retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

Kale is officially toast. So is avocado toast.

That’s the edict from the scores of online food prognosticators who greet each New Year with a list of what’s in right now and what is so 2014.

While there is consensus that leafy green superfood has overstayed its welcome in salads, entrees, sides, chips, juices, yogurts and even desserts, the experts are at odds over just what precisely will be the next kale. Or cupcake or quinoa, the darlings of past lists.

While foodies, consultants, chefs and regular folk continue a spirited debate all across social media, here is our the annual MNB distillation of the top food trends for 2015, and why retailers and marketers should take note:

It’s All About That Spice. Ah, Sriracha. The Thai export has morphed from an exotic hot sauce to an everyday flavor in Subway sandwiches, Lay’s and Kettle chips, candy canes and vodka. The next new flame? Researchers at Datamonitor are touting harissa, a spread of dried chiles, garlic, tomatoes, caraway, paprika, coriander, and olive oil that is the “go to” condiment in Tunisia, as sriracha’s successor.

Hummus a Household Word? Yes. There’s no escaping this Middle Eastern chickpea dip in packaged deli sections or restaurant menus. Varieties range from the traditional tahini or garlic to such eclectic flavors as beet, lemongrass chili and chocolate mousse. Google says that hummus has out-trended salsa, which toppled ketchup in the trend department. Some 20% of US household have hummus in the fridge, up from 12% eight years ago. Final proof it is going mainstream? Subway, the ultimate in mainstream taste, is testing hummus as a sandwich topping.

Non-Olive Oil Slicks. Look for tasty new oils extracted from sources such as pumpkin seeds, avocado and coconut. Avocado oil is hailed for holding up under higher heat settings. And while coconut oil brings to mind the scent of a treacly sunscreen, it is said to add a sweet flavor for baking and sautéing.

Produce Aisle Showdown. Now that kale and Brussels sprouts have been dethroned, cauliflower and hybrid vegetables are vying to be the consumer’s favorite. Cauliflower gets high marks for versatility – it can be mashed, baked, fried, served grilled as a main course, and as a replacement for potatoes, flour or grains. One new frozen food product capitalizing on this trend: Cauliflower Crust Pizza from Absolutely Gluten Free. Also in vogue: the kalette, a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts, and broccoflower, a broccoli and cauliflower hybrid.

Cookin’ With Cannabis. The legalization of marijuana in Colorado and three other states has sparked interest in weed-infused anything – from the venerable pot brownie to high-end delicacies and drinks. Culinary experts say the challenge is scientifically balancing the amount of mood-altering THC in a recipe, and delivering a tasty product. The website The Stoner’s Cookbook predicts that the legal marijuana industry will be worth $10.2 billion in five years and that edible marijuana could be as much as 40 percent of that. For the rest of America, expect the hemp seed to infiltrate cereals and other foods. Plenty of nutty flavor, fiber and protein, but no buzz.

Here are other trends in one line or less:

• Rabbit meat will become the new white meat.
• Ramen graduates from college dorm mainstay.
• The invasion of insects in products such as power bars and flour.
• There will be unfettered fermenting, and unrestricted smoking, of foods.
• Health snacks and locally sourced foods continue to rise in popularity.

Why do these trend lists matter? Particularly when some products turn out to be an after-thought by Groundhog Day?

Let’s reflect on gluten-free products and Greek yogurt, which were almost specialty items 10 years ago. The manufacturers that spotted the trend and acted quickly garnered market share and momentum. Chobani is the perfect example – the upstart was launched in upstate New York in 2007 and is now the nation’s top-selling yogurt.

And the retailers that jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon early on, and highlighted the products, cultivated a devoted following of health-conscious customers dissatisfied with traditional supermarkets.

I’m not predicting harissa hummus on a Subway foot-long by Independence Day, but I wouldn’t rule it out either.

Comments? As always, send them to me at .
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