While trend reports help chefs find new inspiration, it's important to avoid trendy traps.

Jackfruit, sustainability, global flavors—these are just a few of the food trends reported for 2017. The hot topic of food trend forecasts for the new year began in the fall, and to date, a myriad of reports have been published, all with varying results. In fact, you’ve probably reviewed some of these food trend reports for yourself and noticed one thing lacking: Consistency.

Inconsistencies are largely due to forecasters using their own algorithm of data, insight, and observation. However, while the content of each food trend report is different, you can still extract plenty of useful information and apply it to your menu planning for the year. Here’s how:

1. Pay Attention to Themes

Take a macro and micro approach when reviewing food trend reports. You’ll want to pay close attention to the recurring themes found across several different reports. What are the big issue items that align with your business goals? And then on the flip side, identify the unique and obscure items that pique your interest and enhance your menu.

2. Think About Your Concept

Be sure to take your brand into consideration when implementing a food trend at your restaurant. Just because an ingredient or a dish is trending doesn’t mean it’s a trend that you should follow if it doesn’t align with your brand. Trends, as exciting as they may seem, have to make sense for your restaurant’s brand; otherwise, they simply will not work.

3. Differentiate Between Large Trends and Trendy Items

Since a fair amount of subjectivity has been incorporated into many food trend reports, it’s best to use these reports as a tool to help spark innovation, rather than as a guideline for your business model. There’s a difference between a trend and something that’s trendy. However, many people mistake a quick, hot and trendy item as being a trend, when in reality, a true trend is defined by a pattern of data points over a period of time. In the case of food trends, a period of time could consist of years. So, be wary of putting too much stock into food trend reports that simply list the latest and greatest—trendy is fleeting.

4. Pay Attention to the Past

While all eyes are on this year’s food trends, I’d like to encourage you to also take a look at past trends. I grew up on eating egg rolls with my Chinese takeout. It didn’t matter the Chinese restaurant, egg rolls were plentiful on menus back then. But now, on the rare occasion that I do find a classic egg roll instead of the more widely offered spring roll, I pounce on the opportunity. I become a loyal customer of that restaurant because they have something that other restaurants don’t. The benefit of having access to past food trend reports means that you’ll be able to see what was successful in the past and what wasn’t. Oftentimes, things that are old become new again, so take a look at retro trends for inspiration. Use that data as an opportunity to bring back a beloved, classic dish that other restaurants in your area have discarded, like the classic egg roll, for example.

5. Make Your Own Trends

Lastly, remember that trends begin with you—the makers. To quote one of my all-time favorites, Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” This quote should inspire you as the creators of the foods that the rest of us obsess about. In 2017, have fun making your own snozzberries and let others follow the trends that you’ve created. 

Expert Takes, Feature