The pandemic has changed so much of what is happening around us. This change is especially true in the food industry, one of the most affected by closures and limitations. Many restaurants faced staff shortages, proof of vaccination requirements for entry, fewer patrons due to space allocation requirements, and difficulties receiving raw materials, to name a few. Many restaurants have had to turn to take-out, shorter menus, and higher surcharges to respond to the rising food costs. I wonder where this will all take us. What food trends can we expect to see in the coming year? Will fine-dining be a thing of the past? How much more is the food industry going to change in 2022?
Trends Already Taking Place
There have already been some changes in the food industry, even before Covid-19. To begin with, the food industry is looking at ways that technology can better serve it, not only in production but in the public-facing sector. Robotics has been a staple in food production for many years, responsible for 40% of palletizing operations and 26% of food production. Not only does it speed up packaging, reduce production costs, but also it performs tasks that are very difficult for humans. It offers the manufacturers quicker order fulfillment speed and accuracy, cost reduction, and less risk of potentially tainting foods with pathogens or bacteria from illnesses. In meat processing, robots cut, sort, and package in cold environments that are not conducive to human comfort. In the dairy industry, robotic milking machines allow cows to set their milking schedule, resulting in higher yields. Vision-guided systems allow for even more accuracy in packaging and sorting.
We then come to the trends. Robots are now not only used during production but also for the delivery and service of foods. A restaurant in China uses robots to greet customers, cook their food, and deliver the dishes to the table. In the United States, eleven White Castle locations use a robot “Flippy” (Miso Robotics) to flip the burgers. Robots that make sushi, pancakes, and noodles are in Japan, and robot bartenders are already in development. Café X plans to expand robot coffee baristas into airports.
It is clear that robotics is already a big part of the food industry and will play an even bigger one in 2022. With the increased emphasis on hygiene and social distancing, robotics offers a solution to help control the spread of these infectious diseases.
What Are We Doing?
With restrictions and distancing recommendations caused by Covid-19, people are turning to home cooking more than ever. They strive to create an at-home restaurant experience with creative new dishes that they would not usually cook at home. Whole Food Markets compiled a food trend list for 2022 and found that spices and peppers of all kinds are high on the trend list. As people become more adventurous with their foods, they are willing to cook with a new spice not found in their kitchen.
Furthermore, we are now looking to new cuisines for inspiration. With the push on social media to support minorities, it only stands to reason that their native cuisines will also be a part of the discussion. Ingredients like sweet potatoes, greens, and biscuits are already making a presence in restaurant dishes and will make it into our homes. A new wave of multi-ethnic cuisines that embrace the unique identities of so many mixed-raced people is already in American restaurants. Kimika in New York City blends Japanese and Italian cuisines. Armitage Alehouse in Chicago blend British and Indian favorites. The coming year will embrace a borderless cuisine that marries diverse cultural influences.
This doesn’t mean that we are veering away from what we know. Comfort food is making a big comeback with an increased presence on social media for nostalgic foods. In these topsy-turvy times, it seems we crave the familiarity of the past. Perhaps that is why preserving and canning have also increased. Retail statistics noted a huge climb during the first lockdown in purchases of canning supplies.
Whatever the cooking choice is, we will be doing it more and more in 2022. Not only have virtual cooking classes increased in popularity, but more and more social media videos show you quick and easy ways to create a dish you can enjoy at home.
Are We Going to Forget Restaurants?
We all have seen the traumatic effect the pandemic has had on restaurants. Restaurants have had to find creative ways to create new, more simplistic menus that can accommodate the changing face of the industry. Although we will probably never stop supporting restaurants, more and more people are looking to take out rather than eat in-house. Third-party food apps like UberEats and Door Dash have always been available. In 2022, however, more and more restaurants are investing in their own in-house ordering and delivery services. For the restaurants, it makes perfect sense. The food delivery market is now estimated to be worth more than $150 billion globally. Since diners are accustomed to getting the food they want when they want it, this is a service that will be mainstream in most restaurants in the years to come.
Because of seating restrictions, restaurants are looking to create a private dining experience to help ensure that the patrons feel safer. In Ottawa, Perch (300 Preston Street) offers a dining experience where you can watch the chef prepare your food as you enjoy a five or nine-course tasting menu. Many restaurants are now offering online reservations, and apps like Eat App or OpenTable provide people with the ability to secure available bookings that are convenient for them.
Restaurants have had to transform how they operate to survive this new contactless era. Not only do they have to make it safe for their customers but also their staff. With this in mind, more and more restaurants are looking towards technology to help streamline operations in 2022. Things like automated inventory management and tablet ordering that goes directly to kitchen display boards will not only ensure lower contact between staff but help save them money in the long run.
Since many of us have not had the luxury of travel, 2022 dining will become a destination food experience. We will look for more secluded and remote areas to drive to – almost like a food vacation. Perhaps we might enjoy a Sunday brunch at Chateau Montebello’s Aux Chantignoles restaurant, or we will try a farm-to-table menu at Castlegarth in White Lake. A bit further in the town of Perth, The Stone Cellar features seasonal menus. With so many small towns surrounding the nation’s capital, finding a new food destination every week is easy.
Other Notable Trends
This coming year will be the year for vegetarians and vegans. More and more restaurants are offering plant-based foods on their menus, and more and more grocery stores have devoted areas to these products. Across Canada, A&W sold out of their Beyond Meat nuggets at 1,000 locations! Gone are the days where vegetable lasagna and veggie burgers were the only options available. You can now find plant-based choices in so many different products.
The easy availability of plant-based foods has created a new type of eater – the “reducetarian”. These people are not entirely vegan or vegetarian but aim to eat less meat, dairy, and eggs mainly for environmental reasons. They purchase oat milk or almond milk instead of cow’s milk and eat dairy-free cheese. They can purchase a variety of ready-made foods from Plantry. They can, of course, buy plant-based burgers and nuggets at most fast-food restaurants. The options available to them will only increase in this coming year.
Trends aside, 2022 will be an interesting year for food lovers. Increased prices force us to be smarter in the way we shop and cook. Meats are sometimes hard to find (and expensive), and some produce is not available. Whatever 2022 may bring, one thing is certain. We will still enjoy food. Happy New Year to all, and enjoy the year one bite at a time!