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Courage returning to consumers' palates, culinary trends expert says

By Hank Schultz , 14-Mar-2013

Courage returning to consumers' palates, culinary trends expert says

Seeing light at the end of the economic tunnel puts a spring in consumers’ steps and a little sizzle on their palates, too. Culinary trends expert Suzy Badaracco said we’re not in extreme consumption mode yet, but consumers are starting move beyond the muted colors and flavors of the deep recession years.

Bardaracco’s company, Culinary Tides, Inc., has issued a new report called Top 10 Trends Analysis - Shifting Sands 2013 , that looks at trends with cross analysis predictions in the spheres of government, technology, health, consumer attitudes, travel, beverage and food & flavor trends, Travel, Beverage, and Food & Flavor trends hitting the food industry in 2013 and into the first quarter of 2014.

The bottom line?  It’s the economy — stupid.

Moving into recovery

“The recovery is what’s guiding everything. So once we head toward recovery again that’s when foods and flavors become more experimental. Consumers start open up their senses again, they have less fear in their lives and they have more money.  It dramatically changes what ends up on the plate,” Bardaracco, president of Portland, OR-based Culinary Tides, told FoodNavigator-USA.

Over years of analyzing culinary trends, Bardaracco said she’s seen this scenario play out over and over.  Consumers pull in their horns and fall back on familiar touchstones to reassure themselves in troubled times.

“These are patterns we see every time we see going into a recession. When we are in a recession, comfort foods end up coming back on line.  The hottest meats are things like meatloaf,” she said.

Conversely, as economic times improve, consumers are eager to return to sensory experiences that smack of opulence, and are ready to forsake choices that smack of frugality.

“Comfort food is not the place to be this year,” Bardaracco said.

Foot still hovering over the brake

Nevertheless, we’re not into full-blown experimentation mode yet, she said.

“Since the recovery is shaping up so rocky, and we are going into it kicking, dragging a screaming, we still want some familiarity. We are not yet ready for fusion and molecular gastronomy,” she said.  

Bardaracco said in the report the Food and Flavors, Consumer, Travel and Beverage sections all note more extreme behaviors and activities; a sense of risk taking, playfulness, courage, and vulnerability. The swings in behavior and desire in all sections are simultaneously wider and extreme in nature. This is actually a normal transition when coming out of recession and into recovery and therefore is a good sign that consumers mood is improving. It also paints a more complex landscape to have to navigate but at the same time – more freedom to focus in areas of interest or expertise for the industry.

Peru and Africa

Among the foods Badaracco said will be hot in 2013 will be South American cusisine, especially Peruvian, and African dishes as represented by Egyptian and Moroccan cuisines.  But her advice to formulators:  Keep it real. Badaracco notes that consumers are still demanding authenticity and this is not the time to “Americanize” global foods. As formulators bring foods in from abroad, Badaracco recommends they represent them accurately on the plate.

All in all, Bardaracco is predicting an up year for food trends.  New product launches will show more promise as consumers start to untie the purse strings.

“It’s absolutely an optimistic year.  It’s still going to be rough, but it’s going to be a few shades more optimistic than 2012,” she said.

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