No Longer on the Sidelines

The Food ChannelÆ ( recently released its top 10 side dish trends, the latest in its regular trend reports prepared in conjunction with CultureWaves, Mintel International and the International Food Futurists.

The side dish trends, sponsored by McCainÆ Harvest SplendorÆ Sweet Potato Selections, include: "Intentionally Seasonal," which indicates fresh-picked fruits and vegetables, in season, are all the rage; "Grow Your Own," referring to everything from backyard to community gardens; "A Toast to Roasted"--as the name implies, roasted is the new grilled and the new fried; and "You Say Potato," healthier and more interesting than traditional French fries, the new potato side dishes are most likely to mean sweet potatoes.

Also on the top 10 list is "Rice is Nice," including whole-grain blends that include fancy risottos and many new rice varieties. "The New American Regional" refers to the fact that knowing foods' history and/or regional influences adds a bit of nostalgia and knowledge. Known for their availability, hearty flavor and attractive price, root vegetables are "Taking Root" with customers in a big way.

Ethnic side dishes are being embraced, much as ethnic main dishes have been, with "Ethnic Side Lines;" and "The Incredible Shrinking Protein" reflects the trend toward pushing proteins out of the main dish limelight and onto the sidelines. Lastly, "Color is Hot," meaning everything purple, from cauliflower to potatoes and corn, is suddenly "in" and perceived as healthy. Since brightly colored foods are often loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients, this makes the menu trends' outlook rosier than ever.

Track and Field
Spurred as much by recent recalls as by menu trends toward regional, sustainable fare, more and more companies have adopted digital tools to help prevent or contain harm caused by contaminated food. As reported in the October 3, 2010, Los Angeles Times, a head of lettuce can be monitored silently, from the time it is plucked to the moment a bagged salad is scanned at the checkout counter--all to make it easier for farmers to locate possible problems as soon as they occur.

Thanks to tiny, high-tech labels, software programs and hand-held hardware, it is now possible for farmers to locate a leaky fertilizer bin, an unexpected pathogen in the water or unwashed hands on a factory floor--and to more quickly deal with the spread of possibly contaminated food.

This is good news for food formulators, as well as restaurateurs; such efforts represent a shift in the way food is tracked from field to table. The change is not quick, but it is growing, as a steady number of industry leaders, such as Dole Food Co. and smaller players, learn to use these tools.

Proponents of the transformation said it was inevitable, given the public outrage over the recent contaminated eggs scandal. Technology could simplify America's highly complicated food safety system, helping prevent or contain the harm caused by recalled