Business Insights

100 Years of Food Trends

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Shamrock is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. With all that history, we wanted to look back at the past 100 years of food trends and the food service industry as a whole.

The 1920s

As our favorite dairy, Shamrock Farms, was born, the modern restaurant industry in America began. With Prohibition on the rise, restaurant owners turned from ‘fine-dining’ establishments to low-price, high-volume food service. Places like cafeterias, luncheonettes, and tea rooms thrived.

Another great food highlight - Wonder Bread - hit the shelves for the first time in 1922, but it would be another five years before sliced bread was sold in stores.

The 1930s

The Great Depression forced creativity in the kitchen, but the number of restaurants continued to rise. At this time in history, female servers made up more than half of all restaurant waitstaff, and all-you-can-eat and self-serve eateries were the latest craze [2]. The 1930s also brought us the birth of the soda shop, a customer favorite for the next twenty years.

The 1940s

During the war, the demand for restaurant meals tripled. Labor shortages and rationing began to drive many smaller restaurants out of business. After the war, as women left the workforce, restaurants began to rely heavily on labor-convenient products like frozen food and materials developed for the armed services. [2]

In at-home kitchens, the Jell-O mold took hold at dinner parties and canned foods, like condensed soup or SPAM®, became a dinner-time staple.

The 1950s

At the beginning of the century, with more families living in the suburbs, casual dining’s popularity continued. [2] Drive-ins and drive-thru burger shops were thriving thanks to teen diners and a renewed love of American driving culture. But, as the decade progressed, interest in new dining experiences, luxury, and exotic cuisines began to take shape.

At home, the post-war era brought convenient, frozen dinners to life. The first TV Dinner hit grocery stores in 1953. [3]

The 1960s

While drive-ins faded away, fast food chains continue to spread around the country and restaurants relied more on convenience foods. According to the National Restaurant Association, by 1966 the annual restaurant volume had grown to $20 billion. [2]

Two popular appetizers on restaurant menus were tomato juice and shrimp cocktail [2], and thanks in large part to Julia Child, items like Beef Wellington and classic French dishes can be found on menus everywhere. More than ever, restaurant goers were demanding cleanliness and atmosphere from their sit-down dining experiences.

The 1970s

While fast food was booming across the country, a new wave of chef/owner driven restaurants began to take hold. Offering a variety of flavors and worldly cuisines, more Americans were dining out than ever before. [2]

In homes across the country, Fondue and Quiché were served to dinner parties and families alike, cementing America’s love of cheese.

The 1980s

The 1980’s brought us the rise of the Celebrity Chefs, like Wolfgang Puck, and the birth of “California cuisine.” [2} Also new to the scene were “Foodies”, frequent restaurant-goers with a taste for new flavors, who forced trends to move quickly.

New on the restaurant scene was Sushi – a Brat Pack favorite! [1]

The 1990s

Nothing defined restaurant menus of the nineties quite like the sun-dried tomato. Driven by an interest in Mediterranean flavors [5], you could find sun-dried tomatoes in salads, pastas, pizzas and more – often with a balsamic vinegar reduction.

While its use in kitchens can be dated back as early as the 1900’s [6], the term “molecular gastronomy” was coined in the 1990s, launching a wave of restaurants in the early 2000s.

The 2000s

Who could forget the rise of bacon-flavored everything? Thanks to a newfound interest in molecular cuisines, the flavor of bacon was flash frozen, spherified, and turned into foams. While cupcake shops swept the nation, diets such as Atkins and South Beach brought meat back to the center of the plate in many restaurants.

As consumers learned more about food sourcing and sustainability, "locavore" entered the mainstream food vocabulary and restaurants quickly joined the local food movement.

The 2010s

Thanks to the adoption of social media, food like the rainbow donut and monster milkshakes “went viral”.

The economic turmoil of the late 2000’s drove many restaurateurs to smaller shops and gave birth to the food truck. Small in footprint, food trucks gave culinary creators the opportunity to serve big flavors and prove their mettle.

Today's Dining Trends

The future of food innovation is here. Everyday restaurants are turning to modern technologies for better service, customer experience and flexibility. However, chefs are still looking to the past to find inspiration, untapped ingredients, and advocate for their favorite causes. The sustainable food movement continues to grow as more customers look for more healthy, ecologically sound options.

No matter what direction food service takes, Shamrock Foods is dedicated to our friends in the industry. We'll be here to honor where we’ve been and help you with what’s around the corner.

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