“What’s Hot” 2014 Culinary Forecast: Seafood Trends

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) has released their annual “What’s Hot” 2014 Culinary Forecast and Seafood/Fish has landed three positions of prominence in their “Top 20 Trends”.

The NRA’s online survey was sent to almost 1,300 professional chefs, offering them 258 items to individually evaluate as a “Hot Trend”, “Yesterday’s News” or “Perennial Favorite”. Given the diversity of trend topics offered, and their consequent rankings by overall popularity, the value and impact of seafood on the chef’s culinary consciousness is not to be overlooked. Priding this Forecast as “true trends, not temporary fads” , it can offer valuable insight to chefs, suppliers & restaurateurs and diners and foodies as to what culinary preparations, dining experience, and food & drink lays before them in 2014 – and beyond. Here’s our snapshoot of these Trends as they relate to Seafood:

Top Trend: Locally Sourced Seafood is Still King

Perhaps not so surprisingly (it has held court as Number 1 the past four years) “Locally Sourced Meats & Seafoods” was the supreme pick overall amongst the chef respondents. Its unwavering position on the top indicates two probabilities:

  1. That the Farm/Sea-to-Table movement remains as strong as ever, and
  2. Seafood is right up there with Meats as the prime protein for many chefs.

When asked “Which Current Culinary Trend will be the Hottest Menu Trend 10 years from Now?” the chefs responded resoundingly that “Environmental Sustainability” (38%) and “Local Sourcing” (22%) – a combined 60% – will remain dominant considerations with their menu planning for the NEXT DECADE. “Sustainable seafood” ranks overall as Number 9 (just few spots below “Environmental Sustainability”) and substantiates the general movement that seafood (along with meats and produce) ideally be both local AND sustainably sourced whenever available.

Based on this feedback, it would appear that these trends may very well be here to stay in the opinion of the surveyed chefs. Clearly, many are likely to be looking more and more to fisheries and purveyors who offer full traceability and responsible sourcing, and will favor purchasing seafood from local fishermen and harvesters whenever possible. Just as telling, “Locally Sourced Meats & Seafoods” also ranks Number 1 in the Forecast’s “Main Dishes/Center of the Plate Category”.

Diversifying with Non-Traditional & Underutilized Fish

The placements of Trends such as “Non-Traditional Fish” (#18 overall!) and “Underutilized Fish” (#102 overall, but #20 in the “Main Dish/Center of the Plate” Category) are encouraging signs that chefs are exploring more diverse seafood options and are investing in learning about fish outside the familiar. The Forecast’s “Non-Traditional Fish” examples include “Branzino, Arctic Char & Barramundi”, and while certainly familiar fish to those of us at Browne Trading, they are perhaps a bit off the menu from the more familiar staples in American cuisine, namely salmon, shrimp, lobster and even swordfish and tilapia. It seems that more and more chefs (and consequently, diners) are looking for “new” fish to experience and showcase – not just “fad” fish like the once hugely popular Chilean Sea Bass. Imported species, both wild and farmed, will likely gain in demand as chefs seek out different seafood options – although this may be in contrast to their demand for “locally sourced” fish and shellfish.

Gulf of Maine Redfish are Among the “Underutilized” Species – Will It Appear on More Menus this Year?
Gulf of Maine Redfish are Among the “Underutilized” Species – Will It Appear on More Menus this Year?

Equally interesting is their recognition of “Underutilized Fish” species. “Underutilized” – non-traditional menu options in their own right – are nonetheless distinct from “Non-Traditional Fish” in that in many instances these species have had only a secondary commercial value as high-end food – some are primarily landed to be used as bait fish or to be quickly turned to frozen fish sticks. The Forecast lists “mackerel, bluefish, whiting and redfish” as examples in their Trend Report – and we have seen these and other species such as Atlantic Pollock become more and more popular with our own chef clientele. Many of these underutilized species are only just now being considered as menu alternatives to chefs, even in areas where they are actually landed, such as our home port of Portland. Local initiatives, such as the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Out of the Blue Program, are bridging gaps between these species and the chefs and diners who up until now have largely relied on fish whose abundance is now waning due to conservation measures designed to limit fishing and rebuild long term stocks (such as our New England groundfish). Because these underutilized species have not been in high demand, their stocks are generally robust, and they present affordable and viable opportunities for the creative chef willing to try the “unfamiliar”.

What These Trends Tell Us

Based on their feedback, the Trend Forecast suggests that American chefs value fish & seafood dishes as essential to their menus and the dining experience they wish to create for their customers. When the Seafood Trends are reshuffled into the Forecast’s “Main Dishes/Center of the Plate” Category, seafood occupies 3 of the top 4 trends for 2014 – a telling sign of the growing importance of seafood dishes as main courses on restaurant menus across America. Surveyed chefs also highly regard locally sourced, sustainable products – and in some measures are willing to introduce both non-traditional and underutilized fish to their dining clientele. Their committed interest in the farm/sea-to-table movement and sustainably sourced foods speaks highly of a chef’s culture that exceeds just the “dollars and cents” of cost efficiency and return in their competitive restaurant industry.

On the “downside”: “Fish Offal” (Trend # 164 overall) was a disappointment as it ranked in the “Yesterday’s News” category. Perhaps a trend that didn’t resonate with the America dining public?

To get the fullest picture of the Culinary Trends that many chefs anticipate for the New Year, I encourage you to check out the full Forecast here.

~Nick Branchina, Director of Marketing