CHICAGO – Consumers will continue to be cautious about their spending, but there will be some winners in the foodservice segment in 2014, market research firm NPD Group reported in its industry forecast for 2014.

Fast casual restaurants, sub shops and gourmet coffee/donut outlets will see strong consumer demand, the market research firm noted. Convenience stores also will benefit from rising consumer demand as outlets in that segment take advantage of consumers’ tendency to “trade down” from more expensive options. Food retailers will have an opportunity to seize some market share from restaurants by offering convenient meal solutions, according to NPD.

One trend NPD said would continue into 2014 is the effect of rising prices for proteins on menu offerings.
“The expected rise in beef prices and lower chicken prices will be reflected in menu offerings,” NPD reported. “New and different non-beef parings of foods will result in overall growth for chicken products and a dampening of beef orders resulting from expected price increases.”

Other trends that influencing shifts in menu offerings include diversity in the US population and consumer interest in healthy food options, NPD noted.

The influence of the growing Hispanic population has sparked interest in fruits, juice drinks and flavorful spices and seasonings, while Asian influences will be reflected on menus through offerings using as ingredients noodles, rice, specialty sauces and other foods and flavors. The growing ethnic population in the US and the health needs of Baby Boomers will continue to drive development of health menu offerings, NPD added.

“One place we’re seeing this is in the growing number of consumers who tell us they prefer gluten-free foods, not because of required dietary restrictions, but because of the benefits of overall healthier eating,” NPD said. “They expect operators to deliver against perceptions of healthier eating with menu emphasis on fresh ingredients and freshly-prepared foods.”

Other trends to look out for in 2014 include the growing use of social media and mobile technology to connect with consumers; new incentives to draw traffic; and the emergence of new businesses and dining concepts.

“Entirely new concepts are emerging on the landscape,” NPD noted. “An example is the My Fit Foods chain that offers freshly-prepared meals that can be taken home and heated up or eaten on premises. Outlets like Lyfe Kitchen, which address the interest in fresh, healthful food, will increasingly appear on the scene. In addition, operators are making more concerted efforts to provide their food where their customers work, with catering. Creative, new, exploratory — expect to see more attempts to find the new niche, the next “fast casual”.