What are the food trends at pubs for autumn and winter?

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Taste trend alert: Asian street food burger fusion

Americana​ brand new research reveals that 86% of consumers think Asian flavours could be the next big flavour in street food and burgers, inspiring vendors to spice up their menus and capitalise on this growing taste trend.

33% of consumers purchase street food at least once a week, and 35% order a burger out of home once a week or more. Almost half of respondents say that the opportunity to enjoy Asian flavours would inspire them to choose a street food burger.

Samantha Winsor, Americana marketing manager, comments: “Our reports show growth within the dining out sector. This is driven by branded chain outlets catering to consumers looking for a quick and cheap refuel menu option, or a pricier but value driven indulgent meal.

“Outlets that offer a classic but quality burger menu will reduce operational pressures in the kitchen and cut food waste. Then add on-trend, indulgent seasonal or LTO burger options to provide excitement to appeal to consumers looking to indulge and willing to pay a higher price.

“Our new research results match the most desirable Asian street food fillings with the perfect Americana gourmet buns in easy recipe solutions.”

Korean Fried Chicken is the preferred Asian-inspired street food burger recipe; Chinese Pulled Pork is second, followed by Katsu Curry. Sweet chilli, Korean BBQ and Teriyaki are the top Asian flavours when purchasing street food. Consumers agreed that Asian street food tastes delicious, flavours are bold, and there is a great variety of dishes.

On average a consumer would spend £9.97 on a street food burger and £11.82 on a street food meal. This shows that when purchasing a street food burger, consumers are looking for quality and value.

Feeling inspired? Check out Americana’s new Asian inspired burger recipes below and visit our campaign page here​.

The research was conducted by Opeepl on behalf of Americana, July 2023 and followed a study of 500 diners from across the UK and all demographics.

But our wardrobes aren’t the only things changing for autumn/winter 2023; pub menus are being modified and dishes tweaked to incorporate the new season’s ingredients, satisfy changing appetites and give customers a reason to return.

And there is an added impetus to make adjustments to menus as the temperature gauge drops, says Scott Dixon, managing director at The Flava People.

“In a competitive landscape coupled with seemingly continuously rising costs and ongoing staff shortages both front and back of house, pub owners face the challenge of trying to stand out from the crowd.”

Despite these pressures, there is still appetite for eating out, so how can pub chefs create a collection that will draw in and delight diners while also maximising profits this autumn and beyond?

The Wigmore Toastie

The Wigmore toastie

To help give a steer, chefs and suppliers tell us what’s in vogue on menus and provide some practical advice on how to tap into the hottest food trends this season.

Comforting classics with a twist

The high energy and food costs giving publicans sleepless nights are also causing pain to consumers who consequently have less disposable income. They’re spending an average of 87p less per month on eating and drinking out than they spent last year according to recent research by CGA Strategy for its Food Insights 2023 Report​.  

As punters watch the pennies, it’s unsurprising that value for money was cited as the top decision-making factor among those responding to the same survey, with quality remaining a key driver. It’s also a known fact that in times of hardship, people revert to what they know, so now is the time for pub chefs to hero classic dishes, not engage in wild experimentation.  

‘Nostalgic and comfort food’ is what consumers want in turbulent times, says Karl Watts, food support manager at Star Pubs & Bars. He suggests ‘a return to hearty food associated with school days’, particularly stodgier puddings like jam & coconut sponge and sticky toffee pudding.

For mains, Watts recommends ‘variations on Yorkshire puddings’ to offer the comfort-factor while providing a point of difference. Examples include filling an oversized Yorkshire pudding with a warming stew, or opening out a giant version and using it as a wrap for meat and other fillings.

The cheese toastie is arguably the ultimate comfort food, which might be one reason why the XXL Stovetop Three Cheese and Mustard Toastie flies out of the kitchen of London pub, the Wigmore.

Berwyn Davies, executive chef at The Langham London, which houses the Wigmore, says its trademark toasted sandwich, measuring over a foot long and sliced for serving, is a perennial favourite with guests.

“The toastie is a best-seller no matter what time of the year,” he says. “We might change it and give it a bit of a twist – maybe use blue cheese around Christmas time – but everyone prefers the original. They like to know what they’re getting.”

Further tapping into the comfort food with a twist trend on the Wigmore’s snack menu are Masala Spiced Scotch Eggs with Dahl Relish; Buttered Crumpets with Steamed Cock Crab and Fat Chips with Bloody Mary salt.

“The crumpets are comforting but have that bit of luxury with the crab and everyone loves chips, especially with beer. We give ours that little twist with the Bloody Mary salt. It’s good for drinking and drives beer sales,” adds Davies.  

George Tatlow, head of NPD at Wrights, part of The Compleat Food Group, notes an uptick in the number of pub operators ‘looking to tap into consumers’ desire for nostalgic comfort food favourites’, highlighting increasing interest in its rib-sticking suet puddings alongside traditional pies.

“Similar to pie, suet pudding is an inexpensive, plate-filling food solution that can be easily adapted to premiumise your menu this winter,” he adds, suggesting some simple swaps such as stout to replace ale in the classic steak and ale filling.

Pies have proved so popular with the team and diners at Honeycomb Houses pubs, they’ve now been given their own section on the menu.

Three new pies – duck, which is made from confit duck leg and pearl barley and topped with cheddar mashed potato; Devon blue cheese and steak and a vegan-friendly chestnut and wild mushroom – make up this autumn’s collection, explains Honeycomb Houses head of food, Ken Umasanthiram.

star Fun Faire pudding Wright's balti pie

Star Pubs & Bars’ fun faire pudding and Wright’s balti pie

The pies – served with root vegetable mash and broccoli – are twists on classic comfort food, but ultimately, they (as do all dishes on its menu) have been designed to provide their customers with value for money, he adds.

“As we head into the colder months, we want people to come out and eat great food and feel that whatever they spend, whether it’s £30 or £90, they feel they’ve received value for money. The key point is they leave the table feeling full and knowing that their money has been well spent.”

The all-inclusive menu

It’s a long time since we started calling plant-based and vegan an emerging trend in the food world and today the vast majority of food-led pubs have options on the menu for those who choose not to eat meat or animal products.

What is new in the world of all things non-meat and fish, however, is the move towards an inclusivity mindset. This shift means that dishes suitable for vegans and vegetarians are now considered integral to a menu rather than an afterthought to appease the non-meat eaters. 

“it’s about having something on the menu that anyone can eat, isn’t it?” affirms Jamie Barnett, head chef at the Castle Inn in Castle Combe where the bread, and batter for fish and chips, are also gluten-free by default.

Barnett and his team change the Cotswolds pub’s menu daily. What doesn’t change is the ratio of meat, fish and vegan dishes on the menu. There are two of each. And the level of care taken with produce – whether it’s beetroot, or belly of pork – is the same.

Being blessed with access to some ‘amazing’ suppliers helps, admits Barnett, but there’s no doubt this approach to preparing and presenting vegan dishes contributes to their success and is why he’s seeing them increasingly being ordered by both vegans and meat-eaters.

One example – Satay of Bromham Cauliflower, Chilli Pak Choi & Cucumber, Toasted Peanuts & Coriander – has returned to the menu this autumn and ‘flies out’ of the kitchen.

“It’s just phenomenal, it tastes very good,” enthuses Barnett. “It’s not highly original, it’s just really tasty and done very well. We have a local farm here in Bromham, and they produce the most amazing cauliflower. It’s big, bright, white and creamy, so we use it instead of meat.”

Like Barnett, Umasanthiram of Honeycomb Houses has seen growing interest in meat-free dishes. He notes the pub group’s vegan version of the King Prawn Paella (pictured below) is more popular than the original seafood version.

Julie Stevens, head of marketing UK & Ireland at Mission Foods has noticed pub and bar menus reflecting the increasing popularity of plant-based options and expects it to continue ‘as consumers seek out meals including more plants.’ For pubs looking for simple ways to introduce more plants, Stevens suggests topping Mission Foods’ flatbreads or naans with ‘flavoursome, seasonal toppings, like spiced Butternut Squash’.

Watts of Star Pubs & Bars predicts that the trend of putting vegetables centre plate ‘with bold flavours and innovative cooking methods keeping them fresh’ will maintain momentum this autumn and winter, particularly as the price of plant-based meat alternatives continues to rise.

And with Veganuary on the horizon, there’s even more reason to put vegetables centre stage, says Samantha Winsor of Americana: “Pubs shouldn’t shy away from offering a range of plant-based dishes on their menus all year round, and especially in January when there is a natural spike in interest,” she adds.

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Snacks ideal for drink pairing

Snacks represent an excellent commercial opportunity for pubs, encouraging consumers to increase spend. While snacks won’t replace meal occasions, they offer pubs the opportunity to trade up for drinks-only visits, with 56% of customers saying they like to consume savoury snacks with an alcoholic drink1​.

52% of customers purchase snacks on impulse2​ so pubs and bars should be ready to capitalise on this by stocking a range of snacks and displaying these prominently.

As trends towards more cautious spending continue, it’s important to stock brands that consumers trust and recognise. KP Snacks offers a broad and flavoursome portfolio of popular snacks to help bars gain sales. From tasty nuts, perfect when paired with a cold beer, to premium crisps KP Snacks has something for everyone and all occasions.

At KP Snacks we have one of the most versatile portfolios on the market, from our best-selling KP Nuts, perfect when paired with a beer to Tyrrells, our award-winning premium hand cooked English crisps, a great accompaniment with a glass of wine.

Pubs and bars can maximise snacks sales by following a few simple tips:

  • Credibility: Stock a range of best-selling snacks and NPD to meet all your customer needs
  • Availability: Ensure your range is always available to purchase
  • Visibility: Position your snacks with high visibility to drive sales

Visit https://www.kpsnacks.com/​ for more details.

1​ Mintel, Crisps, Savoury Snacks and Nuts, UK, Feb 2020

2​ CGA Pub snacking habits survey April 2020

The light touch

Comfort food may be all the rage, but that it’s not the only movement in pub food this autumn and winter. Paradoxically, lighter, healthier and lower calorie dishes are also the ones to watch.

Battered fish served with chips is a pub classic, but increasingly diners are ignoring the crispy high-calorie version and opting for fish cooked in other ways.

“We’ve seen huge popularity for fish and seafood-based foods such as fish tacos, prawn skewers, fish curries, chowders, stews and soups,” says Tasneem Alonzo joint managing director of Lähde brand by EHL Ingredients which sells a range of spice rubs, marinades and seasoning.

Barnett at the Castle Inn notes growing interest in its fish dishes. This winter he aims to serve more on the bone to appeal to discerning foodies.

While fish and seafood features in a range of cuisines, these types of foods are perceived to healthier than meat, adds Alonzo, which may be one reason for growing interest. Health is certainly a growth area. According to CGA Strategy’s Food Insights 2023 Report​, 64% of 18 to 34-year-olds think it’s important to know the nutritional content of their meals.

The Wigmore in London doesn’t serve battered fish and chips, mainly because the kitchen doesn’t have the space ‘to do it well as the chippie,’ explains Davies. However, fish is very much on the menu, and has become a popular choice with diners.

The summer fish dish – Roast sea bass, coco bean, hen of the wood, gremolata – which is just 330 calories, has been replaced by a cod dish as we move into the colder months. And Davies is confident it will be another popular choice.

“Over this past year, we’ve definitely sold more fish dishes,” he enthuses. “Everyone is more health conscious these days and they see fish as a healthier option.”

Aside from fish, Davies notes interest in lighter dishes like salad, which remains on the menu all year round. And small plates continue to be popular with customers at Stars Pubs & Bars’ Just Add Talent pubs, says Watts.

“The trend for informal dining shows no sign of abating as sharing foods, grazing boards, hand-held bites, small plates and casual concepts drive dining experiences,” adds Alonzo of EHL Ingredients, suggesting dishes like cauliflower pakoras and halloumi fries that can be shared or eaten as a light bite.

Serious snacks

Snacks are synonymous with pubs and while the sight of a packet of crisps or nuts behind the bar isn’t new, the serious consideration now being taken over these small eats by pubs, is.  

Snacks are being souped up and shoved into the spotlight. Honeycomb Houses has added a new section dedicated to them on menus at its eight pubs. Titled ‘nibbles’ and featuring four snacks – olives, hummus and flatbreads, rosemary and potato sourdough with butter and a chorizo Scotch egg – the section is designed to accompany drinks, be enjoyed instead of, or as well as, a starter. 

“By introducing the nibbles section, we gave diners more options. You might not want to have a whole starter on your own, but you might share a nibble between two of you,” says Umasanthiram.

The strategy is not only providing diners with wider options, it’s boosting sales.

“What we’ve seen is people ordering nibbles, then starters, then mains, then desserts, which has been great,” says Umasnathiram. “It shows that if you put it there in front of them, it becomes the norm.”

The Wigmore has taken a different route, its menu doesn’t offer any starters – instead it has six substantial snacks – including the aforementioned XXL stovetop toastie, crumpets and a plant-based dish – mains and desserts.  

“We’ve always had snacks and mains. The way we phrase it on our menu is that mains are an option. Some might have two or three snacks and that’s it,” says Davies.

This strategy of not enforcing a traditional style menu in the pub, also has tangible benefits for the business, Davies claims. He says it puts less pressure on the kitchen and, as snacks are more substantial, customers perceive them to be value for money.

Matt Collins, trading director at KP Snacks, advises all pubs have a core range of snacks available to help boost sales and crucially make them visible – whether behind the bar, or on a menu.

“Bagged snacks represent a critical opportunity for pubs and bars to drive their sales, increasing spend and tempting customers on drinks-only visits to trade up,” he says, adding that a CGA Pub snacking habits survey reveals that 52% of customers purchase snacks on impulse.

“Pubs and bars can turn these impulse opportunities into incremental sales by stocking a range of best-selling snacks that are recognisable and trusted.”

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