck scene may begin to wane in 2017.

Other trends that are losing popularity include quinoa, black/forbidden rice, vegetarian cuisine, tapas, and inexpensive cuts of meats.   

The NRA also rates trends that have moved beyond the cooling period to plain outdated. “Yesterday’s News” for 2017 include: insects (for the second year in a row, I must note), molecular gastronomy (this is a pretentious way to say scientific methods and tools are used to prepare food), offal, bitter melon, and algae. None of those should be very surprising. 

Healthy Kids Meals Matter 

One important trend that continues to rise year after year are Healthy Kids Meals, which comes in at number three on the 2017 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast. With the rising obesity epidemic and the vilification of restaurant menus as major culprits, more and more restaurants are making a greater effort to incorporate healthier choices on their children’s menu, moving beyond hot dogs and French fries to more fruits and vegetables.   

2017 Global Menu Trends

With less emphasis on local foods there is a correlating rise in global menu trends, echoing the 2014 Culinary Forecast. Some of the top global food trends for 2017 include African flavors like harissa, peanuts and yams, specific ethnic spices like curry, peri peri, and shichimi, Asian-flavored syrups and other ethnic breakfast items and ancient grains like kamut, amaranth and lupin. 

2017 is shaping up to be an interesting year for restaurant menus. While locally sourced foods are viewed as less trendy than in previous years, they still play an important role in menu development. Health and sustainability are also going to be important considerations for new restaurant menus. Global flavors will continue to redefine American cuisine, bringing new versions of ethnic fusion to mainstream dining. For those looking to shake up their restaurant menu, the 2017 Culinary Forecast is a good tool to gauge items that have staying power over the next year and those that are doomed to food fads.