The future of foodservice

by Monica Watrous
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Trends in retail are gaining traction on restaurant menus.

CHICAGO — Consumer expectations are reshaping the foodservice industry. Demand for convenience, healthful options and local ingredients have given rise to new cuisines and channels. Food Genius, a Chicago-based firm, compiled 10 trends emerging on menus and beyond.

“Our 10 ideas go beyond just the discussion of food to include greater industry trends across the fields of marketing, technology and the consumers’ experience,” said Eli Rosenberg, vice-president of marketing for Food Genius.

From the next big flavors to a shift in consumption habits, Food Genius forecasted what to expect in the coming year.

1. Retail paves the way – Some of the trendiest products in the grocery store, such as Greek yogurt and Nutella, are popping up on menus at mainstream chains. Taco Bell, for example, began testing Greek yogurt parfaits on the breakfast menu, and Fazoli’s offered for a limited time during the summer Nutella cheesecake, featuring the chocolate-hazelnut spread and a chocolate graham cracker crust.

"Another example is with the Doritos Locos Tacos at Taco Bell," Rosenberg said. "That was a wildly successful product, and we think other CPG companies will be approaching food service operators to try to see if this can strike lighting in the same way."

More fast-food chains are adding mobile apps.

2. Fast-food going mobile – More quick-service restaurants are investing in mobile technology that allows customers to order and pay for food with their smartphones. Not just a convenience for consumers, mobile apps also deliver loads of consumer data to operators, providing rich marketing opportunities, Food Genius noted.

Retail and restaurant lines are blurring.

3. Eat-in grocery stores – Mariano’s, Whole Foods Market and other grocery chains are offering more dine-in options. Eataly, an Italian market with locations in New York City and Chicago, is a trendy concept that combines restaurant and retail market under one roof.

4. Pricing strategies refined – Restaurants may reconsider the cost-plus approach in favor of other strategies, such as surge pricing, which means a meal may cost more during peak times.

Sprig, a meal delivery startup, specializes in organic ingredients.

5. Meal delivery gaining momentum – Consumer demand for health and convenience are driving growth for meal delivery startups such as Sprig, which specializes in doorstep dinners made with organic and locally sourced produce and free-range, antibiotic-free meat.

6. Arts and crafts – Borrowing from the beer industry’s playbook, big brands are offering items positioned as artisanal, craft and small-batch. PepsiCo, for example, in October launched a craft bottled soft drink called Caleb’s Kola in select markets, and both Starbucks and Sonic Drive-In recently debuted handcrafted sodas.

7. That’s amore – Authentic Italian cuisine is climbing as provenance becomes a greater priority for consumers. Expect more mentions of specific Italian pastas, sauces and preparation methods on menus as well as an increase in Italian street foods at upscale fast-casual restaurants.

Protein Bar swaps better-for-you ingredients, like Greek yogurt in place of sour cream.

8. Healthful preparation – Better-for-you ingredient swaps and healthful preparation methods are catching on in kitchens. Protein Bar, a fast-casual chain with locations in Chicago, Colorado and Washington, D.C., uses Greek yogurt instead of sour cream in burritos and chilis.

9. Lunch hour in transition – With more workers eating at their desks, the midday meal may be in transition. Meal delivery services and healthy vending machine operators may emerge to capture this shift in stomach share, Food Genius reported.

Half of customers who order Chipotle's meatless Sofritas option are vegetarians or vegans.

10. Meatless gaining ground – Customization and healthful eating are driving more diversity in eating habits that may translate to an uptick in vegetarian orders. Executives of Chipotle Mexican Grill said about half of the customers who order the chain’s new braised tofu option identify as vegan or vegetarian.

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