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  • What’s for dinner in 2016?
  • What’s for dinner in 2016?
    Merlijn Hoek, Creative Commons (2014) ©

2016 Expert Outlook on Eating and Drinking

Is fine dining over? Are we all getting more experimental? Can we become ‘slim by design’? And should we feel guilty about food? As part of our Expert Outlook 2016 series we speak to three food and drink experts about the future of eating out, cooking in and getting our five-a-day.

Location Global

What will we be eating and drinking in 2016? For the food and drink Expert Outlook 2016, Canvas8 speaks to Stefan Cosser from Food Innovation Solutions, the editor of Delicious magazine Karen Barnes, and Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University and author of Slim by Design.


Stefan Cosser is the chef director at Food Innovation Solutions. Trained in his native Iceland, he has over five years’ experience as a senior development chef in the Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen.

A lot of people ask what the trends are for 2016. Insects? Certain kinds of seaweeds? Ugly fruit or new types of chillies? But, partly because of social media, these kinds of trends come and go, so it's almost irrelevant to talk about them.

But there are bigger trends, like increased social consciousness – people wanting companies to go further. There’s a lot of investigation into reducing waste in supermarkets at the moment, and there are a lot of new restaurant concepts launching with an emphasis on how they manage waste.

In restaurants in London, the trends that will stay next year are things like people wanting authentic experiences. This is led by the popularity of street food. Places like Franco Manca will become increasingly popular; people doing single things, but doing them really well.

Culinary novelties are on the rise Culinary novelties are on the rise
Jslander (2013) ©

Regionality comes under this ‘authenticity’ trend too. Whether it’s Mexican or Chinese, people want to experience local flavours that you can’t get elsewhere. China is bigger than Europe, so the country's regions are massive. The Sichuan region interests me; it’s very spicy food but it's also got very distinct, different flavours. If you look at the far west of China, they’re making kebabs, so it's more akin to Middle Eastern food. Usually when people talk about Chinese food, it's sweet and sour chicken or crispy chili beef, but in reality it’s much more than that.

Experiential dining is something Heston Blumenthal has been talking about for a long time. It’s not about doing some crazy kind of magic with the food. It's about thinking of the experience and everything around the food as much as the food itself. Dishoom has been doing this well for a while. The food is good (not amazing), but it's the experience and everything around it that makes it.

Casual dining has been going on for a few years, but next year restaurants will get even more informal. It’s going to be about small independent restaurants doing amazing food – order your food, be out in 30 minutes. You see people there wearing suits and hipsters in casual clothes, showing how it's all mixing together into one. There are no rules for what you should serve or how you should serve it, and that goes against the classical training that a lot of chefs have. It’s a people-led trend. Partly because of the recession, people want to go out and have good food without paying huge bills. There's no need to go and spend £2,000 on a good meal anymore. You can have an amazing meal for two for £50. If you look at a lot of fine dining restaurants, they’re taking away the table cloths and heavy French service that makes you feel like you’re not good enough to be there.

Experiential dining isn't about doing some crazy kind of magic with the food. It's about thinking of the experience and everything around the food as much as the food itself

People are comfortable eating at communal tables with all different types of people, so restaurants are opening with them and breaking down barriers. All-day dining is going to continue. You’ll be sat at a table eating lunch, someone else will be eating breakfast, and there will be a business meeting on the other side of the table – it’s so informal.

There are lots of people out there looking at unexplored cuisines, introducing regions in countries we haven't seen before in London. Bao opened this year, selling Taiwanese steamed buns – a very informal, quick, in-and-out restaurant but with amazing food and flavours. Nanban, by Tim Anderson who won Masterchef five or six years ago, opened in October. He’s doing very unique Japanese comfort food – noodles, ramen, deep fried chicken – using new techniques and ingredients. And Black Axe Mangal is a Turkish restaurant selling kebabs in a very different way. South London, down Northcote Road, is an exciting area to watch next year.

People want to experience local flavours that you can’t get anywhere else People want to experience local flavours that you can’t get anywhere else
Tord Sollie, Creative Commons (2014) ©

Karen Barnes is the editor of delicious. magazineKaren has been a journalist for 30 years, working in book publishing, on women’s magazines and as head of the Good Housekeeping Institute. Her mission, through the pages of delicious. magazine, is to get the nation cooking.

In my job I’m constantly bombarded with information about new products – more than ever before. It reinforces the need for quality, and anybody who’s able to edit that choice for busy people has more chance of being successful. That’s one of the key roles of magazines and newspapers, whether print or online versions. People love expert recommendations. There are a lot of people doing gourmet box schemes now, delivering specially chosen selections of high quality goods, gathering products from, say, local producers in Scotland or from a particular region in Italy or fish just landed from Cornish or Scottish waters. It’s all about the quality.

There’s been an increase in kits that make you feel as if you’re cooking – the ones where you open the box and every ingredient is individually weighed and wrapped, even down to something like three mint leaves in a tiny sealed bag or a tablespoonful of paprika. It seems like madness if you’re a keen cook who’s probably already got the ingredient in your cupboard, and the excess packaging is ridiculous. Yet these kits are doing well – and I suppose the countering argument would be that if you didn’t have a particular ingredient, you couldn't make the dish. For people I’ve talked to who use these kits, they feel having all the ingredients delivered to the door, weighed out, makes life easier. Then at the weekend they go back to cooking more adventurously. That’s when the cupboard gets opened again.

As for eating out in restaurants, dishes I’ve been served recently that have surprised me include things like deep-fried tripe and ox tongue – ingredients that are part of British culinary heritage but which fell out of favour. Now they’re back on menus, served in a modern way. The trend for nose-to-tail eating, using every bit of the animal, continues. Kidney, heart, liver and pigs’ cheeks have become commonplace, but tripe and ox tongue? Not so much. It’s a revival of old-fashioned food that is cheap, but made trendy and more palatable for people who are squeamish about it.

Sugary temptations can make it tough to get kids eating healthily Sugary temptations can make it tough to get kids eating healthily
Phil Rogers, Creative Commons (2015) ©

I predict continuing growth in sales of (and recipes for) avocados, courgettes and brassica vegetables as people become ever more concerned about cutting down on sugar and eating more vegetables and good fats. But in my view it’s still more affluent people who are really worrying about their health. Sadly, in this country food is still a social divider – yet it should be everyone’s right to be able to afford to eat well and to know how to cook properly. There are still a lot of people who haven’t been taught about healthy eating or cooking, or who don’t have a role model in their lives to teach them how to cook. And there are still a lot of people filling up their shopping trolleys with pre-prepared meals and sugary drinks. Hats off to Jamie Oliver, though, as he does manage to get the message through; when he makes a noise about sugar, for example, more people listen and pay heed.

I have sympathy for businesses trying to produce good quality mass market food. For years the obsession has been on eating less fat, so manufacturers were loading in the sugar and salt to balance the flavours. Now fat is okay again it seems, and the new focus is on cutting down sugar and salt. For a large supermarket to reformulate 1000s of own-label products to reduce sugar content rather than fat (while still watching the calories) is a massive undertaking. As for the man or woman on the street, they’re not sure what they’re supposed to eat. People of a certain age have grown up being told eating too much butter is bad for your heart and to use spreadable polyunsaturated margarine instead of butter. It’s hard to get that out of your psyche when you go food shopping. Which expert do you believe?

The message that's being given to young people is that they should feel guilty about food. But the problem is we’re all confused about which foods to feel guilty about

Making food 'good’ and ‘bad' is a trend – and it’s a trend I don’t like. I've seen so many books in the past six months that have the words ‘guilt free’ in the title. The message that's being given to young people (to all of us, actually) is that they should feel guilty about food. But the problem is we’re all confused about which foods to feel guilty about. My view is that no food should be demonised – as long as no animals have been treated badly in the producing of it and it hasn’t been packed full of artificial additives. Moderation is the way forward, rather than banning entire food groups such as dairy or gluten.

As for general trends, it’s all about drinks. I’ve been sent about 15 different raw cold pressed juices and nut milks in the last three months. And there are lots of ‘waters’ coming on to the market, too – birch water, maple water, coconut water. How can they all compete with each other? A lot of them taste unpalatable, are ridiculously expensive and are available in just a few urban stores. They have a short shelf life, so the idea of them becoming available to a broad market is slim. It’s food for the elite; most people can’t afford them.

Apart from that, fermenting, craft beer and gluten-free goods will all continue to grow in popularity. And I gather we all need to start eating insects if we’re going to have enough food to feed the world in a few years’ time. The winners for 2016, however, will be whichever manufacturers manage to cut down on sugar and salt in their products, while making foods that are genuinely tasty and good for you. That’s no mean feat.

Are raw juices just a London fad? Are raw juices just a London fad?
EventPhotosNYC, Creative Commons (2013) ©

Brian Wansink is a professor of marketing and the director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University. He is also the author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

People will give up on the idea that they can become slim by willpower. Instead, they'll embrace the idea, both individually and on an institutional level, that there are a lot of small changes that they can make to become ‘slim by design’.

People will start to change their houses so they eat a bit more fruit and a little less chocolate. They’ll replace the cookie dish with a fruit bowl, or put all their snacks in one cupboard instead of keeping them in five different cupboards. High schools and cafeterias will be set up so they guide people to pick up a salad instead of picking up fish and chips. Restaurants and grocery stores can also be encouraged to make it easier, more attractive and more normal for people to shop or order a little healthier, without having to resort to taxation, laws or public campaigns that have no impact.

People will start to change their houses so they eat a bit more fruit and a little less chocolate. They’ll replace the cookie dish with a fruit bowl, or put all their snacks in one cupboard instead of keeping them in five different cupboards

McDonald's has done an outstanding job. We found that the typical child only ate about half of their french fries, and that when the meal was over the parents would eat the rest. We told McDonald’s that it should cut the amount of french fries offered to kids by half and add fruit, and that no kid is going to complain. And they did that. We also did a project that showed that if McDonald’s promoted healthy drinks like milk and water in-store with soda pop heads like Shrek, that it would increase the number of kids who ordered milk instead of soft drinks. A wake up call for McDonald's was the increased attractiveness of gourmet hamburger chains like Five Guys. It has responded with new innovations in children's meals.

We were asked to do some work for Disney, and one of things that was advised was altering the positioning of some foods in children's menus and changing some ordering defaults. It led kids to eat dramatically fewer calories, but they liked the meals no less. The key thing with Disney and McDonald’s is that the rest of their environments are really fun. So if you’re enjoying yourself and all of a sudden you’re drinking white milk, you don't feel ripped off because you're having a good time anyway.

Another brand that's going to do extremely well is Nordic Choice Hotels, one of the largest hotel chains in the Scandinavian countries. It's done amazing things to help people eat healthier, but with the main aim of increasing sustainability. We did a study where we reduced the size of the plates in its cafeterias by four centimetres and the savings were $2.5 million in the first year. It decreased waste by 20% and people also eat less.

Will people replace the cookie dish with a fruit bowl? Will people replace the cookie dish with a fruit bowl?
Jessica Wilson, Creative Commons (2014) ©

Birds Eye is another one to watch. In the US, about 70% of vegetables are eaten at dinner time. The problem is that only 47% of meals actually provide a full serving of vegetables. Birds Eye came to us and wanted to know how you get veg in a higher percentage of meals. One thing we found, which is going to be the focus of its new promotion, is that people think that the centre of the plate – the burrito, the steak, the pasta – tasted better when there was a vegetable present. The big insight was that they didn't have to eat the vegetable, veg just made them rate the taste of the food higher.

We also found that parents, especially mothers, who added a vegetable to dinner time – frozen, canned or fresh – were rated by their family as more thoughtful, less self-centered and more loving. Even if the kids didn't eat the vegetables, they were a signifier of more effort. Birds Eye is going to be making leaping strides by emphasising to parents ‘Don't serve vegetables because they are healthy, serve them for selfish reasons. They’re going to make you look like a better cook, but also they’re going to make your kids think that you love them more’.

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Jo Allison is Canvas8’s editor. Previously, she worked for retail trends consultancy GDR, where shopping was part of the job description. When she’s not getting her head around the quirks of human behaviour, she’s busy ‘researching’ the latest food or fitness fad.