If you read any of the restaurant industry publications, you’ve already seen the 10 trends that Technomic expects will develop in 2013. (If you haven’t, you can read them here.)
While fast-casual operators will certainly be impacted by and react to these trends, the fact is that they are driving many of these trends.
Take the related trends of vegetables’ starring role and grains’ rise in popularity, which have the common roots of demand for fresh, local and healthful ingredients; meatless meals; and the influence of global cuisines. Salad specialists such as Saladworks, Nature’s Table Café and Salad Creations built their brands around offering a healthier alternative using a variety of fresh ingredients. Ethnic concepts from Pei Wei to Daphne’s to Roti Mediterranean Grill highlight the rice and grains that form the base of so many of Asian and Mediterranean dishes. And bakery café players including Au Bon Pain and Cosi offer innovative sandwiches without meat.
And then there’s chicken. It was included on our list because of the growing number of operators promoting theirs as natural, organic or locally raised, and chicken’s ability to take on appealing global flavors. But a look at some of the fast-casual chicken leaders, such as El Pollo Loco and Pollo Tropical, and newcomers, such as Nando’s Peri-Peri and Chicken Dijon Rotisserie and Grill, finds these assets already hard at work.
Another trend is around beverages and their ability to help differentiate a concept. Thinking back to better-burger concept Tom & Eddie’s as one of the early users of the Coca-Cola Freestyle Machine; the concept felt it’s high-quality and flexible menu needed the same attributes in its beverages. At Piada Italian Street Food, Italian sodas complement the flatbreads and pasta bowls on the menu, and at LYFE Kitchen, menu items can be paired with wines from local wineries. More recently, Smashburger began incorporating local craft beers in burger pairings on its menus.
Fast-casual concepts, which create many of the menu trends that will develop throughout the foodservice industry, should be commended for their foresight. But don’t rest on your laurels. The more widely innovative menu trends are incorporated, the more they lose their novelty. The most successful fast-casual operators will continue to look ahead to provide the flavors and ingredients that tomorrow’s consumers will be craving.