10 Food Predictions for 2016

Now that the Christmas rush is over, it might have seemed difficult to turn your eye away from the festive planning to other areas. However, looking to the future should always be a priority for caterers, no matter how hectic the present might be!

Predicting, identifying, and anticipating oncoming trends is essential in order to keep up with the competition, and can help you offer new and exciting dishes that might increase uptake. However, new catering industry trends aren’t always just about the food, keeping an eye out for any changing patterns in service, décor, and even consumer expectations is a good idea too.

It doesn’t seem like two minutes since our Chef Jonathan gave his trend forecast for 2015, but here we are again. Read on for our top 10 food industry predictions for 2016 – if you notice any of these in the coming year, you know where you heard it first…

1. Mix it up – offer small plates

Our first trend prediction for the food industry in 2016 isn’t so much of a ‘trend’ but a revival of an old favourite – small plate dining. We have started to see many casual dining outlets cast aside the concept of traditional starters, mains and desserts in favour of a small plate menu instead. In principle this allows diners to mix and match dishes and therefore experience much more of the menu than usual. 

2. Build your own

In a similar way that adding small plates to your menu can help increase choice, having a customisable and ‘build your own’ feel to a menu is a huge trend that we here at McCain only see as increasing in 2016. Many locations are embracing this trend – this immersive take on dining helps customers feel involved. Furthermore, by putting the choice back in the hands of the diner, this helps cater to a growing sense of ‘restless palate syndrome’ amongst consumers - a trend that Adele spotted earlier this year – in that many diners are becoming more adventurous and demanding multiple flavour sensations. For example, why not consider using chips or sweet potato fries as a base then providing a list of customisable toppings for the diner to choose. 

3. Smoke and fire

Whilst the BBQ trend arguably reintroduced the UK to the power of fire and smoke on meat, food operators are now turning the flames on a much wider range of foods. As the food industry gets back to basics with smokers and wood fired ovens, you should expect to encounter more than just barbequed meat on menus in 2016. 

4. Sharing platters 

Like small plates, this next trend could be a winner for those people who just can’t seem to decide on one dish they’d like to order. It’s now becoming just as common when eating out to order one large platter of food for everyone as it is individual dishes, representing the continued preference for “casual” eating over more formal meals. With the influence of Korean BBQ, where customers can cook their own food at the table, sharing is likely to become more important for food operators in 2016. Whilst the prevalence of “interesting” serving plates has been called a fad, the serving method does represent another rising trend; sharing plates are becoming popular. 

5. Spruce up the basics

One of the potential big food trends of 2016 will be about taking traditional, familiar, and even nostalgic foods and reworking them. It’s about taking what techonomic have called “peasant fare” – hearty traditional foods like sausages, meatballs, and dumplings - and elevating it to a “higher” status. This is about offering interesting new twists on classic dishes. For example, by treating a potato dumpling like Italian arancini – stuffed with cheese, sauce, or herbs - you could turn it from a humble side into a show stopping starter, or even serve it as part of a sharing platter.

6. Crank up the heat

As a reflection of the UK’s increasing familiarity with foods from all over the world, 2016 is set to be the year of the hot sauce. Throughout 2014 and 2015, Thailand’s garlicy sriracha seemed to be the hot sauce of choice, being elevated from a hipster secret to something that can now easily be bought in most supermarkets. However, it’s time for sriracha to give up its throne, and let another hot sauce step into the limelight. If you want to stay ahead of the crowd, why not let your customers spice up their food with Indonesian sambal, North African Harissa or West Indian pepper sauces… the choice is almost endless! 

7. Alternative eating

With an increased focus on the health implications of a high meat diet, consumers in 2016 will be looking for a good selection of meat alternatives on menus. This doesn’t mean that customers are turning entirely veggie, just that they expect to be able to find good options should they want to go meat free on a given day. This means being creative with ingredients, and working hard to offer vegetarian options that have a universal appeal. When catering to occasional vegetarians, offering a filling and well flavoured base to a meal is key; whilst customers might not want to meat, they still want to eat something tasty and filling. Utilising the build your own trend is a good idea here, as you allow customers the freedom of choosing what meat free options they’d like best.

8. Eat out at home

There was a time when the only way you’d be able to eat food from restaurants and casual dining locations at home would be to take a doggy bag of leftovers with you. However, in the past year or so we’ve seen somewhat of a revolution, with numerous casual dining locations and even restaurants now having a delivery option. If you’re planning to roll out a delivery option in your location, then it’s a good idea to have a dedicated delivery menu of a few items; choose the meals that you think will travel best. This way you can offer exclusivity to those eating in, whilst still retaining the business of those that don’t fancy heading out. 

9. Looking to Africa

With each coming year it seems that our collective restless palate syndrome is increasing in severity, with a huge amount of new global cuisines now available around the UK. In 2016, we’ll be looking towards Africa for inspiration, with the continent being the source of some of the key trends of the year. African food is incredibly diverse, so it’s not like you’ll be short of choice if you’re thinking of introducing some African flavours to your menu. This cuisine doesn’t have to mean looking for entirely new ingredients either, and the nature of the continent’s many cuisines means that they’re adaptable to use a range of different ingredients; why not try swapping out starchy cassava for McCain Simply Mash and rustling up some fufu.

10. Fermentation - the new pickling

Although its popularity rose hugely in 2015, it’s likely that in the coming year we’ll see more and more fermented ingredients on menus throughout the UK. Once upon a time fermentation was one of the key ways of preserving foods, and now thanks to Korean cuisine and the rise of Kimchi – a spicy fermented cabbage usually served as a side – we’re taking note of the practice once again. It’s not just Kimchi in the spotlight though; sauerkraut and kombucha are also great for offering an on trend update to classic dishes. Try offering sauerkraut, sausages, and diced potato as a German fermentation featuring alternative to classic British bangers and mash. 

Perhaps the best thing about 2016’s foodservice trends and predictions is that they’re so customisable and interchangeable. It’s likely that if you’re looking to offer a meal focusing on one trend, you’ll be hitting another trend in the process. Looking forward to next year? These trends are too exciting to ignore!