Mushrooms can help achieve umami in meatless meals.
Photo: olhaafanasieva | Adobe Stock

How will people eat in 2019? As a produce grower, I suspect this is one of the most important questions you ask when you plan for the New Year. There are many fascinating trends brewing in the world of food right now, and all of them are good news for you as produce growers. I’ve cherry-picked a few top trends for 2019 that could have a positive impact on your businesses.

Manly meatlessness

Yes, you read that right. Plant-based eating is surging in popularity, but letting go of meat seems particularly hard for you fellas. Meat-eating and manliness are emotionally intertwined in our American culture — but that’s changing. There’s a big push, especially across social media, to showcase vegetarian and vegan eating as an authentically masculine option. “Manly Meatless Mondays” are a thing now. Seriously. Chefs, bloggers and brothers Derek and Chad Sarno, founders of the plant-based food blog Wicked Healthy, are dishing out recipes that ditch the meat for produce-based alternatives with “meaty” flavors. Working with food company TESCO, Derek Sarno is also working to develop many such pre-made vegetarian dishes. Manly veggie meals are marketed as robust and filling. So there you go — marketing produce to men is on the upswing.

Umami

A big part of creating vegetarian or vegan meals with a meaty flavor is umami, which is in with chefs right now. Umami, a pleasant savory flavor often associated with cooked meats, is one of the five basic tastes. How do you achieve umami in meatless meals? Mushrooms. Lots of mushrooms. Mushrooms, and not just your basic ’shrooms, are gaining popularity with chefs and growers. Home cooks are also starting to get a bit more adventurous with mushrooms they’ve never eaten or seen before. Growing mushrooms can be quite profitable if you can create the right growing conditions. Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms currently fetch about $10-15 a pound retail.

Swap it

Along with a rise in plant-based diets is the “swap-it” trend; think swapping flour for cauliflower when making your pizza crust — or ricing your cauliflower in place of real rice. Swapping out the bun for lettuce on your burger. These days you can often order your meat burgers protein-style, which is code for no bread but swap it for lettuce. Heck, I live in meat-central Texas and now at traditional Tex-Mex joints I can even order vegetarian avocado wraps, wrapped in lettuce instead of tortillas (complete with avocado slices, jicama, carrots, and cilantro — no filling tortillas — brilliant!). Think about opportunities you have with your packaging to offer up swap-it suggestions. Someone should breed a compact, yet dense variety of romaine lettuce that can stand up to a meat patty (or whatever other sandwich filling you want) and call it “Hold the Bun.” You’re welcome.

Floral & herbal flavors

Edible flowers aren’t just the garnish anymore — they’re being featured as the foundational flavor of many food items. Flower flavors of lavender, rose and elderflower look to feature heaviest as primary flavors in all sorts of foods, such as yogurt, soft drinks, cookies and ice cream, and, of course, cocktails. Look for pungent herbs such as lemongrass and rosemary to also see an uptick in popularity.

Consumers are also drinking more tea, and experimenting with making their own tea, both from the real tea plant (Camellia sinensis) and other plants for herbal teas. If we’re selling prepackaged fresh herb cuts for cooking, why not consider doing the same marketed for steeping in fresh homemade teas?

Grow wet

Hydroponically grown produce is seeing a big push. This coincides with a big influx of ever-evolving grow lighting technology that’s helping greenhouse growers produce more food under glass. Salad greens and herbs are of course most predominant, but fruiting crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries grown hydroponically are on the rise and quality is improving; as is consumer perception of hydroponically grown produce.

Shrink it

The popularity of mini-fruits and veggies isn’t slowing down. Patio-sized edible plants have been gaining momentum in the gardening world for the past several years. More home gardeners are also looking for compact varieties they can grow indoors. Smaller fruits have come with the compact plant varieties and these snack-sized edibles are becoming more popular in the grocery store. Mini-everything is in, from tiny, berry-sized tomatoes to mini peppers, cucumbers and other melons. For me, there’s an added benefit to buying smaller fruits and vegetables — I waste less when I cook. Smaller fruits make it easier for me to use just what I need for salads, garnishes, or cooking for two, without having to throw out the leftovers I forgot in the fridge.

Shout it

No matter what produce you grow and sell, if you’re doing it silently you’re probably missing out on market voice and market share. These days, food consumers want to know the story behind the produce they buy, and where and how it was grown. Get a little personal about what you do and how you do it. Don’t be shy to share your passion for produce — now or in the New Year!

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com