The Forecast is Out: Menu Trends for 2014

Every year, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) surveys chefs from the American Culinary Federation to find out what menu trends they expect to see in the upcoming year – as well as what they see as yesterday’s news and perennial favorites. This year’s survey had nearly 1300 respondents rating 258 items. Here’s a review of the results:

Today’s Consumers are more Interested than ever in what They Eat and where it came From

As was the case last year, locally sourced meat, seafood, and produce remain as the top ‘hot trends’ of 2014. Environmental sustainability, healthy kids’ meals, children’s nutrition, and hyper-local sourcing followed in close pursuit. Gluten-free cuisine jumped from 9th to 5th place in this year’s annual list, and was joined by a trend towards non-wheat noodles and pasta (such as those made from buckwheat, quinoa or rice), up from 12th place last year. Farm or estate branded items and sustainable seafood rounded out the top 10 list of expected menu trends for 2014.

As opposed to temporary fads, these menu trends reflect larger shifts in our modern society which have been evolving for years. As health and environmental consciousness increases, it’s no surprise that consumers want products that reflect those values. A number of restaurants have already remodeled their menus to reflect these changes, including several large chain restaurants. Gluten-free items, for instance, are now nearly so commonplace on restaurant menus that consumers are more surprised not to see them there.

Being transparent about where restaurants are getting their food has led to several successful marketing campaigns riding on messages of integrity. The bottom line is that these trends are here to stay, and it pays to pay attention to them.

The Menu Trends that made the Biggest Gains or Losses for the 2014 Forecast

The menu trends that made the largest jumps in this year’s survey (but didn’t quite make it on the top 10 list) were nose-to-tail/root-to-stalk cooking, pickling, ramen, dark greens, and Southeast Asian cuisine. The ones with the biggest fall in the ladder of “what’s hot” were Greek yogurt, sweet potato fries, new cuts of meat, and organic coffee.

The 2014 Forecast for Alcoholic Beverage Menus

In terms of alcohol trends, the top five forecasted for 2014 were: micro-distilled and artisan spirits – locally produced beer, wine, or spirits, onsite barrel-aged drinks, “culinary cocktails” which use savory ingredients typically found in the kitchen rather than behind the bar, and regional signature cocktails. Cocktails, in particular, represent a particularly easy way to dress up the beverage menu – especially when sourced from local favorites!

In sum, the top 10 menu forecast for 2014 seems to be putting a greater focus on health and environmental sustainability than ever before. When asked what they thought the menu trends are going to look like ten years from now, the chefs put environmental sustainability at the top of the list, following closely by local sourcing and a focus on health and nutrition for kids and adults alike. Given this sentiment, it’s wise to incorporate elements of these trends into your menus now.

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