Columbus Day last year marked 523 years since Italian culture first hit the shores of the Americas. It may surprise you that in 2017 Italian was still the #1 ethnic cuisine in the US by a wide margin. Italian cuisine remains the most appealing type of European cuisine on the menu that consumers want to see more of, followed by Spanish and Mediterranean at 42% each.
Better still, it’s the cuisine most (64%) consumers say they want to see more of at restaurants. That preference for more Italian food when dining out holds true across all income levels and ethnic backgrounds, and is up eight points since 2012. As a positive sign for the future, Italian food preference is even higher among millennials at 66%.
It’s clear that Italian food resonates with American diners across the board. The key is in finding ways to differentiate your Italian food from the guy next door, and making it fit the particular tastes of your customers and style of your concept.
- 64% of consumers indicate they want to see more Italian food at restaurants
- Millennials index higher than other generations for Italian preference (+2-5%)
- Unique, Spicy and Authentic are consumers’ top three reasons to try a new food or menu item
“Restaurant operators don’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel if they want to stay on trend for new flavors and cuisines. Instead, restaurants can differentiate themselves with authentic ethnic flavors.”
– Katrina Fajardo, Foodservice Analyst, Mintel
Why Authentic, Regional Italian Works
Despite the prevalence of Italian food in America, much of what’s known here tends to be a small set of “Americanized” dishes from the southern part of Italy, where many first wave Italian immigrants hailed from. The ubiquitous “red sauce,” “alfredo sauce” and other dishes have roots in Italy, but are not actually authentically Italian. In short, there is much room for discovery, innovation and excitement in the regional cuisines of Italy!
When asked what they look for in trying new foods at restaurants, fresh preparations and ingredients, spicy and authentic are some of the top drivers for consumers. By nature, regional Italian cuisine leans heavily on seasonal and local produce and fresh preparation methods.
As consumers continue to clamor for authentic, regional foods from Italy, it pays to be in the know! This month, travel to Northern Italy’s Lombardy with us…
Regional Italian Spotlight: Lombardy
The Lombardy region ranges from Lake Como to Milan. It’s a land of lakes and gentle hills, great for grazing cattle, growing grapes, citrus and olives; the last especially thrives in the microclimate around Lake Como.
The region is known for risotto, polenta, beef, and cows’ milk cheeses like the famous gorgonzola. Because of Lombardy’s dairy cattle, butter is used more frequently than olive oil. Northern Italy is also the traditional home of whole wheat pastas. The harsh winters meant nothing was wasted, so pasta makers traditionally used the entire grain and even other products like chestnuts in their pastas.
This dish highlights the whole grains and gorgonzola of Lombardy and the ideal flavor-pairing principles of whole grain pasta with smoked or roasted tomatoes. The finishing oil made with sorrel – a forgotten gem in the herb pantry – grows wild in the pastures of Lombardy, and adds a splash of color and flavor contrast to the dish.