Finding inspiration in street food

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Street food is enjoying a renaissance in the United States – and although small-scale outlets are driving the trend, there are ways for larger-scale food makers to get on board, according to Packaged Facts.

The market research organization’s Culinary Trend Mapping Report from the Center for Culinary Development (CCD) examined the booming street food trend, which has seen Americans reaching for a variety of convenient, portable and affordable foods, often with globally inspired flavors and eco-friendly preparation. Packaged Facts says that street food has gained in popularity due to “a confluence of larger social trends”​, including the economic downturn and the corresponding need for more affordable foods, growing snacking habits, greater interest in ethnic flavors and in local, sustainable foods.

CCD CEO Kimberly Egan said: "Street food is changing the conversation around food by creating new, vibrant and diverse communities socially connected by a shared interest in a new way of eating. At various turns it is highbrow meets lowbrow, local and eco-friendly, socially conscious and globally diverse. Street foods provide another avenue for consumers to explore new flavor adventures at an accessible value."

But Packaged Facts argues that factors driving the trend are not confined to carts and trucks. Fine-dining chefs are already serving upgraded street foods in restaurants, the organization said, and there are also opportunities for manufacturers of packaged foods to tap into.

“For food marketers and others seeking to capitalize on this trend, accessibility, bold flavors, variety, affordability, sometimes better health and inherent portability are keys to successful trend translation into new strategic business opportunities,”​ it said.

Looking at the particular sub-trends within the street food movement, consumers are interested in high-quality ingredients, such as hotdogs with better quality meat and a diverse range of toppings, CCD found. They are also increasingly interested in trying global flavors, and are attracted by the fusion of a range of current eco-minded trends, such as organic ingredients and sustainable sourcing, with convenience and novel forms.

The role of foodies

A Packaged Facts report published in late 2008 said that a growing group of consumers dubbed foodies is shaping the American palate and offering food manufacturers a willing audience for product launches. The market researcher defined foodies as “having an avid interest in the latest food fads”​ and, as well as enjoying new types of food, they also tend to be concerned about preserving the culture surrounding food.

It said that 31m US adults (14 percent of the population) fall into this category and it is this group that is helping to introduce the next wave of international cuisine to the US palate.

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