Food Trends: Seasonality Reigns Supreme

“Limited time offers are less widespread but Seasonal Theming has really taken off” writes The University Caterers Organisation in their Global Food & Trends Report 2017. Also known as TUCO, the catering establishment giant further predicts the seasonal food trend will stick around for the long haul with “expected lifespan: 5-10 years.”

After a year of heavily indulging in everything from freak shakes to symmetrical Buddha bowls, and juices which are greener than Switzerland’s economy, 2017’s official global food trend is Seasonal Theming. So, just what is Seasonal Theming and how can you get in on the trend? Read on for hospitality tips and catering tricks on crashing in on the explosive food trend, set to grow for 2018. 

What is Seasonality?

Seasonal Theming is the commercial side of what many consumers’ describe as Seasonal Eating. Popularised by a barrage of celebrity Chefs, activists and television presenters such as Maggie Beer and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, seasonal eating practises sourcing ingredients when they are at their peak farming season. Often the first reason for a Chef to do this is riper produce leading to better ingredients, and elevated taste in the dish; but the secondary factors of environmental preservation and ethical farming are just as fundamental to the trend’s conscientious core.

Taking off nationally, shifts in Australian dining from Chef’s choice to menu by seasonal selection can be seen across the country. In Kinston North Carolina, celebrity Chef Vivian Howard has been making culinary waves at restaurant Chef & The Farmer for her season-based dining menu. A self-proclaimed ‘Progressive Eatery’ Howard’s restaurant aims to create more local jobs for displaced tobacco farmers and offers an insightful menu that is inspired by – you guessed it – seasonality. In a 2016 interview with environmental sustainability and sustainable food system foundation GRACE, Chef Howard explains:

“Chef & the Farmer has been serving local, seasonal, modern cuisine since the summer of 2006. Our focus is on creative use of fruits and vegetables with an emphasis on preservation. We cultivate strong relationships with local farmers along the way, making it possible to source more than 70 percent of the restaurant's foodstuffs within a 60 mile radius.” 

Seasonality & the Law

With seasonality comes quality, and the latest global food trend is no different. Customers are looking to companies to connect with charities, whilst ensuring staff wages and welfare are humanely handled. Consumers also expect not only better quality food, but better ethical treatment of workers or animals involved in the farm to fork process. The national industry scandal during August earlier this year in Bennet Springs of Perth proved this.

Australia’s federal court ordered one of the country’s largest egg suppliers to pay “penalties totalling $750,000 for making false or misleading representations that its eggs were ‘free range’, in proceedings brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.” Sold under brands such as Wanneroo Free Range, Swan Valley Free Range and Eggs by Ellah, Snowdale Holdings Ltd. cashed in on the ethics of the seasonal trend by actively misleading customers. In a telling press release the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission bureau stated it was the “highest penalty that a Court has ordered in relation to misleading ‘free range’ egg claims”, indicating a national recognition and support of seasonal, ethical farming.

But there’s more to the scandal than a weighty payback fee. The ethical nature of Seasonal Theming is by design an eating trend of substance rather than shallowness. Penalisation on such a grand scale shows a national legal and social support for the food trend; which is restoring communal trust and faith throughout Australia.

In most developed countries, supporting the everyday entrepreneur over a conglomerate corporate business will always be favoured – as we have seen with rise of the independent artisanal caterer. Perhaps this is why pushing the seasonal trend is more than just a whirlwind fad. It inspires every Australian to work towards the common goal of preserving our eco-systems – and ultimately planet – so that future generations can enjoy the earth as more than just a produce chemical experiment garden.

All Change for Aussie Farmers in 2018

With a new style of eating, new opportunities are presented for farmers to grow their methods of supplying. One company, Aussie Farmers Direct of Victoria, has expanded their farming business into a fresh grocery delivery service using the seasonal trend:

“We wanted to give a modern twist to the old fashioned milkman. […] Our business needed to create a shift in generational thinking about the way our food gets on the table. We asked our consumers to take a breath and think about the farmer behind their food. To our delight, customers not only responded but we started a food movement driven by the community’s appetite for positive change.”

And with the attractive motto of “Straight from the farm gate to your dinner plate” it’s easy to see why Strines have embraced the farm turned subscription service. There’s nothing more delightful than a newly delivered batch of organic produce, fresh seafood, or just churned dairy. When food is the only necessity you can fully indulge in on a low wage – having quality produce feels you with pride. Leafy greens that stay as green as they did the first day you bought them? Check. Whole organic chickens which keep for longer and roast better? Yes please.

Our chalkboards are a smart way to communicate new seasonal ideas to customers

How to Get Involved with Seasonality

Involving your restaurant in the Seasonal Theming trend doesn’t have to be difficult. Basing daily, weekly, or even monthly seasonal menu plans around what’s in season can be creatively customised by a Chef. Make light work of including staff and guests with these 10 fun ideas to make your Seasonal Theming standout to customers and shine with staff:

1. Seasonality competitions for customers: engage them with a monthly quiz asking which out of the options provided would they like to see in a dish on the menu in the next month or quarter.

2. Educational engagement: employ a local artist to design a ‘Seasonal Eating & Sustainability’ sheet, and get the little ones involved by teaching them about seasonal foods with colour in sheets.

3. Look local: opportunities for getting involved with the seasonal trend could be closer than you think. Create opportunities by contacting local farmers and suppliers to see areas of wasted stock you could provide a boost to with a new dish.

4. Read, read, and read some more. Developing your personal style when it comes to seasonal cooking can take time and need refining. Read up on existing competition to see what’s already been tried and which flavours you can reinvent.  Seasonal eating advocates Food Wise list a large selection of Chef recipes on their website from the likes of Guy Grossi, Fast Ed and activists including Paul McCartney and Olivia Newton-John.

5. Don’t forget about animals! Whilst many of us think of seasonal eating in terms of fruit and vegetable categories, fish and game have their seasonal merits for meat-eaters.

6. Get PROOF (Pasture Raised on Open Fields) that your suppliers are treating their livestock ethically. In their own words “PROOF is a certification program for pastured eggs, pork, chicken, beef and lamb from animals that have been raised on pasture in open fields” with a strict set of core values which must be adhered to. Their ethical conduct values are also shared with the Codes of Practise for the Welfare of Animals.

7. Bookmark your online resources, or create a visual scrap board to plan out powerful colours and shapes using Pinterest. Good Food and Sustainable Table’s Seasonal Produce Guide are good places to start for your Research & Development stage.  

8. Get kitchen staff involved at every stage by letting them know which ideas you have in the pipeline and opening up the floor to their own ideas.

9. Include waiting staff by taking them through your seasonal menu during closed hours. Allow them to take their time sampling each dish for product knowledge, which will ultimately benefit customers.

10. Promote and refine your seasonal menus by using social media for marketing and feedback. Many customers use social media as a sounding board for their praise or disdain for a restaurant, making it an invaluable source for honest commentary. Use it to help you see what’s working and what customers would like to see less of. 

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