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Menu trends 2023: Look what's cooking


The Unilever Food Solutions Future Menu Trends Report 2023 provides more than just a taste of what’s hot in the food world this year. It’s also a practical playbook, helping chefs to get these trends on the table simply, sustainably and cost effectively.

A composite image of chefs cooking in a busy kitchen

With over 250 professional chefs working in over 70 different countries, Unilever Food Solutions (UFS) is at the top table when it comes to defining what’s on the menu in global food trends.

In fact, spotting what is working, or not working, in professional kitchens is an inherent part of the job for this chef-to-chef global network that specialises in dishing up both trusted Unilever brands and quality food solutions.

Representing 20% of Unilever’s Nutrition business group and with double-digit growth in 2022 allowing it to almost regain pre-pandemic volumes, UFS now reaches almost 2 million customers worldwide.

“Not only do we have a truly global presence, our business model also helps us to be very close to the end-users in the market,” says Star Chen, EVP of Unilever Food Solutions.

“Our chefs work very closely with our customers and get a real sense of what they and their guests want and need.”

What’s on the menu for 2023

This year’s Future Menu Trends Report suggests that while diners are looking for options that are healthy both for them and the planet, they are also looking for adventure and surprise when eating out.

Chefs and operators, for their part, are looking for solutions to a deficit in skilled labour, the fast-growing demand for lower carbon, plant-based recipes and the ongoing issue of food waste and its direct correlation with profit loss.

The report addresses these issues through a collection of recipes that celebrate making the most of sustainable produce, tips on how to upskill cooking techniques and a unique plug-and-play format that makes implementing the new trends simple.

So, what can we expect from the culinary world in 2023? 

1. Irresistible Vegetables

The trend: Vegetables are coming of age this year, as their promotion from side-dish to main event continues to be fuelled by increasing numbers of vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian diners looking for decadent, indulgent plant-based foods.

Why it’s on the menu: “Guests are increasingly concerned about their diet and want to eat much more consciously,” says Chef René-Noel Schiemer, Culinary Advisor, Germany. “Cooking more with vegetables doesn’t just add more nutrients to the dish, it also expands your menu options. Therefore, you have the chance to bring a new clientele into your location.”

Chef’s advantage: Research has shown that many chefs still regard veggies as second-string ingredients, but the report highlights the win–win possibilities of giving often overlooked vegetables the star treatment.

With a lower carbon footprint and a higher nutrient count, plant-centric dishes are not only cost effective and sustainable, they can also provide that all-important wow factor – especially when they make an unexpected appearance on dessert menus.

58%of operators believe this trend is set to grow.

A selection of vegetables including carrots, celeriac and Brussels sprouts

2. Modernised Comfort Food

The trend: With many of us seeking order and comfort in what we eat, the trend for the taste of home food is still going strong. While consumers may be looking for the familiar, they also want something more.

Why it’s on the menu: “Diners love to rediscover those dishes they know well in a new guise that keeps faith with the past but with the reinterpretation of possible ingredient combinations, cooking methods and above all presentation,” says Chef Giuseppe Buscicchio, Executive Lead Country Chef, Italy.

Chef’s advantage: The report encourages chefs to champion local dishes by giving them a sustainable and health-conscious twist that will attract a wider group of diners.

“Middle Eastern and Asian are some of the trending cuisines in the world right now, especially in the street food scene,” explains Chef Yasemin Ataman, Unilever Nutrition, Turkey. “And it’s important to make these dishes more adaptable to a wider group of diners.”

65%of operators believe that this trend is set to grow.

A selection of herbs and foods including red meat, bay leaves and hummus

3. Low-Waste Menus

The trend: Reducing food waste is high on the agenda for governments, NGOs and, increasingly, consumers. No one feels good about the fact that 30% of food made for human consumption is never eaten. However, for commercial kitchens, wasting food is above all else a direct loss of profit and therefore a critical business concern.

Why it’s on the menu: The report identifies fighting food waste as an opportunity for chefs to make smart use of ingredients and resources, make food go further and provide diners with another reason to feel good about eating out.

Chef’s advantage: The report suggests that moving towards fin to fish, top to toe, root to leaf use of produce, as well as reverting to traditional preserving techniques like fermenting, pickling and curing, can ensure a cost-effective menu and make a huge difference to what ends up in the bin.

Chef Joanne Limoanco Gendrano , Executive Chef, Middle East, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, suggests using the same ingredient in multiple ways to simplify inventory and avoid waste. She uses chickpeas in flour to make savoury waffles, as a base for avocado hummus and also as a garnish.

70%of operators believe that this trend is set to grow.

A selection of food including cauliflower, butternut squash and bread

4. Wild and Pure

The trend: Using locally sourced ingredients that help to reduce the carbon footprint of restaurant dishes is another trend that consumers are increasingly looking for.

Why it’s on the menu: Air miles play an important factor, with diners increasingly interested in knowing where food is coming from and how it is grown. But opting for natural, local produce often offers a huge creative taste advantage as well – especially if the ingredients include adventurous options like micro herbs, insects, edible flowers and sea vegetables.

Chef’s advantage: “As a chef, it is always great to discover new ingredients and even greater when you can pick them yourself. Native ingredients offer chefs more space for creativity and allow them to work seasonally,” says Chef Wesley Bay, Culinary Advisor, Belgium.

67%of operators believe that this trend is set to grow.

A selection of food including mushrooms, crustaceans and herbs

5. Flavour Contrast

The trend: Contrasting flavours and mixing culinary traditions both at the table and in the kitchen is becoming increasingly popular with diners.

Why it’s on the menu: For many people, being able to go out to eat was a significant milestone in the return to normality after the Covid lockdowns. After months of often repetitive home cooking, diners were hungry for unique taste combinations and exciting textures and presentation. Despite lockdown being largely a thing of the past for most people in 2023, this appetite for exciting visual and taste combinations has continued.

Chef’s advantage: “Guests are always curious about exciting combinations and flavours; they want to be surprised. Eating should be an experience – a party that you will always talk about and won’t forget for long time,” says Chef Edwin van Gent, Head Chef, The Netherlands.

55%of operators believe that this trend is set to grow.

A selection of herbs and foods including red meat, bay leaves and hummus

6. Feel-Good Food

The trend: Diners are increasingly looking for their out-of-home meals to sync up with their growing interest in healthier eating. “Feel-Good Food is about vitality. And the key to this is diversity and balance in the food we eat,” says Ria van der Maas, Global Diet & Health Manager.

Why it’s on the menu: The link between food, our bodies and our minds has gone beyond basic nutrition. Now that it is understood that food can impact our mood, metabolism, gut health and quality of sleep, diners want to make healthy choices that still feel like an indulgence.

Chef’s advantage: Chefs can nurture diners’ growing interest in healthier eating by choosing healthier ingredients and cooking methods like steaming.

“Eating healthy is all about balance! Using good cooking methods like steaming can guarantee a low-calorie dish. With just a few ingredients and the right techniques, you can create both balance and diversity, “ says Chef Carlos Madeira, Executive Chef, Portugal.

60%of operators believe that this trend is set to grow.

A selection of foods including shallots, lemons and fish

7. The New Sharing

The trend: From Korean BBQs to Swiss fondus, Greek mezze and Spanish tapas, this trend is about fine eating rather than fine dining. It is about food that brings people together in body and spirit.

Why it’s on the menu: A renewed appreciation for sharing food with friends and family is another post-pandemic trend that continues to grow. Diners appreciate being able to eat together with fun, tasty food that can be shared in an informal, relaxed setting.

Chef’s advantage: For chefs, this is an opportunity to create food that will be an intrinsic part of a celebration. “It’s an opportunity for us, chefs, to generously share our regional flavours, and techniques with the diners and for them to have a great experience with their loved ones,” says Chef Sherif Afifi, Executive Chef, Egypt.

54%of operators believe that this trend is set to grow.

A selection of fish and vegetables

8. Mindful Proteins

The trend: The days when protein meant meat are well and truly over. Be it for health, environmental or animal welfare reasons, diners are increasingly looking for protein alternatives.

Why it’s on the menu: Flexitarian, that is to say a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat or fish, has been a growing trend for years and today it is estimated that about one in four people identify as flexitarian.

Add to that the emergence of reducetarianism – that is to say people who consciously look to reduce their intake of animal-based foods without adhering to a vegan or vegetarian diet – and there really has never been a better time to get creative with new forms of protein.

Chef’s advantage: This trend offers a huge opportunity for chefs to use plant protein sources like beans, legumes, pulses, tofu and plant-based meat that not only reduce their environmental footprint but their costs as well.

The key is to maintain taste. “It is important that we bring flavour, richness and depth to all these dishes because when we take out the meat, people’s expectation is that you are removing the flavour, but this is not the case,” says Chef Alex Hall, Executive Chef, United Kingdom & Ireland.

55%of operators believe that this trend is set to grow.

A selection of meats and vegetables including tomatoes and celery

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