Is it possible to predict what we will eat in the future? If so, what distinguishes serious scenarios from technocratic fantasies? What are the most important food trends? And what impact will they have on the restaurant industry? Trend expert Hanni Rützler takes a look into her gastronomic crystal ball for us.
If the technocratic fantasies for the future developed in the sixties had become reality, our diet today would consist primarily of pills. Eating out would, at best, be an exotic weekend pastime rather like visiting the zoo. This gourmet‘s nightmare has not come true and the restaurant sector has not degenerated into a branch of the pharmaceutical industry. On the contrary, restaurants have become an increasingly important aspect of our nutritional everyday life.
The moral of the story: it is not possible to tell the future. However, on the basis of complex analyses, it is possible to develop scenarios that make it easier to take a serious look at tomorrow‘s options. To this end, we must firstly try to understand the present more thoroughly. Not only, as in the future-oriented fantasies of the sixties, with an eye on the technically feasible but also, in particular, on the social and economic processes of change that affect our lives and which we always react to with new strategies.
Food trends are nothing more or less than strategies for coping with specific nutritional problems, problems that arise from social change and are then also reflected by certain products, in various foods and in the dishes offered in restaurants. In highly complex and differentiated societies, such as those in North America and Europe, these strategies are no less complex and differentiated. Thus, what we eat in the future will not be determined by one but by many trends, some of which will complement and reinforce each other while others will run counter to them. Some insights:
Eating and drinking hold an ambiguous position in our everyday life. They have come to be both a source of desire and sorrow. The one aspect corresponds to the on-going gourmet and pleasure boom (luxurious foodstuffs, starred restaurants, gourmet and wine magazines, etc.) while the other ties in with health and personal complaints about pandemic obesity and food scandals, etc. Aesthetic ambivalence, which is becoming clearer to us in connection with many foodstuffs, also underscores the fact that food is no longer something we take as a matter of course.
Additionally, eating and drinking no longer give structure to our everyday life. No more do we consciously stick to ’meal times‘. Our dining habits have become more spontaneous, more dependent on the situation and more individual. In everyday life, eating is frequently only of secondary importance: a snack between two appointments or during the news, a pizza during a meeting or while checking the latest e-mails. As a variety of studies show, this has relevant effects on the composition and consumption of food and, therefore, on our health. Only at weekends or in the evening, after work, do many people have the time to enjoy their meals consciously and to present it pleasingly, something that can also have compensatory aspects: in their own homes or by visiting a special restaurant.
Moreover, eating and drinking have become more public – the share of away-from-home diners in restaurants, canteens and snack bars has risen significantly – and, therefore, more communicative (socialising, distinction, lifestyle). In the minds of both producers and consumers, food is becoming more and more of a means of communication and a way of solving problems, i.e., products that, in a variety of situations, help us cope better with everyday life or give expression to our cares and joys; to improve our time and feeling management; to meet our need to be different, etc. We no longer eat primarily to still our hunger but to express, portray and delimit ourselves.
The decision what and how we eat is no longer delegated or simply accepted, as in times of material shortage or rigidly structured societies. Eating is no longer simply a matter of satisfying basic physiological needs but more of emphasising one‘s identity, creating social distinctions and obtaining aesthetic and sensuous pleasure (cf. Sensual Food). The trend to individualisation also means that people can choose who they want to dine with depending on the situation and their needs. Today, meals are increasingly taken with friends, customers, colleagues, etc., and no longer predominantly with the family. Accordingly, dinner in singles households is frequently cold. The younger and the smaller the household, the less is the inclination to cook. This holds particularly true of ’highly networked and mobile individualists‘, i.e., young singles who tend to eat more away from home or between traditional meal times (cf. Fast Good). The more irregularly or rarely people cook, the greater is the share of ready-to-eat and semi-finished products, as well as deep-frozen products, because keeping stocks of fresh produce in such households is neither economic nor practical.
Traditional home cooking that, despite different facets and recipes, emerged over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries in (Central) Europe and was the root of our notion of what constitutes a good meal, is also based on specific household and kitchen practices. And these practices are not applicable to one or two person house-holds. Thus, traditional home cuisine is declining in significance for everyday cooking. At the same time, however, this trend is giving rise to compensatory developments. (cf. Authentic Food and Pure Food, page xx).
When choosing their food and deciding on their style of eating, an increasing number of people ask whether their choices are beneficial in terms of physical and psychological well being. ’Wellness‘ is the name given to this trend, which includes far more than the maintenance of health and fitness. The latter no longer refers simply to physical performance but also to intellectual agility. This opens the door to light dishes with lots of vegetables and reinforces the trend towards low-fat preparation, (cf. Health Food and Pure Food, page xx). In the medium term, particularly in the restaurant sector, this will lead to new menu concepts, different portion sizes and to a vegetable to meat ratio based on the latest findings of nutritional physiology. The seven most important food trends:
1. Sensual Food – the new desire for taste.
A large proportion of what we eat has been processed before it reaches us, so we cannot taste it in its original form. Thus, we forget how to use our senses and have increasing difficulty in tasting or smelling differences. This loss goes hand in hand with a diminution in our capacity for enjoyment because our ability to enjoy and differentiate are not automatic – they have to be learnt, something that calls for a willingness to be taught and the time to gather the necessary experience.
Today, more and more consumers are willing to do this – a reaction to the absence of different experiences and the increasing standardisation of the taste of industrial products. New gastronomic trends à la Ferran Adriá (“My recipes make you think”) and Heston Blumenthal take account of the need for greater sensory expertise. Whereas the taste and appearance of a foodstuff used to be fairly standard, today, nothing seems to taste like it looks. Molecular cuisine experiments with the boundaries of our sensory perception and invites us to once again taste food in a more conscious way.
2. Fast Good Food – quick and healthy pleasure.
The opening of the first American fast-food restaurants in Europe 35 years ago represented the beginning of a new cultural trend. The success of these restaurants is not only due to the attraction of Big Mac, Whopper & Co. among children and young people. These products also cater for our changing way of life. In Europe, however, fast food is still regarded as being of inferior quality and unhealthy. The contradiction between the frequent need to eat quickly and the desire for healthy nutrition with complete culinary pleasure promises to trigger a new food trend: fast good food combines the functionality of US fast-food restaurants with the culinary qualities of European and Asian cuisine. As a product of globalisation, the new trend draws on numerous traditional cuisines from all over the world, which ensure fresh and healthy variety (rich in carbohydrates) even in the case of fast food – and which makes the paradox possible: healthy junk food. With bio-burgers and bio-doner-kebab, Asian streetfood and organic vegetables and sushi from bio-aqua-farming, fast good food is taking up the trend towards organic food and wellness, and making the eternal bad conscience a thing of the past.
3. Health Food – new options for health-conscious diners.
In the past, health was regarded as the victory over suffering and pain. Today, it is a synonym for the quality of life. Lifestyle is developing into ’healthstyle‘. In this connection, nutrition plays a central role. For most consumers, perception is not determined by classic, scientific arguments but by practical, everyday knowledge, such as the consumption of plant foodstuffs. Nutritional systems from the Far East appear particularly well able to reconcile the cyclical, health-motivated ’go-without‘ trends in western societies: less fat, less salt or, most recently, less carbohydrates.
Moreover, Asian cuisine, in which elements and energy flows play a significant role, harmonises perfectly with the western trend towards esotericism and is thus becoming the dominant force in the health-food segment. Particularly important, especially in the German-speaking region, is product freshness, a factor that, besides the vegetable components, has become synonymous with healthy food. The trend towards health food has also led to a revival of gourmet whole-food cuisine (in distinction to traditional grey-beige vegetarian fare). Additionally, the fruit and vegetable juice segment continues to grow rapidly.
4. Ethic Food – eating with a good conscience.
What use is it to gourmets when, although turbot, bass and sole can be obtained in places hundreds of miles away from the sea thanks to perfect cold chains, industrial fishing is endangering the survival of these species in the short to medium term? In recent years, we have been made aware of ethical quality criteria not only through the efforts of environmental organisations but also, and in particular, by the numerous food scandals, which have focused attention on the ecologically doubtful breeding and husbandry methods employed for beef, pork and poultry. This is opening up ever more opportunities for products distinguished by ethical production criteria, which can be enjoyed with a clear conscience.
The new ecological trend has cast off the tight-lipped image of the fundamentalists. And thus, via more room for manoeuvre and interaction, paved the way for a much larger group of producers and consumers. Demand has risen significantly thanks to a broader assortment and greater accessibility for ecological and fair-trade products, which are also packaged and presented in a more appealing way. The LOHAS target group (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability), which is expanding rapidly, especially in urban areas, stands for a new type of consumer who is oriented towards health and sustainability. And not just in Europe but also in the USA, where market leader Whole Foods has been remarkably successfully by exploiting the ’moral hedonism‘ of better educated and earning consumers. Today, the US market for biodynamic food is worth US $ 25-30 billion per year. Although this represents only 6 % of the total food market, this share is growing five times faster than the rest of the sector.
5. Authentic Food – the yearning for handicrafts and originality.
Food and beverages are not only for consumption. They also tell a story. In modern everyday life, this story is not particularly exciting. What else should standardised, industrially produced meals, also known as UFOs (unidentified food objects), tell us? The situation is different when it comes to produce from regional farms that are closely bound up with the ’terroir‘ and the people that grow them. These stories satisfy our desire for intimacy, closeness and home or our yearning for new experiences when travelling. The trend towards authentic food is a reaction to globalisation and the fears it causes. Authentic food offers consumers orientation and gives them a feeling of security. Traceability (guaranteeing product origins) and authenticity (original and handicraft production) are gaining continuously in significance.
Foodstuffs with protected names, such as Parma ham, ’Diepholzer Moorschnucke‘ (lamb), ’Thüringer Leberwurst‘ (liver sausage) and ’Steirisches Kürbiskernöl‘ (pumpkin-seed oil) continue to rank among the winners on the market. Today, there are more than 600 products on the European market with protected places of origin or place names – especially from tourist regions with a special culinary image, where it has been possible to incorporate the specific features of the landscape in the product. This trend also favours the rediscovery of regional dishes and opens up new marketing opportunities for the restaurant sector. Thus, the region gains in significance compared to the nation as a whole. No longer is the focus on Italian, German, Austrian or French cooking but on, for example, Umbrian, Piedmontese, Alsatian, Styrian or Pannonian cuisine.
6. Pure Food – absolutely safe even for allergy sufferers.
The number of people suffering from food allergies is increasing markedly. In Switzerland, 2 to 4 % of the population is affected clinically. Subjectively, the number of allergy sufferers is considerably larger. Experts predict a further increase in food intolerance, especially among children and young people. In principle, any food or ingredient can cause an allergy. What makes a diagnosis so difficult is that most foods contain several proteins, any of which could be the allergen. Thus, foodstuffs that are free of (certain) allergens have bright perspectives for the future.
Additionally, the continuing debate about chronic obesity is having a positive impact on the ’no foods‘ segment (food without sugar, fat, salt, etc.). The trend to pure, basic foods – a striking countertrend to food presentations and molecular cuisine – is also influencing the restaurant sector: simple recipes and very gentle, non-adulterating cooking methods appeal even to typical slow and organic food consumers who appreciate pure food and an unequivocal product philosophy.
7. Mood Food – Eating as emotion management.
Eating is increasingly being used as a mood regulator. Scientific studies are also on the track of the connections between psychological moods and the consumption of certain foods or the influence of certain ingredients on changes in mood. Nutritional factors that seem to stabilise moods have been found, especially in the case of people who are prone to stress or depressive. The food industry has commissioned research into natural human psychoactive substances, such as serotonin, a hormone, or dopamine, a neurotransmitter, to develop foodstuffs specifically for better emotion management. The aim: to be able to supply the ever-growing target group of people who are prone to stress or depressive with therapeutically effective mood-food products. Classic mood foods, such as chocolate, will be produced and marketed for specific target groups. Depending on whether the product is aimed at men, women or children, the outer layer is made of milk or plain chocolate and the filling of cream or fruit and nuts.
Hanni Rützler has made an international name for herself as a pioneering dietician, a researcher with a multi-disciplinary approach to eating and drinking behaviour. Her expertise is in demand not only by food companies and health politicians but also by multi-national food groups and big system caterers.