Salt 'will be the new pepper in 2014'

January 02 2014

A growing number of restaurant operators will use flavoured salts in their menus over the next 12 months. 

This is according to the Canadian Press, which has highlighted salt as one of its food trends to look out for in 2014.

Christine Couvelier, an executive chef and global culinary trendologist, told the organization salt is set to become the "new pepper".

"When we look at food shows and when we look at restaurant menus and even grocery shelves, the number of flavoured salts continue to grow. It's overtaking the pepper category," she stated.

"I think it also speaks to the fact that people are learning different flavoured salts help different dishes along better and they're not afraid to use it in small portions to their own discretion and, wow, what a flavour burst those different flavours can actually give you," Ms Couvelier added.

Another trend highlighted by the industry expert was customization. She said more operators will offer consumers the chance to add their own influence to their food and this will happen in both the grocery and home setting as well as restaurants.

This desire for customization and innovation has been highlighted by a number of industry analysts. For example, December research by Technomic found consumers want to see unique menus when they visit a restaurant. 

Burger boost
Ms Couvelier said creation and innovation is helping the burger market to do particularly well. She claimed burgers are becoming increasingly healthy and contain more local ingredients. Meanwhile, some restaurants are grinding meat and producing condiments on-site, as well as offering diners a choice of toppings and sides.

Dana McCauley, a food trend watcher and vice-president of marketing for Plats du Chef Foods, said the "gourmetization" of the burger market is an interesting process. She claimed people are now willing to pay more for these products, but warned middle-section restaurants are struggling to adapt to the change. 

Ms McCauley said quick-service operators, such as Five Guys and Smashburger, are offering chef-quality burgers at affordable prices, while fine-dining restaurants are encroaching on the middle section by "dialling back the finery".

She suggested middle-section operators will need to reinvent themselves if they are going to survive.

The strength of the burger space has recently been highlighted by the NPD Group. Research by the organization has revealed the number of operators in this area has grown by nine per cent over the past five years, with more expansive menus helping to drive this progression.

Cauliflower the new kale
A further trend identified by the Canadian Press was cauliflower. Ms Couvelier told the news agency the vegetable is set to take kale's place as the "buzz" of the year in 2014. 

Swiss chard has also been mooted as an ingredient to watch, but the Canadian Press said the flexibility of cauliflower - it can be mashed or grilled, served alone or as part of a salad and even barbecued - will see it become increasingly popular at restaurants over the next 12 months. 

Another product that is expected to do well in 2014 is doughnuts, with specialist shops selling the desert opening across Canada. Ms McCauley said the success of Dominique Ansel's Cronut is evidence of the popularity of the product.

Launched in New York earlier this year, the Cronut is a hybrid between a croissant and doughnut and has been extremely well received. As a result, a number of organizations - including Technomic and Andrew Freeman & Co - have forecast combinations of other desserts will become common on menus, as operators look to emulate Mr Ansel's success.

Bacon's popularity to remain
The Canadian Press reported bacon is set to remain highly popular in 2014. This view was expressed by both Ms Couvelier and Michael Smith, a chef at Fortune, Prince Edward Island.

Ms Couvelier said bacon is a food group in its own right and operators continue to use the ingredient in a number of innovative ways.

"It never ceases to amaze me how people are creative and unique in using bacon, putting it on their menus, cooking it at home into fun things," she stated.

"Artisanal butchers across the country are so proud of their bacon … I think it's something that's just going to continue to grow."