Keith NunesKANSAS CITY, Mo. — Restaurant industry sales in the United States in 1970 were $40 billion, according to the National Restaurant Association. The trade association forecasts sales this year will reach $863 billion and by 2030, $1.2 trillion. The growth shows an industry that has successfully adapted to a host of lifestyle changes ranging from increased numbers of women in the workforce to consumer demand for greater convenience. In the next decade, the foodservice sector will undergo additional transformation as digital technologies play a greater role influencing consumer purchasing patterns.

Technology and data will become more important to restaurant operators as they adapt to consumer on-demand expectations, the NRA said in its Restaurant 2030 report that forecasts how the industry will change in the decade ahead. The association expects many fundamental changes, including some that redefine the very nature of restaurants.

The NRA sees operators creating hybrid business models offering counter service, full service, takeout, delivery and meal kits. The delivery-only restaurant model will grow as virtual restaurants, those without a retail footprint, continue to proliferate, and “food halls,” those that are grocery and restaurant concepts combined, will emerge.

“The restaurant industry is at a crossroads as it finds ways to respond to consumer demand for meal and snack solutions away from home,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the NRA “Restaurant owners are swiftly adapting across their businesses to meet the wants and needs of guests. The radical transformation of the last decade will change the way the industry operates going forward.”

Delivery is expected to drive foodservice growth in the next decade. The change will affect all aspects of the business, including marketing, technology investment and operations. Specifically, the NRA forecasts the growth of meal delivery will lead to a greater proportion of meals no longer being cooked at home and to a subsequent rise in virtual restaurants, subscription services and grab-and-go at retail. The association even predicts a time when consumers grow loyal to third-party apps, which will impact consumer loyalty to individual restaurants.

The NRA forecasts sustainable sourcing and transparency will become more important to the food and beverage industry during the next decade. Further, food trends and menus will evolve to reflect increasing health consciousness. Advances in genetic testing and the consumer’s ability to learn more about their health will drive demand for meals that provide specific health benefits.

While the foodservice sector is expected to deliver on health and sustainability, there are other challenges it will need to address. Foremost among these are quality issues. As food delivery services become more mainstream, consumer expectations of product quality will only rise. Lukewarm, soggy french fries, separated cream-based sauces and spilled sauces and condiments will not be tolerated.

The challenge food industry product formulators and ingredient suppliers must meet is to provide cost-effective solutions to these issues. In an industry where new categories for growth are often difficult to identify, the development of food service delivery during the next decade stands out as an area of opportunity for innovation, execution and expansion.