By Romsanne R. Ortiguero

The emergence of different food concepts every now and then as well as the Philippines’ hosting of international food events such as the World Street Food Congress and the prestigious Madrid Fusion Manila are a testament of how Filipinos are always on the lookout for new flavors and novel gustatory experience.

Players in the food and beverage (F&B) industry take up the challenge to feed the insatiable appetite of Filipinos for fresh offerings through keeping up with trends, which change constantly and quickly.

Adolf Aran, Jr., president and chief executive officer of Courage Asia, a management consulting firm focusing on food service; and Liza Hernandez-Morales, director for business development and public relations of the Center for Culinary Arts, Manila, shared their thoughts on the food trends for 2018 in an interview with BusinessWorld.

Mr. Aran and Ms. Morales said that there is a growing interest for heritage cuisine or traditional dishes like the pyanggang of the Tausugs, the kinalas from Bicol, pancit batil patong of the Ibanags. Along with this, according to Mr. Aran, is an ongoing rediscovery of local ingredients such as adlai (a type of grain often used as a substitute for rice) and batwan (local souring agent).

“We have this generation of really innovative chefs like JP Anglo and Jordy Navarra, among others. They do respect Filipino heritage cuisine but they innovate, they play with it; make it relevant, contemporary, and exciting without losing sight of the soul of the food,” she said.

As Filipinos continue to explore the world, there is also a demand for new flavors apart from cuisines such as Japanese and Italian that are already familiar to the local palate.

“I see Peruvian and even some African flavors that are coming out now. Traveling and appreciation for different cuisines go hand in hand. We continue to be more sophisticated as a people in terms of taste, flavor, and interest,” Ms. Morales shared.

Ms. Morales also noted that Filipinos are getting busier, thus, are eating out more often than before. Add the worsening traffic, the demand for on-the-go food or food delivery will further increase. While Filipinos will opt for quicker food options, they will also look for healthier options. Echoing the latter point, Mr. Aran said that healthier substitutes such as cauliflower rice will be a trend this year.

On the other hand, restaurants with unlimited rice and eat-all-you-can concepts will continue to cater to a market who wants the “busog” ( feeling full) factor. However, as Mr. Aran continued, there will also be a market segment willing to go beyond buffets and will look for more value in terms of add-ons instead of discounts, who will look for completeness of meals (with portions of carbohydrates, proteins, beverage, and desserts) and real alternatives to bigger portion sizes.

Proudly home-grown concepts will also continue to be visible this year, according to Mr. Aran. “Because of food parks and a deluge of culinary arts graduates, we continue to see an influx of new concepts. The availability of locations from all over such as malls, high-traffic communities, and office buildings give rise to both new players and old players testing new concepts.”

Along with these, foreign players will actively be in the scene as well. Mr. Aran shared, “In the Japanese segment alone, there are more than 10 new concepts that opened in 2017, such as Kazunori, Hibana, Kyo-to, Ikomai, and Tsujiri. Popeye’s and Shake Shack from the U.S. found some local partners who will help them expand in the Philippine shores.”

Inspired by the continuing acquisitions being done by Jollibee and the Max’s Group, mergers and acquisitions as a strategy will continue to be a viable way to expand one’s food business, noted Mr. Aran.

Meanwhile, as a tip to those in the fast-paced Food and Beverage industry, Ms. Morales and Mr. Aran underscored that it is important to know your market well.

“Nowadays, good food, great service, and great ambience are already a given. Therefore, gone are the days when ‘It’s the sauce handed down from one generation to another’ that will make or break a food business. One needs to tap into a specific market segment. One needs to have a deeper understanding of the target market that it serves and immediately act on them. Demise and casualties happen because of the speed of its decisions, more often than not,” Mr. Aran said.

Treating your employees right can mean a lot on the food business, too. Mr. Aran pointed out that food entrepreneurs have to realize that the food business is still a “people business,” and establishing a basic code of conduct, healthy working environment, and a positive culture will allow employees to serve their guests better.

Lastly, Mr. Aran said a good food concept should be a breathing dynamic concept. “Once you have a good concept, continue to tweak it until it becomes your own concept, transformed after a period of character building and many months or even years of menu innovation, marketing strategy, and people empowerment.”