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12 trends we observed at the 2012 Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association show

(Images: Renée Suen)

Each year, we trek over to the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association show to get a look at what the industry believes will be the big trends in food (check out our roundups from 2010 and 2011). Twelve trends we observed at this year’s CRFA show, after the jump.

  1. A whole assortment of visual experience enhancers: LED-lit and iPad menus that help diners read in dim lighting; ever more LCD menu boards; and specialized single-purpose serviceware like Alineas anti-plate spoon presenter.
  2. Gelato and soft-serve ice cream will grow to dominate cakes and other pastries in the dessert category.
  3. Waffles will be what macarons and cupcakes were in 2010.
  4. Tea is the affordable luxury du jour: the lowly tea is being replaced with drip-free sachets, and tea sommeliers (no, really) are sourcing and blending ever more exotic loose-leaf varieties. Look out for Toronto-based Sloane Tea as one of the burgeoning players.
  5. Bold flavours, especially Indian, being promoted in vegetarian cuisine. This is not necessarily connected with health-conscious dining.
  6. A rising interest in incorporating modernist techniques and equipment in the kitchen, like the Thermomix or SousVide Supreme and novel ingredients like food stabilizers and compounds.
  7. On the other hand, the never-ending surge in home-style Italian foods signals that simple comfort foods are here to stay, with an increased focus on quality ingredients like fine dried pastas, imported canned tomatoes, olive oils, etc.
  8. There was a growing awareness of food safety and proper equipment sanitation in the many vendors at the show; some offered solutions that were environmentally conscious.
  9. Mexican foods continue to have a presence, although it was more in the area of salsas, hot sauces, tortillas and tequila (especially the premium stuff).
  10. Simple nostalgic foods like carnival snacks and traditionally crafted products like bottled soda. Think: waffle fries, fresh fried chips and ginger ales made simply from carbonated water, cane sugar and ginger.
  11. Riding the street food craze, expect to see more commercial takes on portable foods, especially those that are Asian in origin (steamed buns, dumplings, etc.).
  12. Gluten-free, dairy-free and meat-free food options playing a supporting role rather than acting as a meal headliner, and the rise of exotic grains (e.g. forbidden rice).

For 2012, it seems like there’s an emphasis on starting with quality ingredients and cooking them properly. Consumers will see simpler, homier (and even deliberately nostalgic) fare, but their presentations will still be eye-catching. Health and environmental concerns, although present, seem to be losing ground a bit—if they ever did, they’ll no longer be dictating our eating decisions.