Has pumpkin peaked? Fall menus embracing innovative ingredients (part 1)

| by Cherryh Cansler
Has pumpkin peaked? Fall menus embracing innovative ingredients (part 1)

The fall season for the foodservice industry is synonymous with pumpkin-flavored everything. From lattes and dips to muffins and entrees, annual sales of pumpkin foods now equal $500 million, according to Forbes. Meanwhile, Mintel Menu Insights found that the use of pumpkin flavor at restaurants is up more than 21 percent.

Although many restaurateurs may be a little tired of the pumpkin craze, it will continue to be a fall favorite, said NPD Group's Warren Solocheck. Luckily, customers are also open to tasting more innovative flavors. In fact, a recent NPD study found that 75 percent of U.S. adults — especially young adults —  are open to trying new foods.

"Pumpkin spice may have peaked, but it is not going away, it is everywhere, in everything," Solocheck said in an interview with FastCasual. "However, because pumpkin spice has become so ubiquitous across the industry, Americans are now looking for newer, more flavorful offerings. There are new fall flavors on the horizon, and they all seem to be related to 'kickin it up a notch.'"

Ethnic flavors emerge

U.S. consumers are showing a strong affinity for ethnic flavors, which can be found in entrees, beverages, sides and desserts, according to NPD. Homemade Asian and Hispanic dishes, and the inclusion of more flavorful items like chili peppers, for example, are gaining popularity.

"The growing Asian and Hispanic populations in the U.S. have introduced new flavors into the American diet and many of these flavors are now mainstays in our kitchens and on menus," NPD SupplyTrack Vice President Ann Roberts, said in an interview. SupplyTrack is a monthly tracking service that tracks every product shipped from major broadline distributors to their foodservice operators.

"There are also new flavors and flavor profiles emerging and growing, which makes it important for distributors, manufacturers, and foodservice operators to understand the impact of ethnic cultures and their related flavors in order to recognize growth opportunities."

Mainstream Asian flavors include fish sauce, doenjang, garlic chives, ginger and lapsang souchong, Solocheck said. "Among the growing and emerging Asian flavors are Asian pear, galangal, lychee, mango and papay.

When it comes to Hispanic flavors, jalapeno, habanero, ghost pepper, and mole negro are mainstream, Solocheck said. Hibiscus, dragon fruit, mammee and bitter orange are among the emerging and growing Hispanic flavors and foods found in U.S. kitchens.

Hot and spicy

When consumers dine out they want to see hot, garlic-y and spicy flavors and foods on menus, according to NPD's SupplyTrack. Dollars of total spices and seasonings shipped from broadline foodservice distributors to restaurants and other foodservice outlets increased 7 percent over last year.  Among the most popular spices and seasonings being shipped to independent restaurants and commercial and non-commercial foodservice outlets were curries — including tikka masala and yellow curry, which grew by 11 percent — and chili peppers, which grew by 12 percent.

Take Starbuck's Chile Mocha Cocoa, for example. Made with cinnamon and vanilla, ancho chili pepper and cayenne chili spices, coffee, milk and ice, it creates a balance between heat and sweet, Solocheck said.

Frederick Heurtin, senior corporate executive chef of Golden State Foods, agreed, saying that although he doesn't associate the fall months with searing heat, he sees the milder heat of dried chilies, such as pasilla or some Asian chili pastes, as a perfect fall ingredient.

"Ginger, with its pungent heat and flavor, is also showing up everywhere and may start lending its flavor to the traditional blend of fall spices," he said. "Bitter flavors are beginning to be accepted and are a perfect foil to the subtle flavors developed by roasting.

"Roasting as a cooking method, also associated most with fall, lends itself to bringing out the most in fall fruits such as apples, figs and plums, paired with the traditional holiday turkey or duck. Whiskies, especially bourbon, will continue to be a fall favorite and make a perfect foil for spice and tea flavors." 

Big and bold

Consumers are also excited to try the "big and bold" flavor profiles that are often prevalent in African offerings, said Solocheck. He expects to see the following spices to appear in more restaurant dishes this season, including:

  • Harissa, a North African hot sauce or paste, commonly made from roasted red peppers and a mixture of other hot chili peppers, garlic paste, cumin, paprika and olive oil.
  • Dukkah, which means "to crush" or "to pound," is a nut, seed and spice mixture commonly made from cumin, coriander, sesame seeds, salt, dried herbs and nuts.
  • Berbere, an Ethiopian spice mixture commonly made from chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, korarima (Ethiopian cardamom), rue, ajwain or radhuni, nigella and fenugreek.
  • Ras el Hanout, a  North African spice mixture commonly made from cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, dry ginger, chili peppers, coriander seed, peppercorn, sweet and hot paprika, fenugreek and dry turmeric.

Part 2 of this story will look at which brands are sticking to pumpkin and which are embracing more innovative menu items to round out fall offerings.

Cover photo: iStock






Topics: Coffee / Specialty Beverages

Companies: Golden State Foods, The NPD Group, Inc.

Cherryh Cansler

Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.

wwwView Cherryh Cansler's profile on LinkedIn

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