Technomic, the foodservice research and consulting firm, has identified trends emerging for the second half of 2014, including hot peppers and sauces beyond Sriracha, barbecue flavors in quick-serve handhelds, and classic snack brands incorporated into new menu offerings.
Technomic brings together the best judgments of its consultants and editors to periodically identify and assess trends that may significantly impact the restaurant industry. These expert insights are based on site visits evaluating the restaurant scene in cities across the country, as well as interviews and surveys of operators, chefs, and consumers, backed up by qualitative data from Technomic's extensive Digital Resource Library and quantitative data from its vast MenuMonitor database.
Here's what Technomic experts see emerging:
- The Next Sriracha: Thailand's take-the-top-off-your-head chile-and-vinegar condiment is the new chipotle. Now, customers are seeking newer and even bolder taste sensations imparted by peppers and sauces from Asia, Latin America, and North Africa: habanero, serrano, harissa, shishito, togarashi, sweet chili, ghost pepper, spicy mayos, and aiolis.
- Barbecue Love: Authentic regional interpretations of slow-cooked barbecue continue to have broad appeal, but the latest trend is the application of barbecue sauces and flavors to handheld offerings like sandwiches and pizza, often with barbecue pulled pork as the core protein. Even conventional barbecue chains have rolled out nontraditional barbecue-inspired handhelds, such as the BBQ Chicken Lettuce Wrap LTO at Lucille's Smokehouse Bar-B-Que.
- Name That Snack: Classic snacks are being incorporated into novelty foods that capture attention with over-the-top indulgence, like Subway's Fritos Chicken Enchilada Melt, Crumbs Bake Shop's Girl Scout Cookie cupcakes, or Dunkin' Donuts' iced coffee flavors inspired by Baskin-Robbins ice creams.
- Asian-style small plates: Asian-influenced bites include Lazy Dog Cafe's Dim Sum Dumplings and the Chicken Sriracha Bites served with ranch dressing at bd's Mongolian Grill, but even fine-dining restaurants are incorporating dim sum-style service.
- Beverages Bubbling Up: Think specialty teas; lemonade-and-iced-tea blends; restaurant originals such as house-made sodas; and smoothies beyond fruit, with surprising ingredients ranging from kale or peanut butter. Fast casuals lead the way: Pret A Manger added Beet Beautiful Juice with apple, carrot, beet and ginger; Grand Traverse Pie Company unveiled a Pie Smoothie; and Panda Express is testing an in-store tea bar. When it comes to adult beverage trends, hops rule; IPAs and other hoppy craft beers are proliferating in many incarnations.
- Shrinking menus: Across all dayparts, casual-dining chains are reducing menus. Operations can slow down when menus get too big; a less-is-more approach can create a more user-friendly customer experience. Will the success of narrowly focused fast casuals lead to more menu and operational simplification in full service?