Last month [January 2016] a group of 27 US food and nutrition delegates gathered at the Four Seasons Canary Wharf for the first FoodFluence, a food and nutrition thought-leadership conference organised by US public relations firm Ginger Network. Over four days, delegates heard from and interacted with European and North American leaders in culinary trends, diet and nutrition research, and communications strategies. Fruits and vegetables were an important part of the conversation. Here are Produce Business UK’s highlights
From fish and chips to fashionable fine dining: the fluctuating food scene in London
Over the past 25 years the quality of food on offer in the UK has evolved from quick meals to haute English fare, while education and awareness of multiple food, environmental and societal trends has changed consumer demand. These two factors have transformed the way that restaurants and the food industry do business in London and throughout the UK.
In his presentation on the London food scene, Paul Hannagen, owner, director and head chef at Cuisson in London, noted that: “we’ve come a long way from the signature late 1980s London favourite of duck l’orange… prepared in the microwave. Today, diners might instead enjoy, for example, duck breast cooked sous-vide with a mandarin orange purée”.
Trend-leading chef and caterer Hannagen cited the Great Recession of 2008 as the catalyst for change.
“The recession spurred culinary creativity because restaurants had to strip down in order to manage costs and deliver more value for money,” he explained. “We saw less investment in infrastructure. This is when pop-up restaurants and supper clubs got their start, with a cultural movement and the technology to support them.
"Food playgrounds such as Street Feast, described as ‘London’s Nomadic Street Food Circus’, and Shoreditch’s Boxpark carved up large spaces broken into little, more affordable units that drove an influx of collaboration, creativity, and shared food experience.”
Hannagen pointed out that social media caught on during the recession as a way to promote and talk about restaurants inexpensively.
The current London food buzz has also been amplified by a number of trendsetting, forward-thinking chefs.
Hannagen explained: “These chef instigators changed the London food scene. They took on collaborative spaces in lower cost areas such as East London and turned them into food destinations. They moved menus away from classical French cuisine, with its butters and sauces, and toward lesser-known cuisines such as Nordic. Their menus deliver innovative flavour combinations with a contemporary interpretation of classics, including more raw foods, sous-vide dishes, and vegetable-based rather than cream sauces. Also popular are old and nearly forgotten techniques such as fermentation, pickling, and curing.”
Although London boasts 50+ Michelin starred-restaurants, Hannagen observed that many contemporary chefs say the crown is slipping, with more interesting foods on offer outside of Michelin restaurants.
“The London food scene is evolving,” he suggested. “Craft food and beverage production, along with collaboration to create new products has changed how people eat and drink. As an industry, we are supporting a more humane approach to both staff and menus, with less taxing hours, more local and seasonal foods, and farm-to-fork purchases that cut out the middleman.”
New culinary experiences are on the radar for London diners; their appetite having been whetted by the current food environment.
“Today’s London diners are social media-savvy, more highly self-educated, and nearly religious in their knowledge of food,” Hannagen said. “They dine out for the experience. In this ‘experience economy’, people will pay more to take part in their culinary experience, for example, joining a small group for dinner in someone’s home, helping in the kitchen, or plating food. Diners want one-of-a-kind dining locations and unique tableside foods like frozen olives pressed into olive oil, ice creams cooled with liquid nitrogen, or granita made on dry ice.”
Dining experiences with an element of surprise and adventure, meanwhile, are being sought by a subset of London diners.
“One organiser of themed dinners texts diners with information on where to go and how to dress,” Hannagen stated. “They might be required to solve riddles or complete an obstacle course in order to arrive at the meal location.”
Hannagen warns, however, that restaurants also face the risk of going too far or becoming overly gimmicky.
Health is driving the changes on the London food scene too.
“Diners are more aware of what they’re eating, look toward more healthful diets and lifestyles, and increasingly are concerned about allergies and intolerances,” he pointed out.
In forecasting the future, Hannagen predicted growth in immersive experiences, collaboration among multiple companies, increased value for customers, dishes and menus that appear more simple that they are, craft distilleries, and experiences that are layered to make them more memorable.
Produce innovations and trends will include microgreens farms in old London Tube tunnels, more snout-to-tail vegetables such as radishes served with their greens, and an increased number of vegetable and fruit varietals.
At the same time, he expressed concern about the congested London restaurant scene, the proliferation of deals and special offers, and a shortage of chefs coming into trade.
“Young chefs and staff members don’t want to work as many hours,” he lamented. “I am trying out social enterprise to reinvigorate the London restaurant scene by offering partnerships to staff members so they can share in the profits. This model may motivate them to want to work harder.”
Related highlights from other FoodFluence sessions
Umami, or savory, is thought to be the fifth basic taste; joining sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Triggered by the presence of the amino acid glutamate, umami is most pronounced in vegetables such as corn and ripe tomatoes. Mushrooms contain a compound called 5-guanylate (or disodium guanylate) that “turns up the volume” of umami and enhances the complexity of flavour.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in the intestinal tract and convey various benefits. Prebiotics are plant fibres that feed these beneficial bacteria. Sources of prebiotics include: Jerusalem artichoke, chicory root, and legumes.
Compared with 1980, growing a bushel of corn in the US requires use 40% less land, 50% less water, and 40% less energy, and emits 35% less greenhouse gases.
Global drivers in food, nutrition, and health
Several 2016 trends identified by New Nutrition Business, which offers a unique analysis of the most important global drivers in the business of food, nutrition, and health, have implications for produce marketing and sales.
In identifying trends for its ‘10 Key Trends’ report, New Nutrition Business interviews industry executives, monitors the media, and considers marketing strategies, time to market, regulation, competition, ingredients, nutrition science, sales trends, consumer need, and other factors.
Julian Mellentin of New Nutrition Business
Key trends include:
‘Snackification’ – a pattern of increased snacking during the day in place of meals, particularly in the US.
“Consumers want to make healthy snack choices but they also seek convenience,” commented Julian Mellentin, founder and director of New Nutrition Business in London. “Hence, the introduction of fruit varieties such as the kiwiberry, a bite-size kiwifruit that is more convenient to eat, skin and all in one bite.”
Mellentin also predicts a rise in cheese as a snack, following recent good news from the research world about the lack of association between cheese consumption and heart disease, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, or weight gain.
In the US, the company Sargento has launched a snacking packet that combines cheese with fruit and nuts. Mellentin expects to see more such products that marry snack, health, and convenience like this. He also predicts continued growth in meat snacks, which are popular among younger consumers, those on gluten-free diets, urban dwellers, and ‘hipsters’.
Naturally functional is a top trend, as people love foods they perceive are naturally healthy and don’t need a health claim.
“Blueberries, for example, are a newly popular natural food and an increasingly popular ingredient in the UK,” stated Mellentin. “Sales of fresh blueberries are up. The value of blueberries at the supermarket is greater than the value of apples because blueberries are much more expensive per kilogramme and people are eating more than triple the amount they ate in the past. Blueberries sales also have benefited from massive free publicity from journalists and health writers.”
Almonds, pistachios, and olive oil join blueberries in gaining attention and sales as a result of positive research results. “Because nuts and oils are natural, consumers do not really care that they are high in calories,” Mellentin said, noting that convenience helps sell functional in foods such as natural coconut water and seaweed snacks.
Plant-based foods are a trend du jour.
“We’re all flexitarians and more consumers are vegetarian or vegan as part of their normal diet,” explained Mellentin. “Our taste buds have become accustomed to plant-based ingredients in food products. Plant-based foods also benefit from advice from the media and activists to eat them. We embrace foods like houmous that are convenient in ways that were not possible 10 years ago.”
Protein has become more convenient and continues to grow in popularity, especially in the US.
“Plant proteins have more appeal to some consumers; in the pipeline are new sources such as tempeh,” said Mellentin.
Free-from and clean appear healthier to today’s consumer.
“Consumers, however, won’t pay more for something marketed as natural or clean,” pointed out Mellentin. “Over the past 10 years in Europe, sales didn’t increase as a result of products going natural. In the US, sales of clean chocolate, for example, went down. We find instead that convenience sells, even if products have ingredients that consumers say they don’t want.”
Dairy 2.0 marks a return to dairy fat after years of low-fat and no fat products.
“The new focus is on foods and beverages that are intrinsically and naturally healthy, with the media reassuring consumers that they don’t have to worry about dairy fat,” Mellentin highlighted. “As a result, Americans, for example, are embracing whole milk yoghurt.”
As such, Mellentin predicts continued growth in savoury yoghurts and dairy products flavoured with vegetables and global spice combinations.
Redefining sweetness will be necessitated by consumers moving away from sugar.
“They don’t want it, so we’re seeing products like dairy drinks with less sugar,” said Mellentin. “Yet consumers will ignore the sugar content in foods they perceive as healthy, such as breakfast biscuits, where a low sugar version flopped in Europe.”
Mellentin noted that food companies are particularly perplexed about beverages. “Nobody knows what to do about creating products that are low in sugar, and even good-for-you beverages like Campbell’s vegetable drinks are struggling.”
Beverages redefined incorporates the rise in non-dairy milks – soy, almond, and others – that are taking an even bigger share of the market.
“Expect non-dairy desserts to be the next area of growth, with coconut having a strong future,” Mellentin predicted.
Direct-to-consumer results from a digital revolution that is more powerful than marketing.
“The customer is in control now, and traditional marketing is no match for technology-supported consumer beliefs,” argued Mellentin. “People don’t trust large companies. The rise in technology has led to a decline in trusted experts. Scientists always seem to be changing their mind about foods like eggs, nuts, dark chocolate, wine, and coffee. In contrast, food blogs create community, enabling consumers to identify with others who, for example, eat paleo or drink bulletproof coffee.
“The landscape is fragmented and filled with angry, frustrated consumers. Websites, apps and social media allow consumers to do their own research and feel confident creating their own personalised health eating patterns. Weight management programmes, for example, are declining. People don’t feel that they need to pay for a programme. They make decisions through social media.”
The great fragmentation makes it challenging to launch and build new brands.
“Brands expect to be smaller and focused on the individual,” noted Mellentin. “Personalised nutrition will become normal as consumers look for products that can meet their individual needs and health concerns.”
London culinary adventures
An important element of the inaugural FoodFluence 2016 was an exploration of London’s food scene.
Participants visited three distinct restaurants that showcased the present-day spectrum of history, ambiance, culinary mastery, and consumer trends that define London eateries today: The Gun (Docklands), St. John Bread and Wine (Spitalfields), and Hixter Bankside.
Featured produce dishes included traditional cauliflower cheese, beetroot salad, “nose to tail” radishes, and mushroom tarts on a bed of creamed spinach.