What are the top food trends for 2016?

The top trend, based on a survey of chefs, is locally sourced meats and seafood.

Annually, since 2006, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) releases its “What’s Hot” culinary forecast. To determine the top 20 trends for the upcoming year, the Association surveys nearly 1,600 professional chefs who belong to the American Culinary Association.

What can food trends tell producers, manufacturers and consumers of local and regional food about the future? Trends can provide producers with direction as to what future demand will be so that they can respond in a timely fashion. Trends help food manufacturers and others who add value to food products predict where their markets might be headed. And for consumers, it provides a glimpse into what new and unique food choices might soon be found at their favorite restaurant, farmers market or grocery store.

The top food trend for 2016, as identified by professional chefs is “locally sourced meats and seafood.” This is not a new trend, however. In NRA surveys since 2006, local sourcing as a trend has grown 44 percent. Let’s examine more closely the meaning and benefits of local sourcing. 

The United States Department of Agriculture, it its report called, “Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts and Issues” acknowledges that there is no generally accepted definition of local food. This report, however, says, “Definitions related to geographic distance between production and sales vary by regions, companies, consumers, and local food markets. 

According to the definition adopted by the U.S. Congress in the 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act, the total distance that a product can be transported and still be considered a “locally or regionally produced agricultural food product” is less than 400 miles from its origin, or within the State in which it is produced.” 

Consumers value locally sourced foods for multiple reasons. Their benefits are many. Seven of these benefits are found in this article published by Michigan State University Extension

Retailers and restaurants can also benefit from meeting these demands from consumers. According to this article published by Michigan State University Extension, “By partnering with local producers to offer one or more locally sourced menu items, your business can claim support for the sustainability of the local community food system, creating more loyalty from customers who value this approach.” 

Meat and seafood products particularly, can benefit from a shorter supply chain (the distance between farm and plate). Freshness is enhanced and the opportunity for contamination and spoilage is reduced when meats and seafood spend less time in transit and storage. Michigan restaurants and markets, with their close proximity to the Great Lakes fishery, can truly boast, “caught today, prepared tonight,” a distinction that is appealing to many cooks and diners. 

There are many compelling reasons why locally sourced meats and seafood top the list of food trends for 2016. This is the first in a series that will examine more closely the trends found on the NRA’s list. 

MSU Extension has educators working across Michigan who provide community food systems educational programming and assistance. For more information, you can contact an educator by conducting a search with MSU Extension’s find an expert search tool and using the keywords, community food systems.

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