The United Fresh Produce Association publishes a seasonal overview of what’s happening in restaurants across the country. The “Spring 2017 Fresh Insights for Foodservice” outlines trends that originate in fine-dining and/or ethnic independent restaurants and make their way into mainstream restaurants - and eventually— into supermarkets and the home-cooking repertoire of recreational chefs.
So, as a fresh produce merchant, it makes sense to be aware of new items and culinary trends that are present today in restaurants, knowing that tomorrow those customers will be in your stores seeking those items. So, I outline below the new items and dining trends that need to direct your future go-to-market strategies.
MERCHANDISING TIP OF THE WEEK. Here’s what’s happening in restaurants across the nation—listing soon to be sought-after items in your produce department (direct quotes are from United Fresh’s Spring 2017 Fresh Insights for Foodservice):
Cucumbers. “In the past four years, cucumbers have grown on menus in every restaurant segment, from fast food to fine dining. They have a healthy fresh connotation and are most often menued in salads or sandwiches, or served with fish and seafood entrees. They are also showing up more frequently in beverages, from large dispensers of cucumber water offered as a complimentary premium beverage at fast casuals and hotels to light, refreshing cocktails menued for spring and summer. Cucumbers are also staples in many global cuisines.”
Specialty Citrus. “Today’s chefs are always looking for a way to stand out and today they have access to an ever-wider array of specialty citrus varieties to help them create unique dishes and beverages. The bitter Seville orange, for instance, can be found in on-trend bitter cocktails, while yuzu shows up in bright, fresh, Asian-influenced drinks, marinades, dressings, sauces and even beers. Pomelo is often used as a next-level grapefruit variety, sometimes served bruleed on breakfast or brunch menus, while fresh Ugli fruit may be used in citrus salads or over yogurt. The makrut lime, meanwhile, is more well-known for its fragrant leaves which add flavor to Vietnamese and Indonesian dishes.”
Poke Bowls. “Poke (pronounced ’poh-kay’) is a trendy fish salad that originated in Hawaii, but lately it has been taking the mainland by storm, with poke-focused fast casuals popping up across the country. The name ’poke’ means ’to cut into pieces’ in Hawaiian and features chunks of sushi-grade fish marinated in soy sauce, onions and sesame oil, which is typically combined in a bowl with seaweed, green onion, and nuts. The explosion of poke bowls on menus across the country, however, coupled with the customizable bowl trend, has led to an endless number of ingredients and toppings being used in this on-trend dish. In fact, variety is key—a successful poke bowl often includes a range of flavors, textures, and colors. Pickled vegetables, rich avocado, fresh cucumber, sweet pineapple, colorful carrots, crunchy radishes, and healthy edamame are all common ingredients in poke bowls. The resulting bowl is frequently served over rice, quinoa, or another grain.”
Jackfruit. “Jackfruit has been hailed as a ‘miracle fruit’ because jackfruit trees are prolific, the fruit itself is large and nutrient-dense, and it can be used in both sweet and savory applications—in other words, it can feed a lot of people in many different ways. It has been trending in the U.S., particularly with vegans and vegetarians, because unripe jackfruit can be shredded and used as a meat substitute with a texture similar to pulled pork or chicken. It is often mixed with a sauce and used in curries, tacos, pulled jackfruit sandwiches, or bowls. When ripe, the jackfruit pods are sweet, with a flavor often compared to Juicy Fruit gum. At this point, they are used in salads, smoothies, cakes and in frozen desserts. The seeds, mean while, can also be eaten, or they can be ground into flour.”
Pickled & Fermented Fruits and Vegetables. “Though they often have similar flavor profiles and there is a overlap between the two, pickling and fermenting are two different processes. Pickling refers to preserving any food in a brine or acid (usually vinegar), while fermentation is a chemical process that converts sugars and carbohydrates into acids, gases, or alcohol. As a type of preservation process, pickling and fermenting were originally necessities, allowing the ancient Mesopotamians (the first to pickle foods) to keep foods fresh for longer periods of time. Now every society and culture has some sort of pickled or fermented delicacy—Scandinavian herring, Mexican escabeche, Italian giardiniera. In the U.S., pickling and fermenting are making a comeback as both home cooks and chefs look for ways to preserve fresh, local produce for use throughout the year. Modern U.S. consumers are also open to more unique flavor profiles (bitter, tart) and crave foods from around the world that often feature pickled or fermented produce.”
Meal Kit Subscriptions. “Almost every meal kit service proudly notes that they make it easy to prepare fresh and healthy meals with expertly chosen, seasonal produce. Some even include information about the farmer who supplied the produce, either through in-box materials or online videos. Many kits also say that they'll introduce consumers to new ingredients that they may not be familiar with or have access to. Now a number of supermarkets are launching their own meal kits for in-store pickup, including Publix and Kroger.”
New, exciting items have their “introductions” in restaurants across the country. Knowing the items they feature gives a clue as to what the future will hold in your Produce Department! Happy Selling!