Top Food Trends: What's 'In' Right Now

Got a taste for gourmet food but little time to make it? Looking for healthier items at the grocery store, or cruising through the take-out lane ... again?

The Institute for Food Technology (IFT) isn't surprised. Those patterns are on its list of top 10 food trends. The IFT is a nonprofit group of professionals in food science, food technology, and related fields.

Influences on food trends include baby boomers becoming "empty nesters" with more time to cook, waning interest in low-carb extremism, increasing attention to foods' health effects, and a craving for upscale foods.

Here's a look at the complete list of trends, published in April's issue of Food Technology, the IFT's magazine:

Quick fix. Expect to see more ready-to-eat or easy-use food products, such as salad mixes, sauces, prepackaged dinners, and pie crusts. That reflects a desire for home cooking with a little less hassle.

"Nearly half of U.S. consumers say they plan to cook more meals at home from scratch, 29 percent say they plan to eat more freshly prepared meals that just need to be heated, and 25 percent say they plan to cook more meals at home using prepared ingredients," says the magazine.

Drive-and-go. More people are getting take-out food from full-service restaurants. Healthier, more upscale items at fast-food restaurants are also attracting "once-reluctant consumers," says the report.

Inherently healthy. Fruits, vegetables, salads, grains, nuts, and yogurt are part of a trend toward naturally good-for-you foods.

Fancy. The premium food market is expected to grow by 30% to $94 billion in 2008, says the article. Gourmet tuna, cheeses, teas, wine-flavored crackers, and cocktail products are in that category.

Farm-friendly. Buzzwords include "organic," "homestead," and "farmstead." U.S. organic food sales were up 18 percent in 2004, says the report. Fair trade is becoming important to consumers buying coffee, with chocolate and tea expected to follow.

Layered flavors. Bland is out, flavored is in. Look for pairings (like fruity and tangy combinations), exotic fruit flavors, Asian influences, aged vinegars, savory spicing, and traditional baking flavors (vanilla, ginger, cinnamon).

With more people interested in eating fish, expect to see fish-oriented spice mixes. Lighter Asian flavors are also important (like fish-, oyster- and plum sauces), along with Latin flavors. Wasabi, the fiery Asian paste, is on its way out, says the article.

Grazing. Smaller nibbles of higher-quality treats are in, says the magazine. Products without trans fats are also gaining ground; so are energy drinks. New flavored waters and even flavored ice are expected, too.

Low-, no-, and reduced. Move over, low-carb. "Low fat" has regained the title of "most influential food label claim," says the magazine. By the way, "whole grain" is in second place.

Do-it-yourself doctoring. More foods are touting their health benefits. Fiber, grains, calcium, and cholesterol are some key features food makers are highlighting. A wine company has also asked the government to let it promote antioxidants in its wines.

Global gangbusters. Many U.S. food trends are also going strong overseas, and some new trends may show up in America, says the article. For instance, take-out food is big in Southeast Asia (mostly from local vendors), and pouches are becoming popular for food packaging in Europe.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Sloan, A. Food Technology, April 2005; vol 59: pp 20-32. News release, Institute of Food Technologists.