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Hearth & Home May 2018

What's America Eating?

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Key food and grilling trends barbecue retailers should know – and use.

If you sell barbecue grills, you probably think you’re in the grill business, right? Wrong! Barbecue grill retailers are really in the food business.

That’s because the real purpose of any gas grill, smoker, kamado, pellet cooker, plancha grill, barrel grill, and grilling accessory is to create delicious meals for sharing and making memories with family and friends (and perhaps also for the bragging rights). The most important feature of a grill is not its 304-grade stainless steel, or easy-to-clean grease-management system, high-Btu burner, back-lit control dials, app-enabled remote-monitoring capability, or any other differentiating aspect.

Rather, it’s that it is a vehicle for creating an amazing steak with a crusty sear, topped with a knob of melted herb butter, or the means to achieve a succulent brisket with a rosy smoke ring, a side of salmon kissed with smoke from a cedar plank, or a colorful tangle of straight-from-the-garden vegetables subtly charred to bring out their sweetness.

According to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association’s research, 72% of consumers say they grill because of the flavor – the top reason by an overwhelming margin. By comparison, 33% say they grill for convenience and 18% for health reasons. Great grill flavor is the reason for the proliferation of barbecue cooking shows, and dozens of new cookbooks written every year on the subject.

Bottom line: Grills make good food, and it’s the food that leads to word-of-mouth referrals and grill sales. If you’re spending more time talking about the appliance, instead of demonstrating the techniques and letting people taste the food and flavors, you’re probably not selling as many grills as you could.

As grill retailers in the food business, it’s important to stay current about food trends to understand what people are eating, tie into culinary movements, avoid flash-in-the-pan fads, and foretell concerns on the horizon. Food trends also provide insight into what people will be cooking – or not cooking – on their grills in the coming years, and lend clues about the type of grills and accessories they’ll want to buy next.

Hearth & Home has compiled information on current and emerging food and grilling trends from some of the nation’s top culinary experts, companies and trend analysts. Here’s a look:

Transparency – Consumers want to know where their food came from, the ingredients in it, how it was made, who grew/harvested/produced it, and how it got from the source to the store. Consumers also want to know about the product’s environmental impact and whether it complies with responsible production, animal-welfare, and Fair-Trade standards.

It’s the reason consumers are sourcing food directly from local farmers, and restaurant menus are identifying the farm where its produce was grown and meat raised. As new “Blockchain” technology becomes more widely implemented, it will give consumers unprecedented information about the food-supply chain, providing true traceability from farm to fork.

Fermented Frenzy – Consumers are trading highly processed foods for minimally processed, good-for-your-gut choices. As a result, old-school, naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, and pickles are hot. Look for an ancient, peasant-style Roman pizza called “pinsa” to catch on in the coming year. Pinsa dough is made from blended wheat flour that is fermented over long periods to create a crispier, lighter, and more easily digested crust.


Leftover orange rinds that have been candied.

Photo Courtesy: ©2018 arsherffield. www.flickr.com/photos/arsheffield

Food as Medicine – People are educating themselves about Nutrigenomics, or how the food we eat impacts our body’s genes at the molecular level. They are looking for foods and beverages made from superfoods with medicinal properties, such as ginger, turmeric, matcha, yerba mate, moringa, maca root, acai, monkfruit, cacao, spirulina, probiotics, ashwaganda, lion’s mane, reishi, gotu kola, holy basil, acerola cherry, kernza, and arginine, to support physical, neurological, and cognitive health and well-being, and to treat specific diseases. The current Keto diet craze falls under this umbrella. It emphasizes high-fat, low-carb foods to produce ketones, fatty acids important for energy production, neuroprotection, and brain function.

Food Waste – Studies show between 30 and 40% of food produced for humans is never consumed – that’s 1.4 billion tons of wasted food each year. Consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental, economic, and humanitarian issues surrounding the problem, and want manufacturers, retailers, and restaurants to implement sustainable practices and develop innovative uses for food waste. The tip-to-tail and root-to-stem movements encourage cooking and eating of entire animals, fruits, and vegetables, including parts not typically consumed such as stems or leaves.

In some grocery stores, the “Ugly Fruit” campaign incentivizes buying slightly imperfect-looking, but still edible, produce. More companies are repurposing food waste into new products, such as juice drinks made from the discarded, antioxidant-rich coffeefruit pulp that surrounds coffee beans. (An estimated 24 million tons of coffeefruit is wasted for every 6 million tons of coffee produced.)

Also putting the issue in the spotlight: cookbooks such as “Scraps, Wilt & Weeds: Turning Wasted Food into Plenty;” celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s documentary “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste;” and zero-waste conscious-cooking classes at places such as Purple Kale Kitchenworks, Sur La Table, and Miraval Resort & Spa, that teach people how to use beet greens, carrot tops, citrus peels, and other scraps. The first-annual National Food Waste Weekend takes place Sept. 21-23, 2018.


Grilled whole porgy drizzled with herb oil and lemon.

Photo Courtesy: ©2018 T.Tseng. www.flickr.com/photos/68147320@N02

Sustainable Seafood – The fishing industry is trying to eliminate waste and improve sustainability by creating a market for “bycatch” or “trash fish.” For instance, it’s educating chefs and consumers about the spiny dogfish, a mild, white-fleshed species that’s abundant in American waters and prized for fish and chips in Europe, but rarely eaten here. The underappreciated porgy is being rebranded with the new, more appealing name “Montauk Sea Bream.” (Remember, lobster was originally considered a “trash fish” and fed to prisoners!)

Global Flavor Profiles – Look for East-African foods and flavors to go mainstream. Berbere, an Ethiopian seasoning that combines paprika, allspice, coriander, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and red pepper, is catching on. So are the signature seasonings, marinades, and sauces of Tanzania. Burmese cuisine, blending Chinese, Laotian, Indian, and Thai flavors, is trending, as are cuisines from the Middle East, Persia, Israel, Morocco, Syria, and Lebanon. Americans are also being introduced to Izakayas, Japanese-style, casual gastropubs serving bite-sized, flavor-packed tasting plates, similar to Spanish tapas.

Label Buzzwords – “Organic” and “Non-GMO Project Verified” are still important labels, but consumers are now also searching for lingo such as “heritage,” “authentic” and “local,” to tell them how food was grown, sourced or produced. “Clean” has come to mean all-natural, minimally processed, and sustainable, as well as an assumption that an animal was grass-fed, cage-free, free-range, or otherwise humanely raised. Older shoppers still read labels for information about calories and fats, but “clean” is a higher priority for Millennials who want to feel good about what they eat in terms of nutrition, animal welfare, food safety, and environmental impact.


Farmers Markets are great places to find fresh, organic, locally-grown food.

Vegan/Vegetarian/Flexitarian – Meat is becoming a “condi-meat” with side-dish status, while vegetables and pulses, such as beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils, move to the center of the plate. Studies indicate a 600% increase in U.S. consumers identifying as vegans in the past three years, while 58% of Americans say they have tried or are interested in trying to eat less meat. Others are experimenting with “Meatless Mondays” and the “Vegan Before 6 pm” philosophy of The New York Times food writer and cookbook author Mark Bittman.

Fabulous Fakes – Plant-based alternative foods are a huge trend. The global market for nut, soy and coconut milks is expected to reach $16.3 billion in 2018, and the number of new food products with plant-based claims rose 63% between 2011 and 2015. Plant-based burgers that look, taste and even “bleed” like real ones, are now available from Quorn, Impossible Burger, and Beyond Burger. Jackfruit is a convincing substitute for pulled pork, and tomatoes are transformed into “not-tuna” in alternative sushi.

Meat Still Matters – Apparently, plant-based foods can still peacefully coexist with porterhouse steaks in many people’s diets.  While consumers claim to be eating less meat, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says this will be a record year for meat consumption. Though the USDA recommends eating five to six ounces of protein daily, it forecasts adults will actually consume more than double that amount, or about 222 pounds per person annually. Food industry experts say the “celebration of meat” includes pulled pork, bacon, gourmet burgers, fried chicken and charcuterie.

Comfort foods, such as grilled cheese, and vegetarian options are popular among Millennials.

Comfort Food – Thanks to today’s turbulent social and political times, job demands, and other pressures, people are more stressed than ever. They’re self-soothing with comfort foods, even at fine-dining restaurants. Beloved foods such as grilled cheese, mac and cheese, meatballs, and hearty stews are trending, often with modern twists or healthy reinterpretations (for instance, meatballs might be made of lamb, bison, duck, turkey, or plant proteins such as lentils).

While people crave foods they associate with childhood and happy, simpler times, they are also trying all-American comfort foods such as cornbread, hush puppies, moonshine, bourbon, regional barbecue, and blackberries, whether they grew up with them or not. Chocolate ranks as the top comfort food, but we’re also exploring global treats such as French eclairs and Filipino halo-halo ice cream, because they are approachable and familiar (i.e. comforting), while still being new and interesting.

Millennials are Driving Many Food Trends – With a deep love of food and a desire for experiences, Millennials are open-minded, curious eaters who like to try new flavors, ethnic cuisines, and even vegetarian and vegan options. They love customization, preferring to personalize recipes and restaurant orders to get exactly what they want. Convenience is very important, hence the growth in meal kits, food trucks, Uber Eats delivery, and heat-and-eat takeout from grocery stores. Millennials often graze instead of eating large meals, triggering growth in healthy snacks such as chia-seed pudding, roasted chickpeas, and dehydrated vegetables.

Instagram Strategic Marketing – There’s a growing correlation between the success of a food product or restaurant, and the number of photos posted about it on social media. The trend is driving manufacturers and chefs to create vibrantly colored and artfully presented dishes to increase their “Insta-worthiness.” The Culinary Institute of America now offers classes on food styling and photography for Instagram, and restaurant décor is even being designed for its role as photo backdrop.

Online Food Shopping – Food and groceries are increasingly being purchased via the Internet, replenishment apps, meal kits, and local supermarket home-delivery services. The trend is expected to increase dramatically in 2018.


Many grocery stores now offer home-delivery services.

Barbecue and Grilling Trends

Live-fire grilling, ember-cooking, and “cowboy cooking” over solid-fuels rank among the hottest industry trends this year, according to barbecue guru and cookbook author Steven Raichlen. The reason? “These techniques create exciting culinary experiences and intense flavors,” he says. “People are exposed to wood-smoke flavors in restaurants and want to recreate them at home.” According to another food-trends expert, “If you can set it on fire, I recommend it.”

A pellet grill, kamado and/or smoker is often included alongside a gas grill on the patio or outdoor kitchen to provide multiple cooking experiences. Interest shows no signs of waning.

Global Grilling – Raichlen says Americans want to learn about and experiment with native outdoor-cooking techniques from other countries and cultures, such as steam-grilling meat in banana leaves, or cooking shellfish with burning straw. He predicts “Fusion ’Que,” combining eastern and western techniques and flavor profiles, will be hot in the coming years.

Trends in grilling accessories parallel food and grilling trends. Popular accessories include wood planks, chips, chunks and other smoking accessories; Himalayan salt blocks; pizza-making products; cast-iron cookware; plancha griddles; kebab skewers; rotisseries; and thermometers. Look for growth in baskets, grid-toppers, non-stick mats and other accessories for grilling vegetables and non-meat dishes.

Grilling is welcome at any and every meal. Grill-top cocktail parties, where guests cook their own appetizers on a fire pit or grill, will be a big thing, according to Raichlen. “People like to gather around the grill anyway, so why not?” he says.

Breakfast and brunch, particularly savory, ethnic-inspired dishes, are having a moment in restaurants, home kitchens, and on the grill. If you’re promoting “Barbecued Breakfast” or brunch- or breakfast-themed grilling classes in your store, focus on foods such as Eggs Benedict; breakfast tacos; shakshuka, featuring eggs poached in a spicy tomato and pepper stew that’s popular in North Africa and the Middle East; Japanese-inspired eggs with chili sauce, pickled vegetables, and noodles; and Jianbing, a traditional, Chinese street-food breakfast crepe brushed with hoisin and chili sauce and stuffed with eggs, pickled veggies, herbs, and sometimes sausage or bacon.

“It’s easy and inexpensive for a retailer to grill eggs,” says Raichlen. “And, when they do, the light bulb goes off and consumers think, ‘I can grill that?!’ It helps to increase the number of grilling occasions.”

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