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Street food renaissance shapes consumer eating habits

American street food is big news. In the United States, street food has been reinvented and reinterpreted to reflect the changing ways Americans eat. This ongoing street food renaissance will both influence and reinforce consumer eating habits for years to come, according to Street Food: Culinary Trend Mapping Report from the Center for Culinary Development (CCD) and Packaged Facts. Expect to see more small plate snacking, more food products sourced and prepared in eco-minded ways and more flavorful global food, all fast, fun and handy.

While street food hasn’t always been beloved by consumers, that attitude is clearly changing. Enticed by the convenience and affordability of street food, along with its often gourmet flavors and forms, consumers are flocking to their local lunch stands for fast but satisfying meals, as well as enjoying new low-cost global street food-inspired restaurants.

“Street food is changing the conversation around food by creating new, vibrant and diverse communities socially connected by a shared interest in a new way of eating. At various turns it is highbrow meets lowbrow, local and eco-friendly, socially conscious and globally diverse,” says CCD CEO Kimberly Egan. “Street foods provide another avenue for consumers to explore new flavor adventures at an accessible value.”

What’s driving new street food?

Three major forces are driving the seven core street food trends CCD identified:

  • Going Gourmet: While fine-dining chefs are serving upgraded street food in restaurants or creating their own carts and trucks, new foodie entrepreneurs are making specialized, high-quality cuisine available on the go. Hot dogs are also getting a boost from better quality meat and a more diverse assortment of toppings, many with global roots.
  • Globalization: Street food is a global staple and today we are welcoming new versions stateside. Roman Porchetta, or stuffed and pork belly-wrapped pork roast, has become the hot choice for sandwiches and entrées at small cafés, independent restaurants and farmers markets. Indian Wraps and Chaat (portable snacks) are showing up in independent fast casual eateries nationwide, fusing Indian flavors and familiar handheld forms to put a new spin on traditional Indian fare. New Antojitos, or masa-based Latin street foods—the Venezuelan arepa, the Salvadoran pupusa and the Mexican huarache—combine convenience with flavor exploration and novel forms.
  • Street Food Fusion: The street food category has become a place of exciting fusion, whether it’s applying eco-minded virtues such as organic, sustainable, and locally sourced ingredients and earth-friendly vehicles to classic street foods like falafel, or having home cooks fuse favorite global flavors and forms, like satay, crepes and tacos, with more American ingredients and occasions.

For food marketers and others seeking to capitalize on this trend, accessibility, bold flavors, variety, affordability, sometimes better health and inherent portability are keys to successful trend translation into new strategic business opportunities, states the report.