From meal kit mania to switchel and swiggable soups: 10 culinary trends to watch in 2016

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Hot trends or foodie gambles? Miso caramels, cherry switchel, tomato gazpacho and a coffee fruit infusion
Hot trends or foodie gambles? Miso caramels, cherry switchel, tomato gazpacho and a coffee fruit infusion

Related tags Coffee Vinegar Cider

From savory yogurt and coffee fruit infusions, to switchel – apple cider vinegar-based concoctions that offer a modern twist on a centuries-old tradition - Sterling-Rice Group (SRG) highlights 10 culinary trends it predicts will inspire packaged foods and foodservice menus in 2016.

As for overarching themes, says SRG culinary director Kara Nielsen, chefs and product developers are increasingly looking back in time to find inspiration: “What’s new is often not new at all, but a rediscovered ingredient, drink or dish that has been refashioned with contemporary palates in mind​.” 

cide road switchel

1. SWITCHEL:​ Known as haymakers in New England, this blend of water, apple cider vinegar, ginger and honey, maple syrup or molasses traditionally quenched the thirst at harvest-time.

While it's still a niche opportunity right now, it taps into the trend of 'rediscovering' old recipes and food traditions and the trend of enjoying stronger, more vinegary flavor profiles that has helped to drive sales of products such as kombucha, Nielsen told FoodNavigator-USA. 

"Switchel has a bold flavor profile but it's also really refreshing."

Examples​: CideRoad organic switchel (pictured above), Up Mountain switchel, Fire Cider, Bragg organic apple cider vinegar drinks.


2. HAWAIIAN CUISINE:​ Hawaiian cuisine - from raw seafood salads to musubi rice and nori waros - is starting to trend in fine dining and fast-casual restaurants on the mainland, says SRG.  

Examples​: Big Daddy's Poké Shack (pictured left), LA; Noreetuh, NYC; 'Aina pop-up, San Francisco.


3. FARMED OYSTERS:​ oysters - once a staple in American dining - are enjoying a resurgence in trendy bars and restaurants, says SRG.

Examples​: Island Creek Oyster bar, Boston; The Ordinary, Charleston; The Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle; Pearl, iPhone app.


4. YOGURT WITH A SAVORY TWIST: ​Tapping into the trend for less sugar, pus growing interest in Middle eastern cuisine (labneh is similar to Greek yogurt but thicker in consistency and richer in flavor), savory yogurt can be served with olive oil, spices and seeds, flatbreads, veggie, grain salads and roasted fruits, says SRG's Nielsen.

"You've got some products positioned as standalone snacks (eg. Blue Hill yogurts) and others that tap into the Middle eastern cuisine trend and are part of a meal or used in cooking, but in general, this taps into the trend for less sweet, more savory, flavor profiles."

Examples​: Sohha Savory Yogurt; White Moustache labneh, Karoun Dairies Labne.


5. COFFEE IN NEW GUISES: ​From dry hopped coffee on nitro tap to upmarket beverages containing coffee fruit (which doesn't actually taste like coffee at all), we can expect to see continued innovation in ready-to-drink coffee beverages, says SRG. 

Examples​: Pixan, Slingshot Coffee, Corvus Hopped Coffee, Stumptown nitro. 

Mucho gazpacho

6. SWIGGABLE SOUP:​ The next step on from premium cold pressed juices is a new generation of cold soups in a drinkable format, which offer the convenience of juice, without all the sugar, plus a lot more fiber. And while the price tag of some of the brands in this space might seem a little hefty, the value proposition looks a little different if you think about these products as mini meals rather than drinks or snacks, says Nielsen at SRG.

And as more of us are grazing throughout the day, and meals and snacks are blurring into one, consumers are increasingly looking for a meal/snack that is healthy and filling, but also convenient, and swiggable soup certainly fits the bill, she adds: "It also taps into the trend towards more savory snacks... I expect to see some big brands following this trend closely and introducing their own products if it looks like it is taking off."

Examples​: Mucho Gazpacho, Tio Gazpacho, Splendid Spoon.

42 grams

7. PUMPED-UP PORRIDGE:​ Look out for porridge made with rye, spelt, black rice and quinoa with unusual savory toppings such as mushrooms, smoked fish, eggs and veggies.

Examples​: The 42 Grams restaurant in Chicago (pictured left), Faro restaurant in Brooklyn, Porridge and Puffs pop up in LA.


8. INTENSIFIED DESSERTS​ Expect to see more umami-flavored whey, malt, and miso paste in candy and desserts.

Examples​: Miso caramels from Gearharts Fine Chocolates.

9. PASS THE PLATTER:​ Chefs are preparing more large platters with centerpiece proteins (whole fish, whole chickens, big piles of ribs) and accompanying sides that can be enjoyed family-style for the whole table to share.  

Examples​: Mourad, San Francisco; King and Duke, Atlanta; Maketto, Washington DC.

Blue Apron

10. MAIL ORDER MANIA:​ Meal kit delivery services are exploding, says Nielsen, although it's still not clear whether the large wads of private equity cash being pumped into them will deliver the promised returns.

However, for some consumers, the fact that someone else has developed the recipe, procured all the ingredients, in the correct proportions, no less, and delivered them to your door complete with detailed instructions, yet still left you with the feeling that you've cooked something special, is very appealing (if you can justify the expense).

What isn't clear at this stage is whether this is a fad or a sustainable trend, says Nielsen.  Will customers really stick with meal kit delivery services in the long term, as more restaurants deliver meals that are pre-cooked, as well as pre-portioned, and more grocery stores provide more appealing food-to-go options to grab on your way home from work?

"It's too early to say where this trend is going; it will probably evolve and morph into something else,"​ says Nielsen, "But it's definitely one to watch."

Examples​: Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Plated, Farm to Fir, PlateJoy, Cooking Simplified.

Boulder, Colorado-based Sterling Rice Group​ is a branding, innovation and strategy consultancy that works with leading CPG players, chefs, restaurateurs, and food influencers to gather trend information. Click HERE​ to read more about the 10 trends.

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