These culinary trends and concepts to watch were presented by Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Flavor & The Menu, Cathy Nash-Holley at the National Peanut Board's Next Gen Food Summit. The summit brought the industry together – professional chefs, recipe developers, food service directors, consumer package goods (CPG) brands, as well as notable food media and Gen Z content creators to learn and adapt to the tastes of the next generation.
“A big focus among menu developers right now is what does Gen Z want? And Gen Z really is where global flavors come into play,” said Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Flavor & The Menu, Cathy Nash-Holley. “So I think appealing to Gen Z, we'll see a lot more global adoption of global ingredients, whether authentic or mashups in some way, we'll continue to see a lot of profiles that are surprising and new, but really strongly developed for the Gen Z audience.” We're seeing an emphasis on Asian, Mexican and Mediterranean dishes in particular. From Mexican comfort foods like quesadillas, taquitos, and TikTok’s favorite, birria to Mediterranean dishes such as Greek yogurt and honey, charred pita, grilled lamb, and shareable dips like taramasalata and spreads like htipiti. These cuisines give consumers a mix of familiarity and excitement while creating a natural spirit of togetherness that many of us are craving more than ever right now.
Gen Z is rediscovering and reinventing flavors and ingredients in so many unique ways. Event attendees had the opportunity to gain firsthand insights on this during the Next Gen Food Summit. We heard directly from Gen Z content creators, Chef Gabriel Lewis and Chef Kai Kani, who shared where they get inspiration for their recipes and the culinary expectations they have when dining out and buying packaged goods.
Chef Gabriel and Chef Kai confirmed just how much Gen Z loves trying new things! This includes weird food combos like @AirFryerGuy’s peanut butter stuffed jalapenos; food hacks such as @StoveandGarden’s tip to coat a measuring cup with olive oil before measuring sticky ingredients like peanut butter; and dipping everything into tasty, messy sauces like @EllieGervais’ Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce.
This generation is also up for extreme spice challenges and incorporating spice into traditional cultural dishes like Spicy Pad Thai with Peanut Sauce. In fact, 63% of millennials and Gen Z prefer their food to have “a little kick” and 36% of Gen Zers and 41% of Millennials challenged themselves to try more spicy foods during the pandemic. (1)
Another rising star in menu development is the return of an important cooking technique: texture. Unfortunately, texture was lost in takeout orders during the pandemic, but with the return of on-premise dining culinary teams can focus on applying textural elements. “We're seeing [texture] in Korean hotdogs,” shared Nash-Holley. “They're coated in these really interesting textural coatings and loaded fries with texture, which is a new thing that wasn't around even two years ago.”
At the Next Gen Food Summit, representatives from CPG brands and university dining programs shared more about adapting and evolving their brands based on Gen Z demands. It’s no secret this generation expects companies and brands to be transparent about their initiatives and commitments. 90% of Gen Z believe companies must act now to help social and environmental issues (2) and 56% of people think reducing their meat intake is better for the environment. (3)
Director of Organizational Excellence for Cornell Dining, Lisa Zehr, highlighted how their dining program has evolved to meet the needs of changing generations and shared a story from her executive chef. “If you think about before millennials, and you asked about a taco bar, it would be crunchy flour tortillas, seasoned ground beef fajita, onions, peppers, sour cream, black olives, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce. When they hit the millennial phase, it went into braised chicken and enchilada sauce, beef barbacoa and maybe some pork as well. And now with Gen Z, we're talking about grilled free-range chicken with chipotle charred carne asada with local pork. So it's similar ingredients, but it's pulling in what's the story behind it.”
Co-Founder of gourmet peanut butter brand BNutty, Carol Podolak, shared how their brand has always been focused on sustainable efforts and giving back to the local community, but now they are working to be more vocal. “I think one of the biggest takeaways that we got from the Next Gen Food Summit was that it isn't necessarily about what marketing is working for you now. It's about thinking about what marketing is working for future generations," said Podolak. “Traditional marketing was always, ‘this is your product, this is what's in it, this is why you should eat it.’ But now, with what's happening on social media, and what's happening with Gen Z, they're really asking, ‘Okay, but why are you in business? And what are you planning to do as you grow your business? How are you evolving?’ BNutty is already responding to these questions and in the process of certifying as a B Corporation.
When thinking about Gen Z consumers, it’s important to keep in mind this generation is more globally focused, more socially aware, and more adventurous when it comes to food. Flavor, taste, and experience remain at the core of any culinary strategy, but being intentional about marketing, engagement, partnership, and components of service will drive consumer buy-in and success.
More praise from Next Gen Food Summit Attendees:
- “Attending NPB’s Next Gen Food Summit was such a treat to share ideas, learn and be inspired,” said Jason Wang, Chef, TV Host and Judge, Food Educator and MasterChef U.S. Season eight alum. “Since returning home from the event, I’ve been sharing the latest peanut allergy research, how peanuts are grown, and ways peanuts can be incorporated into plant-forward cuisine with my colleagues. This was an important and eye-opening experience.”
- “I loved that the Next Gen Food Summit gathered attendees from all different parts of the food industry – CPG brands, food service, chefs, social media influencers and writers, and the amazing peanut farmer, Les Crall – through our shared love of peanuts,” said Erika Welsh, CEO and Co-Founder of Wild Friends Foods. “An added highlight was the opportunity to cook alongside incredibly talented chefs during the market basket challenge while incorporating peanuts into our dishes.”
- “The Next Gen Food Summit provided a wide variety of insights related to peanuts and myriad of other topics that will better equip the diverse group of attendees for success in the years to come,” said Akshay Bhardwaj, Executive Chef of Junoon. “As a chef of a fine dining restaurant, the Top 10 Food Trends presentation by Flavor & The Menu gave me a lot to consider for both my personal career as well as at my current restaurant. It was an added bonus to meet and cook with Chef Chris Muller (former Culinary Director of Le Bernardin). He is a legend in the New York City restaurant scene, and I owe him a lot for paving the way for my generation to now lead the way.”
Browse the photos of the event here.