CHICAGO — Salads, grains and chicken may drive food service sales in 2013, according to the market research firm Technomic. Using data from its digital resource library and its MenuMonitor database, Technomic identified several trends for 2013.

“Some of these developments are mainstream trends among major players, others are edgy urban movements that may or may not spread to the wider American public, and some are in the process of evolving from leading-edge to mainstream,” Technomic said.

The research firm predicts that as consumers discover more good tasting meatless meals, they will seek more meal occasions featuring vegetables.

“That means not only innovative salads but also creative presentations of roasted or steamed veggies, even the assertive ones like carrots, kale or Brussels sprouts,” Technomic said. “Vegetables at the center of the plate are welcomed by diners who continue to seek fresh, local, healthful fare as well as operators squeezed by rising costs for proteins.”

A variety of grains were also identified as “playing star roles on trendy menus.” Dishes like polenta, couscous or bulgur were identified as central to some of today's hottest ethnic cuisines. Technomic noted a number of grains — quinoa, amaranth, millet, wild rice, corn, oats and buckwheat — do not contain gluten and are being nudged to the fore as part of the movement to gluten-free eating.

New quick-service and fast-casual fried-chicken concepts were central to the identification of chicken as a trendy center-of-the-plate item.

“Now that Latin-accented marinated chicken has established a niche, African peri-peri chicken may be next,” Technomic said.

Noting that tapas, mezze and upscale bar bites in full-service restaurants are currently being matched by novelties in limited-service restaurants, such as spicy chicken McBites at McDonald’s and Chicken Littles at KFC led Technomic to identify snacking as a continuing trend. The company said consumers demand for flexible portions and prices, and food service operators’ need to move beyond price-cutting on core menu items all combine to make snacks a trend.

While value has been a focus throughout the food service sector during the past few years, Technomic said volume is making a comeback.

“Look for more deals like Pizza Hut’s Big Dinner Box — two pizzas with multiple sides — or Olive Garden’s Dinner Today & Dinner Tomorrow, a dine-in meal plus a to-go mea,), as well as multi-course feasts for two, four or more —even whole-hog pig roasts,” Technomic said.

Ramen, udon, soba, cellophane and rice noodles also are predicted to show up in soups and mixed-texture salads. It was noted that this trend is not solely related to the rise of noodle shops. Meals featuring these noodles are showing up in seafood and varied-menu restaurants as well.

Technomic also predicts 2013 will be the year South American-style grilled meats, chimichurri sauce, ceviche, South American-Asian fusion seafood dishes and iconic drinks, from Brazil's caipirinha to Peru's pisco sour reaches the mainstream.