Menus gain worldwide influence with greater use of niche ingredients, reveals Horizons’ survey

While burgers and steak may still be the most frequently listed items on British menus, dishes from Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Vietnamese cuisines are having a strong influence on the foods sold by high street operators together with the growing use of niche ingredients in a bid to offer customers something different.

Menu Trends, the latest report from foodservice consultancy Horizons, reveals how British menus are becoming increasingly eclectic. Some of the newest ingredient trends picked up by the survey include the wheat-free, grain-like superfood quinoa, the use of which has doubled on menus since winter 2014 and is now on menus at Hilton, Nando’s, Leon and O’Neills.

South American seeds have also become more widely used including amaranth and chai seeds, which have a delicate nutty flavour and a high nutritional value, used in breakfast and dessert dishes at All Bar One, Pod, Castle Pubs and Le Pain Quotidien.

The menu at All Bar One is offering a Vietnamese-inspired open sandwich ‘banh mi’ with grilled chicken, pickled carrot, sweet chilli and mouli, while the Middle Eastern flatbread ‘khobez’ is now on the menus at three high street brands.

“Many of these trends have been picked up and adapted from street vendors and small independent operators, particularly the more innovative, easy-to-eat hand-held dishes,” commented Horizons’ analyst Nicola Knight.

“It’s clear that operators are working hard to offer customers something new and interesting, often including so-called super-food ingredients which satisfy diners keen to eat healthily,” she added.

The twice-yearly Menu Trends survey reveals that Mediterranean-inspired dishes are on the up too – kebabs, for example, are 50% more likely to be listed on menus compared with last year, while the skewer-grilled souvlaki has also become more widely served. Houmous alternatives are more in evidence including skordalia, (made with garlic and pureed potatoes, nuts or soaked bread) and favetta (broad beans with olive oil).

Halloumi has seen a sharp rise on menus, up 54% year-on-year with Mexican chain Chiquito featuring halloumi-stuffed mushrooms and Wetherspoon listing a dish of grilled halloumi.

The use of the mouth-exploding popping candy has hit the mainstream in both sweet and savoury versions – including in a burger! Bella Italia, Zizzi and Revolution all have dishes on their menus containing popping candy.

“In 2010 it was virtually unheard of, but its use has grown 170% year-on-year as operators look to add some novelty to dishes and give their customers something to talk about. The trend was started by celebrity chefs such as Heston Blumenthal to offer their diners a taste and sensory experience,” said Knight.

Other findings from Menu Trends include:

• Beef burgers are the most frequently listed item on a menu, up 41% since summer 2014, although their average weight has decreased

• Rib eye and fillet steaks have seen a rise in popularity although they have risen in price and decreased in weight

• Chicken burgers and vegetable burgers are up 73% and 20% respectively year-on-year

• Brioche has become the bread of choice, up 67% since last year, particularly served with burgers and hot dogs

• The use of ethical terminology in describing dishes has risen 10% year-on-year suggesting it has become even more important to customers

• 63% of operators use the terminology ‘allergy’ or ‘allergen’ on their menus, up 4% since Winter 2014

• Gluten-free descriptions have risen 23% since Winter 2014

• Curry appears to be making a comeback, up 31% year-on-year but with a new pan-Asian twist.

“Chain operators have realised that menus have to evolve and keep up with trends,” said Knight. “While they need to keep the old favourites on the menu it’s also important to offer customers something novel and interesting, something they may not have tried before as well as to cater for those that want to indulge and those that want something more healthy. Today’s customer is becoming much more adventurous.”

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