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2016 Food Outlook: Satisfying the Growing Demand for 'Wholesome and Real'

Keeping up with the latest health trends in the foodservice industry is an ongoing challenge.  Fortunately for restaurant operators, consumers’ definition of healthy food has broadened. It’s less about removing negatives or adding positives, and more about simply eating real food.

This year will bring a continued focus on consumers modifying their eating habits, ranging from purchasing healthier options to clean eating and everything in between.

What will foodservice operators and manufacturers need to address to satisfy the growing demand for “real food?”  Better for you options are not necessarily about fewer calories, low fat, lower sodium, etc. The trend is towards foods and beverages that are considered “wholesome and real”.

Make It Real

The influence of clean eaters on the restaurant industry is beginning to  appear and it will become even more pronounced  as a number of major chains announced plans to eliminate additives such as artificial ingredients or offer additive free proteins. To stay competitive and satisfy the growing demand for clean eating, many more chains are sure to follow suit. 

Clean eaters tend to define clean eating by what isn’t in their food, such as chemicals, preservatives, pesticides, and additives. They are looking for removal of “artificial” ingredients and want to see more locally sourced, house-made, and vegetarian-based dishes on menus. This requires staying on top of this evolving trend as it will become even more important to consumers as their knowledge of “clean eating” increases.

Make It New                                                                                                       

Now more than ever, menu innovation is the key to confronting the challenges facing the foodservice industry as operators and their supplier partners seek to grow their business. Meeting the needs of today’s consumers with an ever increasing multicultural population is no small feat.  New menu items with unique flavors and ingredients are becoming even more important in getting consumers to choose to visit your restaurant over the competition.

Looking back on 2015, it was a year of menu innovation which resulted in many operators being successful in driving sales and traffic. 2016 will bring even more innovation to meet consumers growing demand for something new and different.  And, at the same, meet the growing demand for real food.

Make It Fresh

Fresh is becoming the mantra for healthier food choices when consumers go out to eat.  Consumers want freshly prepared foods, quality foods made with real/fresh ingredients, sourced locally if possible.  In the coming year, “fresh” will become even more prevalent on restaurant menus and portrayed in restaurant operators marketing campaigns.

Make It Hot

This past year was filled with spicy sauces (Louisiana Hot Sauce, Sriracha, Ghost Peppers, etc.) used on everything from burgers to chicken sandwiches and wings to pizza and fries.  When you use hot, spicy sauces and stronger flavor profiles, an operator can influence consumers’ willingness to try menu items with these enhancements.  2016 will bring even more creativity to menu innovation, expanding into other unique sauces and ethnic cuisines.

Make It Like Home

The list of foods thought of as comfort food is broad. But there is one thing almost everyone can agree on: everyone has at least one favorite comfort food dish. Some of the hottest chefs in America are taking these old favorites and infusing them with high-end, fresh ingredients.  They are putting a new twist on old favorites and it’s resonating with consumers.  We anticipate seeing more innovation in this area in the coming year, in part, due to the nostalgic memories associated with these menu offerings.

If You Can’t Make It Real, Make It Cheap

Value wars are once again on the horizon as McDonald’s announced that it will offer a 2-for-$2 menu at the beginning of the New Year.This offer follows on the heels of Wendy’s 4 for $4 meal with a junior bacon cheeseburger, four chicken nuggets, small fries and a small drink.   Much to the chagrin of many restaurant operators, “value wars are back.”  Many others will likely have to follow suit to compete in the battle for market share among value seekers, of which there are many.

Bottom Line

It can be a challenge to keep up with consumers’ ever-changing needs and to demonstrate your competitive point of difference. This can be accomplished in a myriad of ways as noted in NPD’s 2016 outlook for the foodservice industry.  As we move into the New Year, focusing on consumers’ evolving food and beverage choices will lead to success as was demonstrated by a number of major QSR chains in 2015.  The ability to attract more customers in 2016 will ultimately come down to the food – it’s all about the food.

Restaurant Industry 2016 Outlook

The forecast for traffic growth in 2016 is modest with a growth rate of 1 percent.  However, if we take a look at where we are today and where we have been, we are beginning to see light at the end of tunnel.  Yes, it has been a long slow recovery but, in 2016 we will have recovered nearly all of the steep traffic losses incurred after the recession began in 2008.   QSRs will support the gain, while casual dining traffic is forecast to hold steady and midscale to decline by 1 percent.

With continued focus on consumers ever changing wants and needs, we can alter the current forecast of minimal growth.  After all, forecasts are not cast in stone; they are to be used as a guideline and something to work against.

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About Bonnie Riggs

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Public Profile

Bonnie Riggs is the restaurant industry analyst for The NPD Group’s foodservice division. She has over 25 years of restaurant industry market research experience. Bonnie’s knowledge of the industry and its consumers enables her to provide in-depth insights into the state of the industry, consumer trends, and forecasts of what's in store for the industry.

Bonnie is the author of numerous foodservice reports that take an in-depth look at current topics and issues in the industry. Most recently she authored A Look into the Future of Eating, which provides a 10-year forecast of foodservice trends based on aging, population growth, and trend momentum;How Consumers Define Healthy Eating When They Dine Out; and The Changing Consumer Mindset: What it Means to the Restaurant Industry.

A frequent presenter at industry events, Bonnie stays on top of what’s on the minds of restaurant operators, foodservice manufacturers, distributors, and others who shape the industry.