December 13, 2009
What are the hottest trends in food for the coming year? Not surprisingly, the economy is exerting a heavy influence, according to the Food Channel, a cable TV channel focusing on food and food preparation.

According to the channel and its Web site, experimentation, "umami," or taste, and benefits are among the main food influences for the coming year.

Keeping it real

In a back-to-basics economy it is natural to return to basic ingredients, according to the Food Network editors. This isn't about retro, or comfort food, or even cost. It's about determining the essentials and stocking your pantry accordingly. It is about pure, simple, clean and sustainable. "It is, dare we say, a shift from convenience foods to scratch cooking," the editors said.

Experimentation Nation

Restaurant concepts are in flux as people redefine what going "out" to eat means. Gastropubs, fusion dining, shareables, and communal tables are all being tried. New concepts around "fresh" and DIY will do well. Experimentation is the trend, so we'll see concepts come and go.

More in store

Food Network predicts growth in grocery stores, particularly as private label assumes prominence. "Those old generics have morphed into their own brands, so that there is blurring and less of a caste system," the editors say. Grocery stores are also doing things such as upgrading delis and fresh take-out sections, all the way to returning butchers to a place of prominence.

American, the new ethnic

This is all about flavor delivery. "Immigration has come to the plate, and we are now defining a new Global Flavor Curve," the editors say. Part comfort, part creativity, the latest flavors are coming from the great American melting pot. So, it's about grandma's food, but the recipes may be written in Japanese.

Food vetting

You are what you eat! With all the recent concerns about food safety, consumers are displaying more sensitivity to the issue. That's what's leading this trend -- our constant need for assurance that we are eating the right things, that our food is safe, that we are not ingesting pesticides or anything that will someday prove harmful. Call it food vetting or sourcing -- the issue is that people are asking where their food comes from.

Mainstreaming Sustainability

People have mainstreamed sustainability, unlike a year ago, when consumers were somewhat afraid to use the word. "America is just now learning how to be sustainable, and Americans are holding themselves responsible," the editors say. In 2010 we'll see people and companies becoming sustainable for authentic reasons.

Food with benefits

Call it what you will -- nutritional, healthful, good-for-you -- but this trend toward beneficial foods is growing at a pretty big rate. Expect food to either have nutrients added, or have the word "free," such as gluten-free, allergy-free.

I want my umami

The "foodie" has settled into a more universal designation of someone who loves food, rather than a food snob. They are just as likely to want a PB&J as they are to try the latest soft shell crab sushi. And they may put French fries on it! The point is experimentation and a willingness to try new things.

Will trade for food

"In an era when you can rent a name-brand purse for a special event, we want to know how we can apply that same concept to consumables," the editors say. So what do we do in a bad economy when we have more time than money and skills that we still want to put to use? We barter. The editors predict that we'll all see more of the barter system come into play now that technology can assist with connections.

I, me, mine

It's the rise of the individual. While sharing has come into its own in restaurant concepts, there is a separate but equal trend toward individuality. It's part of the reason why we are making our own cheese, smoking our own meats, and making our own specialty desserts. "Expect more attention to the individual, but it's not just about portion size--it's also about food that reflects personality," the editors say.