Williams-Sonoma is no supermarket retailer, but it has to think like one. To win with customers, it must stay abreast of food trends and know what people are trying to accomplish in the kitchen.
The high-end cookware retailer’s point man for such insights is its food development manager, Travis Rea. Canadian Grocer caught up with Rea at his home in San Francisco. Edited excerpts:
What ingredient do you find especially popular right now?
Milk. Food is like fashion; ingredients come in and out of vogue, and right now there is a focus on nostalgic ingredients like milk. Some cities are seeing the return of home milk delivery. The restaurant State Bird Provisions in San Francisco offers a peanut-infused milk shot on its dessert menu. Many other restaurants are taking the DIY approach with dairy and are making their own butter.
Are any particular culinary techniques making a comeback?
We are getting back to the roots of cooking. Sous vide and molecular gastronomy have not gone away, but the response has been a trend toward the anti-molecular movement, with open fires and coals in restaurant kitchens.
Are consumers looking for more cooking education?
I think there is a renewed interest in how to cook. Not professionally, but applying creative, fun ideas and replicating them at home. New culinary schools are popping up, and with the growth of the Food Network, consumers have a way to learn about the trends more quickly.
What are consumers looking for in food products?
There are a lot of different things that are important. On one end, there is the convenience costumer. They want to be able to duplicate, example. The stand mixer is so much more than it was when it first came out, and it continues to be a kitchen staple.
warmer weather, it’s all about the backyard kitchen. People are renovating their backyards like they would a room in the house. Products that can be used inside and out will be ideal for the growth in backyard kitchens.
Are any Canadian foods catching on in America?
Poutine is a good example of a Canadian food that has really taken off. You’ll see it at restaurants and food trucks around the country. The Salt House in San Francisco introduced it a few years ago and now they can’t take it off the menu.