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Slow economy favors simple cooking

January 07, 2009|By KATHIE SMITH / Toledo Blade

Food trends will likely take a decided turn from edgy, pricey choices. Because of the slow economy, whether dining out or cooking in, consumers will be leaning toward the comfortable, the safe, the less expensive and the local. High-end selections will be intentional and specific.

Comfort food will be evident on restaurant menus as much as in home cooking.

According to Mintel Menu Insights, which forecasts restaurant trends for 2009, comfort food is often connected to times of economic recession, and it is what people crave when they're feeling down.

Restaurants will make comfort food new by increasing the use of slow-cooked, slow-baked, slow-grilled, braised and poached foods.

Even fast-food chains are showing this trend -- for example, the Long John Silver chain, known for fried entrees, now is advertising Freshside Grille, offering grilled fish including salmon and tilapia.

According to the market research firm Information Resources, 53 percent of consumers said they are cooking more from scratch than they did just six months ago. That's good news for small-appliance firms such as KitchenAid, which makes stand mixers that can be used for everything from grinding grain and meat to kneading dough, slicing vegetables and even making ice cream.

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Eating fresh foods is even ringing true for today's kids and teens. A Mintel survey indicated that 42 percent of children and teens reach for foods that give them more energy. About 35 percent purposefully eat foods that are rich in vitamins and nutrients. Approximately one-fourth try to eat foods that are low in fat, and 22 percent look for low-in-sugar foods.

The National Restaurant Association survey of more than 1,600 professional chefs -- members of the American Culinary Federation -- seems to concur with this. Local produce, bite-size desserts and healthful kids' meals are among the top trends.

Consumers want to know where their food is from and how it is grown and processed.

The Country of Origin Label bill was put into effect Sept. 30 for vendors and suppliers to list the country of origin on all produce, nuts, meats and fish whether fresh or frozen.

And restaurants are paying more attention to the origin of foods on their menus, also.

Consumers love to eat out. But because of budget concerns, they will be more selective about dining dollars.

At the same time, lower prices are turning up from fast food to family dining. This summer, Subway Footlong subs for $5 and TGI Friday's Right Portion, Right Price with smaller servings of regular entrees, value-priced between $5.99 and $9.99, were among the many quick-service and family restaurants trying to get their market share.

More recently, McDonald's "gourmet" coffee beverages at more affordable prices are having an impact on the marketplace.

Food manufacturers are always looking for tastes and aromas that consumers favor. Among the new foods are super-fruits such as acai and mangosteen, many of which are added to juices.

Watch for chimichurri sauce for grilled meats; the curry trend; lavender to spice up food, chocolate and even beverages; craft and specialty beers; organic wines, and small plates of tapas/mezze/dim sum. Small desserts or bite-size desserts will add a sweet note like the cupcake phenomenon already in full force.

Just as the American plate adapts to international foods, the trends from America will continue to spread around the world.

The North American Blueberry Council reported in October about its efforts to open the Indian market to blueberries. Although blueberries are foreign to the Indian subcontinent, they are in great demand in that area. It is an important market for the blueberry industry, according to the Council.

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