FEATURE: 10 food trends that will set you apart from others

By Matt Eley

- Last updated on GMT

Fill your pub: on-trends dishes can help you increase footfall (credit: Getty/monkeybusinessimages)
Fill your pub: on-trends dishes can help you increase footfall (credit: Getty/monkeybusinessimages)

Related tags Food Finance Pubco + head office Gastropub Bidfood Star pubs & bars Brakspear Cga Mission Foods

Spring is gradually coming into view and that means saying goodbye to long cold nights and comfort food and hello to a whole new menu.

With planning well under way for the new season, The Morning Advertiser​ caught up with chefs, licensees and suppliers to get their insights into some of the trends we can expect to see this year.

It won’t be long until dining areas and pub gardens are full of customers swarming to you to enjoy the latest trends and the very best in pub food.

1. Cost of living

The cost of living and the impact on consumer spend is not so much a trend but an ongoing reality that all pubs have to consider when planning their spring menus. While the rate of food inflation fell for the ninth consecutive month in December, the nation still saw food and non-alcoholic beverages rise by 8% in the year to December 2023. This figure is considerably down on the 45-year high experienced in March 2023 of 19.2% (all figures from the Office for National Statistics).

Brakspear arancini, duck pie, choc fondant
Brakspear's arancini, duck pie and chocolate fondant

The rising cost of eating out has understandably hit hard and will have a bearing across pub menus.

Ashley McCarthy, chef and co-owner of Ye Old Sun Inn at Colton, Yorkshire, says: “People will still come out for the meal but they are more likely to have a glass of wine than the bottle or they will cut back on the dessert.”

2. The meat of the matter

One way operators will address this is by working closer with their suppliers and sourcing better produce at sustainable prices and using all cuts of the meat and minimising waste.

Ken Umasanthiram, head of food for Brakspear’s managed division, Honeycomb Houses, says: “We will have duck leg instead of breast and we will be turning that into a crispy duck salad. We will be upskilling our chefs to ensure they can cook produce at a higher level.

“We will have lamb on the menu, which is an expensive meat, but we are working closely with our suppliers to secure pricing for the duration of the menu.”

Meanwhile Patrick Beaume, co-owner and head chef at Lancashire’s award-winning Cartford Inn, has introduced offal.

“Over a year ago, we decided to always keep one offal dish as a main – such as heart, liver, kidneys, cooked in different ways and matched with seasonal produce and more contemporary combinations. I think it makes the menu more interesting, it challenges customers and keep food cost down.”

3. Fish supper

Fresh fish ticks a number of boxes for diners because not only does it fit into the continuing trend for customers wanting healthier options but it is also a treat that people rarely cook for themselves.

Becky Salisbury has been running the Alford Arms with her husband David for 25 years. They create fresh menus every week and this spring fish will feature regularly.

She says: “There’s more fish and what we have depends on what’s available and the prices. Cornish hake has been very popular. We will also have classics such as a salmon and prawn fishcake.

“People want something they don’t have when they come out to eat and fish is not something many people regularly cook at home.”

Similarly, Umasanthiram is sourcing different types of fish for the Honeycomb menus.

He adds: “Our fish pie has scallops, smoked haddock, salmon and coley. We are conscious with the pie that cod remains expensive. It is also made with a lobster stock.”

4. Premium treats

That lobster stock gives the fish pie a premium edge and Umasanthiram creates menus with that in mind. For while customers are cost conscious, there are still many who on the occasions when they do go out want to really do things in style.

Cartford inn food and Jaffa Jonut
Morecambe Bay fillet of plaice & shrimps at the Cartford Inn and Star Pubs & Bars' Jaffa Jonut and cocktail

He continues: “Customers still want premium treats but they also want value if they are paying £26 for a main. We have high-end options on the specials board such as lobster and wagyu steak.

“People do want things that they can’t have at home. Last year, we introduced some premium pies and we will have more this spring.”

Beaume at the Cartford Inn says: “Also, I think it is about finding a balance on the menu by mixing more elaborated dishes with less complicated one, some with more expensive ingredients and some with inexpensive ones.”

Karl Watts, food development manager at Star Pubs & Bars says this desire to make the most of special occasions continues following the restrictions endured during the pandemic.

“Customers want exotic options – offering more adventurous flavours and dishes. These resonate with consumers’ desire for something different, fuelled by pandemic lockdown limitations.”

5. Instagrammable dishes

The added bonus of having showstoppers on your menus is that these can create a stir on social media as well as in the pub.

Instagram remains a huge puller of punters who will see your meals and, from seeing you online, head to you to try things for real.

Watts at Star Pubs & Bars states: “There’s a trend for exciting, Instagrammable dishes that offer new taste sensations, a bit of theatre and novelty. People are looking for a sense of occasion when they go out and these dishes aim to deliver.”

Top 6 emerging cuisines according to CGA Food Insights 2023

1. Peruvian

2. Burmese

3. Cuban

4. Nordic

5. Filipino

6. Southern African

Star Pubs & Bars Jaffa Jonut dessert is an example of an option with star quality that appeals both online and in-venue.

Instagram serves not only as a tool to bring people in but also as a place of inspiration. Alongside cookbooks and visiting other venues, it is a favourite among chefs and operators when it comes to finding new ideas.

Becky Salisbury says: “Instagram is brilliant – I am forever following amazing chefs on there and finding new things to consider for the menu.”

6. Health-conscious customers

The period directly after Christmas always hits hard with customers tightening their belts financially as well as reducing alcohol and calorie intake.

And while customers will loosen up a little as we enter the spring, there is also a year-round desire to have the option of healthier items to choose from.

Stephen Nolan, chief executive of food technology business Nutritics, explains: “Prioritising health is not limited to January but extends throughout the entire year. According to Bidfood, more than half of consumers (57%) expressed a preference for food and drink brands that encourage healthy lifestyle choices compared with those that did not.

“For hospitality operators, offering choice is key when it comes to health, with a menu that still offers indulgence alongside better-for-you alternatives.”

Sarah Baldwin chief executive at Purity Soft Drinks, backs the point and says it extends across food and drink choices.

“When it comes to categories such as juice, we also know that health benefits are now within the top five reasons people are choosing a beverage, with 65% (GlobalData 2023 soft drink trends report) of consumers considering their health and wellness when purchasing products.”

7. Health of the planet

Healthy choices are not just about the individual but about the broader issue of sustainability.

According to CGA’s Food Insights 2023, a growing interest in sustainability and health is driving a mindful eating trend.

More than two in five (44%) consumers say sustainability is important when choosing where to eat, with local sourcing, recycling and waste their top three concerns.

Becky Salisbury continues: “We will definitely have more pulses and grains this spring, especially locally sourced English ones. We have been using the supplier Hodmedod which works with British farmers to provide sustainable foods.”

Nutritics points towards the ‘Plant Forward’ culinary approach, which is a philosophy gaining traction among environmentally conscious consumers.

cured salmon at ye old sun inn
Cured salmon at Ye Old Sun Inn

Nolan says: “It centres around increasing the ratio of vegetables, pulses and grains in our food. It still allows for meat, fish and dairy but recommends the use of higher-quality and sustainably sourced ingredients.

“Exploring this culinary route in 2024 is a good way for operators to minimise their environmental impact and reduce costs while still catering for those looking for meat, dairy and fish.”

He adds it can also have a positive impact on staff satisfaction.

“84% of hospitality professionals say they would be more likely to stay in their job for longer if their employer creates and sustains a positive environmental impact.”

8. Vegan and veggie

Whether it is a permanent lifestyle choice or a desire to reduce meat intake, veganism and vegetarianism continues to rise.

Research by Ipsos reveals almost half (46%) of Brits aged 16 to 75 are considering reducing their intake of animal products in the future.

According to comparison website Finder, there are now 2.5m vegans in the UK. This means menus this spring need to offer plenty of meat-free options.

Umasanthiram at Honeycomb says: “We are seeing more and more non-vegans ordering vegan dishes. They are trying to be healthier and reducing eating meat across the week.

“We have already increased the number of vegan options on the menu and we will either be increasing the number of items or staying the same.”

9. Fusion Foods

The familiarity and comfort of classic British dishes combined with global ingredients and influences are likely to feature on pub menus across the country this spring.

Watts says this is a trend Star Pubs & Bars have been paying close attention to.

“British/Indian fusion is working well with the likes of Balti pies and Dishoom’s bacon naan. Fusing flavours combines novelty with familiarity.”

Fusing French and British cuisine is a style that comes very naturally to Beaume.

Brakspear food and onion soup
Brakspear's riblets, vegan pie, choc fondant and onion soup at the Cartford Inn

“Our menu is based on a mix of inspiration. There is a lot of classic French/British influence as I am French, and my head chef is Lancastrian. We have both travelled so, international flavours are always present like Indian, African or Creole spices, for example.

“Onion soup has become a staple item on our menu all year round, as has our oxtail suet pudding as per the past 16 years.”

Producers such as Mission Foods are bringing new products to market to cater for this fusion trend.

Julie Stevens, head of marketing UK & Ireland, Mission Foods, says: “Enjoyed hot or cold, sweet or savoury, our range of wraps in particular provide an ideal way to offer a new and exciting twist to pub menus. For example, switching up a traditional cheeseburger, with a cheeseburger quesadilla recipe, or offering surprise and delight on the pudding menu, with sweet tacos or dessert cups made with wraps, combining signature seasonal fruity flavours of orange and strawberry, with chocolate.” 

10. World foods

Exploring menus from around the globe further could satisfy the appetites of customers seeking new experiences.

Kath Davies, new product development manager, Lähde brand by EHL Ingredients, says: “World foods represent a lucrative market for pubs and bars as consumers are seeking out exotic cuisines and are constantly on the lookout for the next big food trend. 

“Demand for quality, authenticity and innovative flavours also means outlets should offer something unusual and exotic on-shelf to keep diners interested and coming back for more.”

According to CGA Food Insights 2023, there are cuisines customers want to try but struggle to find. For example, 44% of customers would like to try South African food but a third of people (31%) say it is difficult to get hold of.

It’s a similar story with Malaysian food, which is something 44% of people would like to try but 27% have trouble sourcing.   

Bonus menu idea: Making a match

World foods can be accompanied by a drink from the same nation to enhance the experience.

Tim Dunlop, European commercial director, Butterfly Cannon Tequila from Biggar and Leith, says: “Tacos and Tequila go hand in hand and the burgeoning trend for Margarita cocktails is set to continue well into spring and summer 2024. The spiciness of the taco, paired with the crisp, zesty flavour of a Margarita makes for a great combination and it can be a real earner for pubs, provided both the food and drink elements are well executed, use quality, authentic ingredients, are presented creatively and pitched at an attractive price.”

Similarly, McCarthy at Ye Old Sun Inn will be using spirits produced at their very own Fairfax Distillery in dishes, such as salmon cured in rhubarb and quince gin. 

“It’s in the cure for 24 hours and we use the salmon on mini blinis or as a dish with citrus and light wasabi dressing.”

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