Street food demand no longer pedestrian

by Bryan Salvage
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NEW YORK – For the past two years, U.S. “street food” has been reinvented and reinterpreted to reflect the changing ways Americans eat. This renaissance will likely influence and reinforce new consumer eating habits for years to come, predicts the Street Food: Culinary Trend Mapping Report from the Center for Culinary Development (C.C.D.) and Packaged Facts.

The study said expect to see more small plate snacking, more food products sourced and prepared in eco-minded ways and flavorful global food -- all fast, fun and handy.

Packaged Facts relays the street-food explosion can be seen as a confluence of larger social trends, including the economic downturn, consumers' consequent need for more affordable food, the growing consumer snacking habit, a desire for global flavor adventure and interest in local, sustainable foods.

Consumer attitudes about street food is changing for the better. Enticed by the convenience and affordability of street food, along with its often gourmet flavors and forms, consumers are visiting local lunch stands for fast but satisfying meals, as well as enjoying new low-cost global street food-inspired restaurants.

"Street food is changing the conversation around food by creating new, vibrant and diverse communities socially connected by a shared interest in a new way of eating,” said Kimberly Egan, C.C.D. chief executive officer. “At various turns, it is highbrow meets lowbrow, local and eco-friendly, socially conscious and globally diverse. Street foods provide another avenue for consumers to explore new flavor adventures at an accessible value."

Three major forces are driving the seven core street-food trends C.C.D. identified:

• Going gourmet -- While fine-dining chefs are serving upgraded street food in restaurants or creating their own carts and trucks, new foodie entrepreneurs are making specialized, high-quality cuisine available on-the-go. Hot dogs are also getting a boost from better quality meat and a more diverse assortment of toppings, many with global roots.

• Globalization – Street food is a global staple going local. Roman Porchetta, or stuffed and pork belly-wrapped pork roast, has become a popular choice for sandwiches and entrées at small cafés, independent restaurants and farmers markets. Indian Wraps and Chaat (portable snacks) are being featured in independent fast-casual eateries nationwide, fusing Indian flavors and familiar handheld forms to put a new spin on traditional Indian fare. New Antojitos, or masa-based Latin street foods -- the Venezuelan arepa, the Salvadoran pupusa and the Mexican huarache -- combine convenience with flavor exploration and novel forms.

• Street-food fusion – The street-food category has become a place of fusion, whether it's applying eco-minded virtues, such as organic, sustainable and locally sourced ingredients and Earth-friendly vehicles to classic street foods like falafel, or having home cooks fuse favorite global flavors and forms, like satay, crepes and tacos, with more American ingredients and occasions.

Accessibility, bold flavors, variety, affordability, sometimes better health and inherent portability are keys to successful trend translation into new strategic business opportunities for food marketers and others seeking to capitalize on this trend.

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