9 food trends we'll devour in 2016
Tech-driven delivery, vegetables, values and (maybe) bugs are in
Increasing interest in our food's backstory seems to have made predicting food trends something of a staple for the industry and consumers.
Some of those major trends aren't so much about the food we eat but about how we get it and how, and how much, we pay for it.
Here's a full serving of major trends for 2016 that experts, consultants, industry, chefs, nutritionists and foodies anticipate.
1. Tech-driven food delivery
A major disruption has started in food delivery, from restaurants and supermarkets. Although this trend involves familiar names, they don't make food. Google, Amazon and Uber are seeking a place at the table.
Baum and Whiteman, a leading international restaurant and food consultancy, based in New York, identifies tech-driven delivery as the current "big disrupter of food retailing and food service."
UberEats focuses on high-speed delivery from restaurants, now in Toronto, Paris and 10 U.S. cities, while Google and Amazon deliver groceries.
Sending non-fresh grocery items to U.S. and Canadian addresses is nothing new for Amazon but now they've added prepared meals in some American cities, with free, one-hour delivery.
Amazon and other companies are also starting to bypass the restaurants and supermarkets.
In the U.S., Amazon has a partnership with e-commerce firm Fresh Nation to deliver fresh produce from farmers' markets to homes. For Southern California, the lowest priced items listed on the Amazon Fresh website are a large loaf of bread or a bundle of five fresh herbs, for $8.
In November, Amazon Pantry launched in the U.K., selling 4,000 grocery and household items, with a $6 delivery charge for a large box. Flush with success, Amazon is adding thousands more products, with plans to add fresh food. Christopher North, head of Amazon UK, told The Guardian they plan to roll out Amazon Fresh internationally.
An important side dish for the tech companies will be the personal-preference information they can collect.
Other companies, like Feast in downtown Toronto, are starting commissaries that prepare hot meals exclusively for delivery to offices and homes, while some big chains, like Panera, are creating food hubs to handle delivery orders, separate from their walk-in locations.
Baum and Whiteman also expects meal kits to become popular in 2016. They contain all the ingredients to make a complete meal at home, costing about $10 per person.
2. Chefs coming to you
Conde Nast Traveler points to world-famous chef migration for limited engagements as an expanding trend. "Can't afford to travel to one of the world's best restaurants? Worry not; they're coming to you," says the magazine.
René Redzepi, from Noma in Copenhagen, will be in Sydney for 10 weeks starting in January, and Barcelona chef Albert Adrià will be cooking in London in February. Sorry, Canadians, those two cities are the ones in Australia and England.
3. More vegetable protein
The international trend toward getting more protein from vegetables and less from meat gets a big boost in 2016 from the United Nations, which has declared it the International Year of Pulses (lentils, beans, peas chickpeas, etc.).
Sylvain Charlebois, from the University of Guelph's Food Institute, says it could be the start of a new food era, and "a year of awakening" for Canada.
Counted together, pulses are Canada's fifth-largest crop, but most of what's grown gets exported. The publicity promoting pulses should increase sales in Canada.
Charlebois adds that issues like animal welfare, sustainability, and the 30 per cent increase in beef prices over two years "have compelled many consumers to rethink their relationship with animal protein in general."
Baum and Whiteman calls it a tipping point for vegetables: "They're pushing animal protein to the side of the plate, or entirely off it."
4. Ingredients revolution
Responding to consumer demand, food processors and restaurants are getting rid of artificial flavours and colours, and going natural.
Even Kraft Dinner, soon to be known as KD, won't contain artificial preservatives or synthetic colours by the end of 2016. Meanwhile, fast food chains are making major moves so their menus appear healthier.
- Kraft Dinner's KD name change bets money on nostalgia
- Kraft Dinner to remove synthetic colours from macaroni and cheese
- Fast-food diners fuel additive-free revolution
5. Values overtake value
Consumers are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from, so issues like environmental impact, animal welfare, natural versus artificial, and supply-chain transparency influence their buying decisions, making values often matter more than value to consumers, according to Charlebois.
However, he doesn't expect this will be as big a trend in Canada as it already is in Europe.
6. Food prices going up
The Food Institute in Guelph forecasts that food price increases will again exceed the general inflation rate in Canada, costing the average household an extra $345 in 2016. Much of the blame goes to the falling Canadian dollar.
- Food prices set to rise in 2016 as weak loonie takes a bigger bite
- 7 foods that will cost you more in 2016 and why
7. Tipping change
Many high-end restaurants are exploring alternatives to tipping, while their customers are increasingly curious about who actually gets their tips.
Canadian chef Amanda Cohen's Dirt Candy restaurant in New York is famous not only for its vegetable-dominant cuisine but also for its no-tipping policy, with a 20 per cent administrative charge added to the bill instead.
In Toronto, Indian Street Food Company opted for no tipping in the fall. On Vancouver Island in 2014, Smoke n' Water ended tipping but reinstated it after a few months, due to customer demand.
The issue is how to retain kitchen talent, although Baum and Whiteman says the rapid growth in the restaurant industry is based on underpaid labor.
While they note that two famous San Francisco restaurants also went tip-free, then switched back because they couldn't hang onto their servers, "the policy is trickling down, and will continue until the deluge occurs."
- Danny Meyer's 'no-tipping' restaurant policy stirs up New York dining debate
- Canadian's vegetables-only restaurant a hit in the Big Apple
- Amaya restaurateur Hemant Bhagwani takes tipping off the menu
8. Centre of the store is under siege
Grocers are increasing their space to sell us fresh food, says Charlebois, taking away space from processed and canned food that dominate the centre of their stores. He says the centre has been the home of loss leaders but it's losing its touch.
"Grocers will keep consumers on the periphery where margins are very high, and they'll actually use the periphery to situate loss leaders," he says. He notes a trend for grocers to use milk and yogurt as loss leaders.
9. Bugs vs. sausages for No. 1 trend
Food prognosticators vary in their choice for the top food trend in 2016. Over at Mashable, they're claiming that "bugs are set to go mainstream on a global scale," but that could be because bugs are so, well, mashable.
Technomic predicts that among Canadian restaurant customers, there's "interest in comfort-heavy German fare, such as artisanal sausages, beer cheese soups and soft pretzels."
Others predict 2016 will be the year of Hawaiian (especially Poke, a bowl of raw fish pieces in a marinade on a bed of seasoned rice) or Filipino cuisine.
Several trend forecasts say that "seaweed is the new kale."
Donna Dooher, president and CEO of Restaurants Canada, says "squash is going to come back with gangbusters."
The sweet-and-heat flavour combination is supposed to be big in 2016, also spiralized vegetables.
Chef Christine Couvelier of Victoria says it'll be a good year for savoury yogurts and hummus, as well as similar spreads made with black beans, edamame or lentils.
After all, 2016 is the International Year of Pulses.
(Follow this writer on Twitter: @danielcbc)
With files from The Canadian Press