Lucie Greene, author of Food And Drink: Trends And Futures for the J Walter Thompson Intelligence group reckons that despite a global recession and concerns over the environment, there are real opportunities for the future of foodservice, so long as restaurateurs and hospitality managers can adapt quickly and face up to the future.
“It’s potentially a great time for restaurants,” she says. “Our research shows that Millennials are more aware of food than any other generation. And they’re willing to spend money and time on it.”
An in-depth survey in the report backs this showing that 84% of Millennials (18-35 year-olds) value going out to eat as ‘a major past-time’ compared to 64% of 35 to 45 year-olds and only 45% of the older Baby Boomer generation. And this younger group also say they’re willing to spend a larger part of their income on it too. But what this new generation desires from a dinner date may differ from what has gone before.
“There is a rise in the ‘experience economy’,” explains Greene. “People are prioritising experience over items and their expectations are becoming much more sophisticated, upping the game for restaurants. So we’re expecting to see many more experiments with narratives, like in Heston Blumenthal’s re-opened Fat Duck with its ‘storytelling’ menu and synaesthesia, where senses are played with as you eat. Once they’re hooked in, they tend to look for more of this experience, and as they are recounted through social media and taking part in them becomes part of the diner’s identity.”
The use of social media has seen a huge increase in the rate at which food trends cross the globe, meaning that as ideas are taken up in Paris one day, they can cross the world to Hong Kong by the end of the week. And for the first time, this chain is also going the other way.
“It used to be that America and Europe led the way for trends but it’s no longer linear,” says Greene. “You’ll have fashionable foods from South Korea influencing the US. And Australia and New Zealand, which had previously lagged behind are now on an equal footing. For example, they drove a lot of the recent coffee developments. It’s a lot more messy now.”
But while the speed of sharing and connection continues to grow – at the time of writing there are around 200milion pictures on Instagram that are tagged as ‘food’ – there are calls for the food industry to slow down and take stock of its role in supporting the health of our bodies and the planet. Issues such as localism and responsible sourcing have become key differentiators for brands seeking to connect with ethically minded consumers, who increasingly view food as part of a holistic system.
Greene believes that more people are going to become ‘flexitarian’, vegetarian or vegan during the week and then eating high quality, well-husbanded meat at the weekends. It’s also symptomatic of a change in approach to eating and health, which has been in part driven by chefs.
“The environment is cool, so it’s a big deal for the young,” explains Greene.”It’s not worthy, it can be aspirational. Being waste efficient and not damaging the planet is definitely very in.
“Dan Barber of The Blue Hill restaurant group set up a pop-up, WasTED, in New York using the waste from local restaurants everything from fish heads to skate cartilage to prove that it can be done and we’re going to see more things like that. Roy Choi’s new fast food venture LoCol aims to use technology to cut waste and thus enable him to make a profit delivering affordable, healthy fast food to people. He’s been talking at conferences about reducing waste levels and [increasing] staff pay rates, it’s very much become a social campaign. As food has become more important culturally, chefs have increasingly become thought leaders, so you have people like Jamie Oliver and Rene Redzepi talking alongside Silicon Valley start-up firms and politicians at conferences.”
Despite her denials, these are clearly worthy topics of global importance. But Greene reinforces the point that they are put over in an entertaining way, they can be extremely popular and also believes that at the same time, in many ways, in terms of what we eat, we’re moving into an era of irony.
“I think we’re seeing the end of ‘artisan’,” she says. “Food is being created with a playful wink. It’s no longer about just the most authentic homemade ingredients. The ingredients are now expected to be of high quality but there’s also going to be a certain amount of humour or wit. You can see this most clearly in the cocktail world where mixologists are remaking 1970s classics like Sex On The Beach with top ingredients. The old classic The Grasshopper is being served in Brooklyn, using organic green dyes and premium Crème de menthe. We’re seeing a lot of drinks served in interesting containers, such as old-fashioned Sprite cans with sprigs of mint in them and there’s a cocktail bar called Genuine Liquorette in Little Italy, New York, which serves cocktails in miniature bottles.’
She also believes the future has a space for hedonism. But it will be tempered by more sober pursuits – indeed both may happen at the same time.
“We’re much more likely to see people mixing their vice with being good to themselves,” she explains. “So you can find exercise classes which are followed by cocktails and clubbing in New York and London as well as people using cold-pressed juices and superfood blends in cocktails. It’s a dual approach to indulgence and health.”
This also goes hand-in-hand with a downward trend in general for ‘diet’ foods. Products labelled as ‘diet’ are no longer selling as well in Britain and America and there has been a re-appraisal of the role of fat in our diet, which has leaked through into the mass market. And Greene thinks it will go even further.
“Low-calorie is no longer seen as healthy,” she says. “Healthy eating is about clean food and whole foods. A synthetic spread does not seem as good for you as butter. Coconut oil is high calorie but seen as good for you, linked to an idea of purity and health.”
Evidently these trends won’t all become mass market overnight, but Greene is confident that the Millennials and more conscious customers will drive change towards these ends. She says: “Going forward, the food industry will have to carefully balance consumers’ desire for novelty with a commitment to ethics, transparency and health. But it is in a good position to do so.”