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Foodservice menu trends get healthy, fresh and local

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Healthy food, more diversity and local produce are among the menu trends that Maeve Webster, senior director at Datassential, and Chip Bell, founder of Chip Bell Group and author, are currently seeing throughout the foodservice industry, ranging from food retailers to full-service restaurants. Both Bell and Webster will be speaking at this weekend’s PMA Foodservice Conference and Expo in Monterey, Calif.

“Approximately 80% of consumers believe it is important for restaurants to feature more produce,” wrote Webster in her guest post on PMA’s xchange blog. “And operators are anticipating the future of produce as well: 82% believe produce will be important to their operation in the next few years.”

Foodservice menus are also offering an increased variety of authentic world cuisines, Webster wrote, as well as a heightened awareness of eating healthy and well.

As a consumer, Bell said he has also noticed more emphasis on health-conscious food, for both quick- and full-service, and more diversity and frequent change in menu items as customers’ requirements change. According to Bell, two factors drive trends today.

“Customers live in an ever-increasing sensory-stimulating world that elevates their requirements for uniqueness,” Bell told SmartBrief. “The instant and far-reaching influence customers have over other customers through social media causes their likes and dislikes to be the impetus for rapid responses to their newer and higher expectations.”

The Hartman Group said it has also noticed a trend in touting freshness, as well as sustainability.

“We know that among changing restaurant menu and format propositions that several popular formats offer cues to quality which include freshness, [such as] Panera Bread, or sustainability, [such as] Chipotle—both of which are central to produce on the menu,” said David Wright, senior associate at the Bellevue, Wash.-based consumer research firm, The Hartman Group.

Webster also wrote that Dataessentials has seen a  “growing interest in, and proliferation of, seasonal, locally-sourced and heirloom produce varieties,” as well as “increased demand for, and menuing of, ‘fresh’ items,” with ‘fresh’ being defined broadly.

Other interesting menu trend findings from The Hartman Group’s recent report, Sustainability 2013: When Personal Aspirations and Behavior Diverge, include:

  • In food service and restaurants, menu selections and communications are the foundation of a sustainability halo.
  • Consumers find it difficult to separate the sustainability of a foodservice location/restaurant brand from its food.
  • Consumers tend to think first about the meat products foodservice locations serve when judging their sustainability.  After a focus on meat, narratives of importance to consumers in relation to “sustainable food service” are seafood (e.g., sustainable farming or fishing), produce (e.g., organic, non-GMO, local) and coffee (Fair Trade).

To play a role in driving trends, Bell said that produce companies “should have the deep capacity to deliver more customer intelligence to their clients.”

“Be willing to be more experimental,” he said. “Make customers your partners, not just consumers of your product.  Learn from organizations outside your industry; remember, when it comes to the experience created, your competitor becomes every other service provider on the planet.”

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Bell will present “Innovating Your Customer Experience: Satisfying Your Customer’s Hunger for Fresh Ideas” at PMA Foodservice Conference and Expo on July 27, 2013. Read his guest post on PMA’s xchange blog, “The sense of innovative service.”

Webster will present “Innovations & Menu Trends: Predicting the Next Big Thing on the Plate” at PMA Foodservice Conference and Expo on Saturday, July 27, 2013. Read her guest post on PMA’s xchange blog, “Foodservice industry trends causing rapid transformation, opportunities for businesses.”