Last year was a challenging one for the Canadian foodservice industry, but it’s time for a fresh start. While the road to recovery is long and winding, the view for 2022 is encouraging. Commercial foodservice sales in Canada are expected to grow to $80.4 billion in 2022, representing a 24.3 per cent increase over 2021 and four per cent above 2019 levels, according to Restaurants Canada.
That said, what trends can we expect to see shaping the industry’s gradual recovery in 2022? Here, F&H offers a detailed look at 10 foodservice trends — most connecting to health, wellness and sustainability — from the perspective of foodservice operators, as well as consumers.
“Our definition of health and wellness has evolved over the course of the pandemic,” says Jo-Ann McArthur, founding partner and president of Toronto-based Nourish Food Marketing. “We’ve moved away from diet culture and re-defined health to include both physical and mental health.”
Many restaurant chefs use microgreens to boost colour, enhance flavour and add texture to any dish, while delivering a nutritional boost.
Shawn Tesoro, executive chef at Xango, a Toronto restaurant serving Latin-Asian fusion cuisine, incorporates microgreens into most of his dishes. “Microgreens have a higher density of vitamins and nutrients,” says Tesoro. “Putting the right herb with the right dish can really elevate it. I use a lot of micro coriander and micro celery, especially with my appetizers.”
The meatless-menu trend continues to be influenced by health, environmental sustainability and animal ethics as more consumers turn to filling and flavourful plant-based alternatives.
“Thinking back to ordering a vegetarian burger a few years ago, the box it came in might have tasted better than the burger,” says Christine Couvelier, president and global culinary trendologist at Culinary Concierge. “That’s not where we are now. There are so many tasty plant-based products to make up great meatless menus. It’s an important part of the industry now, and there’s tons of room for growth.”
Odd Burger, Canada’s first vegan fast-food chain, is setting the stage for meatless menu development with its diverse lineup, including plant-based bacon, sausage, beef-burger patty, chicken-burger patty and pulled pork.
“Most of our customers eat meat, which is interesting,” says James McInnes, co-founder and CEO of Odd Burger. “There are a few explanations for this: our food tastes great, it’s well-priced and more people want a healthier option. There’s less guilt involved.”
In 2022 and beyond, the plant-based market will expand even further, particularly in the plant-based seafood category.
Sharing pictures of restaurant food on social media is certainly one trend that isn’t going away. Instagram is among the top factors for 34 per cent of Canadians ages 18 to 34 when selecting a new restaurant to try, according to Restaurants Canada’s 2021 Discerning Diner Report.
On one hand, restaurants can have consumers do some of the marketing for them. On the other hand, social media allows chefs to showcase their work and get inspiration from others when creating a new dish.
“As a chef, plating a dish is probably one of my favourite things. It’s the moment where everything comes together and you get to show off your hard work,” says Shawn Tesoro, executive chef at Toronto’s Xango. “I like the social-media aspect so people can see what I’m doing and I can see what others are doing. We all take a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and then make it our own.”
Immune Boosting Ingredients
Immunity has been top of mind since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a higher demand for food that supports immune health.
“Most consumers prefer to get health benefits from food instead of supplements,” says Jo-Ann McArthur, founding partner and president of Toronto-based Nourish Food Marketing.
While not exactly a new concept, immune-boosting ingredients will play a significant role in the coming year as consumers want to eat healthy without sacrificing taste.
“Most of our ingredients are considered super foods, such as daikon, jicama, taro root, lotus root and burdock root,” says Shawn Tesoro, executive chef at Toronto’s Xango. “Asian markets have so many beautiful root vegetables that nobody really knows about and they’re packed full of vitamins that your body needs. I like spreading the word about ingredients that aren’t in regular grocery stores,” says Shawn Tesoro, executive chef at Toronto’s Xango.
Other key ingredients that can boost immunity are ginger, turmeric and garlic.
A 2021 study published in the Food and Nutrition Sciences journal revealed that only 10 per cent of consumers are familiar with upcycled food products, but this movement is expected to take a stronger hold in 2022.
Upcycled ingredients are typically misshapen, bruised or blemished fruits and vegetables that would usually be thrown out. Not only is upcycled food good for the environment, but it also helps restaurants reduce food costs.
Toronto-based restaurant chain, imPerfect Fresh Eats, offers signature bowls made with upcycled ingredients such as carrots, beets, tomatoes and avocados.
“About 30 to 36 per cent of imperfect produce won’t make the cut in grocery stores,” says Jeff Dang, co-owner of imPerfect Fresh Eats. “When my sister and I started sourcing for our restaurant, we realized how expensive food was, so we opted for imperfect produce so we could charge affordable pricing for healthy food. If something doesn’t get used or starts to go bad, we usually pickle it with vinegar, sugar and water to add another two weeks onto the product.”
“There will be massive growth over the next 12 months. Consumers are learning more about food waste and no chef wants to waste food because it eats into their profit margins,” says Christine Couvelier, president and global culinary trendologist at Culinary Concierge. “We can’t waste food, which ties into environmental sustainability. We have a lot of people in this world to feed, and we’re not going to have enough food if we aren’t paying more attention to food waste and re-purposing food.”
Re-inventing Comfort Food and Classic Flavours
The ongoing pandemic has sparked consumers’ cravings for familiar comfort foods associated with happy memories. In 2022, we can expect increasing demand for comfort foods with an elevated twist.
“As consumers start feeling safer, they’re open to trying new things, but they don’t want anything too wild or wacky,” says Jo-Ann McArthur, founding partner and president of Toronto-based Nourish Food Marketing.
Instead of introducing new items altogether, it’s more about taking old standards and freshening them up. For instance, Odd Burger elevates the classic flavours of French toast by adding chia seeds as a functional ingredient.
“We’re getting the same satisfaction from foods we love, but we can make them healthier,” says James McInnes, co-founder and CEO of Odd Burger.
“[Comfort foods] make a great foundation for other things and become a platform for flavour exploration or upscaling,” says Vince Sgabellone, foodservice industry analyst at The NPD Group in Toronto.
Meal kits re-defined the food-delivery scene during the pandemic to make cooking more accessible and convenient for consumers, while also serving as a critical lifeline for struggling restaurants. So far, it has proven to be an attractive concept.
While meal-kit subscriptions such as Hello Fresh gained traction before the pandemic, there has been increasing demand for premium, restaurant-quality meal kits.
Chefdrop is one meal-kit delivery service born out of the pandemic, bringing Toronto’s top chefs and restaurants to consumers across Southern Ontario. Its restaurant partners include Momofuku, Pai, Amano, Piano Piano, Mercato and more.
On a national scale, husband-and-wife duo, Amir and Megan Epstein, launched IMissMyFood.com, a zero-commission delivery service to help restaurants reach more customers and make up for lost sales. The platform expanded its delivery radius across Canada, so consumer options are endless.
This trend is expected to continue in the coming year to service customers, who might be hesitant about returning to restaurants, in a way that makes them feel safe and comfortable.
Alternative Proteins & Lab-Grown Food
Soy is the most common ingredient used in alternative-protein products, however, pea, algae, seaweed, oat and canola proteins are seeing increased attention.
The push toward food innovation is unlocking new opportunities for Canada. Roquette recently opened the world’s largest pea-protein plant in Portage la Prairie, Man. to meet surging global demand for alternative proteins. Other companies in this space, such as Merit Functional Foods, Burcon NutraScience Corporation and The Very Good Food Company, are seeing increased support from investors to bring new alternative-protein products to market that appeal to a wider consumer base.
With regard to lab-grown food, fermentation-based cellular agriculture is a relatively new method of creating alternative-protein products, while regular meat can be produced directly from animal cells or micro-organisms without the implications of livestock farming.
“You need to have diners that want to eat it and customers that want to buy it, and I think we’re a little way from that, but that’ll come with education,” says Christine Couvelier, president and global culinary trendologist at Culinary Concierge. “There’s more work to be done when I think about taste and availability, and I think it’ll be a number of years before we witness large growth in this category.”
Restaurants Canada’s 2021 Discerning Diner Report revealed 89 per cent of Canadians were looking forward to dining out with friends and family, with 64 per cent saying it will be an important part of their lifestyle post pandemic. With so much pent-up consumer demand, the competition for food dollars is intense. To lure diners, restaurant owners are re-imagining post-pandemic dining to include multi-sensory experiences that extend far beyond food and beverage.
“We’re going to look at eating out as the elevated experience or opportunity to treat ourselves a little more,” says Jo-Ann McArthur, founding partner and president of Toronto-based Nourish Food Marketing.
At Selva, Toronto’s new multi-sensory resto bar, diners are transported into a glow-in-the-dark jungle and served artistically plated South American and Thai cuisine curated by chef Nuit Regular.
“This is a timely trend because we’ve been without restaurants for a while, so we’re excited to eat out and experience different things,” says Christine Couvelier, president and global culinary trendologist at Culinary Concierge. “A year from now, we’re going to know whether [experiential
dining] will drop off or continue to be a building trend.”
The support-local movement gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic and became a key component for both restaurant owners obtaining fresh ingredients and consumers looking to support their favourite restaurants.
A 2021 survey from Angus Reid revealed 87 per cent of Canadians are very interested or somewhat interested in ordering food sourced from local farmers or made in Canada.
“Sourcing local now speaks to consumers as chefs who bought products from local restaurants during the pandemic and then cooked with them at home,” says Christine Couvelier, president and global culinary trendologist at Culinary Concierge.
“More than 90 per cent of our ingredients come from Canadian farmers,” says James McInnes, co-founder and CEO of Odd Burger. “We want to make our business as sustainable as possible, and we’re taking it a step further with the idea that we’d eventually like to manufacture food on a local scale. As we grow out, our goal is to have a manufacturing and distributing network for each region.”
BY NICOLE DI TOMASSO