About this time every year the food service industry starts buzzing about the trends that will shape consumer preferences and affect business in the next 12 months. We are lucky enough (or unlucky, depending on how you view it) to be in the midst of a transition period for many restaurants, and that makes the trends for 2010 even more compelling.
These trends have already been covered extensively, but if you need a refresher course, here’s the synopsis:
- Familiar, simple foods sell well. Unique spins on burgers and other classic foods save restaurants R & D and are popular with customers looking for value.
- The ethnic twist. Korean BBQ tacos and other ethnic flavors are making their way into the mainstream more and more. Combine those flavors with comfort foods and you’ve got a sure winner.
- Ingredient sourcing is more and more important. Restaurants growing their own produce and sourcing from local organic farms retain a particular appeal to customers and allow you to attach a unique value to your brand.
- All day breakfast. Everybody loves breakfast, and since these menu items are usually hearty and affordable, consumers have grown to love them even more. Many chains are starting to make their breakfast menus available all day, and other segments in the food service industry will probably follow suit soon.
So what do these trends say about where food service is headed? Overall it looks like restaurants are responding to the consumer watchword of 2009: value. Your customers aren’t looking for something flashy and never-before-seen. They just want the same things they’ve always enjoyed, with maybe a little Korean BBQ sauce on the side.
Many trend watchers are also focused on the menu side of the equation rather than the business side, but if large national chains are any indication of what’s to come in 2010, then it seems apparent that heavy discounting and health consciousness are the watchwords of the day.
Several chains have redoubled their efforts at attracting new business with continued discounts. Meanwhile, even Taco Bell is getting into the healthy food game, with new ads claiming that items of their new healthy menu will make you a whole new kind of Subway Jared.
Again, it looks like everything comes back to value: discounted food that’s familiar, tastes good, and is even healthy to eat. For restaurants walking that edge between survival and profitability, positioning yourself in the sweet spot where customers find value in what you serve while you gain revenue is paramount.
The recipe that works is going to be unique for every restaurant. Many failed in 2009 while searching for it, and unfortunately more are going to fail in 2010. But for those that survive, the lessons learned in providing value to every customer will be essential to their success for years to come.