At MeetingsNet's Las Vegas Corporate Invitational Destination Showcase, held April 11–13, Patti J. Shock, CPCE, an academic consultant at The International School of Hospitality, held an educational session on today’s hot food trends.
Beware of Food Fatigue
Shock began her presentation with a warning for meeting planners to pay attention to food trends. She said, “People are more into food now than ever before. They are more knowledgeable, they watch ‘Top Chef’ and the Food Network, and for the most part they are jaded, they get food fatigue. We have to come up with new things all the time because our attendees want something creative.”
Authentic and Oddball
The first major food trend Shock discussed is food diversity or cultural cuisine.
She advised planners not to just think about Italian food, but Northern or Southern Italian food. Authentic regional dishes are trending and planners can now explore the different flavors from that region. She said, “Ask who is in the kitchen at your venue. We have people from other countries working here and they can bring traditional family recipes and dishes that are different” to give your guests meals they won’t find elsewhere.
Shock also highlighted some of the oddball trends she has seen recently.
Food-grade activated charcoal is one—it is supposed to bind to toxins and rid the body of them. One example Shock has seen is black pizza with coconut ash in the dough, but there are many others including black ice cream. A hot flavor right now: “Pickles are in!” Shock has seen pickle slushies, pickle cupcakes, pickle pastrami, and pickle soda.
A Good Sign
Transparency continues to be a huge trend. Shock advises using signage for all foods, especially at buffets, so that people with special diets or food allergies know what they are eating. Shock said, “People want organic food, and especially they don’t want GMOs or things that are cloned or modified in any way.” Signs should include not just the ingredients but also where they come from, especially if you can highlight local produce or free-range products. She said, “When I was eating meat I always wanted a sign on it because I didn’t want to eat cloned meat.”
Requests for special diets at events are up by 53 percent; between 2012 and 2016 there was a 25 percent increase in claims of vegetarianism in the U.S. and a 257 percent increase in vegan food in grocery store products. According to a Top Trends in Prepared Foods 2017 Report, six percent of the U.S. population identifies as vegan, compared with 1 percent in 2014, and 31 percent of Americans now practice meat-free days.
Shock is herself a vegan, and offered this incentive to the audience, “I went vegan 15 months ago and I’ve lost 40 pounds!” One thing that annoys Shock when it comes to special diets is when the kitchen tries to save time and resources by combining them. “At one place, I wanted vegan and they gave me gluten-free pasta—yuck! Don’t let them do that.” Shock said that finding food for attendees with special dietary needs is getting easier. In Las Vegas there is bakery called Vegan Bites that offers desserts using palm sugar, lemon, maple syrup, and hemp seeds as sweeteners instead of high-fructose corn syrup, which a lot of people are trying to avoid in their diets.
Even something as simple as putting almond milk at your beverage stations so that vegans have something to put in their coffee will make a difference.
If the kitchen is reluctant to try something new, Shock recommends ForksOverKnives, as a good resource for plant-based menus, but she said there are thousands of recipes online. Shock said to remember, “Chefs became chefs because they love to cook, and a lot of times they don’t get to meet you because they are not salespeople. Always try to talk with the chef on a site inspection. Sometimes they can get you a better deal on ingredients because they know what’s in season and may have some great ideas.”
“Everyone wants to take a picture of their food and post it on the Internet, so high-impact presentation is important,” said Shock. Bonus: If your food looks particularly attractive it could tempt other people to sign up for your event next time. “It is a good marketing tactic,” she said.
Not Just for Hipsters
Artisanal food is locally grown in small batches without pesticides, often harvested or created using traditional methods. Usually production is limited, and so these foods are not shipped all over the country, but producers can often provide enough for your event, whether they make cheese, craft beers, or specialty desserts.