As the year winds down and we look ahead to next, I wanted to put pen to paper—er, keyboard to blog lol—some possible food trends to watch for in Edmonton in 2022.
The main food trends mentioned here are entirely just me spitballing (I mean, aren’t all trends? lol), based on what I’ve noticed or seen in the local food industry, or Canadian food industry and have tied back to what I think makes sense locally.
But I also reached out to a few local food folks in Alberta to see what they had to predict too, given their food perspectives and experiences. Those are weaved in between my own thoughts throughout this post.
And I’d love to hear what you think the next “big thing” or perhaps interesting small things might be in local food, if you agree, disagree, or are really excited or not excited about a possible trend.
Eating in general is definitely getting more expensive—from grocery items you’re buying to dine in to restaurant dishes you order when you’re out—but supporting local businesses has also never been more important. It’s a tricky thing to balance.
Edmonton Food Trends to Watch For In 2022
Perhaps the pandemic highlighted too many people’s reliance on alcohol, or prompted too much alcohol consumption and some more self-reflection, but it feels like more people are looking for or turning to alcohol-free drinks and mocktails, alcohol-free spirits, zero proof cocktails, whatever the name, is going to get their deserved spotlight in 2022.
I learned about Calgary-based Sexy AF (Alcohol Free) Spirits last year while researching for a Cityline segment on unique Canadian products and Edmonton-based Mock-ups Mocktails is gaining in popularity as well, positioning Alberta as a pretty good player in the alcohol-free drink game—which is a lot harder than it might seem.
In many ways, making a really great mocktail takes more skill than its alcoholic counterparts, at least according to Mock-ups Mocktails:
“You can add booze to any mocktail and it still works, but the same can’t be said for taking booze out of any cocktail… This is why I think that any bartender worth their sleeve garters should learn to throw mocks before cocks. Walk before you rum (so to speak).”
“We have noticed a trend in people abstaining from alcohol whether it’s for health, religious, sobriety or pregnancy related reasons.”
“When we created our custom bitters flavour we originally had cocktails in mind but after reading an article on inclusive work gatherings we knew we needed to create a mocktail recipe to pair with our bitters. Keeping alcohol out of our crafted mocktails really brings out the complexity of the flavours in our bitters formulation… we’re happy we can provide a fun zero-proof option.”
Ready to Serve Cocktails (and other easy food things)
I think we’re all just tired and want things in life to be easy these days, including (especially?) what we eat and drink. Of course while acknowledging the previous trend being more people going alcohol-free, there’s still a huge market for booze-filled drinks too and if they’re easy to make—even better. I think in 2022 there will be more Ready to Serve Cocktail products to choose from, like Fort Saskatchewan-based Tumbler & Rocks (LOVE them—am also partnering with them this year to continue telling people about how awesome their product is because it is really awesome).
I had shouted out to Edmonton-based El Beso’s hand crafted, pre-batched cocktails in a Cityline segment last year, and there had also been a bit of a rise in cocktail kits in the early days of the pandemic when dining rooms were shut down, so I do wonder if more spots will bring back their cocktail kit offerings—but really just looking at a demand for mostly ready to consume, mostly already crafted food and drink items, because we’re tired and we don’t have the time these days.
Bubble Tea Mania
I feel like this Alberta bubble tea addiction has been slowly building for well over a decade but for whatever reason appears to have come to a head in the last year / into this next one with so many new bubble tea spots—many of which are big name global franchises—opening up in Edmonton.
We got Coco, Chatime and Gongcha in recent years, and now Edmonton is home to the new Xing Fu Tang and Yi Fang, among many other bubble tea options (I really like The Alley, which recently opened a second location in the Brewery district, and Presotea).
Of course there are local bubble tea brands as well, like Teapsy Lab, Dream Tea House, or the new-ish Boba Club. You can even get bubble tea kits from longtime north side bubble tea spot Bubbletopia. And the OG, original bubble tea spot in Edmonton, Tea Bar, is still going strong in Chinatown too (watch for their Chinatown Dining Week deal running this January 13-23, 2022).
Food Halls, Test Kitchens, Restaurant Tech and Tweaks
In Edmonton, the 5th St. Food Hall by JustCook Kitchens launched in the later part of 2021, the city’s first food hall featuring four restaurants under one roof—and is intended to be the first of many under this concept which allows chefs to really focus on their food and less on barriers that may come with trying to open a restaurant.
Mighty Noms is a local test kitchen / delivery concept where chefs can test selling recipes that may soon be offered in their restaurants, something I can see becoming popular in 2022.
We’ve already seen QR codes make the biggest comeback of anything as a result of the pandemic, so expect those to stay—or maybe even get an upgrade. I also thought this tweet about Japanese movie theatres showing air quality information was super interesting—again pandemic-driven, and perhaps something we’d see to reassure / ensure safer indoor dining in 2022.
And perhaps we will see more tech or novelty experiences in restaurants in the new year, things that may attract customers like the adorable robot server at Chili Hot Pot (of course the food has to be good to keep people coming but if Instagram and TikTok has taught me anything, it’s that people WILL come to experience that weird, interesting, unusual, novelty thing).
“I think that we will see more fast casual concepts. Places that are easily adaptable to any changing restrictions. That can pivot quickly to all take out and take home without a significant hit to their bottomline.”
Ingraham also referenced an Avenue Calgary article about businesses collaborating, something we saw in Edmonton with Made by Marcus and Wilfred’s teaming up, as well as Meuwly’s, Art of Charcuterie and Fleur Jaune Cheese.
“I think that will be a very big trend in the coming year. Businesses looking to lessen their overhead burdens and be able to continue to provide lots of products and services to their community without the cumbersome nature of doing it all themselves.”
“With the food industry facing rising costs, supply chain issues and other general pandemic woes, I think there’s going to be a focus on a ‘less is more”‘ approach when it comes to menus.”
“Establishments might offer fewer options that are done really well, changing menus up on a seasonal basis and using locally sourced ingredients. In Edmonton specifically, I can definitely see restaurant pop-ups, food halls and food collectives on the rise for 2022 and I’m 100% here for it.”
“Just as people have gotten used to hybrid work models, they will continue to see hybrid food innovations – more outdoor dining, more zoom cooking classes with ingredients delivered to your door and in the case of my company Alberta Food Tours, we’ll continue to develop more of our Alberta Food Finder self-guided food tour games.”
“Where people used to join a group and follow a guide through a neighbourhood, now, they’ll access our insider knowledge by solving clues and completing fun activities on our app and with their mobile device. The best part is, they can do it when they want to and it’s a lot more affordable. Plus, they still do the most important thing—connect with local food businesses who are doing a great job.”
A Bigger Focus on Indigenous Cuisine
Rightfully so, there’s been a big spotlight over the year(s) on Indigenous makers—artists, chefs, entrepreneurs, you name it, and that’s only going to grow.
As Mallory Yawnghwe, owner of the Indigenous Box told me this year, with a $33 billion economy, set to triple by 2024, Indigenous entrepreneurs are starting businesses at 9x the Canadian national average and many Indigenous people are “coming to take up space and exist in spaces where we haven’t been welcomed.”
Alberta has a specific Indigenous-focused tourism organization now (Indigenous Tourism Alberta) and many Albertans are seeking out opportunities to learn about and support Indigenous makers.
Scott Iserhoff, chef/owner of Pei Pei Chei Ow, was recently named one of Canada’s next star chefs. I LOVED booking virtual cooking classes with Pei Pei Chei Ow for my birthday last year, as well as learning more about Scott and Chef Curtis Cardinal of Tee Pee Treats in a video project promoting Indigenous cuisine for Travel Alberta. I was also so excited to learn and share about Indigenous Art Experiences in the Edmonton area too.
All of this to say that Indigenous experiences are on the rise here in Amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton)—and across Turtle Island (Canada), and we’re here for it.
“Mushrooms! Mushrooms are fascinating, intimidating and delicious. A superfood. There are so many unique characteristics and flavour profiles to choose from. They are meaty, versatile and a great vegetarian alternative. Gone are the days when a grilled or stuffed portobello mushroom was the vegetarian option of choice. Think mushroom pecan burgers, mushroom strata, mushroom stew, mushroom pot pie, mushroom risotto. They also work well as a side dish, as a garnish and in salads. Mushrooms for breakfast. Mushroom toast!”
Rise of Home Cooks and Bakers
The start of the pandemic saw a trend of people learning how to bake their own bread, along with an influx of home-based bakery businesses popping up on Instagram.
After seeing a post about a tasty ramen meal from my friend Phil Chan, I was eager to try Kasey Ramen, a home-based ramen kit maker, who is now selling out of their ramen kits and pop-ups in just minutes.
I think it’s exciting to see people turning their food dreams into reality—or people just reconnecting with food or building their own food experiences in their home kitchens—I know the last couple of years I’ve been learning more about and making more Vietnamese cuisine at home, including diving into Vietnamese Tet / Lunar New Year eats.
“Food prices will continue to rise, and that will mean Albertans making changes to how they buy food and what they eat.”
Johanna Wasylik with Chatsworth Farm (located just east of Edmonton by Vermilion, Alberta), says changes to food prices may mean a return to home baking and gardening, “even if it’s growing your own lettuce and spinach on the windowsill” as well as a turn to local farmers too.
“There will likely be more interest in buying directly from farmers, especially if there’s savings involved — CSAs and buying meat in bulk. Which in turn probably means continuing shortages of appliances like refrigerators and freezers (which are already in short supply because of supply chain problems),” Wasylik says.
“Going by what we’ve seen in the past few years, farmers will continue to expand and diversify their offerings, looking to make and provide more value-added products. The creativity and imagination is so exciting to see, and the variety of made- and grown-in-Alberta foods in the past few years is remarkable — and I say this as someone who grew up in New York City shopping at Zabar’s, Fairway, and Dean & DeLuca!”
Learning How to Cook
This ties into the above trend, but in less of a cooking for business perspective. We’ve seen in the last few years a shift in cooking classes—really slick, convenient ones offered by Get Cooking, who can now take their classes across the country (or really anywhere), rather than being limited to in-person attendees, or the learn how to cook whatever you want classes from MilkCrate.
Meal kits or other ingredient subscription boxes continue to be popular, including Alberta-based Bessie Box or Vancouver-based Fresh Prep. Bessie works with Alberta farmers to get naturally-raised Alberta beef directly to customers while Fresh Prep features Zero Waste Kits and reusable bags for delivery.
That sustainability aspect is important, and ties into the next trend too—People do want to feel good about the food you’re making and that includes everything from food packaging to where the food is sourced.
“More people BBQing, grilling, smoking, trying out new techniques and flavours. This is shown through new boutique BBQ retail shops popping up to buy your grills and accessories, courses offered by experts, BBQ features on menus, award-winning BBQ folks sharing their recipes, developing spices and sauces, and even the smell of BBQ seems to be everywhere in the neighbourhood.”
Locally for instance, check out You Need a BBQ which offers classes as well as BBQ products!
Carrie also says we should expect to see continued growth in plant based products.
“There is lots of innovation in Canada right now for this sector. For consumers that like to support local this is good news as they can expect to see more local plant based products on the shelves and on restaurant menus.”
Real Talk about Restaurants
With pandemic-driven business struggles, I think chefs/restaurant owners being more open about the tough realities of operating their business, and the tough decisions they have to make, will become more common into this next year.
We’ve seen so many pleas from restaurant owners, and sort of lifting the veil on the industry, sharing things like the cost of food and how it’s changed, like in this post from Chartier.
Katy Ingraham of Fleisch referenced that as well. She’s seeing more food writers focusing their stories on the treatment of people in restaurants and not just the food.
“Two notable food writers Corey Mintz and Karon Liu have focused a lot of their pandemic food writing on how restaurant and food service workers are treated and paid, the weaknesses that exist in current restaurant models and what changes the industry should make in order to adapt. Even though they are largely based out east and focussed on a lot of Toronto and Montreal eateries, the messaging has trickled over this way as I’ve personally noticed more of these sentiments being shared by food people in Alberta like Elizabeth Chorney-Booth and Julie Van Rosendaal, to name a few,” she says.
“RGE RD led the charge in Edmonton of collecting reservation deposits. Given they did not experience any pushback from their guests, this trend, already entrenched in other cities in Canada, will continue to spread to more establishments in the city given the ongoing issue of no-shows and last-minute cancellations.”
– Sharon Yeo, Only Here For The Food (Blog)
Year-Round Patio Season
There’s never been more patios, open more times of the year, than now, in Edmonton. If there can be some happy consequence to the pandemic, one certainly is the accelerated restaurant innovation and reduced red tape (to some degree) in creating things like patios.
From Dog Friendly Patios to Winter Patios, basement level patios (Shojo Izakaya) to rooftop patios (La Petite Iza), dome patios (Tiramisu Bistro), expanded sidewalks and pop-up seating (Old Strathcona) and more, we can expect to see more outdoor dining at all times of year.
Food for Good
We’ll likely see more food initiatives supporting the city’s less fortunate, or initiatives designed to tackle food insecurity in 2022. Edmonton’s Multicultural Health Brokers Co-Op for instance has just launched a Khair For All food box addressing just that—a social enterprise fruit and produce box service that’s more affordable than you’d get at a mainstream grocer as an option to support those experiencing economic hardship and food insecurity.
A new law in San Diego will require grocery stores and other food suppliers to donate all edible food waste to a food rescue organization or food bank, something I think will spread to other cities (hopefully). Reducing food waste and increasing access to food is the goal of the Leftovers Foundation, which has already been doing this type of ‘food for good’ work in Alberta.
And we’re seeing more stories of local businesses including restaurants and breweries and partnering with non-profits and other organizations to help fundraise for people in need.
“Carbon footprint matters. Makers are being mindful of eco-friendly product packaging or ones that can be repurposed/reused.”
Jessie Cayabo, who works with a number of food and hospitality businesses, says that “the reduction of food waste, carbon production and sustainability” are big things to watch for in 2022.
As well, “people continue to explore the world through food since travel is still not an option for most. Locally-made products like Respect the Technique‘s Miso bacon, Gr8 Thai’s Red Curry Sauce and Mini Kitchen’s Masala Sauce have become really popular for those who want to be more adventurous in the kitchen without the waste and heartache of making something from scratch and failing miserably. People are also OBSESSED with chilli oil or XO sauce as a condiment. Food Karma’s Popo’s Chili Oil, Garchi HOT garlic crunch and Momofuku’s version are my faves right now but I’m constantly trying different ones. And the demand for plant-based food keeps growing. They are the most popular recipes downloaded off the Italian Centre Shop’s recipe archive!”
So those are just a few food trends you might notice in 2022.
What do you think?
Whatever happens in the food scene in the city this coming year, the need to support local businesses will always be so important. If you’re able to, please continue to support local.
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