The growing demand for convenience has led the frozen food industry to experience significant growth over the past few years. However, popularity in a food item usually causes other food manufacturers to invest in developing similar products, which means that frozen food companies are facing a lot of competition. A good way to stand out and innovate in this category is by staying ahead of consumer trends and developing new and trendy frozen food entrées.
Gerry Ludwig, Corporate Consulting Chef of Gordon Food Service, recently identified emerging trends in the food industry at the Research Chefs Association’s annual conference in Savannah. Ludwig and his team are known for their street-level insight into emerging trends for the past 16 years and at the conference they shared their 2018 findings. After visiting over 100 targeted restaurants in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles – cities known to drive future trends – they found three emerging fusion cuisines that they believe will become popular this year.
Although many consumers identify themselves as vegetarian or vegan, Ludwig believes that the meat protein trend is on the rise again. However, him and his culinary R&D team found that fruits and vegetables are taking center stage in entrees while meat protein is added to boost the flavor of dishes.
“What chefs are doing is bringing the produce into the center-of-the-plate and then using meat and seafood proteins to kick up the umami, something you can’t do with plant-based proteins,” Ludwig said. “We are seeing chefs losing the meatless mindset. These dishes really appeal to the omnivore side of the population.”
For example, Ludwig refers to a “mind blowing” tomato dish he tried at a downtown Los Angeles Restaurant called Here’s Looking at You. The entrée used Momotaro tomatoes as the main ingredients and it featured bagna cauda (an Italian savory fondue-type sauce) as a dressing, lap xuong (Chinese sausage) as a topping and crème fraiche as a base.
“Veg-centricity is no longer a supporting act; it is no longer the second banana,” he said. “Proteins are produce partners and consumers are ready for it.”
When it comes to frozen foods, maintaining the fresh taste of ingredients like tomatoes might be a challenge. However, there are new technologies that food companies can utilize to enhance the freshness of their frozen food products. International flavor and fragrance manufacturer Givaudan released a line of flavor enhancers that they claim can make any processed or ready-made meal taste as if it was freshly prepared. In addition, the expiry date of a food product is no longer a negative feature; brands like Kraft Heinz’s Renée’s Gourmet Dressings are marketing the expiry dates of their products as indicators of how fresh and natural their dressings are. This means investing in frozen meals that have sooner expiry dates might boost the popularity of these products.
- The simplicity of Brazilian tapioca
The American consumer demographic continues to become more diverse, bringing rise to fusion cuisines that incorporate ethnic ingredients and flavors in traditional American foods. Brazilian tapioca was identified by Ludwig’s team as an ingredient in a new kind of crepe that small restaurants in New York are using.
“The interesting thing is you blend in just enough water in the flour for it to granulate,” Ludwig said. “Then you put it in a wire strainer and when the tapioca granules hit a hot pan they turn into a hot cake. We found this at three small restaurants in New York, and I really think this is one of those best kept secrets.”
Ludwig said that these New York restaurants commonly use these Brazilian tapioca crepes as a base for savory or sweet fillings. Galeria, a New York City-based restaurant, fills these Brazilian tapioca crepes with chicken and vegetable fillings. Ludwig also identified New York restaurant Market Ipanema to be an innovator in this trend with their fruit flavored and brightly colored Brazilian tapioca crepes.
“Rather than using water, they (Market Ipanema) use some sort of vegetable or fruit juice that creates great flavor and some eye-popping color,” Mr. Ludwig said.
Frozen food companies can take advantage of this trend by innovating frozen wraps and quesadillas by using Brazilian tapioca crepes as wraps. In addition, these tapioca crepes are gluten-free and are usually lower in calories than traditional wheat wraps.
- Mashing Indian into the mainstream
Indian food is already a popular international cuisine in America but according to Ludwig and his team, its ethnic flavor is merging with western foods. Chefs are now merging Indian flavors and ingredients with popular Western foods like toast, chicken wings and wraps.
In his presentation, Ludwig mentioned a New York-based Indian café called Pondicheri Café that serves a salmon avocado toast that incorporates tandoori wild salmon, kari leaves and mango chutney. He also brought up The Bombay Frankie Co., a Los Angeles-based Indian restaurant that makes an Indian burrito that features a paratha bread (a type of Indian flat bread) wrap with a chickpea spread and a choice of vegetable, chicken, paneer, fish or chana masala filling.
“They (Bombay Frankie) are already doing an Indian burrito,” he said. “There’s no reason other operators can’t create concepts that create differentiation and drive word of mouth.”
Frozen food brands like Presidents Choice, Great Value, Compliments and Trader Joes have already invested in frozen Indian meals. A great way to stand out in this segment is by innovating frozen Indian entrees with fusion meals like butter chicken tacos, tandoori chicken wings and tikka salmon with vegetables.
In 2016, the American frozen foods market was worth $53 billion and it accounted for over $195 billion globally. These numbers are expected to continue to grow with a global compound annual growth rate of 13.6 percent between 2018 and 2023. Frozen food companies are likely to bring in these growing profits if they follow consumer trends and innovate their products so that they can stand out in this competitive market.