Flavor trends: What’s on the menu?

Americans are showing increasing interest in spicier, more exotic cuisine. Food businesses must adapt to these trends.

The changing demographics of the population in the United States are having an effect on menu choices in restaurants. For those in the restaurant business and other providers of food products, these are important indicators to watch.

As the Hispanic and Asian populations increase, the baby boomers grow older and the Millennials come of age, flavor preferences of the future will be affected.

According to the market research group, Mintel, the top flavor on menus is garlic, with spicy coming in at a close second. In a recent consumer survey, 52 percent of the respondents agree that spicier food is more appealing to them now than when they were younger.

But the flavor to watch is lemon. It is versatile, working well with meats, sauces and beverages, while at the same time having a fresh aura. Many new menu innovations include this flavor.

It’s not surprising that of all the cuisine types, traditional American still leads the pack. Italian comes in second, reflecting the popularity of pizza as a food that is convenient and budget friendly. Mexican food has become more popular as consumers show a greater preference for spicy food and is a choice on menus of all restaurant types, even if only in the appetizer section. The trend for Chinese cuisine continues but in a different direction. General Chinese cuisine on menus has been in decline but the Pan-Asian cuisine has increased by 61 percent.

Other trends to watch include the increase of certain comfort foods on menus, particularly different variations of macaroni and cheese and the realization that dessert menus without some form of chocolate disappoint consumers.

Keeping in mind consumer trends and demographics is a good starting point for food producers in determining new and innovative food products. As Eric Giandelone, director of research for Mintel Foodservice, said in an August 02012 report, “Impress them and they will be back. Stay stagnant and they will start looking around. Repeat business is a moving target.”

Through a partnership with Michigan State University Extension, the MSU Product Center provides product development assistance for companies as they work to introduce to new products. For more information, visit www.productcenter.msu.edu or call 517-432-8750.

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