Even in a time of economic uncertainty, one thing is certain: everybody has to eat. However, unlike other times in the past, not everyone has to eat home-cooked meals.

The Bureau of Census recently released a report indicating grocery store sales declined in December 2002, posting $38.1 billion in comparison with $38.6 billion a year ago. Overall sales grew a conservative 1.5% when compared to the year before.

Conversely, sales in foodservice establishments grew 5.5% for the entire 2002, falling in line with consumer tendencies to order food rather than cook it.

Despite the rise in unemployment, disposable personal income has been increasing and food, on average, consumes less than 20% of household spending, says Ron Paul, president of Technomic, a Chicago-based food industry consulting firm (312-876-0004, www.technomic.com). “The evening meal, going out to a casual dining place, is a form of entertainment, a form of relaxation. If you don't want to go out and want to stay home, you can make a call and have someone bring you food.” This trend will continue as the art of cooking becomes lost in an era of high-quality convenience foods.

Time-pressed consumers do not have the time to cook or learn how to cook, so cooking has become a recreational activity that is observed on television food shows or done on the weekends. Dining out no longer is limited to special occasions; it is part of people's daily routines. “The frequency of dining out doesn't decrease during a recession. The demographics that drive this trend don't change because of the economy. What does happen, though, is that diners tend to 'trade down' during a recession,” explains Bill McDowell, editorial director, PLATE magazine, a new foodservice publication that focuses on culinary trends and recipe ideas for professional chefs and other menu decision-makers (312-274-2201, www.plateonline.com). As a result, while white tablecloth restaurants had a tough time last year, budget steakhouses and other casual dining outlets did fairly well.

As the foodservice sector grows in importance, the quality that consumers demand of it increases, also. To remain competitive, the upscale items manufacturers are expected to produce more than likely require the expertise of a corporate chef, someone who can bridge the gap between a benchmark product and what the manufacturing process allows. This month's cover story focuses on five chefs from the respected companies of ConAgra Foods, Hormel Foods, Kraft Foods, Peer Foods and Unilever/Bestfoods Foodservice. The chefs discuss the reality of the foodservice industry and give readers a glimpse of the future of an evolving market.

Internet Information

For more information on this issue's articles, see the Internet sites provided below.

Lost in the Translation

www.fronterakitchens.com — Frontera
www.tgifridays.com — T.G.I. Friday's
www.heinz.com— H.J. Heinz Co.
www.cpk.com — California Pizza Kitchen
www.kraft.com — Kraft Foods

The Last Frontier: Alaska

www.santassmokehouse.com — Santas Smokehouse
www.alaskan.com/seafood — Lady Marion Seafood Inc.
www.wholefoods.com — Whole Foods Market
www.alaskabirchsyrup.com — Kahiltna Birchworks' Alaska Birch Syrup Products
www.pumphouse.com — Pump House Restaurant

Three Cheese, Four Cheese, Five Cheese More

www.wisdairy.com/cheesetrends03 — WMMB 12 Cheese Trends list
www.chompinc.com — Chomp Inc. website; will shortly post forms for the Chomp's national Worst Dog Breath Contest
www.usdec.org/products/CheeseSpecs/CheesePowders.htm — Brief description of cheese powders and enzyme-modified cheeses
www.doitwithdairy.com/ingredients/cheese/incheedef.htm — DMI

Roux Reviews to Savoring Savory Flavors

www.cooks.com — Recipes and basic cooking information
www.wileyeurope.com/cda/cover/0,,0471382574%7Cexcerpt,00.pdf — Discussion of sauces including brown sauces
www.kitchenproject.com/html/kpencnz.html — Cooking terms/reference dictionary

Creating a Culinary Future

www.researchchef.org — Research Chefs Association
www.acfchefs.org — American Culinary Federation
www.professionalchef.com — Professional Chef's Association
www.cheftalk.com — Self-described as a food lover's link to professional chefs