Food Trends & The Gastronomic Experience

In search of the zeitgeist of our urban society, we come across an agglomeration of wishes, longings and possibilities. The inherent essence of these can be described best with “experience”. 24/7, the modern human being is living in an ever more complex world. We are constantly “on” and neither work and leisure nor the many different roles we have during the day can be sharply separated from each other. In this all-embracing complexity there is one limiting factor: time – free time, to be precise. The scarcer our free time is, all the more important becomes the choice of how we want to perfectly spend that time. In this a shared ambition unites us: we want to fill our free time with life-enriching “memorable experiences”. If time is the currency of the future, then experience is the ultimate future investment. Thus, the recipe for successful concepts is: more experience, please! Whether it’s theme parks, zoos, new work spaces or shopping malls, the profile and attractivity of a location are defined by its experience value. 
That of course also holds for food and gastronomy concepts where the experience factor and integration in an overall and holistic experience are convincing; or not convincing. How come? To answer this question, we have to devote ourselves to food in general – meaning groceries and nutrition – and we have to look at the status quo of food and gastronomy concepts in detail. First and foremost, eating is a basic need. We have to eat every day. But eating doesn’t mean just to eat. The manner, what and how we eat is crucial in defining our well-being. “Tell me what you eat and I will tell what you are.”, by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, in Psychology of Taste, is relevant as ever.

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How does our lifestyle change the gastronomic offers?

Eating is a lifestyle and trend topic and mindfulness is on everyone’s lips. That can be taken literally when it comes to food and nutrition habits. We are worried about quality and whether organic is really organic or if we should rather purchase our goods at a biodynamic farm. We argue about origin, regionality or super foods from all over the globe. We are advocates of craft products, slow or raw food. We are on dieting, are intolerant against foodstuff or even have a food allergy. We support our health with ayurveda nutrition and elements from TCM or even have a tailored nutrition concept matching our phenotype. Food combining, vegetarian, vegan and paleo food, detox or free from carbs, lactose and gluten are important to us. Food trends are the thing. Each food trend is accompanied by a certain style to celebrate these nutrition preferences. Our society is living a food diversity and the market addresses the wishes and needs of many different user types. Food trends are constantly changing, intolerances no longer mean limitations and detailedly differentiated eating habits create new products and new gastronomic offers.

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How does the execution of innovative concepts look?

f you savor that slowly and keep it in mind during your next stroll through an ordinary shopping mall or on the high street, then you need to ask yourself if you went back in time. Here, the many innovative food trends are a rare sight. In times where you can even find vegan products at the discounter and great restaurant formats that won the hearts of the vegan or vegetarian communities, traditional retail destinations don’t offer something comparable. Aside from that, there are craft burger joints, bakery manufactures or concepts that are tailored to customer needs like the adidas runbase in Berlin that specifically addresses athletes. In addition, there are brand new formats that are based on food on demand like e.g. the Data Kitchen in Berlin which builds on the integration of digital services in the ordering, delivery and paying processes.
Traditional retail destinations are a different thing. Here, the conventional food courts are ruling, and the big fast food chains are lined up in a row. But to be honest: Do food courts still meet customer needs? Especially in shopping malls, being thirsty and hungry is stressful. It often means to walk for another kilometre to arrive at the food court where long queues are waiting and fights for vacant seats have to be won before allaying the needs. Noise, complexity, dazzling light, bad air, aggressive music or bad acoustics in these zones are stress factors that take our energy. At this point, it’s recommendable to look at the dramaturgy of international theme parks that integrate natural places of rest and relaxation and for restaurants or takeaways where the visitors need them along their customer journey – and not condensed at the very end of it. Hannover Zoo with its Yukon Bay themed park or the Europapark in Rust are but two best cases to mention here. Small innovative pop-ups with benches and situated between the stores are of course useful means. But this is only the beginning.

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Which factors shape the gastronomic experience?

In gastronomy, there is huge potential for more experience and relish. New concepts are needed. Market halls and weekly markets like the Time Out Market, street food formats like the Kantini at Bikini Berlin or highly hybrid and mixed-use concept stores like the Marc O’Polo Strandcasino on the island of Usedom can be answers. And even the smallest retailer can score high with a great coffee machine and barista qualities. With a good coffee, one cannot only philosophise on the right temperature, grinder and degree of roasting. At the same time something great is happening: The customers relax, refuel, get involved with their surroundings and take their time to enjoy the moment. And it’s known that a longer duration of stay leads to more revenue. Time is the new currency. Who came to understand that takes care of customers enjoying a good time. The advantage of investing in gastronomy is that we have to eat every day. Thus, food increases frequency. That holds all the more when the dishes offer new inspiration at each visit. If we assume that patrons pose an important factor in the success of a centre, then food offers from breakfast over lunch to dinner – in the best case – create incentives for return. Here, the question arises if the integration of diversity and single traders is worth the extra effort and expense or if you should rather rely on a commercial kitchen and gastronomy outsourcing. Outsourcing simply means that there is no coherent dramaturgy or rather, that you have no influence and flexibility when it comes to adjusting the concept. With an owned gastronomy, a holistic, individualised and independent offer can be created.

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So, what’s the key take-away?

Today, gastronomy and food must not be mere add-ons in shopping malls and retail destinations because they are subtly defining the value of the overall experience. Foodstuff essentially defines how we feel. When the gastronomic experience was negative then it is likely that the overall experience will be evaluated negatively as well. In addition to a well-curated gastronomic offer, architecture and design of the gastro spaces have to be considered, too. Space as the location for all senses should be energising, relaxing and community fostering. People are longing for an oasis. They want to be enriched energetically and leave relaxed after dining. The hyper individualisation will for sure bloom exciting (retail) gastronomy concepts: e.g. a ramen restaurant where you have no interaction with other people and can have your food in an own booth or the growing market of food vendors for detox cures, organic boxes and lunch on demand. There is no limit to imagination. The key take-away in one sentence is: Be Bold with Food!

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Nicole srock.stanley

… is an expert in the areas of retail, leisure industry and destination development. As the founder of the dan pearlman Group based in Berlin, she has created experience destinations for more than 20 years. Her expertise makes her a renowned consultant for retail brands, shopping centers, startups, medium-sized companies and international corporations.

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