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Hot menu trends for 2022: What’s Hot Culinary Forecast

The 2022 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast predicts a more health-centric future, with healthful and plant-based foods trending, global and non-traditional flavors impacting breakfast and snacking, as well as better packaging becoming a key focus. The National Restaurant Association publishes the forecast, prepared annually with insights and survey responses from hundreds of professional chef members of the American Culinary Federation.

Sustainability and zero-waste foods are part of leading 2022 trend in the forecast, ranking #3, and a signal that consumers are demanding more environmentally-friendly options from restaurants and operators are responding.

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Packaging is being elevated in its importance due to the fast-rising popularity of takeout food with consumers, and ranks as the #1 (packaging: food quality) and #2 (packaging: retains temperature) top trends.

Immunity boosting snacks appear as the #4 overall trend, a sign of the times, as the nation starts its recovery from the global pandemic. Menu streamlining (#5) comes next as operators face stiff inflation in the cost of raw and prepared ingredients, and want to cross-utilize product while reducing complexity in operations and inventory levels.

Sustainability initiatives, from reusable and recyclable packaging to zero-waste options, are part of an ongoing conversation in which the industry establishes its role in earth-positive initiatives. Recyclable and reusable packaging is a topic that has received much attention. With regard to zero-waste initiatives, operators are exploring ways to more deeply cross-utilize 100% of product, including produce and meat.

Packaging that travels well and also helps retain temperature is increasingly becoming important for restaurants as consumers adopt food for carryout, delivery and catering. The Association notes that as restaurants seek to translate the dining experience outside the restaurant, operators are looking at “thoughtful packaging that maintains food quality, retains temperature, and is tamper-proof.”

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Immunity-boosting snacks, the #4 overall trend for 2022, are attracting attention. In fact, the whole category of immunity-boosting foods is popular as consumers come out of lockdown mode into recovery. Nuts, berries, tomatoes, seeds, olive oil and dark chocolate are said to have properties that ward off disease and major illness. Restaurants are repositioning dishes and meals in this functional context, following a trajectory well-executed by consumer packaged goods companies.

“In addition to a return to health-focused menu offerings and more eco-friendly, improved off-premises packaging, all of which rated high in the top trends, we’re expecting operators to look across their menus for transformative opportunities,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of Research for the Association. “Look for trends that fuse the traditional meal daypart items with other dayparts and an increasing popularity of snacking and its allied items. Also, with the popularity of cocktails-to-go during the pandemic, restaurants will look to expand both alcoholic and non-alcoholic craft beverage options.”

For breakfast, Non-traditional breakfast proteins are trending, including chorizo and vegan bacon, as well as plant-based breakfast sandwiches and egg-based breakfast bowls.

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At lunch time, chefs are betting on plant-based sandwiches and globally-inspired salads and bowls to become top-trending foods next year. Dinner will see less-expensive chicken, like chicken thighs (versus wings) become more pervasive on menus, in addition to plant-based burgers and less expensive beef—chuck versus loin, for example—become more popular.

To discover more trends, readers can obtain a copy of the report at the 2022 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast link.

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