A new year brings optimism, and optimism appears abundant as the food industry heads into 2014. The economy is easing a little, and processors celebrate a relatively calm 2013 vs. the upheavals of a few years ago. Cooperation, communication and creativity apparently sprung from the chaos of financial meltdown.
Cooperation is evident in the way ingredient makers have geometrically expanded their participation with manufacturers to overcome increasingly complex hurdles set up by both regulators and by the most informed and uncompromising consumers. Whether it’s for tasty products that are gluten free, organic and fair trade/sustainable, or items that are healthful, yet deliciously indulgent, people know what they want—and those who fail to provide will subside
Communication is poised for a big year, as science continues to supplant sound-bites when it comes to making healthful foods and drinks that address obesity/diabetes. Sodium, corn syrup, fat and GMOs were treated to more rational, fact-based scrutiny at 2013’s close. As 2014 progresses, manufacturers and ingredient companies will be more proactive in communicating the research and data behind choices to include or exclude particular ingredients, for example with specific oils and fats; nutraceuticals for specific conditions; and manufacturing methods that put food safety and abundance at the center of the plate.
The direction culinary creativity is taking perhaps is the most exciting cuisine narrative of the coming year. PF’s January 2014 cover feature, “Food Truck Nation,” highlights where the rubber meets the road—literally—when it comes to developing new flavors and formats for foods.
Pundits who cry that the food truck fad is passé have missed the mark. Boutique businesses are increasing exponentially, fueled by the failure of big corporations to preserve the middle class. The middle class, in turn, is throwing its support to these small entrepreneurs. Witness the successful Small Business Saturday movement—and Black Friday’s related stumble—at 2013’s finish.
The same way inspired geniuses walked out of glacial industry labs and into their garages a generation ago, chefs are leaving their garages, taking the food development show on the road. There, they can burn the envelope of flavor combos, ingredients and fusions, free to fail without losing their shirts…or their jobs. Food and ingredient makers should keep an eye open: Many of the trends that result might just have wheels.