Snacks, soft drinks among hot food trends for 2013

Joking that “a flavor a day keeps recession at bay,” Brooklyn, New York-based consultancy Baum + Whiteman has headlined its 2013 food and dining trends for restaurants and hotels with the statement that flavor profiles — using real ingredients, not artificial stuff — are being intensified.

Here are the trends Baum + Whiteman identified as especially hot for 2013:

1. Bars are where the flavor action is. Ambitious bartenders are infusing vodka, gin and rum with mango, kiwi and other house-made exotica.

2. Soft drinks bubbling. Consumers are abandoning colas in droves as they seek “fresh” beverages or fruit-flavored carbonates and smoothies that offer the illusion of health.

3. Everyone wants to be Chipotle … even Chipotle. Hotels are pondering fast-casual takeaway spaces as tablecloth restaurants slump. Because fast-casual concepts are fresh and new, they’re entry points to sample new ethnic cuisines — especially for Millenials.

4. Fast food strikes back. Fast-food menu boards are sprouting higher-priced options. Watch for gilded burgers (with guacamole, pineapple, mushrooms and crispy onions), pepped-up sauces, ethnic touches, fancier buns and more customization.

5. “Snackification” of America. Snacks account for one in five “eating occasions,” and snacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, taking shape as glorified mini-burgers, wraps with exotic fillings and upscale dips.

6. Lawsuits. Claims like “natural,” “organic,” “artisanal,” and “local” are under intense scrutiny.

7. Bundling gets bigger; going the whole hog. Bundles such as two-for-$20 are getting increasing play at casual-dining chains even as upscale independents are charging huge sums for whole-animal dinners, such as a dinner for eight at dbgb in New York City this past summer that promised an entire pig with various accompaniments for US$495.

8. Pop-up restaurants and bars will focus new attention on hotel dining.

9. Drip-irrigated green walls. Edible garden walls are next.

10. Grilled cheese will not be the new hamburger, nor will pies be the new cupcakes.

11. Most “Neapolitan” pizza isn’t.

12. Aye, robot. Industry-wide, purveyors are finding ways to accelerate getting food into customers hands, as evidenced by moves such as the “Cupcake ATM” from Sprinkles in Los Angeles.

13. Restaurants won’t give you bread without you asking for it, and increasingly, they’re charging for a breadbasket.

14. Look for more elaborate breads and rolls, often baked in-house to save costs.

15. Fields of greens. Look for seaweed beyond sushi (in bread, flavored salt or on crackers) and greens beyond seaweed (kale, beet greens and chard).

16. Suppliers opening own-brand stores. Food suppliers and manufacturers are launching their own restaurant startups to raise their brands’ visibility and appeal to consumers. One example: Dannon and Chobani opening flagship yogurt bars in Manhattan.