Appetizers are Making a Comeback

Larger social gatherings at home spur growth.

Bob Johnson

Appetizers are coming back.

In most, but not all, the country many people remain reluctant to dine out for either economic reasons or to maintain safe social distance, but the trend is toward relatively larger social gatherings as COVID fears moderate.

“People are entertaining more and having larger gatherings at home,” says Karen Toufayan, sales and marketing manager at Toufayan Bakeries, Ridgefield, NJ. 

The Toufayan family began making flatbreads, pitas and bagels at its flagship bakery in New Jersey back in 1926. A century later, the company, still family-owned and operated, has opened additional bakeries in Orlando and Plant City, FL, and Toufayan has also expanded its product line to include gluten free wraps and Keto pita, flatbread and wraps.

Appetizers suit these larger gatherings, and foodservice distribution giant US Foods sees that as an opportunity for retailers to invite consumers to experiment on a small scale. 

“Chefs often use appetizers to test out greater menu changes—and diners are willing to take more chances with them because they are a smaller commitment than a main entrée. Smaller portions also mean that strongly flavored or premium ingredients can star,” the company says in announcing its Ten of the Latest Appetizer Trends. “Starters are a perfect fit with today’s most important lifestyle trends: downsizing of portions and prices; sharing and sampling; and on-the-go eating. If you want to create a standout menu, consider wowing your customers with your appetizer selections.”

The Re-emergence

Appetizers are making a comeback as we continue to eat at home but our get togethers for special occasions are expanding to include more people than just the immediate household.

“Better for you is trending, and pita is healthy,” Toufayan says. “You can use Keto wraps or pita with your Keto dips,”

Little mini pita chips serve as carriers of healthy dips or spreads to serve as appetizers, and pita wraps can be used to make trays of mini sandwiches. 

Because we resumed celebrating holidays, sales of deli trays increased 34.4% year over year in the 12 weeks ending on Jan. 23, 2022, according to statistics compiled in the Madison, WI-based International Deli Dairy Bakery Association’s (IDDBA) What’s in Store 2022. Party tray sales increased by 31.6%. 

“As of the fall of 2021, holiday and special occasion celebrations have resumed, fueling in-store bakery, deli entertaining and deli-prepared item sales,” according to What’s in Store

Citing Bureau of Labor Statistics Data, What’s in Store also concludes consumers increased their spending on food by 7% in the year ending January 2022 and an even greater 7.4% on foods eaten at home. 

Expenditures on olives, pickles and relishes increased by 6.7% in the year ending in January 2022, according to What’s in Store

While DeLallo Foods of Mt. Pleasant, PA, offers olives and antipasti in bulk for the olive bar, the company still produces a variety of jars introduced during the pandemic including pitted olives jubilee; Italian olive medley; garlic and blue cheese stuffed olives; kalamata olives; almond and  jalapeño stuffed olives; grilled or marinated artichokes; and portabella mushrooms and red peppers. 

“Holiday and special occasion celebrations were smaller and often limited to the immediate household,” according to What’s in Store. “This severely impacted items tied to entertaining and celebrations, such as platters, trays and cakes. Baked goods moved from sheet cakes to cupcakes, the 24-pack was downsized and trays became smaller.”

“We’re looking forward to 2024,” says Joan MacIssac, founder of Effie’s Homemade, headquartered in Dorchester, MA. “We’re seeing a lot of gifts being put together like cheese trays and entertainment packages.”

Effie’s Homemade offers almond, cocoa, corn, ginger, oatcake, pecan, rye and walnut biscuits. 

The company traces its roots back to the Canadian countryside, where MacIssac’s mother Effie Maclellan learned biscuit recipes. The company began after Maclellan brought a farmhouse oatcake biscuit recipe from Nova Scotia to Dorchester, MA. 

Effie’s offers suggested pairings for these many flavored biscuits on its website. Recommendations include oatcake biscuits with iced coffee or cheddar cheese, chocolate with peppermint, and la tur cheese with pinot cherries. Its cocoa biscuit pairs nicely with mascarpone, yogurt, chevre ricotta, or triple crème goat cheese. And the walnut biscuit goes well with mascarpone, cheddar or aged Gouda. 

“We are a natural complement to items like cheeses and charcuterie,” MacIssac says. ‘We make crackers; we make a biscuit.” 

Healthy & Plant-based

The pandemic accelerated the recent trend toward heathier food items, like lower carb flatbreads and plant-based dips and plant-based spreads and dips like salsas and guacamole. 

Menlo Park, CA.-based Curation Foods takes pride in its plant-based foods. 

“Curation Foods provides fresh, plant-based products with 100% clean ingredients,” the company states as its guiding philosophy. “Our food contains no added artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Using proprietary BreatheWay packaging technology, we keep our high-quality produce fresh for longer, naturally. Just clean, fresh, real food you know and love.’

Plant-based foods have grown at a healthy pace each of the last four years, according to IDDBA’s What’s in Store, and benefited from health awareness during the pandemic.

This trend has led consumers to expect to find plant-based alternatives at the supermarket, and they are usually not disappointed. 

“Years ago, consumers might have had to go to a specialty store to get plant-based foods,” according to Chicago-based Nielsen IQ vice president for total wellness Sherry Frey in IDDBA’s What’s in Store. “Today, those options are becoming more mainstream, and consumers can get them at their regular supermarket.”

One of the Curation Brands, Yucatan Guacamole, has offered guacamole made from Hass avocados grown in Mexico for nearly 30 years. 

Yucatan has done well recently with its foodservice tubs of a pound or 8-ounces of guacamole, and a squeeze bottle with 12-ounces. 

“I think it’s increasing, to be honest,” says a Curation customer service representative in Southern California. “We’ve been busy the whole time; You keep it somewhere next to the meats and cheeses.”

Fourteen years ago, Austin, MN-based Hormel took a giant step beyond its roots in spam by partnering with Mexico City’s Herdez del Fuerte, S.A. to form MegaMex Foods, based in Orange, CA, which offers a line of products featuring Mexican cuisine. 

The MegaMex brands include La Victoria, Don Miguel, Wholly Guacamole, and Del Fuerte. 

Products from these companies include burritos, mini tacos, guacamole and a variety of salsas. 

“The idea behind the creation of MegaMex Foods was simple—to take the best of two powerhouse brands from two countries and bring the flavors of Mexico to the dinner and restaurant tables across the globe,” according to the company web site.

Street tacos top the US Foods’ list of 10 appetizer trends. 

That list is heavy in ethnic items as Asian cuisine takes the fifth spot, Middle Eastern influences are in the ninth position and octopus and seaweed also make a list heavily populated with plant-based appetizers. 

“Dishes that are inspired by street foods from the Far East, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Latin America reign supreme,” says US Foods in identifying current trending appetizers. “Street tacos, for one, are the perfect example of this.”


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