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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Trends

TRENDS: 2009 Restaurant Directions

In a down economy, discretionary restaurant meals are one of the first things to get cut by conservative consumers. Food industry consulting and research firm Technomic sees five trends looming large in 2009, as restaurants try to coax customers to come out and spend:

1. Experimentation and innovation—with new menu items, delivery services and price/bundling schemes.

2. Continuation of ethnic flavors, with a highlight of regional cuisines such as regional Italian and Jalisco-style Mexican fare.

3. “Local” food sourcing and a menu emphasis on the foods of the region.

4. Goldilocks serving sizes: big, little and just right. More small-plate, prix-fixe and bar menus, in addition to more family-style entrées that can feed two or more.

5. Up-scaled and expanded kids’ menus, beyond standard kids’ menu items to items that reflect the restaurant, for instance, a crab cake at a seafood restaurant—along with more specialty beverages and smoothies. (Editor’s Note: Makes good sense to help develop the foodies of tomorrow.)

Hmmm…interesting, but we’re not certain that a kid’s crab cake or delivery service is the hot button when money is one’s chief concern. “Price/bundling schemes,” whatever they are, sound promising. What would make us spend money at restaurants when we think we should exercise restraint are financial incentives. Our suggestions include:

1. The “new menu items” should include more affordable dishes across categories (appetizers, entrees, desserts). There should be some comparatively inexpensive choices in each group. If your goal is to fill seats, this can be done—at least on certain nights of the week.

2. Offer more affordable wines, meaning, more reasonable markups. We’d show up to eat more often and buy wine if we could pay $20 for a $10 retail bottle instead of $35. Paying $12 or $15 for one glass of average wine is like pouring money down the drain.

3. Allow a BYO for a corkage fee on slow nights.
We understand that much of a restaurant’s profit has come from those $12 wines-by-the-glass and the bottle markups; but when people can buy the entire bottle for $12, they’re staying home and grilling or ordering a designer pizza in these penny-pinching times. We’d like to suggest that restaurants find other ways to improve their margins, including:

1. Charging for the bread basket. How many people really want that bread, and how much of it gets wasted (or how many of us fill up on it before the food arrives)? No one needs those carbs (or the fat from the butter). Few of us serve a bread basket at home; at the restaurant, it’s a bad-food temptation we don’t need put in front of us. Charging for it is a way for restaurants to save (and earn) money.

2. Serve smaller portions of dessert. Most of those who want a little something sweet at the end of the meal could do with half the calories, carbs and fat of what we’re typically served—that’s why “sharing a dessert” is a standard calorie-cutting recommendation. In addition to earning higher margins from smaller portions, there’s probably a market for a selection of mini-desserts sold to people who would normally decline dessert (similar to selling an “appetizer portion” of a main course).

It’s food for thought!

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TRENDS: Per Capita Beer Consumption Increases


Gordon Biersch Märzen. Read our full review of
this American craft brew.
  After declining annually since 2002, per capita beer consumption in the U.S. rose slightly last year. In 2007, total beer volume in the U.S. increased by 1.4%, returning to 2002 levels, according to recent research. We’re talking about domestic mass-marketed beers, the Buds, Coors and Millers—not the craft beers, which continue to grow each year (but represent a much smaller percentage of sales).

“Beer in the U.S.,” a report from Beverage Marketing Corporation, an industry research company, noted that per-capita consumption of beer in the country in 2007 hit 22 gallons (and if you don’t drink beer, think of how much the other guy is drinking). “While the decreases in the early years of the 21st century were in the order of one or two tenths of a gallon from one year to the next, they became a steadily recurring phenomenon,” the company said in the report.
While imports, which had been one of the most vibrant segments of the U.S. beer market, slowed considerably in 2003 and performed weakly in 2004, imports revived in 2005, but not enough to counterbalance the contraction in domestic sales. The result is that sales in the beer market were essentially flat. Imports played a crucial role in volume growth in 2006, increasing by double-digits. The largest U.S. brewer, Anheuser-Busch, had a sizeable increase in shipments of domestic brands in 2006 but stalled in 2007. However, the next two largest brewers, Miller Brewing Company and Coors Brewing Company, enjoyed solid growth, which contributed to another year of overall beer volume growth.

Find some of our favorite craft beers in THE NIBBLE’s Beer Section.
Learn more about beer in our Glossary of Beer Terms.
Learn the best Beer & Cheese Pairings.
See a six-course Beer & Food Pairing Dinner menu with recipes.
Check out these Tips for Serving Beer.

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TRENDS: Hot Flavors For 2009

Each year, industry experts predict the hot flavors of the following year. With the first predictions for 2009, international research firm Mintel forecasts that manufacturers and restaurateurs will reach for the following exotic fruits and flavors to tempt jaded palates (astute eyes will notice that some of these have been on annual lists for several years running, and have yet to hit the mainstream, as have past hits like chipotle, pomegranate and wasabi):

-Persimmon. Our grandmother loved persimmon, but this lovely fruit hasn’t made it out of specialty markets. According to Mintel, it is poised to “make a major splash in food and beverage.” Mintel expects companies to blend it with more common fruits, as seen in a new Japanese yogurt that contains white peaches, persimmon and apricots.

Persimmon will make a major splash in food and
beverage in 2009.
-Starfruit. Many of us have been cutting this exotic fruit into fruit salads and using it as a plate garnish for decades. Found in other countries in jams and chutneys, Mintel predicts that star fruit “will become a major global player in 2009.”
-Lavender. Is mainstream America ready for lavender? We don’t know. It’s one of our favorite flavors and it’s been “out there” in gourmet circles for years–Mintel expects lavender to move beyond the home and personal care categories and into food and beverage next year. Already seen in products such as Lindt Chocolat Provence’s Lemon-Lavender Dream chocolate (Germany), lavender can be paired with more familiar ingredients to bring a naturally soothing, aromatic quality to food and drink.
-Cactus. Cactus is already a popular food flavor in Latin America, seen in products like Nopalia Cactus Toasts (Mexico), which contain both cactus and corn. Next year, look for manufacturers to incorporate this regional taste into new food products around the world.
-Chimichurri. A classic from Latin America, chimichurri is a “salsa” from Argentina containing garlic, parsley and olive oil, and used as a sauce for grilled meats. Will American carnivores convert from sweet-and-spicy steak sauces to chimichurri? Old habits die hard. IOHO, it would take a push from the large steak chains.
-Peri-Peri. This one has our vote. A hot and spicy chile-based sauce from Africa, peri-peri can sneak in where chile-based salsas have achieved success.
-Masala. With the growth in popularity of Indian flavors, masala may follow curry. But we don’t see a flood of it happening in 2009 in the U.S. Masala, or garam masala (translated as “hot spice”) is a blend of ground spices in Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani cuisines, used alone or with other seasonings. Blends vary, and can include cardamom, cinnamon, clove, mace, nutmeg and peppercorns.

Mintel predicts that nature-inspired aromas will also hit; however, it seems to us that their predictions have been around in household and personal fragrances for some time:

-Spicy + Woody. Perhaps we shop off the main path, but we already own these.
-Food Flavors. Can one look in any direction these days and not find products that are lemon, pomegranate and vanilla scents?
-Savory. Though “meaty” and “salty” aren’t words that spring to mind when thinking of fragrance, Mintel says these scents are an area of opportunity in 2009, as they evoke the comforts of festive meals and salty snacking. Hmm…though we’ll wait to see what gets produced along these lines, we’re not sure that we want to be cleaning the kitchen and polishing the furniture with “meaty” and “salty” scents. There’s a reason that citrus and other clean, refreshing aromas are so popular.

Stay tuned.

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NEW PRODUCT: We’re Juiced For Organic Biotta Juices


A glass of Biotta’s Beetroot Juice is pure
beet heaven.
One of our favorite finds at Expo East, the huge natural and organic products trade show that was held last weekend in Boston, was the beautiful line of juices from Biotta, an organic beverage company founded in 1931 in Switzerland (the company was a pioneer in the production of 100% all natural, organic juices). You can find seven varieties of Biotta at natural foods stores. But in 2009—three months from now—ten new fresh, delicious vegetable juice and fruit juice varieties will be added to the line. We tasted a dozen of the juices at Expo East, and fell in love. In addition to the current 16.9 fl oz (500ml) size, 2009 will bring a new single-serving 8.4 fl oz (250ml) size.

Each of the juices has a homeopathic focus, but we like them because of the amazing taste (they are also great ingredients for soups, sorbets, ice cream, cocktails, marinades and a long list of others). At present, you can find Beetroot Juice (to boost the immune system), Wild Bilberry Juice (builds strong blood vessels and improved circulation), Breuss® Vegetable Juice (pronounced “broyce,” a combination of beetroots, carrots, celeriac, radish and potatoes, which is a formula developed by the Austrian naturopathic Dr. Rudolf Breuss for purification and cleansing), Carrot Juice (for vision), Celery Root Juice (regulates pH), Sauerkraut Juice (aids digestion) and Vegetable Juice Cocktail (helps the immune system). Among the new flavors we look forward to is a dynamite Potato Juice—made of raw potato, but tasting like a potato-lover’s dream (it is intended to help the stomach, but we think all of these juices are gourmet food finds).

We can’t stop dreaming of the high quality of these juices. Like a fine wine, you know from the first sip that you’re at a different level of appreciation. Retailers of America: stock your shelves! See more of our favorite juices in THE NIBBLE online magazine.
 

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TRENDS: Eat Well For Less


You don’t need to buy a “top cut” to
have a great steak experience.
  In these belt-tightening times, how can you eat like a king on a knight’s salary? Justin Marx, CEO of gourmet food purveyor MarxFoods.com, offers three tips on how to eat well in a down economy:

1) Dried mushrooms are a bargain compared to fresh mushrooms. It takes approximately 8-10 pounds of fresh mushrooms to yield 1 pound of dried. A half pound of dried shitake mushrooms costs only $29 with shipping, but is equivalent to 4-5 pounds of fresh shitakes, which would cost at least $40 at a retail store. Dried mushrooms can be stored in your pantry for a long time, can be substituted for fresh in just about any recipe and are easy to reconstitute. See THE NIBBLE’s Mushroom Glossary for more about gourmet mushrooms.

2) Enjoy truffle flavor via truffle oil. At $2,000 a pound or so, even the wealthy will be holding back on fresh truffles this year. But you can enjoy the flavor of truffles with truffle oil. There must be at least a hundred servings in each bottle of truffle oil; a little goes a long way.

At $35 per bottle with shipping, that means that you can delight in the truffle’s aroma and flavor for only 35 cents per portion. Imagine your next bowl of pasta embellished with truffle oil, for pocket change. Add some affordable dried mushrooms, reconstituted into a mushroom ragout. But don’t forget that the most important thing with using truffle oil is to put it on your food after it is cooked, because heat can destroy the flavor and aroma. To learn more about truffles, read THE NIBBLE’s overview and Truffle Glossary.

3) Braising meats makes affordable, delicious winter dishes. Usually, the meats that are perfect for slow-cooked winter dishes are far more affordable. Try wild boar shoulder, venison stew meat and bison skirt steaks. If you want to eat the finest quality meats and game and exotic meats, buy meats in bulk and split orders with friends and family to save, or buy a quarter grass-fed beef to really save. Also check out less expensive cuts of beef in THE NIBBLE’s popular article on Best Value Steak Cuts.

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VIEWPOINT: Organic Prices Rice—So What!

USDA Certified Organic Logo
Buy organic and save the planet.
  Yesterday, a New York Times headline blared, “Sticker Shock in the Organic Aisles” (Section C, page 1). The newspaper questioned if the cost of organic food—which can be 20% to 100% higher than conventionally-produced food—is “prompting some consumers to question their devotion to food produced without pesticides, chemical fertilizers or antibiotics.” Obviously, those with budgetary constraints need to shepherd their dollars, but organics rarely end up in the shopping carts of such shoppers, much as they might like them. The article emphasizes the high cost of organics by citing $4.55 (on the high end) for a loaf of organic bread versus $3.79 for conventional bread, $4.99 versus $2.99 for a half gallon of milk and $6.39 versus $3.59 for a dozen eggs. This may be more of a rise than regular groceries are experiencing; but with the truly shocking rises in gasoline and real estate, to name just two items, is the increase in organic food a “shock?”
Even if your household consumes twice the amounts of the staples cited by the Times each week, the difference is $11—a blip for many of us who pay $4.50 for a daily cappuccino, have cocktails after work and/or buy imported water. In a country where many people spend so much money on recreational trips to the mall to buy extraneous apparel, beauty products and home accoutrements, it’s not a hardship to divert $50 a week to organic food. In fact, it’s an ethical choice. If each American ate 10% organic food, it would curtail greenhouse gas emissions that are the equivalent of taking two million cars off the roads each year. It would have been informative for the Times to offset quotes such as “The prices have gotten ridiculous” and “Man, $6.99 for a gallon of milk is pushing it,” with a couple of sentences explaining that many people who choose organic products do so to help save the environment. On Earth Day, April 22nd our Viewpoint will address this subject in depth. Here’s the New York Times article. Read more about organic issues and trends in the NutriNibbles section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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NEWS: Ice Cream Heaven

As part of a recent 2008 Flavor Trends luncheon, McComick & Company allowed us to taste the most menu, including frozen desserts prepared by artisan gelateria Il Laboratorio del Gelato. Rose Poppyseed Gelato was a revelation, making us wonder why no one has thought to do poppyseed ice cream before—don’t we all enjoy a good slice of lemon poppyseed cake? Here, the flavor of rose tasted almost peachlike, making us count the days to peach season so we can make Peach Poppyseed as well. Lychee Lemongrass Sorbetto was so exquisite, our tongue froze eating too much of it. Chile Chocolate Gelato, made with ancho chile, should take off big-time at better Mexican restaurants and homemade ice cream shops. We actually wrote this post a month ago, but haven’t had the heart to publish it because we are so tortured because there’s NO MORE GELATO. Thai Chile Chocolate is available from the store and website, but much as we love the spicy chocolate, we’ve been obsessing about the other two. Jon Snyder, when will you end our misery by putting them on the menu?   Rose Poppy Gelato
Rose and Poppyseed Gelato from Il Laboratorio del Gelato, inspired by McCormick’s 2008 flavor trends.
Read more about our favorite ice creams in the Desserts Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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TRENDS: Continued Growth For Craft Beer

Craft Beer
A trio of craft beers from New York State that “competed” in our Super Bowl beer tasting (New York versus New England).
  This Bud’s not for you, if you’re one of the millions of Americans with a finer palate for craft beer, represented by the bottles at the right—all of which are proudly brewed in our home state of New York. (Brooklyn Brewery, which has quite a few exciting brews—of which the lager shown is the everyday basic—is one of our favorites.) The craft beer market again grew by double digits in 2007, leading all other segments in the beer category. The Brewers Association reports that estimated sales by independent craft brewers were up 16% in dollars (12% percent in volume). While craft brewers’ share of the total beer category is just 5.9% of sales and 3.8% of volume, In 2007, the U.S. had 1,449 total breweries in operation, of which 1,406 comprise small, independent, and traditional craft brewers. The other 43 are industry giants— Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser, Miller), Molson Coors, Pabst (also owns Schlitz) and regional brewers like Ballantine of New Jersey, Rheingold of New York, Stroh of Michigan, Stroud of Pennsylvania and Narraganset of Rhode Island.
Since 2004, dollar sales by craft brewers have more than doubled: they’ve increased by 58%, according to the Brewers Association. This correlates with the trend of buying local products, plus a preference for higher-quality, more flavorful specialty foods and beers. While craft brew quaffers are very familiar with labels like Anchor Steam, Brooklyn Brewery, Goose Island, Harpoon and others carried by stores that can carry upwards of 100 craft brands, nearly 70% of craft breweries are brewpubs that make and sell most or all of their beer on-premises. Read more about beer in the Beer Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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TRENDS: Olive Oil Tasting Bars

We’ve tasted hundreds of olive oils, and know that among the basic styles—mild, buttery, herbal, fruity, peppery, earthy—we like herbal and fruity flavors, but tend to avoid those cough-inducing peppery styles. Others may go straight for the pepper. But when you’re staring down a shelf of two dozen or more olive oils, you haven’t a clue as to which tastes like what. And you probably don’t have THE NIBBLE’s review of 90+ extra virgin olive oils with you. So, plunk down $15 or so, and hope for the best. But if you live in St. Louis, or other towns where olive oil tasting bars are popping up, you actually can try before you buy. Extra Virgin, an olive oil boutique that opened in October 2007, stocks 25 to 30 oils from Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Chile, Australia and the United States.   Olive Oil Tasting Bar
Now, you can try before you buy, and select the olive oil that pleases your particular palate.
The oils range from light, fruity and delicate to pungent—and you can taste each one of them to decide your personal style, pumping an amount into a paper cup or plastic spoon (23 grams, or two tablespoons daily, may reduce the risk of coronary disease…and some of these oils are so delicious, you can drink them from a spoon like a treat if you don’t like to enjoy them on salad, pasta or vegetables). The store is the second career of a retired pathologist with an undergraduate degree in nutrition and food science, who understands the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil. She also saw, while taking an olive oil sensory evaluation course at the University of California-Davis, how much different olive oils can influence dishes, from boiled potatoes and white beans to chicken and beef. Located in Clayton, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb, the store also features bulk olives from Spain, Italy, Greece and France, related specialty foods (vinegars, tapenades, pasta sauces) and gifts with olive patterns and themes (aprons, potholders, candles). If you pass by Extra Virgin or any other olive oil boutique, do stop in—not only for your own edification, but to help these wonderful ventures thrive. Give gift certificates as as gifts. Don’t forget to check out Extra Virgin’s website. E-commerce isn’t up yet, but there are recipes for granola and lemon banana bread that use EVOO. (If you haven’t had rustic cakes made with olive oil, in the Italian and Greek fashion, they’re wonderful—especially with fresh herbs like basil, thyme or rosemary added to the batter.)
- See the different flavors of olive oil on TheNibble.com.
- See how the flavors and aromas come together with this olive oil wheel.
- Clarify specific terms in our olive oil glossary.
- Read about our favorite olive oils in the Oil & Vinegar Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.
- Check out our mega-review of 90 extra virgin olive oils.

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NEWS: California Invites You To The “Land Of Wine And Food”

Apricot Orchard
Harvesting apricots in the Bonacich Orchard. Photo by Robert Holmes | California Travel and Tourism Commission
  As more and more people are planning their entire vacations around food and wine, the tourism industry is taking notice. California, with its vineyards, bountiful farms, cheese makers and star chefs, is the hottest destination in America for culinary tourism (yes, that’s what it’s called). We attended a luncheon and wine tasting organized by the California Travel and Tourism Commission, to celebrate its new campaign called “Land of Wine and Food.” You’ll see magazine ads, a website and even TV spots featuring celebrities, wine makers and chefs. At the launch event in New York City, we were greeted with a table of goodies, prepared and presented by the Food Network’s Guy Fieri (the original winnner of “The Next Food Network Star”).

Guy had prepared some of California’s signature dishes: A Tomales Bay Kumamoto oyster tasted so fresh, it was hard to believe that it had flown across the country. The fried version of the oyster with a generous smattering of Californian Dry Jack cheese had us asking for seconds. Also on Guy’s appetizer table were succulent Cornish game hens and San Francisco’s seasonal favorite, Dungeness crab.Now that we had a little food in our system, we were ready to partake in the “Wine Tasting Tour of California,” led by some of the winemakers whose wines were showcased. We tasted seven wines, ranging from a dry Muscat from Chalk Hill to an oaky Cabernet from Oakville (which seems funny when you see it in print, but not all wines from Oakville are oaky). Our personal favorite was the 2004 Curtis Winery Syrah from Santa Barbara County, presented by the winemaker (and former star of “The Bachelor”) Andrew Firestone. It tasted of plum and blackberry with a hint of vanilla and a caramelly finish. We’ll be searching for bottles of this one on our next trip to the wine store.

All this was followed by…lunch! John Stewart and Duskie Estes, the husband/wife chef team behind the restaurant Zazu in Santa Rosa, presented us with a delicious family-style meal, focusing on the seasonal and the sustainable for which Zazu is known. (in fact, many of the ingredients were picked from the organic garden at the back of the restaurant). A whole roasted lamb, raised by one their neighbors in Santa Rosa, was tender and bursting with flavor. The side of “Enormous Fagioli,” big Italian-style white beans, was accompanied by crisped vegetable bits that imparted a smoky flavor. We even discovered a new vegetable, puntarelle, which tastes a bit like chicory and is completely addictive.

The meal was accompanied by many of the same wines that we had tasted, plus new ones including a Bordeaux-style blend by Rodney Strong called Symmetry. Dessert was a stellar finish to the meal—burst-in -your-mouth goat cheese fritters, topped with chestnut honey (also provided by a beekeeper who is a neighbor to the restaurant.) In California, it seems, the best meal is the one that comes from just next door. Go locavore! Go culinary tourism! Go to California and taste all of this great food firsthand. Visit LandOfWineAndFood.com for information and to enter to win a six-day adventure to California’s Central Valley.

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