10 surprising trends for noncommercial from the NRA’s 2016 What’s Hot list

2016 produce

Some noncommercial chefs looking at the National Restaurant Association’s just-released What’s Hot culinary forecast for 2016 may think “been there, done that.” Indeed, many of the Top 20 trends in this year’s roundup, which surveys chef-members of the American Culinary Federation, already are trending or are well baked into the everyday operations of noncommercial kitchens: locally sourced produce (No. 3), environmental sustainability (No. 6), sustainable seafood (No. 9), authentic ethnic cuisine (No. 12) and food waste reduction/management (No. 19), to name a few.

But there are a handful of hidden surprises for noncommercial operators among the 192 food, beverage and prep trends. Here are 10 takeaways with potential:

Housemade/artisan ice cream (No. 10)

blueberry homemade ice cream sorbet

Housemade ice cream jumped 5 percent from last year’s ranking, to reign as the No. 1 predicted dessert trend for 2016. A growth in popularity could provide opportunities within B&I and LTC/senior-living, where last year operators named ice cream as having double-digit growth potential. Hybrid desserts (No. 88 on NRA’s list), including ice-cream cupcakes, also are expected to be hot.

Ethnic inspired breakfast items (No. 16)

skillet ethnic eggs

As noncommercial operators turn their attention to breakfast and scratch-made items in particular, they may find a world of inspiration—and interest—in ethnic-inspired morning dishes. Examples include Asian-flavored syrups, coconut-milk pancakes and chorizo scrambled eggs. Bonus points for items that don’t use eggs, which noncommercial chefs told FSD in October they expect to continue to be a sourcing challenge.


Housemade/artisan pickles (No. 18) and housemade condiments (No. 32)

homemade jarred pickles

Whether for reasons of differentiation, healthfulness and freshness or cost effectiveness, noncommercial operators are feeling the appeal of cooking more items from scratch. Two accessible entries into the practice are scratch-made pickles and condiments—trends that have proven successful on restaurant menus recently. 

Street-food inspired main courses (No. 34) 

kabob pita

Variations on street food make multiple appearances on the NRA’s hot list, including street food/food trucks (No. 20) and ethnic/street-food inspired appetizers (No. 4). For high-volume operations, street-food style main dishes (No. 34), especially with an ethnic spin—tacos, satays and kabobs—may have the broadest applications.

African flavors (No. 35)

moroccan chermoula fish tagine

This ethnic trend was the biggest mover and shaker on this year’s list, rising 20 percent. African dishes offer new territory to explore for diverse operations that already have mastered the nuances of Asian and Mexican cuisines.

Kids’ entree salads (No. 49)

boy eating salad

Healthy kids meals aren’t a trend on K–12 menus; they’re a mandate. As operators rise to the challenge of finding new ways to get youngsters to empty their trays, belly-filling salads are a maybe-trending vehicle that lends itself to creative applications.

Gourmet lemonade (No. 53)

lemonade pitchers

Healthy beverages such as fresh-pressed juices and smoothies have enjoyed a strong foothold on noncommercial drink menus, while infused  and flavored waters continue to grow. Housemade or freshly muddled lemonade—the second highest trending nonalcoholic beverage on the NRA’s list (behind housemade/artisanal soft drinks)—combines the best of both worlds. 

Smoked dessert ingredients (No. 79)

smoked roe peach sorbet

Another way to differentiate dessert, including speed-scratch options? Add smoke. Noncommercial chefs singled out smoking as a growing cooking technique and flavor enhancer on FSD’s Chefs’ Council survey in October; its appearance on NRA’s list is further confirmation.

Regional gravy (No. 136)

biscuits sausage gravy

While it may buck the healthy tide in comfort food, chefs looking to give these hearty menu staples an updated twist are finding it in regional gravies, such as sausage, black-pepper or tasso ham gravy.

To see all of the trends forecast by the NRA, click here.


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