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With the dawn of a new year, besides resolutions, there are always prognostications of what might be in store, and following are how two market research and consulting firms view this new calendar year in relation to trends that could affect the foodservice industry. Readers are welcome to cherry-pick among them for ideas that can be turned into sales.
Chicago-based Technomic has "positive expectations" for restaurants in 2011 and offers the following emerging restaurant trends that appropriate for supermarkets, too:
Beyond Bricks and Mortar: Food trucks, facilitated by social media that notify foodies of their whereabouts, were an L.A. and Manhattan fad last year that’s now proliferating around the country. They can be brand extensions and catering aids, and food truck districts and "rodeos" are starting to appear. Regulatory agencies are scrambling to keep up.
Farmers as Celebrities: Restaurants will feature their celebrity suppliers by offering special menus, inviting them to comment on blogs and even hosting visits. More often, farmers and artisans will be saluted by highly detailed menu descriptions. More attention to the supply chain also means more attention to food safety and product traceability as well as local sourcing.
Social Media and Technology Evolutionary Spurt: Couponing websites and location-based social media will grow, while the apps fad will continue to grow. Rewards and risks are high here -- but the biggest risk of all is failure to innovate.
Korean and Beyond: The Korean taco -- an only-in-America synthesis of Korean-style fillings and a Mexican format -- signals the rise of Korean barbecue and Korean food in general; multicultural tacos with world ingredients, sometimes in surprising combinations; and portable street food and small plates from around the planet.
Frugality Fatigue: Penny-pinching was a novelty when the recession started; now it’s gotten old and anyone who can afford it will dip back into luxury dining in 2011. The middle class will gravitate to reasonably priced but high-experience value (whatever that is).
How Low Can You Go? Consumers will continue to demand price deals everywhere they eat. Look for more restructuring of price deals, the "everyday-low-price" positioning favored by retailers.
Back to Our Roots: The durable hunger for comfort food develops an appetite for homestyle Southern fare, from grits to seafood; retro Italian, including meatballs; gourmet doughnuts and Popsicles for dessert; and family-style service formats and family-size portions right out of Norman Rockwell.
New Competition From C-stores: Convenience store operators are upgrading their foodservice, and consumers are responding positively to offerings, variety and ambiance.
Healthful vs. Indulgent: As federal menu labeling requirements take effect in 2011, the issue of healthy vs. indulgent fare – on the menu and in menu descriptions – gets complicated. Look for more items and detailed descriptions on "healthy" menus. Limited-time offers (including seasonal fare) will trend up, not only because they attract attention, but also because they don’t require posting nutritional date that consumers would rather not know. "Eating a little better" will translate into menu modification such as slightly-lower-sodium, slightly-more-glamorous sea salt, and more innovations like "Meatless Mondays."
Chicago-based Mintel, meanwhile, offers these Menu Insights foodservice trends for 2011:
Health by Association: Sixty-two percent of consumers say they plan to eat healthier in the coming year, but many complain that healthier food doesn’t taste as good without the added sugar, sodium and fat. Restaurants will address his problem by adding "healthier" ingredients to their patrons’ favorite dishes and positioning them to appear better-for-you. For instance, Taco Bell has quietly reduced sodium in 150 stores in the Dallas market, while Jason’s Deli promotes its food as being free from high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats or pesticides. Consumers enjoy visiting venues that are perceived as healthy, because they make them feel good about themselves and their meal choices.
Transparency: Consumers want to know what they’re eating, and the recently passed health care bill mandates that restaurants with more than 20 units list calorie counts on their menus. Although this might not apply to food retailers, it could be a good idea to go along with the bill, because 61 percent of consumers agree that restaurants should post nutritional information.
Indigenous Ingredients: While the local-food movement continues to grow, the push toward indigenous ingredients takes that trend a step further. In 2011, we’ll see restaurants incorporating more traditional or authentic ingredients into their ethnic or globally positioned meals. One example is Frontera Grill’s Panucho Yucateco, an entrée that boasts the traditional Yucatan crispy tortilla filled with black beans and hard-boiled eggs with shredded chicken in tangy escabeche. "Local" as a marketing claim grew 15 percent in 2010, according to Mintel Menu Insights, and it’s likely that number will increase in 2011.