In With the Old: Tastes continue to evolve, but don’t forget about the classics

By Scott Stewart

Looking ahead to 2020, Canadian menu trends will continue to follow the trajectory of recent years. Specifically, demand for global flavours will further evolve on restaurant menus. Not only are they an increasingly important part of the overall food market, but restaurants are the tip of the spear when it comes to trial: according to Mintel’s research, 65 per cent of consumers say that they like to try internationally-inspired foods at restaurants before making them at home.

When it comes to what particular Asian-inspired menu trends to expect in the year ahead, Mintel’s Flavour and Ingredient Trends insights suggest that we will start to see more from the countries that consumers are already familiar with. For instance, North American consumers have embraced Japanese cuisine in the form of sushi, matcha and ramen, but there is much more to Japanese food than those mainstream dishes. Soufflé pancakes or katsu sandos (breaded chicken or pork cutlet sandwiches) are examples of Japanese foods that consumers are now more willing to try because the country’s cuisine has established itself in the Canadian marketplace.

The same is true of Indian food. Staples like curry and masala have become so popular that they are even available in non-Indian restaurants today. As a result of a general familiarity with Indian food, North Americans are more open to trying more regionally-specific Indian dishes, such as kati rolls, a popular sandwich sold as street food.

Further west, the success of Mediterranean cuisine has created an interest in what other flavours can be found in that region. Expect the Eastern Mediterranean to become more relevant as consumers look to countries like Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey for inspiration now that hummus and tzatziki have become mainstream products.

Yet despite these exciting trends in the restaurant industry, it is important not to lose sight of the importance of current favourites. According to Mintel’s research, the majority of restaurant consumers say that seeing bacon, mushrooms or garlic in a menu item description would make them more likely to order that dish. In comparison, a popular Mediterranean product like feta cheese only makes 42 per cent of consumers more likely to order a dish, and it actually makes a third of consumers (32 per cent) less likely to order.

This means that while the restaurant industry is always looking to evolve and proactively offer the latest flavour trends, it cannot forget that many consumers still simply want the classics they’ve been ordering for most of their lives. Even though restaurateurs may wish to inspire their patrons with regionally specific dishes, the reality is that a feature item with a bacon topping is much more likely to resonate and motivate customers to order it.

The key for stakeholders in the industry is to be open to change and innovation on their menu, but also keep themselves rooted in the foods that Canadians have been eating for decades. In 2020, expect that consumers will become more interested in trying new flavours from international cuisines with which they are already familiar, but at the same time, recognize that more often than not, they will opt for what they know and love.

Scott Stewart is a senior research analyst, tech and media, at Mintel.