For corporate dining management company, Café Services, looking at annual food trends at the start of the year is more than just a crystal ball gazing exercise. It's part of what we do to help our customers reach a variety of culinary, employee wellness and sustainability goals. But we’re being modest when we say that Café Services is just an observer of the latest food trends. The truth is, we help shape them to better serve our customers. To show you how, here are expert predictions of three top food service trends that will have the biggest impact on health, the environment and local economies in 2016—and the ways in which Café Services is leading the way at Connecticut corporate dining management company locations. 1. Local Favoritism. In the 2000s, the industry veered sharply away from emphasizing national trends to a focus on major regional flavors. Today, it’s all about connecting with business diners through familiar, local foods—a movement Café Services began championing long before it became trendy. Food industry researcher, Datassential, reports that diners’ food preferences are strongly influenced by what they see and experience within small geographical distances. This is certainly true of Connecticut business diners. Like Café Services, they support farm-to-table dining for its taste and high nutritional value, as well as its benefits to the local economy and environment. Even before the rise of “locavorism,” Café Services chefs favored the use of fresh, local ingredients in our menus whenever possible. We make it a priority to forge mutually rewarding relationships with local vendors. And it helps that farmers’ markets and farm stands abound in Connecticut. In fact, many are within drive-by distance of our Connecticut corporate dining management locations. Our chefs shop them regularly when local produce is in season. For the convenience of our diners, we’ll even bring the farm to the office. At BIC in Shelton, for example, Café Services hosts a weekly farmer’s market outside the cafe in summer and early fall, where diners can browse during their lunch hour for local produce from a nearby farm. So that nothing goes to waste, we purchase unsold produce at the end of every market day to incorporate into the next days’ menus. Larry Finney, Café Services Corporate Executive Chef, says Connecticut farmers make eating local an easy choice. “Our chef/managers need only express an interest in buying local to get the farmers to come to us,” he says. Finney predicts that in the imminent future, it will become more common for farms to base what they plant and how much on customer purchasing pledges. 2. Eating Green. Rising healthcare costs are a prime factor behind the growing focus on employee health and wellness in corporate circles. The natural offshoot is that fresh vegetables and fruits have started to play a starring role in the corporate café. At Café Services, fresh vegetables now account for as much as 50% of a balanced plate, with the other half divided equally between proteins and carbohydrates. But while diners know they need to eat more greens, many out of habit gravitate towards traditional proteins and carbohydrates because of expectations related to taste or looks. To help diners develop a taste for greener dishes, Café Services strives to create more visually appealing plates with an array of vibrant vegetables in a variety of colors and textures, prepared with a mix of cooking techniques. “Diners are a lot more health conscious than they used to be, so giving veggies more curb appeal is often just the push they need to make the better choice at the office,” says Finney. Through our FitPicks™ program, Café Services helps Connecticut corporate dining customers like BIC and GE in Plainville reinforce the benefits of eating green with dietitian-led nutrition education and incentives for choosing healthy menu options. Matt Stone, Café Services Vice President of Business Development, says that the company’s health and wellness offerings are a core component of the majority of new business proposals. He sees them becoming mandatory down the road. 3. Sustainable Seafood. Nose-to-tail and root-to-leaf are buzzwords that relate to the sustainable eating of proteins and produce. Today, sustainable seafood is going mainstream, a trend that will continue as corporate diners become more aware of how their fish eating habits impact ocean health. With the Long Island Sound and Atlantic Ocean to the south and east, Connecticut corporate dining management company diners have a healthy appetite for local seafood. To help them make the choices that least impact fishing and aquaculture, Café Services supports Seafood Watch® guidelines from California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium, and purchases fish from like-minded suppliers. Charlotte Fletcher, chef/manager at GE, bases her weekly fresh fish recipes on sustainable recommendations from a local seafood purveyor in central Connecticut, which provides same-day delivery of the daily catch. Corporate-wide, Café Services encourages diners to consider Seafood Watch standards when choosing seafood at the store or restaurants. We feature promotions highlighting fish varieties that meet the group’s standards for “Best Choices” or “Good Alternatives;” and we make the program’s pocket guide, website link and mobile app available at our cafés. 2016 Trends Benefit Health, the Environment and Local Business. Predicting trends for new food service cuisines, cooking techniques and ingredients is a fun, annual tradition. But it’s far more rewarding when food service trends help to improve health, preserve the environment and support local economies. At Café Services, we have a lot to celebrate in 2016. Happy New Year!