Bowling for Dollars: Bowls Are Here to Stay on LSR Menus

Bowls are proving to be a menu force that’s here to stay at limited-service restaurants, alongside menu staples like sandwiches and salads. The bowl format became a mainstream hit around 2003 when Chipotle debuted its Burrito Bowl. KFC followed suit by launching its KFC Famous Bowls in 2006. Since then, the bowl category has grown substantially at LSRs, with new bowl ingredients and combinations popping up weekly.

From Panera’s new Broth Bowls to Jamba Juice’s recently introduced Energy Bowls, limited-service operators show no signs of slowing down their bowl development anytime soon. According to Technomic’s MenuMonitor data, entrées served in a bowl format grew on limited-service Top 500 and emerging chain menus 3.5% over the past year, to 355 items at 98 chains.

Bowl entrées featuring breakfast starches (e.g., breakfast grain-based bowls), Mexican ingredients, turkey, rice, seafood and vegetables have all particularly grown in incidence since last year. Some unique new bowls offered on leading and emerging menus include:

  • Juice It Up!’s limited-time Smoothie Bowls allow patrons to order any Classic or Veggie smoothie as a bowl with toppings like granola, honey, raw kale or spinach.
  • Panera Bread’s no-longer-secret Power Menu items include a Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl with Roasted Turkey, and a Power Chicken Hummus Bowl.
  • Veggie Grill’s new Mindful Living menu contains several bowls under 600 calories that are high in protein and nutrients, such as the Latin Living Bowl and the Bombay Bowl.
  • Daphne’s California Greek’s Cali-Greek Bowl LTO came with brown rice or rice pilaf, beans, salsa, guacamole, bacon, yogurt-chipotle sauce, and grilled chicken, gyros or falafel.
  • 16 Handles will soon roll out build-your-own breakfast bowls, which feature a choice of Greek yogurt, açaí or oatmeal, plus toppings such as fruit, raisins and granola.

Bowls are even inspiring concept development among emerging LSR chains. For example:

  • Chipotle’s spinoff concept ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen specializes in build-your-own rice, noodle and salad bowls.
  • Miami-based emerging chain My Ceviche is known for its build-your-own ceviche bowls with the choice of fish, shrimp or octopus.
  • Crazy Bowls & Wraps offers signature create-your-own grain-based bowls alongside a variety of specialty bowls, from a Stir-Fry Bowl to a Bean & Veggie Bowl.
  • Beefsteak, a new fast-casual vegetable-centric concept from chef José Andrés, offers build-your-own grain and veggie bowls.
  • Bowl of Heaven serves signature Açaí Bowls with various mixtures of organic açaí, fruit, juices, milks and vegetables, topped with items like granola, grains, fruits, honey and more.
  • New York City-based OatMeals specializes in oatmeal bowls with a wide variety of sweet and savory mix-ins and toppings.

Bowls are resonating with consumers for a number of reasons—and the key one right now is health. Operators are using bowls to highlight health-halo claims, including high-protein, low-carb, high-energy, gluten-free and nutrient-rich. Consumers also value the customizable aspect of bowls, as so many are offered in a build-your-own format—similar to Chipotle’s original Burrito Bowl. Bowls work particularly well for the LSR format thanks to their portable convenience and easy-to-eat format.

While breakfast bowls are particularly hot right now, expect operators to continuously reinvent the bowl and its function on the menu.

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Jill Failla

Jill Failla is Editor of Consumer Research at Technomic Inc. in Chicago. She currently provides menu analysis and trend forecasts for the firm’s Consumer Trend Reports series.

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