Here are five top trends for 2014, culled from industry marketing groups’ trend reports for the coming year.
Full Service Takes on Fast Casuals
Full-service concepts are looking to the winning ways of fast casuals, which continue to show impressive growth, reports Mintel. To compete, full-service brands are launching speedier, fast-casual models; offering healthier and more flavorful menu items; and employing technology to speed up the restaurant visit, especially during the lunch hour.
Keeping Connected via Technology
Concepts are using technology to help eliminate customer pain points, specifically by reducing ordering, wait, and checkout times. Technology’s real draw, however, is allowing restaurants to engage with customers 24/7, whether customers are on-premise or off-site perusing Facebook or Twitter. Mobile technology will be key to building relationships with existing customers, says NPD, especially as the smartphone continues to infiltrate the consumer marketplace. “Consumers’ use of mobile devices for ordering and paying for meals, and then reporting on the meal experience [via social media], will continue to grow as mobile technology becomes even more integrated into everyday life,” says NPD.
Move Over Millennials, the Boomers are Coming
The restaurant industry is obsessed with the younger set, those 18- to 34-year-olds (or thereabouts) who love to frequent food and beverage establishments. Other groups shouldn’t be ignored, however—in particular Baby Boomers and Hispanics. Boomers (defined as those born between 1946 and 1964) represent 44 percent of the U.S. population, and control 70 percent of U.S. disposable income. When it comes to food preferences, this older set loves authentic, global cuisine as much as the Millennials. “Their importance to the foodservice industry will continue to grow; the group is too large and important to be overlooked,” says NPD.
Hispanics, too, shouldn’t be overlooked, notes Mintel. They tend to dine out in large groups, and their population numbers are on the rise. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Hispanic population surged from 35.3 million in 2000 to 50.5 million in 2010—a 43 percent increase. Latinos now makeup 16 percent of the nation's total population, and their spending power is expected to reach nearly $1.7 trillion by 2017, meaning serving this rapidly expanding community will be key to growth, says Mintel.
Ethnic Diversity Drives Menu Shift
Diversity in the U.S. population also impacts menu offerings; as the Hispanic population rises, so, too, does their influence on menus. Latino ingredients and spices are prevalent in a range of operations, from steakhouses to family casuals. The Asian population in the U.S. is also increasing, as is their influence on menus. Look for more noodles, rice, and specialty sauces. “These menu changes will not only attract new customers, they will assist in holding the interest of existing customers,” says NPD.
On the Menu
Chicken—it’s what’s for dinner (and lunch), especially as beef prices continue to rise. Additionally, consumers are looking for more transparency when it comes to the origin of their food, says Mintel, as well as more locally sourced food. Menus will continue to emphasize fresh ingredients. “Consumers’ interest in healthy meal options is tied to the health needs of boomers and older individuals, the growth in ethnic groups accustomed to fresh food preparation, and greater awareness of the need for and benefits of healthy eating among younger generations,” says NPD.
By Joann Whitcher