The Top 10 Food Trends for 2024

Food

Food trends give us a glimpse into the future of what we’ll be seeing on restaurant menus, grocery store shelves, and in our own kitchens. As we embark on 2024, expert predictions point to some clear frontrunners when it comes to developments in flavors, ingredients, and mindsets that will shape how and what we eat.

After analyzing forecasts from nearly a dozen food industry authorities, including chefs, mixologists, trend analysts and more, 10 overarching trends have emerged as ones to watch this year. From cravings for comfort to global cuisine influences, non-dairy and plant-based options to creative spices and salts, what we choose to eat and drink continues evolving to meet our nutritional, ethical, and taste preferences of the moment.

Here are the top 10 food trends that experts forecast making waves in 2024:

Comfort Foods Take Center Stage

Even during times of economic uncertainty, indulgent comfort foods remain steadily popular menu items. Familiar favorites like fries, burgers, breakfast sandwiches and chicken sandwiches have maintained strength on Canadian foodservice menus over the last five years.

In fact, Technomic reports that some of the fastest growing dishes recently have been comforting options like cheesesteak sandwiches (up 117.6 percent) and doughnut holes (up 105.9 percent).

So what trends are shaping the continued evolution of comfort food?

B.C.-based Joseph Richard Group (JRG) Culinary Director Colin Burslem points to more home-style comfort foods becoming popular platforms for innovation, with examples like mac and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches. JRG has tapped into this with some of its Meal Ticket Brands virtual restaurant concepts, including a grilled cheese brand offering creative options like chicken parmesan and buffalo chicken grilled cheese sandwiches.

However, restaurants are also dressing up comfort classics in compelling ways on their full-service menus. An example is S+L Kitchen and Bar’s Lobster & Lobster Mac N Cheese, made with cavatappi pasta and truffle tots on the side.

So what makes these elevated comfort foods click with consumers? Burslem notes that the key is “taking the familiar and adding something [extra] to it, so it’s familiar, but also a new flavor experience for the customer.” This formula clearly speaks to consumers who crave indulgence and value, but still appreciate creativity when dining out.

The Rise of Snack-Sized Offerings

Alongside demand for comfort foods, budget and calorie consciousness is also shaping many Canadians’ dining habits. This has fueled the rise of snack-sized menu items as an ideal way to indulge moderately.

In fact, Nourish Food Marketing points to research indicating year-over-year growth in average daily calories consumed could be coming to an end. They cite factors like anti-obesity medications, consumer focus on moderation, and even population decline as potential contributors.

Their president Jo-Ann McArthur also notes the relevance of “little treat” culture, pointing towards smaller portions and healthier sides as ways restaurants can meet this demand.

Fast food menus clearly show signs of catering to growing interest in snacks and lighter offerings. For example, McDonald’s Canada introduced a refreshed McWrap and Chicken Snack Wrap lineup in mid-2022. And coffee giant Tim Hortons has also notably placed greater emphasis recently on grab-and-go snack options tailored to today’s consumer preferences.

Spicy Baked Goods Bring the Heat

Seeking out intense and unexpected flavor combinations is characteristic of adventurous younger foodies today. This helps explain the rise of spicy baked goods as an emerging trend for 2024.

Mintel research reveals that “younger generations are more likely to reach beyond the traditional formats and flavors within the dessert industry.” The door is wide open for intriguing fusions of sweet and fiery.

Barry Callebaut’s Chocolate Academy highlighted the continued crossover appeal of “sweet & spicy” in their 2023 trend report. Their experts also called out **”Street Food-Inspired Desserts and Baked Goods’ featuring spice blends like Tajín Clásico as an area to watch. **

The popularity of spicy baked goods ties directly into indulgence meets thrill-seeking eating adventures customers crave. Both sweet and savory interpretations fit the bill.

For example, Tim Hortons successfully launched a sweet-meets-spicy Jalapeño flavoured Anytime Snacker nationally, featuring buttery, flaky pastry with a creamy jalapeño filling. Savory breads and pastries with a kick, like spicy cornbread or nduja-topped foccacia, are also eliciting intrigue on social media food boards.

 

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Pasture-Raised Gets Mainstream Appeal

Despite affordability overriding ethical consumption at times, consumer interest remains high regarding sustainably and responsibly sourced food. Specifically, pasture-raised meat and eggs allow diners to support farming practices considered more sustainable and humane when choosing menu items.

Some restaurants explicitly highlight pasture-raised ingredients from local purveyors to reinforce their commitment to quality craft food. For example, Toronto’s Contrada features a Pork Chop a la Milanese utilizing Ontario pasture-raised pork for $32. They focus on merging Italian techniques with ingredients showcasing “Ontario’s bounty of beautiful local ingredients.”

JRG’s Colin Burslem notes these are important credentials many consumers now look for, including himself when shopping for his own family. “[Consumers] want to know the story behind where their protein came from,” he explains. So pasture-raised marks a clear step towards meeting ethical and environmental values diners want reflected on menus.

Specialty Salts Elevate Dishes

Specialty seasonings provide taste breakthroughs while heightening the overall dining experience. Unique specialty salts in particular present fresh ways to enhance flavors and textures.

Options abound from smoky and herbal salts to flavored varieties utilizing spices and botanicals. Visually striking black, charcoal and lavender salts add intrigue plated dishes. JRG incorporates specialty salts at a few different restaurants to accent specific menu items.

  • Their steakhouse, S+L, uses smoked salt to finish dishes.
  • Italian concept The Italian Osteria & Cheesebar showcases fennel salt atop beef carpaccio.
  • Lavender salt presents beautifully during bread service at banquets by their catering division.

As Burslem notes, “Diners, in general, are more adventurous now and are longing for some new flavours — and salt is such a great enhancer.” So specialty salts present menu innovation opportunities while satisfying demand for out-of-the-ordinary dining experiences.

Plant-Based Dairy Alternatives Move Beyond Beverages

While plant-based milks and dairy substitutes thus far show greatest penetration in beverages, additional momentum is brewing. **Technomic reports steady 3 percent year-over-year growth in plant-based cheese appearances on Canadian menus. **

And restaurants increasing incorporate dairy-free alternatives into composed dishes themselves. JRG’s plant-based Lemon Bar featuring coconut cream and cashew pastry crust stands out as a top selling menu item for them.

Presentation plays a key role in the appeal of dishes featuring substitute dairy and animal products. As Nourish Food Marketing’s Jo-Ann McArthur suggests, positioning should focus on mouthwatering descriptions over heavily emphasizing restrictions.

“Whipped coconut cream” paints a far more appealing picture than simply “dairy-free whipped cream,” for instance. She concludes **”You can put the joy of eating into plant-forward foods” through creative, appetizing menu descriptions, regardless what specific ingredients are used.

Ancient Grains Make a Comeback

In today’s era of conscious consumption, interest in whole, nutrient-dense ancient grains mirrors larger wellness and sustainability trends. Options like farro, spelt, quinoa, amaranth and millet grow well without pesticides and provide substantial nutrition and often unconventional textures and earthy flavors.

While quinoa has become downright mainstream now, other heirloom grains now stand ready to steal a share of the spotlight. According to Dubai-based Greeneration’s 2024 Culinary Trends report, these hardy, flavorful grains should resurge as consumers seek out their nutritional advantages.

As an example of this revival underway, JRG’s Colin Burslem shares, “I’m seeing things like farro and spelt and barley…and we’re playing around with those as we look to our next fall/winter menus.” He expects ancient grain ingredients to star in items like puffed quinoa and popped buckwheat.

Their versatility also allows ancient grains to blend seamlessly into both sweet and savory applications as a base or key ingredient. So expect to see them continue popping up everywhere from salads and sides to desserts and snacks.

Global Flavors Take Center Stage

Authentic global cuisine is undeniably growing in popularity and accessibility thanks to factors like social media and travel influeces. The array of emerging food and drink trends for 2024 clearly reflects expanding multicultural palates.

Third culture cuisine stands poised to emerge as a top trend this year, with dishes reflecting chefs’ diverse cultural backgrounds and unique flavor profiles. So, for example, diners might experience innovative fusion concepts like Japanese-Italian wafu restaurants.

And specific ethnic cuisines are equally poised to capture consumer attention by showcasing popular global flavors. Market research group Circana notes Mexican cuisine’s prominence and steady expansion making it well positioned for menu trends presence.

Experts also predict rising ingredient diversity in areas like unique fruits, spices, Asian noodles and chili pastes hitting the mainstream this year. So adventure-seekers ready to travel the world one bite at a time are in luck when it comes to dining trends aligning with global flavor curiosity in 2024.

Creative Takes on Barbecue Go Global

Barbecue techniques lend themselves seamlessly to global flavor experimentation. Expect to see expanded multicultural influences shaping grilled, smoked and fire-cooked meat trends this year and beyond.

According to JRG’s Chef Colin Burslem, dynamic Asian and Middle Eastern barbecue techniques will continue attracting growing interest on forward-thinking North American menus.

So we may see more Korean-style bulgogi popping up alongside Brazilian churrasco or Turkish Adana kebabs. Diners eager to travel via their tastebuds have more ways than ever to explore global barbecue dishes.

Burslem also points to rising consumer acceptance for offal and variety meats often shunned in North American food culture when prepared using familiar international barbecue methods. So more unusual beef heart or pork belly skewers may slowly come out of the shadows into mainstream menus.

Regardless what specific protein or ethnicity inspires them, creative barbecue offerings check all the boxes for flavor, novelty and interactive dining experiences. Expect chefs to continue building bridges across borders by blending and reinterpreting traditional grilling techniques in 2024 and beyond.

Salads Become More Satisfying and Hearty

In a carbohydrate and calorie-conscious world, fresh salads present the ultimate lighter and nutrient-packed meal option. And creative additions are transforming the salad bowl into a hearty, craveable main that commands center-of-plate status.

Ignite Menu data from Technomic reveals some of the fastest growing salad ingredients recently include premium toppings like burrata, anchovy, radicchio, scallops and grana padano cheese. Rather than afterthoughts, today’s salads highlight quality over quantity.

Vancouver’s Townhall restaurants provide a compelling example with their Smokey Southwest Chicken Salad. This satisfying meal layers smoked cajun chicken, corn, black beans, avocado and more over mixed greens. At close to $25, these are no basic side salads.

As Burslem suggests, when salads deliver on quality ingredients and thoughtful composition, “people recognize that there is value in that.” They’ll pay more for a filling, crave-worthy salad overflowing with flavour and textures to satisfy. In essence, the salad has grown up as an anchor for lunch, dinner or happy hour meals focused on freshness.

The Future is Flavorful

The advantage to following food trends is getting a glimpse of what new flavors, ingredients and dining experiences stand ready to deliver joy. In 2024, opportunities to explore global cuisine, re-discover ancient staples, and tap into adventurous eating promise to stimulate and satiate.

Regardless your preferred palate, embracing food and drink trends creates avenues to open our minds and tastebuds to wider possibilities. So with more conscious consideration of how our food choices impact health and environment, the future looks bright – and flavorful.

 

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