When Nancy Kruse spoke at VantagePoint’s Insight2Impact Foodservice Marketing Summit, she laid out five predictions for menus in 2017, which we’re highlighting in this series of blogs. While the first four — on “clean” foods, the death of dieting, comfort foods and breakfast — are all significant drivers of change in 2017, this final one could perhaps be called the runt of the litter.
“The disruption here is minor but real,” Kruse said of the ongoing influence of ethnic foods on American menus.
What it is
Experimentation with ethnic foods has long remained a chef’s staple for introducing new and interesting flavors and novel menu features.
But, “the velocity with which ethnic items are being introduced has slowed slightly. I think it has been trumped by the need for chefs and purchasing agents to get on board with the whole clean foods thing,” Kruse said.
“Attention has shifted, at least momentarily, elsewhere.”
Still, foods and flavors inspired by other areas of the world continue to show up everywhere from QSR chains to independent restaurants and university dining halls.
Why it’s coming
The top two reasons why diners choose ethnic foods are to look for something different or discover new flavors, according to Technomic research.
To some extent, what enters the American palate is influenced by what enters American politics. One trend Kruse predicted for 2017 is “Cuban 2.0” thanks to improved relations between the U.S. and the island nation.
Havana 1957, a small Florida chain, offers a sneak peek at the range of bright flavors that could influence food and beverages on a larger scale in the months to come.
Where it’s showing up
Flavors from the Mediterranean are cropping up in somewhat unexpected venues, including Arby’s roast beef gyro.
But the star of the moment, Kruse said, is the chickpea.
“What took us so long with this? They’re readily available in massive volumes. They are cheap. They are versatile. They are nutritious,” she said.
From the falafel burger at Umami to 1000 Degrees’ falafel-topped pizza and the hummus bar at Kennesaw State University, the humble chickpea is making an impression, particularly as a vegan or vegetarian menu option.
Ethnic foods experimentation is also showing up in some creative mashups, like Red Robin’s Red Ramen Burger, which features ramen patties in lieu of a hamburger bun.
McAlister’s Deli last year introduced its West Coast Banh Mi, a kind of Vietnam-meets-France-meets-the-American-South sandwich featuring sriracha, pickled vegetables and pulled pork served on a baguette.
Up and coming flavors include the Korean gochujang, a condiment made of fermented chilies.
Noodles & Company’s marketing for their gochujang meatballs employed a variety of best practices for introducing new ethnic foods, Kruse said — describing the flavor as “sweet and spicy,” offering a pronunciation guide and identifying it as “barbeque sauce.”
“Americans have never met a barbeque sauce they didn’t like,” Kruse said.
And Good Housekeeping magazine recently promoted a meal of gochujang green beans and meatloaf — “the 20th century meeting the 21st century by means of gochujang,” she said.
Despite the fact that they have been slightly eclipsed by the demand to think in terms of clean and “free from” eating, ethnic flavors remain a key menu R&D driver, still offering ample opportunity for creativity.
“Put it on a meatball, put it on a hamburger, put it on a bed of pasta — and you can get the American consumer to try just about anything,” Kruse said.
What new ethnic or fusion flavors have you encountered lately? Let us know your take on this menu prediction — or any of Nancy Kruse’s others for 2017 — in the comments below.