At the recent SIAL Canada food and beverage show, held in Toronto April 30 to May 2, Melissa Wilson, principal at Technomic, a global consulting and research firm for the food industry, discussed foodservice trends in Canada.

The Canadian foodservice industry hit $71 billion in 2011, with restaurants and bars comprising 63 percent. Limited-service restaurants, or fast-food and fast-casual restaurants, saw 5 percent growth from 2010–2011 and are currently produce sales of $19.6 billion; fast-casual chains account for 3 percent of that total. In 2011, coffee stores/cafes had the biggest share at $7.4 billion; burger shops had $5.8 billion in sales and other sandwich stores accounted for $2.1 billion. Full-service restaurants grew 3.3 percent during the same time period, accounting for $7.2 billion in sales in 2011; varied menus, family style and Italian food comprised the top three segments.

Following are 12 top menu and ingredient trends:

  • Caramel, especially salted: This flavor is featured in everything from coffee to starters to desserts.
  • Comfort food with a twist: Menu items such as meatballs, mac and cheese, and Canada’s popular poutine, french fries topped with brown gravy and cheese curds, are being made with ethnic flavors or premium ingredients.
  • Creative condiments: Flavors are getting bolder—spicy, herbal, fruity—and producers are innovating classics like ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. These condiments offer experimentation without impacting a main course.
  • Local sourcing: Consumers are emphasizing wanting to know where their food comes from. In 2010, 82 menu items used the term local, but by 2012 the number increased to 101.
  • New ethnic: Global flavors are influencing mainstream dishes to provide consumers with a dining adventure.
  • Nontraditional sandwiches: Chains are offering playful takes on sandwiches, particularly in regard to holders. Lettuce leaves were popular wraps a few years ago, now waffles are trendy as at Canadian chain Miura Waffle Milk Bar, which specializes in sweet-savory varieties such as a banana caramel waffle sandwich.
  • Pork: The bacon phenomenon has made consumers more receptive to pork products. Overall, they believe pork to be healthy due to the ubiquitous “other white meat” campaign.
  • Premium burgers: Angus or grass-fed beef topped with high-quality condiments are the norm. Several chains are adding more build-your-own options.
  • Sensitivity- and allergy-friendly foods: There is more communication on menus about options that are gluten-free, dairy-free and so on. These foods carry a health halo even for consumers who do not have intolerances.
  • Snacks and small plates: Bite-sized options provide the opportunity to be social, share and not commit to one choice.
  • Superfoods such as kale, quinoa, almonds, blueberries and broccoli: Trendwatchers expect to see more dark green leafy vegetables and whole grains on menus. The industry is watching for what will be the next kale.
  • Tacos as a gateway: Affordable and hand-held street food, tacos have become a testing ground for different ingredients or flavors such as Mediterranean or African.