Food trends 2021 – The beneficiary of change

With 2021 under way, food trends this year will be informed by last year’s global issues – the COVID-19 pandemic and the impeding climate crisis. Because of these significant events this year’s themes will be similar, but more urgent, than last.

In-house dining will look quite different in 2021. We will see an enhanced appreciation for eating at home or local food venues, an increased focus on conscious consumerism, and a demand for sustainable food sources, alternative diets and plant-based alternatives.

Here are some food preferences that you will see more of in 2021.

Shop Local

1. Local love affairs

Because of travel restrictions, Australians have renewed their love affair with their own patch, whether it be local restaurants, food outlets or producers.

Consumers have reflected on the importance of community, and in turn have developed an enhanced awareness of where food comes from and food miles.

Furthermore, with international supply chains disrupted, the call for paddock to plate has got louder. Restaurants have forged connections with one another and local producers for example, Co-Lab Pantry a new online retail store launched mid last year, is a collaboration between Melbourne restaurants, cafes and artisan food producers.

Chefs are a crucial link between producers and customer, therefore communicating ingredient’s provenance will be key.

2. New-age kitchens

There was an exponential rise in pop-up restaurants in vacant spaces and open areas during lockdown periods. The City of Melbourne invited diners to eat alfresco with laneway, car parking and streets morphing into green dining spaces. Sydney too saw a rapid COVID-19-related growth, in this area of dark or ghost kitchens – centralised locations where restaurant-quality food is be created exclusively for delivery. Surry Hills cafe Ghost kitchens are well suited to the needs of socially distanced customers and may be a business alternative in 2021 to help minimise some costs, such as rent and wait staff.

3. Home sweet home

Many people will continue to cook and eat at home this year; thus, restaurants will need to keep connected with these home cooks and diners.

Online cooking tutorials were viewed by millions in 2020 and will continue to trend. Examples such as Hugh Allen of Vue de monde and his weekly online masterclass; Neil Perry of Rockpool demonstrate fuss-free home cooking; and Michelin-starred Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana at home via his new Instagram channel called Kitchen Quarantine, are what home-viewers have learnt to expect from the industry. The gap between chef and diner will continue to narrow with many chefs presenting personalised experiences such as online classes or cooking ‘experiences’ in people’s homes.

4. What’s on the menu?

Comfort food and family-style meals always rise in popularity during times of uncertainty. An advantage for restaurateurs is that these menus can be more cost effective and easier to source suitable produce for, amidst supply chain disruptions. The shift from ‘lovely-to-have’ to ‘need-to-have’ ingredients has been enforced by COVID-19 and will continue in many kitchens. Limited or set menus will allow restaurant owners to control inventory, particularly when margins are low.

COVID-19 gave many chefs time to reflect about waste during the shutdown – a sustainable message they had been hearing from consumers. Limited menus allow chefs to consolidate inventory and menus and cross-utilise more ingredients.

5. Can you deliver?

COVID-19 exposed an underlying weakness with sit-down restaurants…social distancing, or lack thereof. To survive, most venues adopted a delivery menu: from the corner café to the fine dining greats.

Operators also plunged into the meal-kit world. An innovative example being Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You, who introduced Lettuce Take Care of You, where customers could order three meals —for a family of four — for the week and click and collect.

As the pace of innovation and competition ramps up in 2021, restaurants will need to regularly review their dining and delivery ratio to ensure it is meeting consumer needs. This will include analysing delivery commissions of the big four (Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Menu Log and DoorDash) versus delivering themselves.

Gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and plant-based diets.

6. Consciously healthy

In Australia there is a stratospheric shift towards gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and plant-based diets. These diets have moved beyond being a trend and are adopted for medical, environmental and ethical and health reasons.

Nutritional ingredient company BENEO commissioned a study that indicated two-thirds (64 per cent) of consumers want ingredients or products that provide health benefits. And post-COVID-19 consumers are more conscious than ever about their well-being. They worry about their vulnerability to disease and illness and whether coronavirus occurred because of increased levels of environmental damage.

There are opportunities in 2021 for chefs to become leaders in this health conscious landscape.

7. Welcome to an alcohol-free revolution

Research shows that Australians are drinking less alcohol. A 2020 Roy Morgan report indicated that we are drinking less now than at any time in the past 50 years. Sobriety, long enjoyed by the health-conscious, drivers, or the pregnant, is now becoming a broader lifestyle change. In 2021 there will be a demand for adult drinks that can be supped with fine food, but still provide the alcohol-like experience.

Alternative drinks to gain traction this year will be bespoke mineral waters, vitamin drinks and house-made herbal waters through to organic beers, mocktails and non-alcoholic spirits. Major beverage brands are responding accordingly with and influx of products: gin, rum and whiskey alternatives, faux bitters botanical spirits, artesian water and tea infusions. One example of adaption is Eau de Vie in Melbourne who offer a of non-alcoholic version of its five-course cocktail degustation, which includes the Yuzu Mule made from house-made yuzu curd and ginger beer.

8. watch this space

There are many other trends, all jostling for consumer attention.

Look out for:
#biodiversity and agrobiodiversity
#cannabis and hemp
#umami cocktails
#hyper-regional cuisine
#single-concept restaurants
#insect proteins
#eco-conscious packaging
#menu ordering online before arrival
#touchless everything
#sanitation is king
#accountability and fair treatment of staff
#equitability in food production
#alternatice sugars

And most importantly, for 2021, #kindness.