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Even as the recession deepens, consumer interest in experiencing new ethnic cuisines and flavors is expected to continue to grow. However, the signs point to consumers and restaurants alike becoming more selective about paying a premium for organic foods.
The range of available ethnic food varieties is actually expanding at an accelerated pace, reflecting both the growth of ethnic populations and evolving mainstream tastes. World cuisines that are expected to be in increasing demand this year include "rustic French," reflecting consumers' desire for "down-to-earth and comforting qualities," and a wide range of Asian (with Japanese becoming better established and Korean going mainstream). Mediterranean (particularly Spanish) food offerings will become ubiquitous, and the cuisines of Peru, Laos, Algeria, Ethiopia and Somalia will become available in more markets, PF prognosticates.
Also reflecting consumers' broadening palettes, "cross-over" flavor offerings will continue to expand, with 2009 seeing particular growth in use of "savory" flavors (such as bacon and herbs like fennel) in sweet foods. The mojito flavor profile (rum, mint and lime), formerly associated strictly with the cocktail, is being incorporated into products within a growing number of F&B categories.
Kosher offerings are also mainstreaming, as evidenced not only by large numbers of new product launches, but restaurant chain menus (Subway is opening more kosher units, for example) as well.
Meanwhile, budget pressures are forcing consumers and food service operations to narrow their use of organics. PF predicts that organic purchases will be focused on fresh meat, dairy and produce, and that restaurants will be more cost-conscious in executing local and seasonal menus. However, the growth of home vegetable gardening, community-supported agriculture programs and farmers' markets is expected to continue. Furthermore, despite the economy, concern about fair trade issues is expected to expand beyond coffee, tea and cocoa.
On the protein front, hot items will include dark meat, heirloom and pasture-raised chicken, seafood and sushi, and "upscale burger joints," say PF's analysts. At the same time, restaurants and other food service venues will find new ways to use economy meat cuts and reduce the size of costly traditional protein portions and use of dairy ingredients (soy and meatless pastas are on the upswing). The use of brown rice and expanded vegetable offerings are trends in retail frozen and prepared meals.
PF also notes that--particularly among aging baby boomers--budget concerns are being offset to a noticeable degree by health concerns when it comes to F&B choices. Given growing health-care insurance issues, consumers are to some extent viewing foods that promise health benefits--including "super fruits" and foods containing probiotics, prebiotics, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids--as a form of "affordable insurance" against chronic illnesses and accompanying disastrous medical bills. In addition to proliferating nutraceutical product launches, F&B manufacturers and restaurants will continue to respond with more portion-controlled, lower-calorie, and gluten- and high-fructose corn syrup-free offerings.
U.S. consumers won't give up their sweets, but the trends are to bite-sized desserts, dark chocolates, non-caloric sweeteners such as stevia and agave, and specialty yogurts.