Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Flavor & The Menu
September 10, 2019

Something special was in the air at this year’s annual Flavor Experience, hosted by BSI Conferences, Inc., in partnership with Flavor & The Menu. The atmosphere was super-charged, reflecting back and looking forward as this singular event celebrated an impressive 15 years.

BSI President Sharyn Iler kicked off the event, explaining how the Flavor Experience has built a trusted path among menu developers, garnering a reputation for its laser focus on the business of flavor strategy. Serving up exceptional content and trend-forward food and beverage, this three-day event, held each August in Newport Beach, Calif., brings together thought leaders, chefs, marketers, colleagues and friends.

Left: Gerry Ludwig and Cathy Nash Holley, along with Jet Tila, led a lively discussion on industry trends and challenges. Right: Drinks were on fire at this year’s conference. This Tiki Kahiki Lolo, served in a flaming pineapple, sported Dole Chef-Ready Mango Purée, pineapple juice, Appleton Estate Signature Rum and Chinese five-spice syrup.

Consistent with prior years, the food and beverage offerings delivered on the trend-forward, flavor-first promise. Throughout the event, tastes were served up in innovative builds of katsu sando, kushari, okonomiyaki, shawarma, yakitori, a kokumi tasting, and much more.

On the beverage side, creative interpretations of all forms of drinks also inspired, from inventive nonalcoholic offerings to clever innovations around spritzes, interactive cocktails, cheese-capped beverages and more.

Throughout the conference, a through line of modern menu development tied together ideas around plant-forward eating, new opportunities in beverage trends, consumers’ changing dining preferences, delivery challenges and street-level trend tracking, to name a few.

As always, the Flavor Experience took attendees on a magic carpet ride into the future, helping them gain a competitive advantage with food and beverage trends that will shape menu development in the coming years.


Breakfast Breakouts

Maeve Webster of Menu Matters provided a close look at influences in the dynamic breakfast space, from shifting eating patterns to global flavors. She called out a number of surprising flavors and dishes that have shown significant growth on breakfast menus over the last four years:


Street Talk

Gerry Ludwig, corporate consulting chef for Gordon Food Service and Flavor & The Menu contributor, once again spotlighted menu opportunities. He walked attendees through his street-level research, distilling trends by highlighting common themes found in new restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Among the 14 categories of opportunities: katsu sando play, African cuisine, innovations in bread-and-butter service, and modern French dishes.

Left: Gordon Food Service translated the bone marrow opportunity spotted on their most recent trends tour. Here, a Short Rib & Bone Marrow Roast is sandwiched between croustade and topped with Bordelaise and peach chutney.
Right: The Gordon Food Service chefs wowed attendees: (L to R) Matt Dummar, Nick Gonring, Erin Copeland, Rob Granberg, Gerry Ludwig and Andrea Slivka.

Showcasing the bing’s versatility and flavor possibilities, this Beijing Bing with Chinese-spiced California Walnut “Meat” crumble included scallion, cilantro and toasted walnut hoisin sauce.

Flavors that inspire

A true festival of flavors—attendees enjoyed inspiring, innovative, trend-forward bites. Examples included:

  • Chicken Kayu: Sake-poached chicken, shiso pesto, schmaltz furikake, sea bean
  • Galbani Bel Paese Cheese, Roasted Pepper and Onion Okonomiyaki
  • Paneer Taco with Pickled Mango Slaw
  • Mortadella Katsu Sando
  • Impossible Tinga Tostada
  • Turkish Kofte Meatball with Beet Tzatziki
  • Harissa-Spiced Cassoulet
  • Miso Umami Egg Salad Sando
  • Seared Aussie Grass-fed Beef Kitfo Crisps
  • Warm Moroccan Hummus with Crispy Chickpea Rotini
  • Korean Gochujang Shawarma BBQ Beef Tacos
  • Mini Loaded Halloumi and Za’atar Baked Idaho Russet Potato
  • Mango Cake with Cardamom Buttercream and Brûléed Mango
  • Portuguese Malasada Stuffed with Sweet Mango Cream and Dusted with Lime Powdered Sugar

Is hummus the new queso?
Jack Gibbons, COO/President of Front Burner Brands, during a trends roundtable hosted by Flavor & The Menu’s Cathy Nash Holley.


Barton Seaver, chef, author and sustainable seafood expert

Diving into Seafood

“A narrative around foods that restore our health is a powerful one,” said Barton Seaver, chef, author and sustainable seafood expert. In his keynote address, he talked about the amazing stories behind seafood that can be shared with diners, and described the vast opportunities just waiting for discovery in today’s oceans.

“Out of 700 species caught, we generally eat only 10,” said Seaver, author of titles such as American Seafood: Heritage, Culture & Cookery: From Sea to Shining Sea (Sterling Epicure, 2017) and Two If By Sea (Sterling Epicure, 2016).

He highlighted innovation opportunities in seafood, drawing a line between the diversity of species and menu differentiation.


The Team that makes Flavor Happen

BSI’s Bruce & Sharyn Iler with the culinary team (left) and beverage team (right).

BSI Conferences, Inc., led by Bruce & Sharyn Iler, has proudly helmed the Flavor Experience since its inception 15 years ago. During that time, the food and beverage teams have grown to execute spot-on delivery on the promise of top-notch, trend-forward flavor experiences. Photographed are the culinary team (left), led by Valeria Molinelli, and the beverage team (right), led by Barbara Akin (both seated to Sharyn’s right).


Left: A favorite for all generations—loaded fries hit that sweet spot in appealing to both Boomers and Millennials. Middle: Showcasing a fun bar bite/appetizer, Pilgrim’s Pride paired Chicken Yakitori with daikon radish, tare sauce, umeboshi, wasabi greens and furikake. Right: Attendees discovered the beauty of cheese-capped drinks. Here, Gordon Food Service showcased a Peach Hibiscus Cheese Cap Shooter.

A Generational Thing

Datassential’s Jack Li and Colleen McClellan explored the fascinating phenomenon of a changing food landscape, thanks to migration patterns of two of the largest demographics: Millennials and Boomers.

As these generations cross into each others’ traditional territories—cities and suburbs, respectively—the team reported on a few menu opportunities that appeal to both sets of consumers. Each of these food concepts score high with both Millennials and Boomers:


Throughout the event, beverages inspired with trend-forward flavor combinations. Fun and nostalgia combine in sips of Irish Mocha, with Hershey’s Mocha Freeze, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Baileys Irish Cream, and Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup; and a Frozen Jolly Rancher Cherry Habanero-Tini (right).

Inspiring Beverages

With incredible flavors and stunning eye appeal, cocktails and nonalcoholic drinks were among the favorite elements of the event for attendees.

  • Watermelon Cheese Fluff Tea: Fresh watermelon juice infused with white oolong tea, honey and dill, topped with savory cheese foam and matcha powder
  • Umami Maria: Bloody Mary loaded with umami, spiked with Spanish chorizo-infused vodka
  • Tura Lemon Squeezy: Tura Blueberry Ginger Kombucha with Effen Rosé Vodka, fresh, grilled lemonade, ginger
  • Golden Sun: Sipsmith Gin, Monin golden turmeric syrup, fresh lime, mango essence, coconut milk foam, cardamom bitters mist, 24k gold finish
  • California Walnut Super Shake with purple yam, walnut milk, chocolate malt
  • Blue Moon Dreamsicle: Lemon-lime soda with blood orange purée, Hendrick’s gin, vanilla almond milk foam
  • Prickly Dragon: El Tesoro Blanco Tequila, dragon syrup, mezcal, fresh lime, snapdragon and citrus garnish, served in a cocktail bag
  • De/Re Tox: Veev Açaí Liqueur, aloe liqueur, coconut water, fresh lime, Perrier


Flavor & The Menu’s team (L to R) Cathy Nash Holley, Julie Tobias and Katie Ayoub, enjoying the event with Barton Seaver.

Unpacking Delivery Opportunities

Offering delivery is a growing necessity. As much as it is an opportunity for revenue, it also presents challenges.

Melissa Wilson, principal at Technomic, moderated a panel of operators in the trenches, developing solutions and systems to streamline their off-premise businesses.

Great insights were shared by Brandy Blackwell, director of off-premise and catering for Dunkin’ Brands; Efrem Cutler, senior director of product development/corporate executive chef with Bloomin’ Brands; Brad Kent, chief culinary officer with Blaze Pizza; and Mindy Armstrong, director of menu strategy & innovation with Buffalo Wild Wings.

A Lobster Bao Roll served up big flavor with chilled lobster tossed in umami aïoli, bok choy slaw in sesame-ginger vinaigrette and pickled red jalapeño.

The Big Picture

What are nine macro trends influencing menu development in both food and beverage? Flavor & The Menu’s Cathy Nash Holley, Maeve Webster, president of Menu Matters, and Kathy Casey, president of Kathy Casey Food Studios – Liquid Kitchen, shared forward-thinking and valuable context while describing the foodservice landscape—both today and tomorrow—in nine significant themes.

Webster painted a picture of Gen Z, saying, “They are not Millennials 2.0. They are realists, and they save money. When they do spend money, it’s on food.”

Casey highlighted the opportunity in “old school meeting new school.” “Younger generations love the heritage of retro dishes, while older generations hold an emotional tie to them,” she said.

Holley discussed an important swing in beverage preferences, sharing a newly coined term, “sober curious.” “Brands are making sobriety cool, and expanding the possibilities in nonalcoholic menu development,” she said.

CORE Families

The official charity of the Flavor Experience, CORE provides support to families of restaurant employees. Its executive director, Lauren LaViola, reported that the organization has raised a record $1 million over the last year, helping 200-plus families with grant supports for mortgage, rent, utilities and more. BSI’s Sharyn Iler presented a donation of $13,000 to help continue that important work.



From the September-October 2019 issue of Flavor & The Menu magazine

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