Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Rise of the Cooking Inconfident

There was a really interesting article in the Washington Post about 10 days ago titled Cooking 101: Add a Cup of Simplicity. It outlined a trend that many of the big food brands who have dedicated teams of recipe developers already know - Americans tend to lack basic cooking skills. There lots of factors that have led to this like increasing numbers of moms in the work place (they have less time to teach the next generation how to cook), the rise of convenience foods, the proliferation of the microwave, the elimination of Home Economics classes from high school curriculums and, of course, there is also Americans' love affair with fast food. The net result is there are a lot of people who don't have the basic cooking skills that past generations took for granted. But don't mistake people's lack of cooking knowledge with a lack of interest in cooking. You only have to look at the explosion of TV chefs, the food network, cooking websites and cooking magazines to know that people are ready to return to their kitchens.....they just needs a little help.

What kind of help should you and your brand give them? If you are a mainstream brand, start with giving consumers very simple "semi-homemade" type recipes that start with your delicious food product as a base. Keep the ingredients list short. Limit the range of ingredients to things commonly found in the pantry of your consumers. Bullet point the prep steps and keep chopping and measuring to a minimum. Keep the prepping and cooking time as short as possible. Finally test your recipes before you publish them to make sure they really are tasty! Nothing will deter a consumer faster from trying more of your recipes than having served a bad or inedible meal to her family. Remember your goal is to be your consumers' resource in the kitchen.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Flavor Trends for 2008

It is always interesting to see what flavor pairings emerge in the annual McCormick Flavor Forecast. Some of the pairings may be a little more relevant to product development and food service menu development than your mainstream product recipes and cookbook applications, but the pairings definitely highlight some key emerging flavor trends. And it never hurts to keep your eye on the emerging trends that may impact you in the future!

  • Oregano and Heirloom Beans: The familiar flavor of oregano added to the heirloom beans touches on 2 key trends - food with functional benefits and the emerging popularity of heirloom vegetables.

  • Vanilla Bean and Cardamom: Vanilla has long been popular flavor (remember the emergence of all the vanilla flavored drinks a couple of years ago like vodka and sodas?) that people recognize. Cardamon is an emerging trend that many consumers don't even even realize they are eating because it is increasingly in food service menu items but not called out in the menu descriptions.

  • Chile and Cocoa: This combination fits very well with the emerging Hispanic flavor trend. As with other ethnic cuisines, there is an evolving sophistication of the American palate that moves beyond the ubiquitous mainstream "Mexican" food to deliciously rich and diverse regional dishes.

  • Coriander and Coconut Water: A continuation of the tropical flavor trend that we saw last year.

  • Lemon Grass and Lychee: Asian cuisines continue to grow in popularity as consumers move away from mainstream "Chinese food" to regional Asian palates. The pairing of the exotic lychee brings in a freshness to this pairing.

  • Red Curry and Masa: This pairing follows the "fusion" trend by bringing together Latin and Asian influences to create a unique flavor experience.

  • Orange Peel and Natural Wood: Tangy orange peel matched with the smokiness of natural wood creates a delicious flavor combination that could go into multiple genres of foods from Asian to American BBQ.

  • Allspice and Exotic Meats: This combination fits well with the "experience eating" trend where food is more than nourishment for the body, it is an new experience for the senses.

  • Poppy Seed and Rose: A unique new pairing taken from North African and Middle Eastern cuisines, it speaks to Americans' expanding ethnic food palate.

  • Rubbed Sage and Rye Whiskey: Two traditional American flavors team up for an earthy familiar flavor combination.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Cheese Please

At The Undercover Cook we follow all kinds of food and cooking trends. Some of my personal favorites are the trends in cheese. According to The International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association we ate more than 32 pounds of cheese per capita last year! Not only are we eating more cheese, our taste for cheese is getting more sophisticated. The consumption of natural, artisan and ethnic cheeses is on the rise. The other big trend in cheese is, of course, convenience. As consumers look for food solutions that fit into their increasingly busy lives they continue to reach for more grated, crumbled, cubed, string, natural cheese slices and seasoned pre-shredded cheeses. The convenience cheeses take out the prep work without sacrificing the taste of traditional block cheese.

So as you are thinking about recipes for your brand or your latest cookbook, think about including cheese based recipes tailored towards your target consumer. For example, if you are targeting busy moms think about simple recipes that utilize the ever widening variety of convenience cheese, like a taco dip that uses pre-seasoned shredded cheese instead of of block cheese and spices. If you are targeting DINKS think about using cheese from the specialty cheese case, such as a recipe for boursin crusted pork chops. If your brand features upscale regional products think about using regional artisanal cheeses in your recipes. It is important that your recipes appeal to your target consumers' ever changing taste just as well as your products do.