What’s In, What’s Out? The Origins of Food Trends

Food trends are bountiful. Every day there is a new headline in food industry publications announcing innovative culinary hybrids, novel flavors, groundbreaking products or revived classics. Businesses and consumers are so bombarded with these different culinary developments that it often begs the question, where did these trends come from?

Numbers Don’t Lie
The saying goes, “there’s power in numbers,” and if enough people are captivated by one idea, that idea is going to flourish like the fruit on a grapevine, thereby becoming a trend. According to Dictionary.com, the definition of a trend is “the general course or prevailing tendency; style or vogue.” In addition to earning more foot traffic and obtaining an increased bottom line, there is a simple answer to the mystery of how food trends originate – the main ingredient is the desire and demands of consumers.

Foodbusiness.news.net article “A Means to a Trend: How Foodies Forecast What’s Cool in Culinary” reports that foodies in combination with social media, restaurant review websites such as Yelp.com and celebrity endorsements make a food or ingredient trendy. Forbes.com, however, posts a different formula regarding the search for food trend origins. This methodology gathers the observations and extensive comments of dozens of experts including food writers, chefs, restaurateurs and food educators all across America to forecast the next food trend, as noted in the online article “Top 10 Food Trends of 2013.”

Another technique utilized at the Center for Culinary Development is Trend Mapping, which traces the progress of culinary trends through a five-stage process that originates with the daily specials of creative chefs. The article “Fine-Dining Trends That Are Headed Your Way,” on QSR.com thoroughly details each step of this process of culinary trend origination:

Based on this methodology, it could be said that all major food trends are first delivered to the public via fine dining institutions. Nevertheless, this notion is one where some industry professionals tend to disagree.

Trend Spotter: Same Food, Three Different Locales. Who Served It First?
Trend origination is an evasive subject. Some food authorities, such as Jason Brumfiel, executive chef, The King & Prince Resort, St. Simons Island, GA, believe that trends seesaw between fine dining, fast casual and quick serve restaurants.

“It is a symbiotic relationship. I find that trends seem to go back and forth repeating themselves periodically. QSR/fast casual establishments are looking for healthier and fresher selections with more attractive presentations that are found in fine dining. Yet at the same time you see fine dining taking pages out of the QSR/fast casual book, looking for better ways to increase gross profits, efficiency and become more approachable to casual diners,” Brumfiel explains.

Brumfiel further elaborates, “Upscale versions of fast food are appearing on menus everywhere in many different styles and even being served in fast food packaging for that genuine feel, hence the popularity of the food truck.” Notably 91 percent of those familiar with mobile food trucks say the trend is here to stay, as reported by the Huffington Post.

However, culinary insiders such as Jacqueline Grantham-Watson, fresh foods chef, Harris Teeter, St. Simons Island, GA, pinpoint fine dining as the definite starting point for inspiring popular food trends, stating, “I like to start at the top – meaning fine dining. I aim high with my expectations, as food is an incredible luxury that we consume three times daily.”

Caroline Hedaya, east coast account manager, Food Arts magazine, shares the same sentiment as Grantham-Watson, giving fine dining the nod for culinary trendsetting.

“100%, food trends are a trickle-down effect. Trends come from fine dining, then trickle down to QSR/fast casual. Think about Caesar salad. It started in fine dining and now appears on McDonald’s menus,” Hedaya analyzes.

Fine dining seems to be the springboard for culinary trend inspiration within the dining industry. A great example is the wildly popular Mexican-American food chain, Chipotle, which was founded by fine dining chefs. Nonetheless, culinary creativeness ultimately comes from many directions, as eloquently stated by Blumfiel: “One thing’s for sure, if I see a good idea that motivates me, I’m going to utilize it no matter if it is at a QSR, family reunion or a Michelin Star restaurant.”

In the case of culinary trends, it seems as though everyone gets a taste of fine dining, after a while. And judging by the way full service and quick service restaurant menus have evolved with more sophisticated offerings like asiago cheese, ciabatta bread and pretzel buns, it’s hard not to wonder what’s next to come.