5 Food and Beverage Industry Trends Every Restaurant Should Know

By: Shivank Taksali

5 Minute Read

Feb 21, 2017

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Apple just revealed their new water resistant iPhone 7 to the world. Sony announced two new Playstation consoles. In our fast-paced society, there’s always something new around the corner. Wonder what the next big thing in the food industry is?

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) published a “What’s Hot in 2016” report that predicted food trends for this upcoming year. The survey included responses from 1,600 professional chefs, members of the American Culinary Federation (ACF).

The survey respondents rated 221 restaurant menu items as either:

  • A “hot trend” - highly influential topics that have picked up a lot of recent momentum.
  • “Yesterday’s news” - topics that used to be relevant but aren’t anymore.
  • A “perennial favorite” - current popular trends that will continue to be for years to come.

The report laid out what the "up-and-coming" movements in the restaurant industry are, ranging from customer preferences to the newest common practices of chefs. As someone working in the restaurant technology industry and a frequent restaurant-goer, these are five trends that stood out to me.

1. Chef-Driven Fast Casual Concepts

Restaurants are combining fast casual models, such as Chipotle & Shake Shack, with high-end chefs to expand their brands to the on-the-go market. After all, who said that street food can't be stellar food?

Consider the case of Chef Joshua Skenes. A meal at Saison, Skenes’ high-end restaurant in San Francisco, offers a tasting menu that lasts for several hours and costs $500 per person. 

On the other hand, his new fast-casual venture, Fat Noodle, will provide Chinese quick-serve noodles in an open kitchen which should come up to around $8 a bowl. Skenes is one of many exquisite chefs venturing into the world of fast food and trying to appeal to new customers without putting their main source of revenue at risk. 

2. Locally Grown Produce

Many new restaurants chains are keeping things domestic.

Successful fast-casual brands such as Sweetgreen are embracing the farming efforts of their local communities. It’s no secret either that when I visit Sweetgreen’s Fenway location in Boston, I am fascinated by their custom chalkboards displaying ingredients such as fruits and vegetables along with their local origins.

Locally grown ingredients are embedded into the purpose and beliefs of Sweetgreen. The rapidly growing salad chain’s values are so clear that they resonate with anyone who has the same mindset. For example, a lot of millennials are concerned with environmental sustainability and the local economy, which suggests that their values align with those of Sweetgreen.

Simply defining your restaurant’s core values can help breed customer loyalty. While using locally grown produce at your restaurant is beneficial, some restaurants kick it up a notch with hyperlocal sourcing.

3. Hyperlocal Sourcing

What is hyperlocal sourcing? Hyperlocal sourcing is when restaurants grow fresh produce right from their very own plots. The restaurant’s food is grown by on-site urban gardens. It’s as local as you can get.

A café in Chicago called Nana boasts a fully organic menu with the help of their 100-square-foot hydroponic garden in their basement. Hydroponic gardens use mineral nutrients from water-based solutions and do not require any soil. Nana uses their in-house garden to grow broccoli, basil, and more fresh ingredients. Not only does it help save on delivery costs, but it also helps differentiate the Chicago based café from the fierce competition in the market.

Hyperlocal sourcing allows restaurants to tap into the ever-growing demand of fresh and local foods. House-made items have also made their way to the dessert world.

4. House-Made/Artisan Food

Restaurant-goers appreciate the time and skill it takes to create handmade delicacies. Demand for handmade artisan food with local ingredients is seriously starting to grow in the market. 

Consider the case of [FoMu], the premium alternative ice cream shop in Boston. FoMu is a “unique, scratchmade, plant-based ice cream” that is “carefully sourced with local ingredients.” FoMu positions itself as an artisan ice cream shop with high-quality ingredients and seasonal flavors. The brand bodes well with environmentally conscious individuals and ice-cream lovers alike.

5. Environmental Sustainability

food trends in 2016Environmental sustainability is one of the hottest trends in 2016 and will continue to be for the next ten years. The phenomenon includes waste management, pollution reduction, and energy usage at an environmentally acceptable level for future generations.

The theme of sustainability has flowed into the large fast food chain market as well. For example, Yum! Brands, the parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell recently created their own green building standard to focus on decreasing waste, increasing energy and water efficiency, and using sustainable materials that a LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified building would use.

McDonald’s has also taken steps to foster sustainable practices in the franchise and its communities. The fast-food giant is currently recycling around 90 percent of its used fryer oil nationwide. The chain buys coffee and espresso beans solely from verified sustainable sources. These are some of the strategies to appeal to the environmentally-friendly guest.

What Are Your Hottest Food and Beverage Industry Trends?

Whether it’s growing ingredients from a garden within your own restaurant or serving a high-end chef’s creation from food trucks, over a thousand professional chefs believe that these are some of the top 20 hottest food trends in 2016. With increasing pressure on food resources and energy efficiency, environmental sustainability will be big tidal wave for restaurants to ride.

Beverage trends, especially consumer beverage trends, will also be impacting restaurateurs in the following year. To read more, check out our interview with Neil Quigley, famous beer prodigy in Boston. 

In what ways are you taking advantage of growing food trends? Have you noticed any other patterns in the restaurant industry? Which trends do you think are here to stay?

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