8 Fast Food Trends for 2014

Industry experts agree that of the many trends expected to affect the restaurant industry this year, these eight will leave the biggest impact on quick service.

  1. Ingredient Transparency - People increasingly want to know about the ingredients and their origins in food. While that has been the case for a few years, 2014 should see the trend garner more mainstream attention. “Customers’ definition of value is fresh ingredients, quality food, and good-tasting food at reasonable prices. But fresh ingredients is No. 1,” says Bonnie Riggs, restaurant analyst at NPD Group, a Chicago-based consulting and market research firm. Riggs says. “Customers want to see that the ingredients and the food are not just holding somewhere.”
  2. Bold Flavours - “People love flavors that take them somewhere,” says Sharon Olson, executive director of the Culinary Vision Panel, a Chicago-based group that looks at culinary trends. “Young people have grown up with various ethnic styles, but everyone is looking for new things.”
  3. Food Costs will Stabilize - Climbing commodity costs shouldn’t hurt restaurants in 2014 as much as they did last year. SpenDifference, a purchasing cooperative for mid-sized chain restaurants, estimates food costs will rise 2 percent this year, a slight reduction from 2013.
  4. Tea as a drink and an Ingredient - “Tea has been an object of fascination by devotees, but always an also-ran to coffee,” writes Michael Whiteman, president of New York food and restaurant consulting company Baum + Whiteman, in an e-mail. “Now that the mass market has some basic idea of coffee connoisseurship, curiosity is luring people into exploring the virtues of tea.” Many people don’t like tea by itself but “are drawn to it because the industry has added such strong sweetened fruit flavors that the bitter tannins disappear,” he adds.           “It is also a naturally healthy beverage with none of the calories of fruit juices,” says Kazia Jankowski, a culinary consultant who helped create the annual trends list for Denver’s Sterling Rice Group, a brand strategy and communications firm.
  5. Mobile Technology will become the new norm - Mobile technology, both for customers and for operators, will continue to open new doors in the quick-service industry. “Mobile is clearly at the top of our trend list and at the top of our research and development,” says Jon Lawrence, director of product marketing, hospitality, for NCR Corp., a global provider in consumer transaction technology. “We’re sort of at or approaching that line, where what was once new and exciting is now expected."
  6. Better-for-you foods go more mainstream - Better-for-you menu options will continue to permeate the limited-service industry, and more brands will invest in health tweaks as the trend goes mainstream. “Health is an overriding issue for many trends,” Jankowski says. “Foods that play to an audience looking for natural, healthy options are going to do well.” She adds that the better-for-you movement will grow not just through healthy meals like salads, but also through ingredient tweaks that help improve the nutrition profile of existing items. For example, ingredients such as lemons can be used to brighten dishes instead of salt, she says.
  7. Flexibility in food and hours - Customers want breakfast, lunch, and dinner at various times in the day, experts say, and they’re also looking for smaller portions to tide them over until their larger meals.“It’s just an evolution of customization, and consumers want what they want when they want it,” says Mary Chapman, director of product innovation for Chicago-based market research firm Technomic Inc. “People get frustrated that they go into a restaurant shortly after 10 a.m. and they can’t get an egg muffin because the menu is now lunch.” McDonald’s is experimenting serving a few menu items from each daypart after midnight. Some restaurants are selling burgers all day. Others are offering items such as yogurt parfaits—originally meant for the morning daypart—anytime.
  8. Sour and Tart Tastes - That means more pickled and fermented ingredients, Technomic’s Chapman says. “Consumers’ tastes are evolving, and they want more depth of flavour, kind of adding a sour note or a pickled tang,” she says.

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