In its Q2 Menu Trends report, Datassential shared emerging and established trends cheese, flavor and sauces, and other segments and traced how a trend grows from the inception stage, where it's only available at small grocers and fine-dining establishments to the ubiquity stage, where it can be purchased at major retailers and dollar stores.
“Trends follow a predictable pattern. Sometimes, it feels like they come out of nowhere, but they usually don't. They're starting in ... global cuisine-specific restaurants, those innovators, those independent restaurants, those really small vendors at a farmers’ market are introducing this product.”
Can 'girl dinners' boost cheese sales?
Conaghan also shared which foods and labels are slowing in growth, including a variety of cheeses.
In the past year, artisan cheeses have grown by 9%, smoked mozzarella by 6%, and cheese plates by 1%. However, over a four-year period, artisan cheese has declined by 36%, smoked mozzarella by 27%, and cheese plates by 30%.
Conaghan noted that there might be an opportunity for cheese plates to rebrand as "girl dinners," a popular but also divisively named viral food trend where women share their small plate snacks or meals.
“One thing you'll notice in the cheeses ... is there's glimmers of hope for all of those. They're having some increases in the 12-month growth,” Conaghan said. “Then, you can even think about things that they're connected to or replacement pieces. So, 'cheese plate; the term is declining. We're also having all sorts of usage of basically cheese plates, and social media wants you to call them 'girl dinners.' So, there's always ways to redo things.”
From chili crispy to Carolina barbecues: The spicy trends that are hot and not
Elsewhere on menus, hot and spicy flavors are still seeing strong demand, as established bold and emerging global flavors are finding their way on menus and store shelves, Conaghan said.
Among the established spicy flavor and sauce trends, tajin saw the most growth, with a 45% increase in the last year and 344% for the last four years, followed by Nashville hot with a 35% increase for the last year and 311% for the last four years, and hot honey up by 30% in the last year and 109% in the last four years.
Chili crisp is one of the fastest-growing items in Datassential's sauces and flavors category. It increased 2,999% in menu penetration over the last four years and increased 122% in the last year. Additionally, the Yemeni sauce zhug has started to pop up on menus more, seeing 15% growth in the last year and 130% in the last four years.
On the spicy and sweet side of the menu, Carolina barbecues and its varieties have struggled to grow on menus and in product, but the mustardy Carolina Gold BBQ sauce and flavor has broken out and seen growth, Conaghan said. Carolina Gold BBQ has a 0.7% menu penetration, growing 40% over the last year and 133% over the last four years.
“North Carolina [barbecue] has had a bumpy road, and it had a dip in 2020, and it's continued to dip, ... whereas you've watched the trend line for Carolina Gold barbecue sauce, and it tells you a very different story. So, it's super-duper tiny, and it's been on an upswing since 2020, not a lot of things had an upswing from 2020 to 21. So, the fact that we're seeing that really indicates that it's something to keep an eye on. I know there's a lot of retail products starting to be offered in this area.”