As the foodservice industry begins to emerge from its economic malaise brought on by the recession, big changes are on the way for restaurants, according to Technomic, which offers the following 11 trends to watch in the year to come.
1. Action in adult beverages. “Mad Men”-style retro cocktails, high-cachet gin and bourbon, craft beers and punch (including sangria). Look for cocktails with herbal and floral ingredients; “skinny” cocktails; even more adult beverages in fast-casual eateries. .
2. Beyond bricks-and-mortar. Food trucks, facilitated by social media that notify foodies of their whereabouts, are proliferating. “Land-based” restaurants are using food trucks as brand extensions and catering aids; food-truck districts are starting to appear as are temporary or seasonal pop-up eateries.
3. Farmers as celebrities. Restaurants feature celebrity suppliers by offering special menus, inviting them to comment on blogs, even hosting visits. More often, farmers and artisans will be saluted in highly detailed menu descriptions.
4. Social media and technology: We’ll see constant changes in applications for marketing and operations in 2011. Kiosk ordering, wine lists on iPads, tableside payment systems—which technologies will revolutionize operations? Couponing websites and location-based social media will grow, while the apps fad will continue to evolve.
5. 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.
6. Frugality fatigue. Penny-pinching was a novelty when the recession began; now it’s gotten old. The middle class will gravitate to reasonably priced but high-experience-value, thrill-a-minute concepts with memorable menus. Gastropubs will proliferate.
7. How low can you go? Consumers will continue to demand price deals, everywhere they eat. As food input prices heat up next year, sustaining the bottom line will continue to be a crucial issue for operators.
8. Carefully calibrated brand action. We’ll see more fast-casual brand extensions by full-service restaurants; more ultra-niche eateries with narrowly focused menus; What new units we’ll see will be smaller, sustainably built, with more efficient layouts, often in nontraditional locations.
9. 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 donuts and popsicles for dessert; family-style service formats and family-size portions.
10. New competition from c-stores. Retailers have been encroaching on restaurant turf for some time, but now the hottest action is among convenience-store operators upgrading their foodservice, where margins are 40-60 percent instead of the 5 percent typical for gas.
11. Healthful vs. indulgent: Look for more items and detailed descriptions on “healthy” menus—including gluten-free fare as well as more “under x calories” items. Limited-time offers (including seasonal fare) will trend up, not only because they attract attention, but also because they don’t require posting nutrition data that consumers would rather not know. “Eating a little better” will translate into menu modifications such as slightly-lower-sodium, slightly-more-glamorous sea salt; “eating better some of the time” will lead to more innovations like “Meatless Mondays.”
Honest Tea is pulling out of the kombucha business, according to a report in Beverage Business Insights. According to the report, the company felt that the regulatory environment for the kombucha category was still too unstable for further Honest Tea involvement. Kombucha as a category is still being scrutinized by the U.S. Trade and Taxation Bureau following evidence this summer that unpasteurized kombuchas can ferment beyond legal limits for products sold as non-alcoholic beverages. As a result of that scrutiny, kombucha producers across the country were forced to pull their products out of Whole Foods stores while they searched for ways to produce products that would stay below the required 0.5 percent alcohol content required under federal law. Honest Tea, which sourced its Honest Kombucha products from Colorado-based High Country Kombucha, had announced it was reintroducing TTB-compliant products in August. High Country Kombucha would not comment on the news of Honest Tea’s withdrawal. The company is still waiting to hear from Honest Tea before making a statement, according to High Country President Shane Dickman.
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The Darden Restaurants chain has sued T.G.I. Friday’s for advertising “never ending shrimp” specials, because Darden claims its Olive Garden “never ending pasta bowl” and Red Lobster’s “endless shrimp” are trademarks. Earlier Darden won a settlement from IHOP for serving “never ending pancakes” and “never ending popcorn shrimp.”
Actor Jack Black quoted in Parade Magazine:
“I’ve discovered that I really like spicy food. Part of it is the challenge aspect: Can I defeat the dreaded habanero pepper? But I also like the idea that it goes in my body and kills rogue bacteria. When I’m coming down with a cold, I blast it with a super-spicy lamb vindaloo.”
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John Lehndorff is co-author with Kim Long of the American Salumi Calendar 2011, the first calendar devoted to cured meat artisans in the U.S. Lehndorff is a former caterer, nationally distributed newspaper food columnist and restaurant critic, author of a restaurant guide book, and one of America’s foremost pie experts.
The 2011 American Salumi Calendar: www.americansalumi.com