We can anticipate new trends rolling in to the food landscape of Waterloo Region in the near future. Several, in fact, are already here.

Numerous media outlets publish lists of trends early in the new year or late in the previous year. They anticipate changes to the way businesses operate but also reflect consumers and diners looking for something unique in ingredients or food experiences.

The researchers and, yes, marketers, who trade in trends look at the food industry closely for what's new. Technomic, for example, analyzes hundreds of menus across the country and charts out individual trends and summarizes them in more general terms.

"The rapid adoption of new technologies, the ability to get exactly what you want when and where you want it and the evolving attitudes toward health are nudging restaurants to offer enhanced services like delivery and chatbot ordering, while at the same time creating emphasis on plant-based dining in the in-restaurant entertainment experience," said Aaron Jourden, managing editor at Technomic.

Here are a number of trends we can expect:

Technology: skip going to the restaurant

Already at work across the industry, third-party delivery companies like Skip the Dishes, Just Eat and Uber Eats in some Canadian cities have become favourites. For millennials (those born between 1980 to 2000), upwards of  60 per cent say in polls that they use mobile app-based platforms to order food.

Why? Because as Technomic points out, conventional meal times for breakfast, lunch and dinner are slowly falling by the wayside. Not only are people's taste in food changing (wanting to indulge in Korean food, for instance), but when, where and how they will eat. Delivery, rather than heading out to a restaurant, helps them control that.

farmers' market

More people are incorporating vegetables in their diets and some provinces are considering a meat tax. (Dean Fosdick/Associated Press)

Plants at the centre of the plate

More and more often, consumers are putting vegetables and plant-based proteins at the centre of their plate — it's a combination of dietary preferences and concerns for both the environment and animal welfare. You can see more robust vegetarian — and vegan — offerings at a wide range of restaurants.

While it may not qualify as a trend per se, how red meat is being perceived is interesting too. A number of jurisdictions are contemplating a meat tax (like in Germany and Scandinavian countries, for instance) in response to the concerns noted above.

On the other side of the coin, the initiative to manufacture (can we say "grow?") meat in a laboratory continues to grow itself. While more of a long-range trend, the process is gaining momentum and funding. According to Food in Canada, advanced cell-culture technology with poultry creates chicken without mass production and slaughter, less animal waste and reduced carbon emissions. Costs are purportedly to be in the current range for chicken.

Rich Francis

Rich Francis prepares a salmon for a dish inspired by what his grandmother used to feed him for breakfast. His cooking includes both contemporary and traditional Indigenous dishes and methods. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

First Nations foods

A number of First Nations chefs are drawing attention to Indigenous cuisine, which is expected to gain more attention moving forward. This past fall, chef Rich Francis, from Six Nations of the Grand River between Cambridge and Hagersville, prepared a main course dish of elk ossobuco at a Waterloo Region food event where the focus was on Canadian cuisine. He operates Seventh Fire Modern Indigenous Cuisine  —  but he doesn't agree with the word "trend." 

"It's not something you can all of a sudden latch onto," Francis says. "It has to be a way of life."

"As an Indigenous chef, this has become something more now. If we're going to look at Indigenous food today, it tells the story of where we've been [and] a story of survival. We're now trying to find our culinary identity outside of colonization."

Snakes & Lattes

Snakes & Lattes is a board-game cafe with two locations in Toronto. (Facebook/Snakes & Lattes)

Playing with your food

A trend very much at play, if you will pardon the pun, is fun with food that has been dubbed "eater-tainment," by researchers such as Technomic. Concurrent with the disruptions of technology and the shifting times and locations for dining are restaurants offering more than just food as a new incentive for encouraging customers to stay longer — and buy more.

There are about a half-dozen locations in Waterloo Region and Wellington County that offer the nostalgia of old-school games like ping pong and board games, along with new video games, roleplay games and escape rooms with food and drinks. These places include Adventurers' Guild Café, Crossroads Board Game Café and The Round Table, to name a few.

Overarching all these new upcoming trends, it will be interesting to watch how the increase in minimum wage over the next couple of years will impact the food and beverage industry.