From Organic Produce to Transparent Food Labelling, Chakki-Fresh Atta to Greek Yoghurt, to Faster Onset of Food Boredom: Trends That Define Dining Out in 2018
TAGTASTE, the online community of food professionals launched formally last month by Jaspal Sabharwal of Everstone Capital and startup maestro Arun Tangri, has released its first ‘Insights’ report distilling the market predictions of 57 chefs and F&B executives, 153 grocers and 353 consumers on the dining patterns and preferences of the two demographics — the Millennials and Generation Z — that both tantalise and trouble market analysts.
The Millennials are the generation born between 1980 and 2000, the momentous two decades leading up to the new millennium, which places them in 18-40 age bracket, and Generation Z, also known as Digital Natives, is the umbrella term for young people born after 2000. Together, they account for 720 million Indians.
Having been born and having grown up in a communication-rich world, they — especially those born in the middle- and upper-middle classes — are behaviourally like their world peers and global food trends do not leave them untouched. For the food industry, they are especially important because they dine out more than the older generations. They spend 10 per cent of their annual income on dining out in restaurants or patronising niche caterers and home delivery services.
How are these market leaders changing the way we will consume food? Particularly significant is the way millennial parents (‘Parennials’) are shaping the food habits of their children, by creating a market, for instance, for organic baby food. These are the big questions that TagTaste’s first Insights for 2018 report seeks to answer.
Here’s a summary of TagTaste’s findings:
(1) The Millennials and Generation Z present a major challenge to the food service industry because they’re hyper-informed about the world, clued into gastronomy, and connected like never before. They are ‘Sensitised Diners’, a new class of people with discerning palates who are moving away from ‘aesthetic plates’ to new textures, aromas and flavours. Restaurants and chefs who talk the language of sustainability and ethical treatment of animals are also more likely to draw these demographics into their fold.
(2) They are also getting bored sooner, which means a dish that may be trending today is likely to be out of fashion tomorrow (it reminds me of the fate of molecular gastronomy in India). Chefs as a result will have to work harder to keep reinventing their menus faster than the rate of boredom.
(3) Unlike the older generations, which ate heartily without really getting worked up about the health implications of what they ingested, the Millennials and Generation Z are re-adopting the time-tested ancient wisdom of eating local, fresh and seasonal. They are also developing a palate for broccoli, carrots, mushrooms and peas (I remember the menus of Connaught Place restaurants where each ‘Continental’ non-vegetarian dish would arrive with a heap of these vegetables on the side), but micro-greens are going out of favour because they lack flavour.
(4) Quinoa, millets (such as pearl millets, or bajra, and foxtail millets, or kangani), sorghum (jowar) and amaranth seeds (ramdana) are replacing refined wheat, even as people are going back to old-fashioned, neighbourhood chakkis to get their share of whole wheat flour.
(5) The report does not say so, but I get the feeling, reading it, that restaurants would do well to get their own chakkis — we all would love chakki-fresh atta, wouldn’t we? — and celebrate the diversity of the rice and wheat varieties that the country is blessed. At one point in the study, Chef Manjit Gill, President, Indian Federation of Culinary Associations (IFCA), is quoted as saying that popular local rice varieties such Govindabhog and Sona Masuri will gain greater traction in a market hungry for ‘new sensations’. Likewise, people will go back to naturally aged basmati for its aroma and avoid the steam-aged version that’s commonly available now.
(6) The year ahead will also see the resurgence of:
(a) Middle Eastern seasonings such as tahini, za’atar, sumac and harissa, apart from pomegranate, another favourite of that part of the world.
(b) Timur, the Indian answer to Sichuan peppers that grows wildly in the hills of Uttarakhand.
(c) Flowers — rose, lavender, hibiscus and elderflower — showing up on people’s plates more for effect than for flavour.
(d) Green tea, which will replace sugary fruit drinks; cold-brewed coffee; herbal tea spiked with ashwagandha, lavender and curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric); coconut water and low-sugar energy drinks.
(e) Hazelnut, mocha, chocolate, caramel and vanilla flavours will continue to be the favourites in the hot latte and cold brew segments.
(f) Greek yoghurt, and menus designed around it, as in the Chobani Café outlets in New York City, where you can find regular yoghurt-based parfaits, smoothies and breakfast bowls, and then labne, a yoghurt-cheese, and salad dressings made from low-fat Greek yoghurt – Caesar, cucumber ranch and herb. “Yoghurt’s popularity as a healthy, pro-biotic ingredient can also encourage consumers to use it as a substitute for cream in soups and sauces (like alfredo pasta). It’s also a popular alternative to cream cheese in desserts,” the report notes.
and (g) Regular and biscuit sandwiches with innovative fillings, from tofu to Muenster cheese, to smoked meats and really pricey white truffles.
The Millennials also stand out because of their ethical approach to food. It seems as if Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of ethical eating has permeated into an entire generation and shaped the way it approaches food. Here’s a generation that sincerely believes in supporting organic and environment-friendly farming, limiting the carbon footprint of food products, having free-range chickens and their eggs, and milk from happy cows, apart from reduction of food wastage and pesticide use.
As Chef Bill Marchetti points out, upcycling trash and re-using it will acquire a national movement-like urgency in the months ahead. In this new environment, packaged foods will slip in popularity because of the growing concern about the synthetic additives used to increase their shelf life. And the demand for transparent, honest labelling will only get louder. Increasingly, food writers will have to work with activists such as Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment to satiate the rising hunger for honest labelling information. Let’s build the momentum!