ROSEMONT, ILL. — The NPD Group forecasts food service traffic and sales will improve in 2014 compared to 2013 and that a focus on freshness will be a key menu trend.

The market research firm said the incidence of healthy menu offerings will rise in 2014 as baby boomers seek items that reflect their health needs, whether it is related to sodium, sugar or fat, and food service operators will introduce new menu items to attract different ethnic groups that are accustomed to seeing fresh offerings on menus.

Adding to the fresh trend will be emerging food service formats that focus on freshness as well. The NPD Group highlighted My Fit Foods, which offers freshly prepared foods for take home or in-store dining, and Lyfe Kitchen, which offers a menu of fresh, sustainable offerings, as two examples of food service formats that are focusing on fresh.

Other menu trends will include a shift away from beef and to chicken as high beef prices combined with lower chicken prices will prompt operators to develop new and different non-beef parings that will result in an overall growth for chicken products and a dampening in beef orders.

Fast-casual, sub sandwich, gourmet coffee and donut, and convenience store formats will benefit the most from increased traffic and sales during 2014. While The NPD Group said food service market conditions will improve, it also said convenient meal solutions sold at retail will continue to challenge food service traffic.

The research firm also declared that in its opinion, the fine dining category is fully recovered from the recession.

“Supported by the segment of the population least impacted by the economic slowdown, these restaurants have made efforts to become ‘more contemporary,’ The NPD Group said. “They are now more casual in décor and accepting of casual attire. This trend and growing appeal is expected to continue.”