What will we eat in 2010? A panel of food experts made the rounds at the NASFT Winter Fancy Food Show to find out. Showcasing thousands of edibles and imbibables, the event was prime for trend-spotting. The experts' take on the next big things included "good-for-you" foods, coconut, gluten-free, exotic citrus, and nostalgic foods. I'm with them on a few of these trends, but see more compelling evidence for others. Here are my predictions for the top specialty food trends of 2010:
1. The Big Picture Trend: Good-for-You, Good-for-the Planet, Good-for Society Foods
Given the economic doldrums and uncertain state of health care reform, it's no surprise we want to take care of ourselves. I agree we'll seek foods we feel good about, but what does "good-for-you" mean? I think "good" is the operative here, and will prove an overarching theme encompassing several trendlets. In the wake of the financial crisis and the Haiti earthquake, many have reevaluated priorities and found a renewed sense of altruism and environmental commitment. We want foods that taste good and make us feel good, both physically and philosophically.
So, gourmet and artisanal products get a healthy, functional spin - think whole grains, probiotics, and "superfoods" like pomegranate and chia. Organic, fair-trade, locally-sourced and sustainable remain important buzzwords. Savvy specialty producers will aim for transparency, with simple, wholesome ingredient lists. Until the economy turns around, we'll want maximum bang for the buck: affordable luxuries that thrill the palate, boost health, support communities and save the earth. It's a tall order, but there are overachievers out there, like Republic of Tea's Hibiscus Superflower Teas, or Metropolitan Bakery's Pomegranate Cinnamon Granola.
2. The Health Trend: Gluten-Free
The prevalence of celiac disease - a condition requiring strict adherence to a gluten-free diet - is higher than once thought, and rising. In the past, folks with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or wheat allergies had few specialty food choices. And honestly, it seemed like most producers catering to the niche were so busy eliminating gluten, they forgot about taste. But bloggers like Gluten-Free Girl and Gluten-Free Goddess made it clear that there are serious foodies in the celiac world, and producers are getting the message.
Some products replace ones traditionally made with gluten. Conte's Pasta's gluten-free pizzas and pastas get high marks. And WOW Baking Company covers dessert with great cookies, brownies, and cake mixes. What's cool is that companies making inherently gluten-free foods are embracing gluten-free certification, so there's been an explosion in foods celiacs and non-celiacs can enjoy together. The Mediterranean Snack Food Company introduced baked lentil chips (the cucumber dill flavor is intriguing). Food Should Taste Good offers all-natural flavored tortilla chips (think chocolate or sweet potato) that work as crackers or hors d'oeuvre bases. And Nielsen-Massey announced its full product line, from its lauded vanilla products to flavor extracts and flower waters, is gluten free.
3. The Grown-Up Treat Trend: Sophisticated Spiced Snacks
This trend rides on several converging factors. As the experts noted, we crave nostalgic foods in tough times, so old school snacks like popcorn and chips are in vogue. We're skipping restaurants for laid-back parties at home, but still want to impress guests with intriguing finds like rosemary & olive oil kettle chips or smoked paprika almonds. Baby boomers have cut back on big-ticket travel, but can justify small indulgences that satisfy cravings for exotic flavors (wasabi peanuts, anyone?). Plus, as our palates age, we appreciate bolder tastes, like those in spicy falafel chips. My fave is 479° Popcorn, handmade organic popcorn in flavors like ginger sesame caramel or Madras curry, coconut & cashews.
4. The New Ingredient Trend: Agave Nectar
Producers are betting on agave nectar's healthy-exotic cachet. A vegan, natural sweetener with a low glycemic index and a clean, mild flavor, agave appeals to gourmets and those avoiding high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners alike. Siggis Skyr is an agave-sweetened yogurt in sophisticated flavors like grapefruit and açaí. Fine & Raw relies on agave for its artisanal raw chocolates, while Stonehouse 27 uses it in tamarind & garlic and cilantro & coconut cooking sauces. As for drinks, Q Tonic is crafted with hand-picked Andean quinine and organic agave.
5. The Hot Flavor Pairing Trend: Salted Chocolate
There's nothing new about our affinity for chocolate. But we love it so much that the way we consume it is often trendworthy. In recent seasons, fair trade and chile-spiced were big. Now, we're taking our chocolate with a grain of salt - artisanally-harvested sea salt, that is. Last year, as pundits parsed what came out of the presidential candidate's mouths, foodie politicos noted what went in. News that the Obamas adore Fran's smoked salt chocolate caramels made the confectioner's sales boom. Now, other chocolatiers have jumped on the salty-sweet bandwagon.
Chuao's Panko Bar melds dark chocolate with panko and sea salt. Green & Black's Peanut Bar enrobes caramelized, salted peanuts in milk chocolate. John Kelly Chocolates uses Mediterranean, Hawaiian, and French sea salts on its Walnut Caramel Clusters and Truffle Fudge Bites, while Poco Dolce offers Sea Salt Toffee Squares and Burnt Caramel Tiles.
Looking Forward: Predictions for the Next Wave of Food Trends
I'm already excited for the Summer Fancy Food Show, as I'm curious to see which trends remain strong, and what's in the pipeline. Coconut may gain traction, and I think we'll see more floral flavors, like rose, lavender, and hibiscus. With honeybee populations recovering from Colony Collapse Disorder, honey products may make a comeback. And as a goat cheese lover, I'm eager for goat-milk goodies. I just picked up an award-winning goat butter, and the blogosphere is buzzing with talk of Happy Goat's amazing goat milk caramels.