Pizza, Soy Sauce, and Superfruits Are Food Trends to Watch
(Bloomberg) -- In a year that starts with so much uncertainty, the idea of making predictions about the food and beverage industry feels like a dice roll at best.
Still, it’s not hard to see that multiple trends caused by the pandemic, when the traditional restaurant model came crashing down and issues such as razor-thin margins became shockingly apparent, will continue to dominate in 2021.
Bright spots from 2020 that will gain steam in the new year: meal kits (especially big-ticket ones) and an increase in event spaces and private dining rooms to allow for socially distanced gatherings and non-prime-time parties. In 2020, 5 p.m. dinner reservations became the new 8 p.m. as cities imposed curfews; in 2021, look for even more all-day dining options as restaurants try to maximize the number of people they serve and give diners more space. And expect more support for Black and minority-owned businesses.
If there’s one thing everyone agrees on, it’s that the demand for plant-based food will continue to explode as people make healthier choices and consider the supply chain. So will orders for higher-quality meats, such as wagyu steaks. In 2020, the U.S. imported $29 million worth of the beef, a 125% year over year increase, according to the the Japan Food Product Overseas Promotion Center; it expects demand to be higher still in 2021.
Here’s what else I see coming off the line.
Pizza Will Be the Dish of the Year
Comfort food isn’t going anywhere in 2021. Pizza is delicious, it’s nostalgic, it’s not costly to produce, and it’s primed for delivery. Plus, it gives creative chefs an opportunity to show off a grandmother’s recipe or a well-fermented crust.
“It’s not surprising that pizza is popular during the pandemic; it’s the perfect takeout food, no utensils needed, eats good hot or cold,” says Riad Nasr, co-owner of Frenchette Bakery in New York. He and co-owner Lee Hanson are introducing Frenchette pizz’ettes including La Margherite, which has the same dough base as the bakery’s sesame rustique loaf. Chicago’s Pizza Friendly Pizza from chef Noah Sandoval boasts the Fig and the Pig, topped with confit pork.
But the epicenter of chefs-making-pizza is Los Angeles—and no, not because California Pizza Kitchen emerged from its summer bankruptcy in November. At Brandoni Pepperoni, Brandon Gray, who cooked at Providence in L.A., offers such selections as Big Bank, topped with truffled burrata. In December, La Morra opened its first brick-and-mortar spot, featuring fresh and frozen pies with classic options from Il Buco Alimentari veteran Zach Swemie. And New York’s venerable Prince Street Pizza opened a place there at the end of the year.
Coming later in 2021: Danny Boy’s Famous Original Pizzeria from Daniel Holzman, co-founder of the Meatball Shop.
The New Amazonian Superfruits
America will see a lot more of camu camu and buriti, two high-nutrient fruits from the Amazon fighting to be this year’s moringa and sea buckthorn, and if all goes well, the next açai. Buriti juice has the golden color of mango juice with a high concentration of vitamins A and C and minerals such as iron and calcium. Camu camu, which has been sold as a powder, is now also being sold as a juice; it has 50 times as much vitamin C as an orange. As a bonus, Amarumayu, the Peruvian company that’s now importing the juices, is working with indigenous communities from Pacaya Samiria National Reserve Park and using regenerative agriculture to stop rainforest deforestation.
Soy Sauce Will Dominate the Condiment Space
Restaurants that doubled as grocery stores have been one of the pandemic’s smartest adaptations, giving consumers direct access to chef-approved olive oil and tinned fish. Now premium soy sauce, the kind only connoisseurs were familiar with, joins the list.
Among the well-made versions that go beyond the wall of salt of supermarket varieties: Momofuku’s recently launched twofer of tamari and regular soy sauce, made with organic ingredients and infused with kombu for an expected saline hit. New York’s fast casual Chinese spot Milu has sourced a line of elegant Taiwanese soy sauces including a smooth, lightly sweet wood-fired black bean version.
The online marketplace MTC Kitchen has just begun selling its restaurant-designed products to the public, including Kishibori soy sauce, made with sun-dried sea salt.
Drinking Clubs Expand
Online drinking clubs based on a monthly subscription provide a steady source of income for individual bars—one of the hardest hit areas of hospitality—and give customers a chance to feel like regulars. In Los Angeles, the bistro Pasjoli now offers a French Spirits Club as well as a “wine collective.” In Brooklyn, the new Nightmoves Cocktail Club is a rotating selection of cocktails that changes monthly: Eight bottled drinks go for $99 a month. Over in Manhattan, the sophisticated Italian restaurant Benno is introducing a Cocktail Club, with mocktails and a dealer’s choice of bottled cocktails.
The experiential drinking game will also expand in 2021. Chicago-based sommelier Belinda Chang made Virtual Boozy Brunch a Sunday event, enlisting out-of-work bartenders to make specialty drinks and registering over 2 million views in the process. This year, Chang will move her focus to female winemakers, hosting tastings in their homes. “We had been trying to do virtual versions of the real thing we miss in a wine tasting,” she says. “We want to make it experiential, truly inviting people into homes.”
America’s Power Dining Epicenter: Miami
For years, Miami has welcomed high-profile restaurants, feeding hotel guests up and down Collins Avenue. But in 2021, as South Florida sees an influx of new residents and Goldman Sachs Inc. plans to relocate divisions, several of New York’s most high-powered dining rooms are making it their priority. “It is going be a very big year for restaurants in Miami,” says Jeff Zalaznick, co-owner of the Major Food Group. He says that while his company had plans to expand prior to 2020, the pandemic “certainly caused us to focus more on that market.” And unlike the rest of the country’s top dining destinations—New York, San Francisco, Chicago, L.A.—restaurants in Miami have stayed open during the pandemic with few restrictions.
Zalaznick adds: “There is incredible energy, and the people and the city of Miami have been very welcoming to new businesses, especially restaurants.” He has four restaurants coming to the city this year, starting with the powerhouse Carbone in SoFi (South of Fifth), opening this month. Major Food Group will also launch a sushi spot in March in the Design District; in the fall it will add a “new Italian concept” to the neighborhood and a steakhouse in Brickell.
Another steakhouse, New York’s popular Korean-accented Cote, is finally opening in the Design District in February, while the dim sum specialist RedFarm will arrive in Coconut Grove in the second half of the year.
Restaurateurs outside New York see the attraction, too. Spain’s famed chef Dani Garcia will have two concepts at the SLS Brickell Miami this year; Salvaje, the trendy Japanese restaurant with branches in Bogotá and Madrid, has also just landed an outpost in the city.
Chefs Team Up to Survive
Operators continue to forge partnerships as a way to combine resources and attract broader audiences amid rolling shutdowns. In Philadelphia, the cult Curiosity Doughnuts have taken over the bar ITV because owner Nicholas Elmi saw it wasn’t financially viable to serve drinks. Elmi learned to make the doughnuts in house; he gives Curiosity Doughnuts owner Alex Talbot a portion of sales.
In Chicago, Ryan Pfeiffer, a chef at the now-shuttered Blackbird, opened a collaboration sandwich shop, Big Kids, in the late fall, with specialties such as fried bologna. In Los Alamos, Calif., a collaboration between the bistro Bell’s and Priedite Barbecue has been so successful, Bell’s co-owner Gregory Ryan says they’re taking over space to make it permanent this spring.
In New York, the formula is more straightforward: Owners are combining separate restaurant concepts in one place. Late last fall, Marco Moreira created 15 East at Tocqueville, offering the acclaimed sushi alongside modern European dishes. “The blending of the two restaurants is proving to be a strong business model,” says Moreira. “Our customer base has expanded and people dine with us more often, so financially it’s helping us become a profitable business again.” This month, Junghyun and Elia Park created ATO2, which marries the cooking of Korean small plates spot Atoboy with Michelin two-star Atomix; it will run at least through mid-February.
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