What’s Hot – Chefs Weigh in on the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Culinary Forecast

Molly Shaw

Every year the National Restaurant Association (NRA), the largest foodservice trade association in the world, which represents more than half a million restaurant businesses, asks professional chefs across the country to weigh in on the year’s hottest culinary trends.

The annual What’s Hot Culinary Forecast predicts food, beverage, menu trends and themes for the coming year. The 2015 survey includes the two-cents of nearly 1,300 professional chefs – all members of the American Culinary Federation (ACF).

What reigns supreme for the Top 20 Food Trends around the country? The 2015 results aren’t shocking. Most remain the same as years past – here’s the Top 5:

  1. Locally sourced meats and seafood
  2. Locally grown produce
  3. Environmentally sustainable products
  4. Healthful kids meals
  5. Natural ingredients and minimally processed foods

Many of the same themes from recent years carry on, emphasizing the fact that the farm-to-table movement is more than a trend, but a way of life for many consumers, chefs and businesses.

2015 NRA Food Trends

Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the NRA’s research and knowledge group explains, “As consumers increasingly incorporate restaurants into their daily lives, they want to be able to follow their personal preferences and philosophies no matter where or how they choose to dine. So, it’s only natural that culinary themes like local sourcing, sustainability and nutrition top our list of menu trends for 2015. Those concepts are wider lifestyle choices for many Americans in other aspects of their lives that also translate into the food space.”    

Movers and shakers in 2015

While some of the What’s Hot results are no major surprise to the culinary world, the NRA also notes a “Movers and Shakers” category, including notable ingredients and unexpected menu items that are up by more than 5% so far in 2015.

Up by more than 12% conversely are underutilized types of fish – species such as redfish, sea robin and Atlantic Pollock – and doughnuts, in both sweet and savory forms. Up by more than 9% are grass-fed beef and new ethnic condiments such as chimichurri, Sriracha, house made chutney and soy sauce.

Grilled vegetables and brown rice are growing by 8%, appearing on more menus and at more than a 7% increase are free-range pork and poultry, alternative red meats, fresh beans and peas, root vegetables, gelato and specialty iced tea.

Organic coffee, house-made artisan ice cream and heirloom tomatoes are up by 6% or more. And vegetarian items, kids entrée salads, Asian-inspired noodles, gourmet lemonade and single-bite sized appetizers, formally known as Amuse-bouche, are up by more than 5% in 2015.

On the way out

The NRA survey cites a list of menu items and trends that are slowly fading in 2015. Any item in the “Yesterday’s News” category has decreased in usage across the country by 50% or more.

Some of these things include insects, the use of foam, froth and air, gazpacho, bacon-flavored or covered chocolate, popovers, mini-burger sliders, molecular gastronomy, edible flowers, flavor-enhanced water and tater tots.

Increasing convenience through tech

Too bad for the tots, but the culinary world is always changing, driven by consumer preference and one area consumers are really changing the industry in is technology. The NRA asked chefs what technology is making a buzz in their restaurants.

  1. Tablet computers (e.g. iPad) for menus, wine lists and ordering
  2. Smartphone/tablet apps for consumers (e.g. table reservations, online ordering, daily deals/offers)
  3. Smartphone/tablet apps for chefs/restauranteurs (e.g. recipes, table management POS tracking)
  4. Mobile/wireless payment options

2015 NRA Food Trends Technology

Looking ahead

Finally, the survey probed chefs for the answer to what culinary trend they thought will be the hottest 10 years from now. Sustainability, local sourcing, an emphasis on nutrition, varied ethnic cuisine and flavors and gluten-free items all came in as top answers.

As far as the health of the industry, the NRA predicts 2015 will be a record year for the restaurant world. “In 2015, the NRA forecasts show restaurant industry sales will reach a record high of more than $709 billion –that’s a 3.8% increase over 2014 or an advance of 1.5% in inflation-adjusted terms,” notes Riehle. “2015 will be the sixth consecutive year of sales growth for the restaurant industry.”

With sales staying strong and central movements such as local sourcing and a nutritional focus holding steady, the restaurant industry is alive and well in 2015.

View the complete What’s Hot Culinary Forecast here.