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by Matt Alderton | April 03, 2015
Local food, bite-sized confections, and culinary teambuliding are among the top trends this year in group cuisine, according to the International Association of Conference Centres (IACC), which yesterday published a list of the top food trends for 2015, based on a survey of its members.

"Planners are always looking for new and interesting ways to nourish and invigorate their conference attendees [and] food has become so much more than just fuel. Recently there has been an enormous shift towards health and the impact that food can have on concentration and productivity," IACC CEO Mark Cooper said in a statement. "The trends identified in our research will help meeting planners deliver a productive experience to healthy dining."

The year's top ten food and beverage trends, according to IACC, are:

1. Local Ingredients: "The importance of adding a local feel to meetings has been identified as a major trend by IACC members," IACC reported. "Attendees want to experience as much as they can about the destination they are going to for their meeting or event -- and this includes locally-sourced ingredients for food and beverage consumed during their conference."

2. Networking-Friendly Food: "Small plates of food items, continuously served in a reception format, add a welcome diversion to an extended meeting event and help maintain energy levels," IACC said. "Hosting networking-friendly dining receptions midway through an event is particularly effective as this provides a great way for guests to pause and meet up in a causal environment, initiate or build relationships, while recharging with exceptional food and beverage."

3. Small Desserts: "Bite-size desserts have overtaken larger portions in popularity -- if for no other reason than conferees are watching their waistlines and cholesterol levels," IACC explained. "Conference guests have turned their backs on generous sugary sweets, heading instead for easy-to-handle, bite-size desserts that satisfy without packing on the pounds. Warm miniature house-made donuts, chocolate truffles, French macaroons, mini cupcakes, and house-made cookies are top of the list for planners -- taste and pleasure without the calories!"

4. Low-Fat, Low-Sugar Food: "Healthy choices don't need to resemble rabbit food," IACC said. "IACC member chefs are working with exciting new ingredients increasingly popular with conferees -- including protein alternatives (quinoa, amaranth, tofu, beans), whole grains, leafy green vegetables (especially kale and spinach), low-fat selections and low-sugar substitutions. The result: healthy cuisine that sustains conferees through the meeting experience, appeals to the eye, and satisfies the palate."

5. Culinary Teambuilding: "Nothing brings a team together more than food," IACC said. "Having the opportunity to cook alongside colleagues can create a whole new appreciation for the hidden talents within an office environment or at a company outing. Culinary teambuilding is red hot today as it has all the ingredients to cook up a winning team while bringing out the hidden chef in every conferee."

6. Contrasting Environments: "Using outside spaces to create a change in scenery and provide a casual dining experience can breath new life into conference attendees, especially during multi-day meetings and events," IACC remarked. "IACC members across the globe are rediscovering these hidden exterior gems and using them for light receptions, breakout sessions and informal gathering areas for conferees throughout the meeting experience."

7. Finales: "Gone are the days when meetings ended with an unimaginative formal gala," IACC declared. "Today, meeting planner professionals want finales that create a dynamic and stimulating experience for their conferees, which bring people together to celebrate and bond at the end of their conference. Creativity, room or venue selection, seating layout, and dining style are as important to the success of the finale as the menu and beverages served."

8. Interactive Chefs: "A little drama is a good thing for ratcheting up the conference dining experience," IACC said. "Adding a chef interactive station accompanied with a highly personable chef can highlight the menu, underscore locally-sourced and freshly-prepared ingredients, as well as invite guest interaction in the creation of unique takes on selections such as a Panini, clubhouse, or slider. Interaction with the chef also engages conferees in focusing on health choices, such as gluten free options on the menu."

9. Microbrews: "With the explosive popularity of microbreweries offering brews that appeal to all tastes -- often with a local appeal, conference planners are increasingly looking to chefs and sommeliers to provide pre-dinner receptions and specialty dining with microbrews on the menu," IACC reported.

10. Infused Tea Cocktails: "The English are known for their love of it, and increasingly its health benefits are being embraced globally, but drinking tea has never been more fun than with the current trend of tea-infused cocktails," IACC concluded. "So after raising a glass of microbrew, ask your mixologist for a hibiscus tea martini!"