F&B trends showcase local bites, insect alternatives

THE WOODLANDS, TX—Benchmark, a global hospitality company, has released its top 10 dining trends for 2019, observed by executive chefs and culinary experts from across the company’s 80 hotels, resorts and restaurants.

Some of these trends came as no surprise—like the increase in the demand for local, healthy options—while some are more cutting edge, breathing new life into food and beverage operations.

“The tastes and needs of customers change constantly with food and beverage. Everybody wants to be an expert but not everyone is. We need to understand—not only operators, but consumers—that everyone is focused more and more on what they eat, how they look and are concerned with living longer,” said Patrick Berwald, VP of food and beverage for Benchmark.

Parallel to this is “Farm to Table 2.0,” a trend that builds on the growing demand for local fare. Many Benchmark properties have teamed up with nearby farms, purveyors and vendors. The hotels will buy land to grow products to then sell to guests.

“It’s a cycle; they’re supporting the farmers, but the hotels are also taking it a step further,” Berwald said. “At some properties located outside of big cities, sometimes it’s harder to get products. We need creative, sustainable ways to provide.”

Berwald also said that he’s noticing a rise in private-label beverages, another by-product of the farm-to-table style.

“I see a lot of ‘we want it our way,’ so we’ll create a rum for a property. The F&B director, chef or operations team will go and give tasting profiles, give direction and create something private label, non-mainstream, non-big brand, and it works well,” he said.

Guests are also starting to make the switch from coffee to tea, looking at iced tea and even tea cocktails.

Other trends that speak to more thoughtful, inventive choices include more vegetarian options and the use of unlikely ingredients. This includes substituting common items like lemons and limes with citron, cumquat and shaddock; kale is being replaced with wild weeds like sorrel, dandelion greens and amaranth; and honey and agave with carrot, sweet potato, golden beet, butternut squash and corn.

With an increased eye on health, people are also much more concerned with portion sizes as well as dietary and nutritional needs, according to the report. Protein alternatives are becoming tastier with heme—an up-and-coming food science—allowing chefs to give plant-based products a meaty quality.

“They [hotel employees]have to constantly be out there talking to customers, getting out to trade conferences, talking to vendors,” Berwald said. “They have to get their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening and ask, ‘Is it the right direction? Is it what they want? Is it relevant?’ We often get caught up with creating menus that we want to eat, not what our customers want.”

An example of this is using foods that guests may not be accustomed to, like fermented ingredients and insects.

According to the report, 80% of the world consumes insects, which are low in fat and have three to four times more protein as beef. Insect powders are used in cocktails and cricket flour can be incorporated into bread and pastries.

“It all comes down to perception—who wants to eat bugs? There’s a lot of companies that do a very good job of branding and packaging and getting over that perception. If you get beyond that mental block, you would be very surprised. Once it becomes more and more commonplace, people will see it’s good and flavorful,” Berwald said. “Look at sushi back in the early 1980s. People thought, ‘Raw fish, no way,’ and now it’s the standard.”

He also mentioned the cost comparison of insects and beef, with crickets being a much more affordable route, an option that both hotel employees and guests may have to look to in the future.

“It’s a dichotomy. There’s an increase in population, and food production will either stay stagnant or revert. It will be a problem, and we have to look at creative ways to solve it,” he said.

People are being more adventurous in what they’re willing to taste, as they’re becoming educated on the benefits of some of these options, such as Japanese vinegar drinks and kombucha. Other fermented foods picking up include kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh and kefir, which all increase probiotics to improve the immune system.

“People want to try something new, ethnic. There are different ways to prepare cuisine,” Berwald said.

Part of this experience is dining out, which the industry should be expecting more and more of. Berwald said younger guests dine out about three to four times a week, with an increased interest in food and its social aspect, as well as increased pride in local sources.

“People are intrigued by food… They’re reading biographies on certain purveyors and how they’re growing and treating their products. They’re digging deep to see how it fits into their personal diets,” Berwald said. “Everybody has a specific need or want, diet or allergy. They want to be confident of their source of food and beverage.”

Berwald added that the next generation of customers is constantly demanding more and has specific preferences, and hoteliers need to be prepared to meet those needs and be ready to modify business and marketing plans.

“We’re not looking to be on trend; we’re looking to be ahead of the trend and prepare our operations to meet that demand,” he said. “We have to understand we live in a custom world. We’re planners, we’re executors, we look at data and analytics and execute to those in a customized world. It’s hard to do that… You need to prepare for the ‘what ifs’ and anticipate those needs.”

Benchmark is in the process of creating a brand wellness program in partnership with registered nurses and dietitians to give guests an even more customized dining experience. The program is created with business travelers in mind, Berwald said, as many of these travelers don’t get a chance to try healthy, local options.

“It’s not just a chicken dinner with a starch and a vegetable. We want something meaningful that supports their lifestyle and counteracts business conferences where you eat bad food and go heavy on the cocktails,” he said. “We’re listening more to customers and looking at things in a different light. What will the customer in five years want?”

Whether a business or leisure traveler, guests expect something significant, Berwald said, which lends itself to another trend: “Food & The Greater Good.” With a global focus, the hospitality industry—and the culinary community specifically—is getting behind charities to provide sustainable support. Chefs are making more connections with food, less about social media and more about the deeper, more experiential aspects that a meal can offer.

“When I travel, I want to learn something, especially at experiential properties,” Berwald said. “Our job is to not only teach our transient customer but to make sure we’re partnering with farmers and purveyors to get products that you can’t find anywhere else.” HB

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