Analysis & Opinion

Consumer Pulse: Creativity and Innovation in Gastronomy

January 23, 2009 MullenLowe

Today’s economic challenges are forcing restaurants, food manufacturers and consumers alike to rethink what we eat, where it comes from, how it’s prepared — and with whom we enjoy it. Based on our research learning and observation, here are the “sound bites” of what we’ve discovered:

Tried and true

Low-cost, high-nutrient “comfort food” is back with a vengeance — but with a few twists. Ancient grains like spelt, quinoa and farro are power-packed canvases for creative chefs. Farro risotto — or “farotto” — anyone? Breakfast is becoming an all-day phenomenon as egg-based and egg-topped dishes appear on lunch and dinner menus — and oatmeal extends beyond its hit debut at Starbucks and Jamba Juice. Scratch cooking is growing… as is traffic to recipe websites, searches for basics like “chicken” and “pasta” and enrollment in entry-level cooking classes.

Down and dirty

Hunting and gathering is back, as consumers try to make the most of what Mother Nature has to offer. Expect more “locavores” to grow, fish and hunt their own ingredients, or buy them at farmers’ markets (up 7% vs. 2006). Consumers are looking for more from meat and veggies, with the help of depression-era recipes and cheap cuts like veal breast, short ribs, hanger steaks — and other “spare parts” for extreme “nose to tail” cooks. And speaking of extreme… “freeganism” is becoming a movement among those in pursuit of perfectly edible food that someone else threw away.

Exotic eating

Consumers are enhancing these simplifi ed dishes with complex fl avors by using zingy spices and vibrant superfruits. Mintel proclaims 2009 the year for persimmon, starfruit, lavender, cactus, chimichurri, peri-peri and masala. Americans are also more likely to enjoy Peruvian cuisine, washed down with tart and frothy Pisco Sours. And they’ll be eating more tea this year, too — that’s right, we said “eating” — as chefs and confectioners smoke, poach and infuse the fragrant, antioxidant- packed goodness of tea into everything from rice to duck to mints and truffles.

Community cuisine

As “getting together” becomes a means of “getting away,” we’ll see more dining experiences that encourage collaboration and connectivity. Small plates and dessert shots will make group dining fun and more shareable. Noodle bars will expand beyond NYC and San Fran, and other food bar concepts will flourish, like Rome’s Ã’bikà mozzarella bar, now open on Madison Ave. Also look for more potlucks, supper clubs, co-ops and community gardens in ‘09, through which food is shared along with traditions, labor, knowledge and support.


  • Consider what “back to basics” means for your brand. Boil your mission, messages and offerings down to their simplest form to find inspiration for growth in complicated times.
  • Discover your brand’s “comfort food” — that little something extra that makes people feel good. Feed their souls with warmth, optimism and humor.
  • Spice things up by infusing your brand with a little something natural or exotic, whether it’s a color, a flavor, a symbol, a philosophy…or a trip to Brazil.
  • Explore ways your brand can connect people with shared tastes and values — or reconnect those who need to step back and refocus.