Trend watcher and foodservice publisher talks restaurant menu trends for Q4 2012
In this special editorial piece, we look inward to keep tracking some of the hot menu trends that will prevail in the last quarter. Rick Zambrano, managing publisher for Kandessa Media, speaks about some of the trends that have held their ground this year, based on experts' opinions during the year and his own trend watching.
What are four top menu trends to watch during the balance of 2012?
Zambrano: These are top trends that we're tracking as a team, which are mostly drawn from our 2012 articles in Chain Pulse and Eatery Pulse Magazine, that experts are recommending to their readers and clients:
- Watch global influences, particular in fast casual
- Authenticity and the story of food
- Freshness as the price to play
- Accept visual marketing of food and its effect on dining trends
Give us more detail.
Zambrano: Watch "Global Influences."
All the world's a stage and all the chefs and restaurateurs are merely players. Fast casuals have hit a home run with Asian influences, incorporating some prevailing flavors in sandwiches, salads and entrees. Look at Corner Bakery Cafe's recently promoted "Asian-inspired" combo to email customers:
Crunchy and Spicy. Just 470 Calories. Crunchy and spicy are perfectly paired in the Corner's new delicious combo. Our crisp Asian Wonton Salad provides the crunch. Then add some kick with our NEW Spicy Thai Coconut Soup – a savory mix of chicken, cabbage, red peppers, green onions, mushrooms and carrots simmered in a spicy curry coconut broth with basil and a touch of cream.
While food trucks seem to be listed by most as a separate trend, I like to roll them up into the global influences trends. People have easier access to very authentic, and even upscale, offerings from the food truck scene. From what we saw earlier this year, here some major examples of Asian influence:
The popularity of Bao and Vietnamese is high in the food truck scene. From the Bon Me (a play on the tasty Banh Mi) Food Truck in Boston to Pho Wheels DC in the nation's capital, Vietnamese food, long known in its authentic at-home and away-from-home settings, has perceived healthy attributes that are hard to match. Vietnamese food is typically lower in price than most comparable offerings, at least in the Northeast.
Vietnamese-style fare is standing out in the food truck scene, once dominated by Asian fusion and Korean fusion, and incorporates fresh vegetables.
Mediterranean is also taking root, and won't lag too far behind, since it's becoming more prevalent in fine dining right now ─ take Chió in the Waterfront District in Manhattan. The eatery offers Mediterranean fare and was started by Alex McWilliams and Jeff Bartels, focusing on lighter plates like flatbreads and pastas.
In fast casual, chains like Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, which expanded recently into the Washington, D.C. area, have shown some strength and a high degree of appeal, and there are talks of a national presence.
Authenticity and the story of food
Depending on who you ask, the origins of the trends are different. Regardless of whether the origins are derived from consumer sentiment, social media, the sustainable movement or food trucks, consumers aren't looking for processed food or complete experimentations in fusion right now. We spoke to Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides and forensic culinary expert and speaker, earlier this year, and she talked about how the gradual recovery plays into consumer sentiment toward food.
If the gradual dying out of the "Rock Star Chef" chapter in food trends teaches us anything it is that people are accepting "homestyle" and "authentic" food from sustainable sources, even farmers, growers and immigrant chefs. Yet, consumers are ready for playful food, but then want to understand the authenticity and the story of the food that they are eating.
These aren't the boom days of yore when there was more disposable income to seek the trendiest food at the highest price at the most exclusive places.
In terms of balancing authenticity and playfulness, with an emphasis on food trucks, trend watcher Nancy Kruse discussed some specific examples at the NRA Show 2012 that are worth noting. If you missed the discussion, or the show's replay webcast for that matter,check out this NRN article here.
Social media is also making the marketing of food both visual and personal. Chains are adopting what indies have known for years: there is a high correlation in knowing the origins and story behind a dish and the excitement of the diner toward that food. To share food on social media, fast casuals have been adopting strategies that focus on the evolving story of food within quick-service.
Freshness as the price to play
Earlier this year, when Wendy's promoted its Berry Almond Chicken Salad, pushing the fresh aspects of fruit and the dressing. When it first promoted the new salad in 2011, it highlighted the Raspberry Vinaigrette dressing, which features the health attributes of the Acai berry, as reported by CCD Innovation in conjunction with Packaged Facts, another menu trend watcher and information firm.
This year Wendy's brought back the salad as a limited-time offer, noting the California strawberries that are sliced "in-store" daily. Take a look at this description from the Wendy's product fact sheet:
Wendy’s new Berry Almond Chicken Salad features fresh, tangy, plump blueberries; fresh California strawberries sliced in‐store daily; California almonds roasted with sea salt; shaved Asiago cheese; and a warm grilled chicken breast on a bed of 11 types of freshly chopped field greens.
Customers have raised their expectations of the foods they will eat regularly, and freshness, whether described as a trend in and of itself by CCD Innovation, or as something that meshes many of the other hot trends, has to be one of the top attributes that restaurants are pushing on menus. Forget cool, hip and "Rock Star"; give me "fresh."
Accept visual marketing of food and its effect on dining trends
Instagram and Pinterest have been hits with marketers, bringing added engagement on social media channels with customers and also allowing restaurants to market products in a more subtle fashion. As we saw with the very visual marketing campaigns for iced and blended beverages in 2012, a la Starbucks or Red Mango's Founder Dan Kim, the social media channels and apps offer chains and independents a way to highlight the beauty of food through pictures.
The artistry of capturing food and beverages can be enhanced by image-enhancing tools that are embedded within the Instagram application. On Pinterest, designers indulge their dreams by making quick-serve food presentation a new art.
Conversely, if the quality of food in some venues is not on par with the upscaling of menus that culinary and R&D professionals are currently undertaking, menu shots will need a lot more than the occasional picture tools to look appealing and entice new customers.
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Photos: courtesy of whiteonrice
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