Technomic identifies top flavors and concepts set to reshape the restaurant landscape.
Make way for ghost pepper, gochujang, harissa and more assertive flavors as chefs seek to add ethnic spices to sandwiches and other menu standards. Menu mentions of sriracha grew 72% over a two-year period, according to Technomic.
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From meatballs and sausage to dumplings and toast, so-called “peasant” foods are getting gourmet treatment on menus. Over a five-year period, menu mentions of meatballs grew nearly 40%, and sausage surged 14%. “Other humble staples on the rise include ethnic dumplings and distinct bread,” Technomic said, citing a beef cheek pierogi at Lola in Cleveland as an example.
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A root-to-stalk sentiment is taking hold in restaurant kitchens — think veggie burgers made with carrot pulp from the juicer, said Technomic. Meanwhile, underused cuts of meat and “trash” species of seafood, such as redfish, Asian carp and Atlantic Pollock, are starring on the center of the plate in response to rising protein prices. New York-based Shake Shack, for example, has served a cheeseburger crafted entirely from leftovers, including juice pulp and stale rye.
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Smoking, burning and charring have become go-to methods for adding flavor and house-made appeal to food and beverages. Items may include charred vegetable side dishes, desserts topped with burnt sugar, or drinks featuring smoked salt or smoky syrups, Technomic said. An example is wok-charred greens with jalapeño and smoked tofu at Spice Market in New York.
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Champagnes, artisanal sodas and sparkling teas are bubbling up on beverage menus. Spritz Burger in Chicago serves house-made soda flights.
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Seven in 10 consumers said they are more likely to buy food or beverages described as G.M.O.-free, and 34% are willing to pay more for it, according to Technomic. A growing number of diners may gravitate to restaurants marketing non-G.M.O. food or demand the labeling of bioengineered ingredients on menus.
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Consumer demand for fresh and organic fare and local and humane sourcing are adding challenges to the food supply chain, already pressured by an unstable climate, mutating pathogens and rising transportation costs, Technomic said. Top initiatives among food service distributors include local sourcing (89%), animal welfare and human treatment (78%), product and ingredient safety (78%) and traceability (78%), according to Technomic.
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Changing consumer behaviors and expectations have given rise to a new restaurant segment called “Q.S.R.-plus.” Including Chick-fil-A, Potbelly Sandwich Shop and Culver’s, Q.S.R.-plus concepts offer a fresh-focused menu with price points and decor between those of fast-food and fast-casual.
“The customization model is no longer exclusive to fast-casual restaurants,” Technomic noted. Meanwhile, leading limited-service brands are expanding day part offerings or serving alcohol beverages to drive traffic. The top seven Q.S.R.-plus leaders grew sales more than 9% collectively in 2015, Technomic said.
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A shortage of skilled workers and mandates to raise minimum wages will continue to challenge restaurant operators, who may turn to technology to automate ordering, payment and food preparation. “Eighty-three per cent of consumers support minimum wage increases, but 84% of food service operators say a $15 minimum wage would hurt business,” Technomic said.
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Uber, Amazon and the proliferation of order-and-pay apps and third-party delivery services may become a bigger threat to brick-and-mortar restaurants as dining in becomes easier and more enticing than ever. Restaurant chains testing or expanding delivery service include Dunkin’ Donuts, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Panera Bread, Burger King, Chipotle Mexican Grill and 7-Eleven.
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