Halloumi cheese is a flavor Maeve Webster, president of consultancy Menu Matters, expects to see popping up a lot next year. The only thing that could limit its growth, she says, is accessibility.

“It’s definitely going to take off — we’ll begin to see a ton of applications —   but it’s not something that’s necessarily widely available,” she says.

Compared to many other cheeses, halloumi is very easy to prepare and use in a variety of settings.

Overall, the food industry could see fewer innovations than normal in 2020, Webster says. That’s because it’s an election year, and because of the wide divisions in the U.S., passions will be running high and many consumers will be facing an uncertain future.

In times like that, Webster says, people crave comfort foods and often aren’t as willing to experiment.

“My guess is we’ll still see a lot of innovation from fine dining chefs trying pull in new and unique items, but they’ll be driving them more toward comfort food-oriented options. I think what we’ll see is more mass market-level iterations of more familiar items.”

Look for bowl meals to incorporate more unique items, Webster says. Another traditional comfort option, sandwiches, also should enjoy a robust 2020, but in new forms like kota. “There are a lot of different sandwiches entering the market now.”

Other comfort options with a twist might include further variations on the mac ‘n cheese theme, with exotic additions adding a twist within a stable format. Or North African twists on popular comfort-food rice dishes.


French connection

Next year will likely also see the return of an old favorite: French cuisine. In keeping with the election year anxiety theme, they will towards comfort foods taking “risks” that might not be as risky as in other years.

“French is poised to make a comeback. It’s already beginning,” Webster says. “Coq au vin, a lot of stews, a lot of pastries, kouign amann, more pastries from Breton that are not out of the reach of most Americans.”

To some extent, the “return” of French cuisine is cyclical. But every turn around the wheel brings different approaches and incorporates innovations, she says.

“There are a finite set of cuisines in the world. But what you do start seeing is a new look at a familiar cuisine, like with Italy and Mexico 10 years ago. You started seeing lot of regionality. It’s not Italy, it’s Sicilian. It’s not Mexican, it’s Oaxacan. So much hasn’t been explored with French cuisine, and so many people are trained in it, they’ll be bringing to the fore more regional elements and applying new techniques to cuisines that have been around for a while.”

Every week Barons hosts a food panel made up of about 35 buyers and Barons store and deli managers. They review 80 to 120 different, out of which maybe 5 to 10 will make it into a San Diego-based Barons store.

At a September food panel, two prepared foods meals, Moroccan spiced cauliflower and Peruvian spiced cauliflower, were among the big hits, says Rachel Shemirani, Barons’ senior vice president.

. “You never would have seen something like that five years ago.”

Asian desserts, particularly anything “really cute” and “Instagrammable,” also are trending for Barons, she added.

“What’s happening at local restaurants is driving a lot of it,” she says. “Chefs try things, play around with them,” and they eventually might find their way to retail.

Health and nutrition are frequent themes in trending ethnic cuisines, Shemirani says. Many hot Korean foods, for instance, are attractive not only for their flavor and other attributes but because they promote gut health.


Bacon, booze and BBQ

Pekin, Illinois-based Excalibur Seasoning recently introduced a new brat flavor that the company will be promoting during its trade show season, says John Brewer, Excalibur’s vice president of sales and marketing: Bacon Fireball.

“Bacon and alcohol flavor pairings have been very popular in our ground beef patty, brat, and sausage blends,” Brewer says. “Bacon Fireball plays into this with a new twist.”

Natural whiskey flavor and cinnamon gives the taste sensation of Fireball whiskey, Brewer says. Excalibur’s R&D team paired this with bacon flavor and a touch of sweetness.

“It finishes with a sweet heat which is very popular,” Brewer says. “We’ve developed this flavor as a sausage blend to start, but I can predict that the combination will transition into other applications such as a dry marinade for vacuum tumbling.” 

Pit-smoked BBQ’s popularity growth has no end in sight, Brewer says. Food Channel programs devoted to the competition BBQ circuit are  fueling home BBQ aficionados’ interest, Brewer says, and as they build their skill level, they’re spending money on better grilling and smoking equipment.

“This is the crowd that buys a lot of specialty fresh and smoked sausage,” he says. “Sausage blends, and our “Rump Rub” line of products continue to grow in sales due to the increased demand.”

Ethnic foods, Indian in particular, are also trending, Brewer says. Retailers that tap into it by cross merchandising menu options pairing seasonings and components along with recipes will make their respective departments destination points.

Health and nutrition trends also will continue to play a huge role in what flavors and cuisines will be hot in 2020, Brewer says.

“We have a growing group of customers requesting lower sugar or salt in their blends. Non-GMO, MSG-free, and no nitrite are also hot buttons.”

Excalibur’s R&D team stays busy reformulating current blends in order to market to the growing health-conscious consumer base, Brewer says. “There are some exciting products out now that allow us to develop blends that are healthy and don’t sacrifice flavor or finished product yields for our meat processing customers.”