by Alex Clough,
Creative Strategy Director

We recently published the drinks trends to watch, and as we all know, the best thing to follow great drinks is great food.

It’s an exciting but disruptive time for the industry, with technological innovation, dietary revolution and unprecedented growth in education, convenience and choice.

So, pull up a chair and tuck in to the biggest trends to watch in food…

Impulsive Satisfaction  

It’s hard to name an industry that hasn’t been completely re-engineered for our own laziness convenience, but nowhere is this more apparent in our daily lives than food.

We’ve seen a huge revival in convenience food shopping, with many all but abandoning the big weekly supermarket shop. City dwellers prefer top-ups to big-shops now.

‘Takeaway’ is no longer a dirty word thanks to the restaurant-delivery revolution. Deliveroo grew by 611% in 2016 and now employs 2,000 people. It’s estimated the takeaway delivery market will be worth £5 billion within two years. Let that digest. Though after they take their 10%, it’s no surprise restaurants are feeling the squeeze on their margins.

Throughout our lives, convenience is irresistible. It feels like we’re approaching the crest of an impulsive wave, ignorant of the inevitable crash into the sand that could hurt the industry that creates the food we love.

Could Deliveroo or Uber Eats work with no reputable restaurants to supply them?

Think Bigger Than Gimmicks

Contrary to the condescending narrative about avocado on toast preventing the under 30s from affording houses, younger people are actually eating out less than ever. Some believe this is because they seek ‘new experiences’ that the bulk of the food industry simply doesn’t offer. It seems more likely that the rising cost of living is the primary contributor. Regardless, it could end up costing operators almost £1 billion.

Successfully attracting the millennial pound is going to require truly innovative thinking about the food on offer, and the experience built around it. Some have resorted to gimmicks, with the likes of Activated Charcoal Vegan Croissants and the glitter-ridden monstrosity of Unicorn Coffee setting social media alight with equal parts reverence and ridicule.

Short-term gimmicks rarely create long-term growth, though. There needs to be an urgent, fundamental rethink of how and why young people dine out, and the role the physical restaurant plays within that.

Table For (Ph)one

Precisely when or why people began to feel embarrassed by eating out alone is hard to say. Maybe a hangover from Victorian social decorum, or a symptom of 1980’s social vanity. But times they are a-changing – 80 percent of people now believe eating out alone is more socially acceptable.

The optimist would say this signifies a growth in self-confidence and comfort in our own company. The realist might say it’s because we are never truly alone anymore. Watch for the number of phones in hands next time you’re out for dinner. Company, gratification and distraction is only a thumb away, and we’re all guilty of it.

UK web searches for ‘table for one’ are increasing steadily, and savvy restaurants are capitalising on the rise in solo dining by offering up single tables and menu choices that appeal to the solitary culinary.

Coupled with the boom in takeaway delivery and most supermarkets upping their food game, boring weekday meals should in theory be fast disappearing in a whirl of quality food, both in and out of the home.

Don’t Be A Wasteman

Food waste has long been on the cultural agenda – the famous Fish Fight campaign launched eight years ago – but innovation in tackling the problem is more exciting now than ever. The shameful realisation that the UK throws away 7 million tonnes of food and drink every year has exerted immense cultural and economic pressure on restaurants and supermarkets.

Top end ventures like Cub from the ever-brilliant Mr. Lyan are making waves where it counts and setting the right example in fine dining. This is complimented domestically by the rise of home-composting and food waste collection. There’s a gap in the middle though.

More commercially, London start-up Aeropowder uses waste feathers to create useful materials, Dutch firm Mestic is converting animal waste into plastic, paper and clothes (yes, clothes), and the big supermarkets are finally selling imperfect veg instead of throwing it away.

Sadly, it’ll likely take the heavy-handed measure of taxation or penalty to stop food waste at scale. Just look at the staggering impact of the 5p plastic bag charge. Many of us are simply not aware (or care) enough to change unless it hurts our pockets.

Happily Green With Envy

Love them or loathe them, influencers that merge uber-healthy diets with envy-inducing fitness to create an aspirational lifestyle aesthetic are actually changing how people live.

Yes, underneath the positive body messages there are dangerous levels of depression and anxiety linked to Instagram use, but it’s hard to deny its role in a new wave of eating.

Some food trends are always deserving of ridicule, but others offer genuine alternatives that people may never have discovered elsewhere. They’ve helped popularise a switch to more obscure ingredients, choosing coconut oil over butter, flax over eggs, air fry over oil, even fried edamame over chips. With a third of Brits cutting back on meat, the biggest shifts have been the exchange of meat for plant-proteins, and the boom in non-dairy milk. Even soy is already old hat to some.

It feels as though the traditional diet has disappeared almost overnight. It’s forced established businesses to play catch-up while the dedicated start-ups grow in fame, powered by social influencers that people trust.

Supercharged & Immortal-ish

Robust research around superfoods has added some much needed clarity to a conflicted subject. Popeye was onto something though. There are foods that supercharge your body, though by how much and how quickly is still debatable. If protein powders are the short-term approach to being ‘beach body ready’, these are the fuels of the biological long game.

Those that buy into it are trying to add power to almost every part of their day, from the morning brew to the evening meal. Some dump protein powder into their coffee, but others are seeking more natural boosts with additions such as maca, or miracle spices like turmeric. For the curious, a ‘dirty turmeric almond latte’ from Kanella & Co. is embarrassing to order but delicious to drink.

Elsewhere, the juice phenomenon and its questionable sugar levels is being replaced by nutrient-rich ‘souping’ – it’s just soup – which focuses on reducing calories, cleansing the body and getting the maximum goodness out of our veg.

Confining eating to short periods of the day has also grown in popularity, to optimise natural digestion, better burn off fat and lower blood sugar. Intermittent fasting is truly a diet for the digital world, with apps such as My Fitness Pal and NutraCheck playing an increasingly integral part in tracking and hacking our bodies.

So as technology helps us get restaurant-quality food delivered to our door, it is also helping us utilise science and nutrition to live healthier and longer…hopefully.

Watch out NEXT MONTH for the next trends edition of Splendid Loves…