Our relationship to food is evolving. Through new practices, discoveries and experimentation, we’ve found new ways of thinking about how food and health intertwine. Pulling from the latest data and first-hand experience, this is the next wave of trends and challenges shaping the food service industry.
Real Food, Sustainability and Radical Transparent Sourcing
Simpler ingredients, transparency and balanced choices are all on consumers’ wish lists. According to Datassential, half of consumers think it’s important to consume food and beverages made with “clean label ingredients.” Not surprisingly, more than two-thirds also support menu labelling. And Technomic’s 2016 Healthy Eating report finds that nearly 40% of consumers are more inclined to visit restaurants that provide healthy options—even if that’s not what they order.
Going back to basics, with nourishing, “clean”, GMO-free, sustainable and organic foods is now a priority in Australia, particularly in light of food and health safety in recent years. One only needs to look at the Food Recall Australia website to get an idea of the types of food contamination, some of which are unavoidable and others plain careless.
Consumers are demanding to know both what’s in their food and what’s not in it. According to Technomics, 75% of consumers agree that restaurants should be more forthcoming about where they get their ingredients from. There’s certainly a general consensus that we’re hungry to know the story behind our meal. Was it locally-sourced or did it fly 3,000 km to get here? Is it seasonal? How long did it take to get from seed to plate? Or was it sitting on a shelf, losing its nutritious benefits over the space of a week?
It’s not just the restaurant-goers who are looking at where their food comes from. Chefs are more food waste conscious that ever, with many turning their wastage into new inspired meals. Suncoast Fresh supplier, Wild Forage Australia, and Noma chef, Nick Blake works with chefs to choose seasonally and sustainably, saying “if we’re looking at sourcing fish, we might go for the lesser-known fish that isn’t overfished and find ways to use it to create a great dining experience, whether its fermented or fried as a garnish. Everything can be used, including the eyeball which is often treasured as much as the fillet.”
When looking at produce too, chefs are beginning to adopt the root-to-stem cooking style, in which the entire fruit or vegetable is used. Beet-green or broccoli stem pesto or pickled watermelon rinds have been introduced to diners as a new and exciting flavour profile.
We’re also seeing the “craft” market explode. In a world of mass-food manufacturing and so many products vying for consumer attention, consumers are looking for simple cues that the food product they are purchasing is better than the rest. Enter “craft”. This concept is not limited to beer and refers to any food product that is hand-made with real ingredients. Craft food and beverages allow the makers to not only offer a sustainable product, but also create a compelling narrative around the authentic creation of the product. Statistics back up this theory, with a Deloitte consumer survey finding 33% of people were willing to pay significantly (up to 40%) more for food products which have an authentic/transparent story associated with their production.
Boom in the Experience Economy
A restaurants brand is no longer just about the food. Quality food is the standard expectation and is just one of many components that drives a diner’s experience. What should that experience look like? Deloitte surveyed 2,000 diners to understand these evolving expectations. The participants were asked to rank five guest-first experiential elements in order of importance, assigning 100 points across the elements: Engage me, empower me, hear me, delight me and know me. Across all generations – baby bomber, Gen X, Millennial and Gen Z – the most important element of a sit-down dining experience was “engage me.”
Source: Deloitte Consulting LLP 2017 restaurant customer experience survey
The Rise of Vegans, Vegetarians and Flexitarians
Veganism is less of a trend and more of a movement, with concerns now extending beyond animal welfare to include health and environmental implications. Veganism, vegetarians and flexitarians aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, Australia is the world’s third fastest growing vegan market. The Mintel Food Report 2017 claimed that 14% of Australian’s are avoiding red meat in their daily diet, while 10% said they were eating more non-animal sources of protein compared to a year ago. Businesses and restaurants know this too, with vegan packaged to-go food growing in popularity too.
The thing is, vegans aren’t looking for a limp salad. They want meaty flavours, minus the meat. We’re talking wild Australian mushrooms, locally-sourced wholesale vegetables and exotic foraged foods to elevate a simple veggie dish.
Do you agree with these trends? What do you think is on the way out? Leave your thoughts on what’s happening in the restaurant industry in the comments below.
Wild Forage Australia
Nourishing weeds you didn’t know were edible (and how to use them)
Foraging in Australia is seeing a comeback, as more and more chefs discover the need to ‘get back to the source’ of where flavours, textures and ingredients come from.
The notion that foraging is a short-term trend isn’t entirely true. Restaurants and chefs have turned a page. They are beginning to understand that menu creation starts with ingredient selection, seasonality and the discovery of new ways of eating and preparing ingredients.
As a wholesale supplier of locally grown, fresh and foraged produce, we work with a number of local farmers and growers to help chefs achieve their creative ambitions. We also work exclusively with our friend Wild Forage Australia who is at the heart of driving this change to source and develop a selection of boutique wild herbs, flowers, coastal succulents, leaves and algae for restaurants and cafes across SE Queensland.
We’ll take you through some of the species commonly collected around the Sunshine Coast coastal and hinterland environments, and now these hand-picked foraged wild ingredients are becoming important components on menus around Queensland and Australia.
Wild Radish (Raphanus Raphanistrum)
Also known as Wild Kale, this flowering species of Brassica is found throughout Australia. It pops up frequently along farmland roadsides and pastures. It is highly adapted to disturbance events such a regular mowing.
The whole plant is edible, the leaves produce a peppery taste similar to watercress, while the delicate yellow flowers have a spicy horseradish bite with honey undertones. Small delicate buds and new season shoots are prized and eaten raw in comparison to its outer green leaves that can be hot. Small clusters of yellow flowers are fragile and must be picked and stored with care. It’s a common species seen in the cooler months especially throughout the Southeast.
Sea Celery (Apium prostratum)
Also known commonly as sea parsley. The two names are used interchangeably in the industry. There are two common species of Sea Celery: Headland Sea Celery and Mangrove Sea Celery. Both species share a similar botany however their leafy texture and flavour is slightly different. The flavour is a direct reflection of the environment in which it’s found. Headland Sea Celery is hardier due to its need to adapt to exposed weather conditions, salinity and erosion activity of headlands. The mangrove species is more protected, hence its leafy texture is softer and delicate.
The name Apium comes from the Latin word for ‘celery’ while ‘prostratum’ comes from the word to ‘climb’. Its unique flavour is similar to regular parsley, yet it carries a “hint of the ocean”.
The trend in top kitchens around the country according to Nick from Wild Forage Australia is to move away from the use of simple garnishing as a way to include native produce and, instead, to explore wild flavours common to our landscape as actual components supported by technique. “It’s about using the familiar to gain trust while presenting ingredients in a new light that’s engaging, emotive, an expression of season and local geography.”
Heart-leaf Ice Plant (Aptenia Cordifolia)
Also known as Baby Sun Rose, this hot pink flowering succulent grows naturally along the coast and behind dune vegetation where it is protected and moisture available. Its green waxy leaves are prized for its crisp texture and lemony flavour. The flavour is a direct reflection of where it grown by the beach, often described as having a briny flavour. The species pairs excellently with seafood.
Ice Plant is a localised species, originating in southern Africa and has found favourable conditions in Central and South East Queensland, eastern New South Wales and even in some parts of Victoria and South Australia. Rich in vitamins A, B and C and mineral salts, the leaves can be used raw or cooked in salads to add a salty note. The juice in the leaves is said to have antiseptic properties, relieving infections and digestive issues, so pop a few leaves into a green juice for some added anti-inflammatory action.
Availability is generally 9 months of the year, with limited availability after dry periods.
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)
Watercress is notorious as being one of those “hard to grow” plants yet take a stroll along the banks of any creek in the cooler parts of Australia and you’ll find it growing in abundance. It’s high in calcium, iron and vitamin C, with the peppery, mustard-like bite to watercress lending well to winter salads and pesto.
Being a water loving species, it’s flavour is a reflection of the water body and catchment where it is found. Take care when harvesting watercress as high-nutrient loading and run off from farmlands can cause algal blooms and contaminate the water with liver fluke, a parasitic worm hosted in the liver of livestock.
Watercress is only found in slowly creeks and in shaded areas. It is commonly seen in local waterways where conditions are favourable in the cooler months. From August to late September, Wild Forage Australia collects both the leaves and the flowering heads for its delicate white flowers before it goes to seed.
Purslane (Portuluca Oleracea)
Walk into your back yard and you’ll likely find purslane thriving when all else is dying. This delicious and highly nutritious weed has been consumed since ancient times around the world. Indigenous Australians call it Munyeroo, using it as a salad green and even grinding its seeds into flour, while it’s embraced as a longevity herb in Chinese Traditional Medicine. Like many wild greens, it has high levels of oxalic acid, which can be poisonous when consumed in excess.
It’s crunchy, it’s tangy, it’s lemony and it can be cooked or eaten raw. As a foraging tip pick it in the early hours of the morning this is when oxalic acid content is at its highest before the sun coverts cellulose into plant sugars. We’ve even heard of chefs using it as the star in their purslane tzatziki.
Foraging sustainably and ethically
Being a forager is not simply about accessing ‘free food’. These are gifts from nature that must be shown respect. Foraging comes with a responsibility to protect the surrounding ecology of an area whilst ensuring the ongoing survival of plant populations.
Foraging remains a contentious issue with much needed education to ensure those foraging have the right
skill set, knowledge and appreciation of the resource that they in turn become advocates and role models.
With increasing interest in wild foods comes increasing demand. Foragers and the supply chain have an inherent responsibility to source sustainable and ethical volumes to supply market needs. Foraged produce is highly seasonal; this should be celebrated and its limitations recognised. Changing foraging locations and only collecting 20% of the population as a general rule of thumb ensures ample recovery.
There are a number of publicised ‘do’s and ‘don’ts’ that include foraging etiquette and collection technique and principals. Only foraging what you can 100% identify is a key rule, not eating what you don’t know cannot be stressed enough. Foraging is not a skill set you can quickly develop. It takes time and patience and a deep love for the landscape to collect seasonal gifts from nature.
Suncoast Fresh have a strong focus on sourcing the best wholesale produce for the best price each season. Along with farm-direct bulk fruit and vegetables, we offer a boutique produce range including our wild foraged coastal mix for restaurants, cafes, schools, food festivals and more. Stay up to date with our Fresh Produce Update or apply to be a customer.