Top 10 trends in food service industry (Midwestern slant)

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Excellent trend info from Jim Sullivan, CEO of Sullivision, an Appleton-based global food service consultancy.  Americans are now dining outside the home an average of 4.2 times per week so food spending continues to grow and trends in the category become more important.

Highlights for me include Farm-to-Table Fatigue (I’m so over it!!), build-your-own concepts because millennials love them, and more mobile ordering and payment. I am particularly intrigued by congestion pricing (i.e. a meal on a slow Monday night may cost less than one on a prime Saturday).

Read below for Jim Sullivan’s Top 10 Trends.

1. No No to GMO. Diners are more concerned than ever with what’s in their restaurant food. Look for many chains to get out ahead of this issue (like Chipotle, Panera Bread, and even McDonald’s have done recently) amending recipes, menu items and trying to gain more market share among the majority of diners who finally understand that you truly are what you eat.

2. Chicken is the new beef and creative chef-takes on chicken are showing real traction.

3. “Farm-to-Table” fatigue. A recent restaurant leadership conference pegged “farm-to-table” as a confusing and tired marketing trend that was fading from menu descriptions. Yet the demand for locally produced, sustainably-grown, additive-free, non-processed, nutritious food is still popular among diners. It just needs a better name.

4. Mobile ordering and payment. The new menu is already in your pocket or purse. It’s your phone. Google Wallet, Apple Pay and Samsung are working hard to integrate seamless payment through the smartphone (Starbucks has led the category for years now) and mobile-friendly websites and menus are a must for foodservice operators. Look for congestion pricing too: a meal on a slow Monday night may soon cost less than one on a prime Saturday.

5. Millennials are destined to become the most influential consumer group in the U.S. Currently accounting for 22 to 24 percent of restaurant spending, Millennials will represent 40 percent of restaurant revenues by 2020. They have the collective spending power of $1.7 trillion. To this group — bigger in size than baby boomers — food customization and quality is a must, not a luxury. See next point.

6. Build-your-own. This segment — arguably pioneered by Subway — is showing tremendous growth across the U.S. in a variety of menus. Build-your-own pizza is the biggest trend with build-your-own Asian (ShopHouse Kitchen) and Italian (Vapiano’s) not far behind.

7. Fast casual segment is booming. Fast casual restaurants (think Chipotle) were up 12% in 2014 while casual dining (think TGI Friday’s) was down 7%. This nearly 20-point swing is a result of Next Gen dining preferences. The ability to customize your meal, not tip and get quick service at a price point 20-30% less than full-service restaurants is attractive to any generation. Casual dining is fighting back with creative menus and aggressive pricing.

8. Kinetic appetizers and desserts. Think smaller bite-sized sampler portions with a variety of dipping sauces that allows you to customize the flavor of each appetizer or dessert bite with every dip.

9. Digital servers. What are all those mini-kiosks doing on casual dining theme restaurant tables? Two things: First, they allow you to order, pay, tip, purchase apps and rate your experience, and secondly, they’re training you how to eat without a live human interface. Goodbye servers, hello iPad Menu. Stand-alone kiosks in quick-service restaurants are a thing too, helping to solve the restaurant operator’s No. 1 challenge: staffing, retention and turnover.

10. Strong growth. Because of time constraints, quality and convenience, the restaurant has entrenched itself in American lifestyles. The food service industry is already back to pre-2008 levels, restaurant IPOs are the new darlings of Wall Street and expect the industry to continue to grow by 2-3% annually over the next five years.

— Jim Sullivan is the CEO of Sullivision.com, an Appleton-based global food service consultancy.

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