The Innovation Group's Lucie Greene previews notable food trends ahead of a panel at SXSW.

This weekend at South by Southwest Interactive, the Innovation Group’s worldwide director Lucie Greene will participate in Culinary Innovation: Tracking Food Trends, a panel at the food-centric South Bites. Lucie join Damiano Marchetti, producer for the Vice Media food platform Munchies; Kara Chiles, editorial director for Whole Foods Market; and Will Levitt, festival director for Taste Talks. 

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Seed + Mill

This week, SXSW Interactive kicks off in Austin, Texas, and I’m excited to be taking part part in a panel with a seasoned group of food trend experts. Aside from identifying the newest emerging food trends, we’ll be examining how food trends are changing and how retailers select which ones to invest in.

What trends are we seeing? Our Food + Drink: Trends and Futures report has a ton of them, but more have since emerged:

Just Desserts

“Why Tahini is the New Kale” was a headline recently touted by Epicurious, which lauded the nutritional benefits of the classic Middle Eastern sesame paste. Consumers know it from falafel shops: “But get ready to see it everywhere else—even in your smoothies,” the article added.

On cue, Seed + Mill, a new artisanal halva, tahini and sesame bar, has opened in New York’s Chelsea Market. Its aim, Seed + Mill says, is to “breathe life in to an ancient seed by offering unexpected flavors of tahini and halva and inspiring new ways to use sesame in everyday cooking.”

Seed + Mill produces premium jars of savory tahini, but also uses the ingredient to create ice cream, blending it with goat milk. But halva—a dense, crumbly and slightly crunchy Middle Eastern confection—is the main event. Visitors to Seed + Mill find tall, beautifully adorned halva desserts are on display, looking much like large cheesecakes or gateaux displayed in a patisserie. These moist creations include cardamom, fig, nougat and chocolate-orange flavors.

Seed + Mill is the latest example of how food innovators are reinventing indulgences with healthy, or alternative products. Hemsley + Hemsley, the chef duo in the UK, create gluten-free cheesecakes using avocado, and brownies using beans. “Cookie dough” made with chickpeas is also on the rise. The issue of calories, or fat, is entirely side-stepped in favor of dairy-free or vegan-friendly messaging.

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Seed + Mill

Move over Nordics, here comes Hawaii 2.0

The influence of Nordic food seems to be reaching critical mass as a trend. With an Icelandic restaurant due to open in Grand Central Terminal and Noma chef René Redzepi defecting to Australia for his next pop-up endeavor, the Nordics are now ubiquitous.

To fill the gap, Hawaii is emerging as the next big influencer in food trends. Honolulu is being touted as a new culinary destination thanks to a troop of indigenous chefs reinventing Hawaiian classics such as poke (a raw fish dish) and popular shaved ice desserts. Local hotspots include The Koko Head Café and Kaimuki Superette, where the chef Ed Kennedy buys whole pigs from a local farm to make charcuterie.

It’s not limited to food either. Honolulu Beer Works is creating “farmhouse ales” aged in wine barrels and sour beers made using local pineapple and calamansi, a citrus fruit.

Expect to see it all in Brooklyn soon. Already, Sons of Thunder, a “West Coast” restaurant with Hawaiian influences, has opened in New York. Pret a Manger is reportedly planning to add poke to its UK menu.

The popularity of Hawaii is indicative of a wider trend. One, in which, influencers on global food and beauty trends can increasingly come from anywhere. Consumers are increasingly interested in what’s new, what’s next, and what’s local. The appetite for new, uncharted cuisines is fueled by global travel, globalization, and—you know—the internet. Consumers are also much more adventurous on the whole. How long will Hawaii last? Fast as it takes to reach Pret.

New Food-Tainment

In our recent Food + Drink report, we found that 81% of US millennials consider going out to eat to be a cultural experience, compared to only 53% of US boomers. Food is starting to occupy the center of popular culture with many millennials attending food festivals as frequently as they do concerts.

With that, we’re also seeing food entertainment taking a more creative, youthful, and authentic direction, looking at grassroots food creators in regions around the world, real-life chefs, and connecting food exploration to travel and culture.

Netflix continues to expand its long-form food content, charting leading chefs in the series Chef’s Table. More recently, they’ve added “Cooked” from author Michael Pollan and filmmaker Alex Gibney, exploring the history of cooking techniques. YouTube food channels are proliferating, from top chef Jamie Oliver, to Waitrose, to Sorted Food, each boasting enviably large audiences. Vice Media is serving up food coverage Gen Z-style with a new cooking show featuring rapper Action Bronson on its new Viceland TV channel. Meanwhile, Noma—yes again—got its own feature-length documentary shown in movie theaters last year.

It’s an interesting shift and one that echoes the role of chefs in general in our culture. Many chefs today are going beyond food, and recipes, to bigger-picture, altruistic visions of how food fits in society. Chefs now vault from the kitchen to thought leadership events, and now even to big-budget film productions, with regularity.