retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

The hottest food trends for 2011 can be summed up in three words: local, vegetable, and pie.

That’s the consensus after perusing the multitude of online predictions and food blogs declaring what is in and what is out. Cupcakes, for example, are so 2010. Ditto bacon, Four Loko and the KFC Double Down.

Here’s a taste of the prognostications peppering the internet roundups in these first few weeks of the year:

• “Cupcakes are Dead. Long Live the Pie!”

• “Vegetables Are the New Meat”

• “We have taken a look into the future and seen that it is local.”

For forward-thinking retailers, marketers and service providers, trend-spotting means little if you don’t find a way to capitalize on it.

Let’s start with local, which has evolved as a term. The first meaning stems from the locavore movements promoting the use fresh produce and goods from nearby farmers.

But local is at a new level that transcends geography and is more individual. Think signature, store specialty, a salute to your region’s food history. To quote the Food Channel Top 2011 Food Trends: “The new local is really about the independent spirit that causes entrepreneurial people to develop new food products, open new restaurants, and bring new food ideas to life.”

I recently had the good fortune to experience “local” on both levels at a new, innovative bistro/gourmet shop in New Canaan, CT, aptly named The Farmer’s Table. For chef Robert Ubaldo, it’s personal. He grows his own produce and herbs and imports meat, poultry and eggs from his brother’s farm in Vermont. The cuisine was outstanding, and the chef’s personal commitment made the meal all the more memorable. When reflecting on the delicious dishes I savored at lunch I realized that both were comprised of – you guessed it -- vegetables.

From First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” health initiative to the “Meatless Monday” campaign in restaurants and on the internet, veggies are losing their side dish status. Proclaimed Saveur: “Vegetables: They’re back, for the very first time.”
How to capitalize on this trend? Preparation and presentation. It’s as simple as offering shoppers a taste of sweet potato fries roasted with extra-virgin olive oil and a dash of cumin and paprika, which will have even a finicky eater asking for seconds, a sack of potatoes in the shopping cart and a copy of the recipe.

Which brings us to pie.

Not your grandmother’s pie, but rather sweet and savory pies, hot and cold pies, mini pies, deep dish and deep fried pies, and ice cream pies, are all the rage. If you need hard evidence, statistics show pie recipe viewings were up 20% last year and there are reports of “pie happy hours” in New York and Austin, TX.

Again, whether its an in-store bakery or a display promoting the power of the pie, there are opportunities to make the most of this trend. Failure to do so would be the business equivalent of eating humble pie.

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KC's View:
I actually had a chance to share that lunch at The Farmer’s Table with Kate, and while she may have eaten vegetables, I had the pork tacos. I can testify that it may have been the best, most tender pork I’ve ever tasted ... and it came from pigs raised on Robert Ubaldo’s brother’s farm, which certainly cannot be a coincidence.

And that’s no bull.