With the rapid proliferation of the F&B business across the country, millions of dollars riding on food enterprises, and several million people dependent on it for their livelihood, finding one’s way through the maze of taste is serious business, writes Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal, as she maps the trends for an annual food trends report for 2020
The year 2019 was a year of unprecedented growth and digital disruption for the food industry. Digital technology drove how we ate all the time. It was the year in which more Indians ate more food “not” cooked in their homes than ever before! Whether you wanted Pizza, Biryani or Gobhi Manchurian, or a regional favourite such as Rajasthani Lal Maas, Naga Pork or the Gujarati Undhiyu, getting food from a home chef’s kitchen was easier than it has ever been, thanks to digital technology!
Even the way we eat at home changed — the culture of passing down recipes from one generation to the next is being replaced by online recipe sharing, consumer facing apps, DIY videos, and more.
Therefore, in a country where Mumbai responds to regional pop-ups enthusiastically while Delhi is nonchalant about the idea, and Indore is expanding its culinary wings while Kolkata is looking back at its culinary traditions, it’s quite a challenge for businesses to identify concepts that have potential to succeed across our inherent diversity.
In such a scenario, food businesses can benefit from a resource that monitors changes in business and consumer expectations, identifies underlining themes that drive these changes, and helps separate the fads from the trends.
Over the past three years, I have found that putting together the annual Godrej Food Trends report requires everything from data analytics to pure intuition on the part of our core team. As a forecaster of trends, it is important that the report is able to differentiate fads from trends. The key distinction between the two is that while trends have the potential to exert long-term influence on the market, a fad is usually isolated, coming and going quickly. Trends, therefore, don’t exist in isolation. They are a sum of many things, often including altered classics, and can have much longer life cycles, sometimes being around for years, or even decades.
One of my favourite examples is our return to our roots. Over the last two iterations of the report, we described a growing movement of self-discovery in the Indian food industry. This desire to learn more about our diverse culinary culture and traditions began in 2018 with an initial exploration into Indian regional cuisines. In 2019, we went beyond the broad strokes of regional cuisines and took a deep dive into the micro-cuisines of India. We saw an explosion of conversations, events, products and dining experiences inspired by micro-cuisines from specific sub-regions, communities, and even family kitchens of India.
This inspired exploration into home kitchens brought the true custodians of Indian cuisine into the limelight as the food industry connected with nanis, dadis, mothers or home chefs as SMEs (Subject Matter Experts), or sources of inspiration and knowledge of our rich culinary diversity. This in turn drove a re-discovery of traditional ingredients, as ordinary vegetables became the new exotic and gharelu greens such as kele ke phool, bathua, tendli, lauki and tinda featured prominently on restaurant menus. Let me tell you, this trend has not shown no signs of ebbing. It continues to play in 2020.
That said, I must admit we don’t always get it all right. While we are on target in a majority of cases, sometimes trends don’t play out as anticipated. For instance, in 2019, we heard a lot of talk about millets driving a discovery of other indigenous grains, celebrated as a climate-smart choice for farmers and consumers, but this trend did not map out as expected. The consumption of indigenous grains hasn’t grown as significantly as the noise would suggest. What happened to all that hype? Do chefs and media influencers not put their money where their mouth is?
To answer all those questions, as we usher in the report’s third year, the 2020 edition points at some interesting big trends (organised alphabetically) for the coming year:
Continued commitment to provenance and mindful eating. Powered by the growing demand for sustainable practices, consumers will continue to make active choices that help minimise their carbon footprint by supporting local/artisanal producers and eating seasonally.
Deeper exploration of South-East Asian flavours. In 2020, the restaurant industry will offer diners a greater variety of South-East Asian flavours through deeper explorations of the popular cuisines, along with specialist menus from previously unexplored regional and ethnic cuisines from the region.
Emergence of the neighbourhood ‘foodpreneur’. The growing demand for fresh, healthy, hygienic and familiar ghar ka khana, combined with the convenience of digital communications and payment platforms, will encourage many more traditional, regional and community cooks to start mini-enterprises from their home kitchens, offering limited daily specials to small communities of their fans.
Keeping it real. Fuelled by an ever-growing consumer demand for authenticity, 2020 will see a growth of dining experiences designed around real issues, real people, real ingredients, and real stories!
Longing for ghar-ka-khana. The decline in daily cooking at home, because of changing social dynamics and attitudes towards cooking, will see nostalgic diners ordering food that reminds them of their own ghar-ka-khana, more often than ever before!
No-compromise convenience cooking. A discerning consumer of 2020, experimenting with the latest health fads and lifestyle diets, can look forward to many more options for quickly and conveniently assembling personalised meals at home, with little or no compromises to their choices.
Proliferation of desi flavours. As an outcome of the persistent demand for all things indigenous, consumers should expect to see a proliferation of desi flavours in everything from small plates to cocktails, and even desserts in 2020!
Return to traditional fats. The growing appreciation of the significance of our choice of cooking medium will inspire more consumers in 2020 to go with desi ghee and cold-pressed local seed oils over other options.
Rise of the culinary explorer. An evolving sense of social, financial and cultural independence among young people will drive a greater demand for aspirational, novel, and even exotic travel and dining experiences. These experiences will be inspired by exciting new cuisines from within and outside the country.
Revival of culinary traditions. Riding the ongoing wave of deeper exploration and discovery of our culinary heritage, food businesses and restaurants will find exciting new ways of packaging traditional food wisdom, knowledge, cookware, cooking techniques and food preparation methods to make it suitable for the demands of the modern dining experience.
“When it comes to food, Indians have always preferred ghar-ka-khana,” says Sujit Patil, Vice President and Head, Corporate Brand and Communications, Godrej Industries Limited and associate companies, reviewing the key findings. “The growth of technology is also shaping what we eat. It is not only giving a big boost to the food processing industry, but also enabling home chefs to become ‘foodpreneurs’.”
For Patil, as he says it, what is “heart-warming” about the findings is that they point to “the emergence of the neighbourhood foodpreneur” in 2020, parallel to the revival of culinary traditions and a proliferation of desi flavours in everything, from small plates to cocktails, and even desserts. The emerging future happily rides on the past.
In fact, as you delve deeper, you will find that 2020 will continue to be the year of discovery and it will see us immersing deeper into our culinary diversity than ever before! The food industry will continue to draw inspiration from the home kitchen. Indian ingredients and flavours will dominate conversations, menus, beverages and even our desserts.
The year ahead will continue to reveal newer facets of the power of digital disruption. Every aspect of the industry will galvanise to deliver what consumers want and work to meet their needs. In an era of consumer hyper choice, the food producer will have to do more to stand out and seamlessly deliver exceptional service while at the same time ensuring food variety, quality and integrity, transparency and sustainability.
— The author is a food writer and Managing Director, A Perfect Bite Consulting LLP. She has authored the Godrej Food Trends Report since its inception in 2018