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Adapting to New Food Trends

Friday, November 8, 2019, 12:34 Hrs  [IST]

Globalisation has sparked the young consumer's curiosity to discover new food and drinks. Furthermore, the increasing health problems triggered by strenuous work schedules of the new and young professionals has led to a focus on healthy food alternatives. The desire for a healthier lifestyle is motivating consumers to prioritise the inclusion of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and botanicals into their meal habits. Asmita Mukherjee investigates the evolving food trends in the country and the adaptation of the industry to the same.

The industry is changing rapidly as more and more people are becoming aware of food, it is not as if the food trends were any slower in the past, however now the palate has become extremely evolved and now we are heading back to our roots searching soul food, and comfort food in the very basic ingredients like grains or millets. Also, due to increased intercity migration in India, regional cuisine is finding favour among the young generation, who travel away from their hometowns to bigger cities in search of better job opportunities. Ilandhirai Vadivel, Executive Chef of Radisson Blu Pune, has understood this trend and informs that regionally influenced cuisines are highly sought after, in family dine outings nowadays.

The demand for health food is becoming a fast-growing trend that could be due to people who are succumbing to the health fads or could be because they find comfort in these foods.

Chef Momin Faqi, Executive Chef, Kode, says, "When it comes to latest trends, keto, and vegan food are definitely the ones which are trending the most."

Keto is a short form for ketogenic, which is a low carb, high - fat and high - protein diet that claims to offer many health benefits such as weight loss, and lower risk factors for diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, and many others.

Chef Sahil Singh, Executive Chef Pan Asian Cuisine, Massive Restaurants puts forward his views by saying, "Keto gained popularity after being known and followed by celebrities. This diet involves drastically reducing your intake of carbohydrates and replacing them with fats, forcing your body into a state of ketosis i.e. when you burn fats instead of carbohydrates for energy. This infamously restrictive diet calls for you to reduce the intake of unhealthy carbs like sugar along with those that are considered healthy like most fruits and certain veggies. The problem with keto is that it should be monitored by a health care professional, otherwise, it can create problems and leads to weight gain if you end up cheating."

Rebekah Blank, Brand Head, Fab café by Fab India says, "The Keto diet is becoming increasingly popular especially with people who are into fitness or functional medicine. There's a whole bunch of keto startups. We've launched a few keto items on our menu at Fabcafe and they're a lot more popular than I was expecting."

The freshness of food is another criterion, which is finding renewed focus by consumers nowadays. As Dushyant Singh, Restaurateur & Founder of Gourmet Getaway says, "Earlier we've seen that we could get anything in any of the seasons but now people are more conscious, they know the importance of fresh produce, so I think in years to come, fresh produce is something which will be very important for our industry."

Customer Persona
The changing F&B demands of the consumers are driven by certain buyer personas, which is important to understand in order to correctly target and cater to this segment.

Commenting on this topic, Veeraj Shenoy, Vice President, Food-Beverage & Retail-Merchandise at Adlabs Entertainment Ltd, says, "The demographic composition comprises mainly of Yuppies (Young Upwardly Urban Professional), Well-travelled Families, Youths, and DINKs (Double Income No Kids), who love exploring and are adventurous with their taste buds."

Earlier, food trends in India were essentially a very urban concept. But, the young Indians from places with strong food ethics are showing increased interest, as they would like to determine the freshness of food, where their food is coming from, how organic it is and if it is ethically sourced with the entire farm-to-table concept, gaining massive proportions. Thus food trends are gaining popularity and quickly penetrating deeper into Indian Tier 2 and Tier 3 Cities, as well.

Chef Sandeep Bhandari, Executive Chef, Sayaji Pune informs that generally health-conscious people ask for vegan food. "Mostly the ladies have more preferences for vegan foods than men. Middle-aged women and men are most likely to have vegan delights," he adds.

Vegan options such as tofu instead of cottage cheese, and soy milk in place of regular milk comes at a higher price point and are stocked selectively at many food joints, making vegan food an expensive dietary alternative for many. In India, many people cannot afford such vegan alternatives, even if they are interested in green diets. Thus, population segments with high spending power are generally considered perfect customers for vegan food.

Chef Sahil says, "People falling in the mid-40s age group, and also in the upper level of the socio-economic segment are the ones who fall in the category and are the ideal customers for these trends in the F&B industry."

Blank sees the demand for new food trends coming mostly from the 25-40 age group in the upper-middle class, and primarily from the metro cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore but also more in the north than the south.

According to most chefs, the key influencers are open to new experiences and always want to try out newer experiments in culinary epicureanism. Youngsters and women belonging to upper-middle-class of the society are the ones who generally have a taste for vegan and keto food. According to Anuraag Narsingani, Executive Chef, JW Marriott Hotel Pune, Generation Z, and Millennials are the segments of the Indian population who are the ideal customers for new food trends. Faqi explains the reason by saying, "The reason behind this is that customers belonging to this segment are more health-conscious. Hence, they are the ones who are ideal when it comes to new food trends."

Impact on the Food Industry
The changing food habits of the country is aligning with global trends, which is good news for the food industry. The new trends are encouraging brands, both national and international to expand their menu and geographical presence. Consumers of today are willing to pay a premium for exceptional taste, service, and experience. Also, higher incomes are seeing consumers increasingly willing to spend on quality food.

This trending consumer desire has motivated food producers and manufacturers to develop new products. For example, Unilever and Givaudan have joined other companies working with Wageningen University to help develop a 100% plant-based steak that has a similar taste, texture, and appearance to regular meat.

Almost similarly, Burger King's newly launched Impossible Burger patty which has been developed in food labs, mimics the taste, texture, and behaviour of beef burger patty while being totally plant-based.

In order to cater to the new-age consumers, restaurants are upgrading and transforming their existing menus by including attractive options targeting the trends in vogue. Chef Bhandari says that at their hotel they try to make dishes as per guest preferences and accordingly, they have included some salads, soups and main courses like Tabbouleh Salad, Fattoush Salad, Cream Broccoli & Asparagus Soup, Clear Broths, and Steamed Silken tofu within the existing menu list.

The tectonic shift in consumption patterns has led chefs and restaurants to adopt a culture of constant learning to better position themselves in the market of varying palates. To cater to the increasing demand for regional cuisines, Chef Vadivel says, "Renowned F&B outlets are having chefs coming across from various regions. The vast experience of them handling multicultural clients is helping to address the needs of different palates. Chefs learn every day to keep updating them with current styles of dine-ins and happenings in the industry."

Staying ahead of the competition is the key to finding a place in the customer's mind in this shifting market. F&B operators are learning and evolving every day according to the latest food trends. Many chefs include items in their menu which are trending and also which their competitors are not providing to the guests.

Karan Tanna, Co-Founder, Yellow Tie Hospitality puts forward his thoughts by saying, "Simple advice for the F&B operators will be to be very alert of the changes on going in the restaurant eco system. It is evolving every day. Customers are evolving faster than ever before. Restaurants have to adapt to the growing needs at a fast speed but also make changes that are sustainable. Being dynamic is the only choice for long term survival."

Challenges on the way
The latest food trends have given rise to the need for ingredients which were previously not sourced in huge quantities, leading to a gap in the supply and demand economics. Many times, the supply of certain ingredients are not able to pick up with burgeoning demand, leading to an increase in prices. Chef Faqi elaborates, "Due to the limited vendor options of certain ingredients, the prices surely rise up to some extent."

Some products are imported into the country, which adds up duties to the overall cost driving up prices of the final dish. Dushyant comments, "Everyone wants authenticity in the cuisine but to get those ingredients is not easy, because all the importers pay a lot of duty in getting the products. For example, you can get the best cheese for making a pizza from Italy, but since it is imported from Italy, there is a lot of duty involved which raises the price of the final product."

Restaurants also find it difficult to identify suppliers who can address consumer demand, when a trend arises suddenly. In order to be prepared, restaurants need to properly forecast and plan the supply, so as not face any surprises. Shenoy says, "Vendor Management is a key function to be adhered to, in order to bring the trending ingredients from farm to table through a seamless process. Also, a particular ingredient may be trending at one point and the next minute there is a newer ingredient taking its place. Thus forecasting of ingredients again is very critical for the quantum to be judged, especially when dealing with bulk cooking."

Efficient menu designing and planning becomes critical to correctly evaluate the choice and quantity of ingredients necessary in order to cater to the fast-changing trends. "The menu has to be so engineered that the number of ingredient items are in accordance with the storage available, total menu size, perishability of items and other parameters. If the menu is engineered keeping in mind the complexity of ingredient sourcing and supply chain, all the challenges related to the supply chain can be minimized," adds Tanna.

Consumer demands evolve quickly and dramatically fuelling newer trends. Hence it is important to evaluate the fit and long term-sustenance of the trend with a particular F&B outlet by mapping it against the targeted consumer profile. It is also important to be well versed with the competitive landscape and local suppliers to measure the future evolution and consistency of a particular trend. These steps can help F&B operators respond in a timely fashion to changing consumer trends.

The Path Forward
There is an always increasing necessity for innovation in an industry like F&B, due to the cyclical trends in the industry. In this context, Vadivel says, "F&B operators should always be daring to venture into newer innovations to offer guests unusual & first of its kind gastronomic experiences. Re-inventing of locally influenced cuisines and international delicacies offered with slight adaptability to local palates will be the key to long term success."

The consumer of today is conscious to have chemical-free food, so organic food and fruits have taken the first seat. According to the 2019 What's on the Menu Report, the future of the sector revolves around being healthier, more sustainable, and more concerned about the impact of what we eat on the environment and the society.

It has become far more important to understand the changing mindset of competitors and palates of consumers, than ever before, for brands to take the first-mover advantage and truly push boundaries. It is essential for businesses to fully understand the trends, and do the research behind them so that the products that they create are fully in accordance with the philosophy behind the trends.

Whatever the trend, operators must work out how the trend matches the values of the brand and ensure that the menu improvements are aligned with the value.

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