5 Hot Food Trends for 2015


Volume 47, Number 10

Written By: Carol Neshevich

[dropcap size=big]F[/dropcap]rom trendy teas and artistic cocktails, to streamlined menus and platefuls of veggies, 2015 promises to be an exciting year for Canadian restaurants and the  consumers who frequent them. F&H magazine spoke to industry experts and operators to get their take on the hottest food trends in Canada. Here are the top five (in no particular order):

Vegetables Take Centre Stage
Previously viewed as a mere secondary player, vegetables are graduating to a starring role on the plate. “There’s a bunch of buzz surrounding vegetables,” says Christine Couvelier, a culinary consultant at Vancouver’s Culinary Concierge who previously served as executive chef for Brampton, Ont.-based President’s Choice and as culinary/beverage director at Vaughan, Ont.-based Cara Operations. “They’re taking over the inner plate.” Couvelier points to world-renowned, Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s decision to open a vegetarian/vegan restaurant in New York (set to open in early 2015) as proof positive that vegetarian cuisine has hit the mainstream. And, France’s Alain Ducasse, another Michelin-star chef (and owner of more than 20 restaurants), turned heads when he announced that his high-end Plaza Athénée restaurant in Paris would focus on fish, vegetables and cereals in a bid to be more “respectful of the planet.”

Here in Canada, Vancouver’s The Acorn, which opened in 2012, is garnering critical acclaim and packed dinner crowds with its all-vegetarian menu. “It’s great to see people realizing that you can still be happy and full, and have a creative and delicious meal [with no meat],” says Shira Blustein, The Acorn’s owner. While part of this trend is about the desire to make healthy choices, Blustein hopes that it can also be partly attributed to a growing sense of social responsibility. “We’re becoming more aware of the state of the world and how unsustainable it is to raise meat for the masses,” she says.

The Acorn sources produce locally, with the menu changing frequently to highlight the best available resources. Harvest ($19), a main dish on the menu described as “seasonal vegetables, herbs and goodies from local farms,” changes daily based on which local produce is available and how the chef chooses to feature it. “When you order Harvest it’s the most in-season, vegetable-forward dish of our entrées,” says Blustein, who goes on to describe a recent Harvest offering: “We got these beautiful purple brussels sprouts in from one of our farmers, so our sous chef designed a Harvest based on the colours of those brussels sprouts. So we had shaggy mushrooms, garlic scapes, a cashew purée, Victoria lentils and roasted purple carrots — the whole plate was purple, green and brown … and it was just a really beautiful, seasonal, inspired dish.”

Artful Drinking
Bartenders and mixologists are joining chefs in the spotlight when it comes to expressing creativity at restaurants. “We’re seeing great mixologists making wonderful cocktails with homemade shrubs and homemade syrups and fresh flavours, and people are sitting up at the bar and paying attention,” says Couvelier.

At Vancouver’s The Acorn, unique and artful craft cocktails are a highlight of the dining experience, with offerings changing frequently. “We make our own bitters, we make our own jams and purées and syrups to mix our cocktails with, and we are doing it all using seasonal ingredients, so we change our list often,” says Blustein, owner. One of the popular offerings this past fall, for instance, was called The Midnight Miner, inspired by the B.C. gold rush of the mid-1800s. (People panning for gold would leave their riches on the side of the road at night, explains Blustein, and thieves called “midnight miners” would steal them.) The Acorn’s Midnight Miner ($12) features gun powder-infused Knob Creek bourbon, fig and golden raisin jam, fresh lemon juice, black liquorice and gold dust.

And, when it comes to craft beer, it’s not just about the increasing number of excellent Canadian craft breweries cropping up across the country. “People really like the craft beers. But you can only have so many good pale ales before you start to want something a bit new,” says Kelly Weikel, senior consumer research manager at Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc. So, Technomic expects to see new styles of craft beer appearing as well as more uses for craft beer, such as pairing with food, combining craft beers with spirits in “beer cocktails,” and even using beer in cooking, to create a more “sudsy” dessert or a savoury beer-infused sauce.

On the quick-service restaurant front, the South St. Burger Bar recently opened on King Street in Toronto. The incarnation of the South St. Burger brand offers craft beer (and wine) alongside app-style nibbles and sliders (See story on p. 5).

Tea Gets Hip
Tea is no longer the staid beverage sipped on by the elderly; the classic cuppa is becoming increasingly hip and trendy. “Tea is huge,” says Culinary Concierge’s Couvelier, “and the consumer’s awareness of different teas is growing all the time.”

According to Weikel, tea’s rising popularity has something to do with coffee reaching a saturation point. “Coffee is so popular and very established, but pretty saturated, so people want some of those same elements, but in a new way,” she says. “That’s where tea comes in. It’s refreshing, it can be a treat, it can be a snack, it can be consumed with meals; it serves all of those functions, but it’s also new and exciting.”

The fact that Starbucks purchased Atlanta-based tea chain Teavana for $620 million in late 2012 illustrates just how much the segment is expanding. Teavana now has more than 300 locations across the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and Starbucks is putting significant resources and energy into growing the Teavana brand. “We believe the tea category is ripe for reinvention and rapid growth,” said Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ chairman, president and CEO, in a media release at the time of the initial Teavana acquisition.

Mount Royal, Que.-based DavidsTea, which launched in Toronto in 2008, now has nearly 150 units across Canada and the U.S. The chain offers “a multitude of varieties [of tea], and, like food, the flavour combinations are endless,” says Kim Wiseman, head of customer engagement at DavidsTea. “There is something for virtually any palate and time of day. Energizing teas for the morning, chocolate teas for someone looking to satisfy their sweet tooth, and teas like Mother’s Little Helper, which contains chamomile and valerian root, for the nighttime.” Customers can enjoy a brewed cup of tea at the store for $3.50 or purchase a package of loose tea for home (from $4.50 to $19.50). “We launch teas in seasonal collections, like fashion…. We also launch a new tea the first of every month, so there is always something new to discover,” explains Wiseman. Before Christmas, for instance, one popular option was the Santa’s Secret blend: a black tea featuring peppermint and candy-cane sprinkles.

Grocery HMR Shines
In response to busy consumers’ desire for quality meals prepared quickly at home, retail stores are upping the ante on their home-meal replacement (HMR) offerings. With a wider range of fresh, creative options, they’re presenting significant competition for traditional foodservice outlets.

The Loblaws grocery chain is a prime example. “The From-Our-Chefs program brings restaurant-quality prepared meals to customers in 285 Loblaw banner stores across Canada. The recipes in the line were created by the talented team of chefs at our Loblaws store at Maple Leaf Gardens,” explains Jim Saufl, VP Market Fresh at Toronto-based Loblaw Companies Limited. Items offered in this line range from those inspired by the latest culinary trends, such as the Cooked Panko Chicken with Sweet Chili Sesame Sauce ($5 in Ontario), to “comfort food” such as Baked Macaroni and Cheese ($6 in Ontario). “For us it’s an opportunity to capture part of the restaurant market that we typically don’t compete with directly,” says Saufl.

Meanwhile, renowned Canadian chef and entrepreneur Mark McEwan’s upscale Toronto grocery shop, McEwan, offers fine-dining-inspired HMR. “Time is a huge factor for people … and, coupled with that, they have this high expectation of what they want to eat,” says McEwan. Offering up items such as French duck confit ($10.99 per piece) and white-bean cassoulet ($9.95), McEwan doesn’t see his HMR as competition for full-service restaurants; he sees it as an alternative to spending hours trying to whip up the perfect meal at home. “People like to entertain in their beautiful homes, and, if you have that in mind, you’re not going out [to a restaurant],” he says. McEwan believes so strongly in this trend that he’s opening a second McEwan retail location this year in downtown Toronto.

Menus Shrink
Across all segments of the industry, menus are becoming less “bloated,” says Technomic’s Weikel. “Operators are really focusing on fewer items and core product lines now,” she explains, noting that this is in response to an earlier trend of having huge menus featuring a multitude of wide-ranging choices. “Restaurants were trying to respond to the consumer demand for variety, but they were going too far, to the point where they operationally could not keep up,” says Weikel.

She points out that many of the new and emerging fast-casual chains are set up to provide the best of both worlds — they offer a simple menu focusing on a core product, which makes it easier to run from an operational point of view, while consumers still get to satisfy their desire for choice and variety through customization. “They’re saying, ‘Here’s the product we offer, here are our toppings, our sauces, and you can combine it in whatever way you want.’ So they’re still offering variety, just through customization,” she says. Toronto-based Restaurants Canada’s former president, Garth Whyte, agrees: “The fast-casual chains feature a limited menu, so people come in knowing what they want, and they can get it exactly how they want it.” Whyte cites the increasing number of burrito chains popping up across the country as a prime example. Take Richmond Hill, Ont.-based Mucho Burrito. Customers order from a limited menu, choosing which protein goes on the burrito, the spiciness and flavouring of their salsa, and a variety of other toppings.

What other trends do you see on the horizon?
Tweet @foodservicemag, and let us know what’s cooking.

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