A new report shows that consumer motivations behind the increase in sustainable eating can be surprising
Plastic straws and packaging are hurting the planet, shopping local can reduce pollution, and new alternatives to meat alternatives are hitting the market at a steady pace. Sustainability matters for the health of the planet, but what does it mean to consumers?
Analysing billions of data points, including social media, menus, and recipes, AI-powered food intelligence startup Tastewise provides a real-time understanding of consumer motivations behind the most promising food trends.
Today it issues its latest report, F&B sustainability trends in 2020, predicting what we can expect to see this year where sustainability in the food and beverage sector is concerned.
Sustainable food choices up
Considering over two billion social interactions, more than three million online recipes, and the largest restaurant menu database available of 274,000 restaurants, the latest report from Tastewise forecasts industry changes in sustainability for the coming decade. The study finds that 23% more consumers prioritize sustainable food choices today than a year ago.
“Sustainability is an issue that’s increasingly important across food categories and markets, and we’re excited to offer data that impacts the future of our industry,” said Alon Chen, Tastewise co-founder and CEO. “We are helping our clients on a daily basis to find the right sustainable solutions that meet their consumer needs of today, as well as tomorrow. If a menu or a product doesn’t offer sustainable seafood, it’s time to catch up to consumers’ heightened culinary consciousness.”
A drive towards healthy lifestyle
Furthermore, the data-driven approach to the report examines why. As an example it found that consumers’ eco-motivations and health needs eclipse all other factors when it comes to sustainable food, propelling the growing popularity of dark chocolate and cocoa beans.
Among other standout findings from the report is the fact that while 39% of consumers’ sustainable conversations focus on health benefits, only 1% discuss animal rights. And among those embracing a meatless lifestyle, the vegan diet came top of other diet choices while the research also found that seafood is increasingly taking over sustainable recipes, with pollock being the top choice on seafood menus.
In the US, California – home to 12% of the American population – leads the way in sustainability with 22% of the nation’s restaurant serving sustainable dishes found there.
The full Tastewise 2020 Food and Beverage Sustainability report can be found here.
Off-premise dining and customer-focused technology will continue to grow, Professional Members of FCSI The Americas tell Amelia Levin
When it comes to food trends, the climate crisis and a new generation of plant-based cooking and eating will have an impact in 2020, according to a report by third-party research firm Datassential. That’s already taking shape in the form of sustainable ingredient selection, enhanced or reduced packaging waste and the decreased use of plastics. In addition, more operators are turning to hydroponics and other forms of on-site farms for “hyper-regional” food and to do their part to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.
The National Restaurant Association’s Hudson Riehle, said during a State of the Industry webcast last year that the industry is at a “tipping point,” with the strong possibility that a new business model will emerge, whether that’s in the form of enhanced drive-thru or delivery services, leveraging technology in various ways, or even switching to ghost kitchens for higher-volume food production.
Connie Dickson FCSI, principal with Rippe Associates, has a similar view. “Across segments, operators want technology that can offset hiring challenges and help them position their staff strategically for maximum guest impact,” she says. “Think smart equipment, mobile technology like order/pay apps, robots for foodservice tasks including delivery.”
Off-premise remains growth area
According to a report from CBRE Group, over a third of adults in the U.S. and half of Millennials are more likely to order food for delivery compared to two years ago. The report predicted that a whopping 70% of third-party sales will be delivery by 2022, up from 37% in 2016 and 58% last year. Delivery-only ghost kitchens will become a primary growth vehicle for restaurant delivery platforms, the report stated.
In fact, the National Restaurant Association has reported that off-premise sales now account for 60% of all foodservice occasions, and compared to 2018, 39% of customers have used the drive-thru channel more; 34% have ordered more delivery, and 29% have ordered more takeout.
This has led to more chains revamping their restaurant designs to include separate areas and even entrances for online order and off-premise pickup, while others have upgraded their drive-thru platforms, some using AI and automated ordering.
Investing in technology
Kristin Sedej FCSI, president-principal of S2O Consultants, also notes that 2020 will be all about “technology, technology, technology. Especially all formats of customer order entry.”
Indeed, Riehle told Forbes last year that 70% of quick-service operators plan to invest more in technology. The Association, in its 2019 State of the Industry report noted that nearly four in 10 operators plan to invest more in expanding their off-premise business this year, including 41% of family dining operators; 35% of casual dining operators; 35% of fine dining operators; 36% of quick-serve operators; 39% of fast casual operators, and 43% of coffee/snack concepts.
According to Ken Schwartz FCSI, president of SSA, “any design that enhances the guest experience” will take top billing this year when it comes to trends. Specifically, that could be in the form of a next-generation open kitchen with live-fire cooking and chefs’ counters.
In addition, the industry has already seen a growth in the number of “eatertainment” concepts around the country. These concepts offer both entertainment and high-quality (and typically high-volume) food, whether that’s at a renovated or brand new sports arena, a live music venue or even modern arcade-restaurants, dart throwing venues, Japanese-style listening bars and more.
What were the biggest foodservice trends of the last decade? Tina Nielsen speaks to consultants about the developments that had the biggest impact
Somehow we find ourselves at the end of another decade. The conclusion of the 2010s seems to have crept up on us, yet here we are ready to welcome the next era of the 21st century.
Few would disagree that changes in the last ten years in foodservice have been momentous. Today, it is hard to imagine a restaurant menu without the towering presence of vegetable dishes, but in 2010, we were yet to embrace plant-based foods – veggie burgers were definitely not on anybody’s radar beyond the vegetarian community. Vegan was still an alien concept to the average diner.
Ten years ago, chefs had not yet been frustrated by diners suddenly afflicted by all manner of food intolerances – gluten free, for example, didn’t become a lifestyle choice until the middle of the decade. By 2015 one in five US diners had reduced or eliminated gluten in their diets.
A tough decade
Much of the world has spent the last ten years in various degrees of political and financial turmoil. The foodservice sector has not escaped the effect of this as consumers tightened purse strings and started to expect a lot more for their money when they did decide to spend with a certain operator or chef. Food as an experience came to life in the 2010s.
So what of the foodservice sector in the US? It’s been a tough decade for a lot of restaurants, both independent and chains, according to consultant Jay Bandy, president of Goliath Consulting Group and FCSI Associate. “Mediocre business results during a growing economy are an ongoing concern. Margins are tighter, sales are flat and guest counts are declining,” he says.
“For those who don’t own restaurants, the growth of convenience this decade stands out – from food halls to delivery to restaurants in grocery stores. Retail foodservice has morphed in many ways in the last decade.”
Dining goes off-premise
One major feature of the last ten years that stands out above all in a very visual way is the increasing demands of delivery on foodservice operations. “This taxes current kitchen designs, interferes with in-house a la carte meal prep, and it has spawned the growth of so-called ghost kitchens to deal with the delivery issue,” says Arlene Spiegel FCSI, president of Arlene Spiegel and Associates.
Bandy also highlights this trajectory towards an increase in off-premise consumption. “We started the decade with a double digit increase in catering sales, then came a larger flow of takeout business and in the last five years third-party delivery,” he says.
“Restaurant design now incorporates these three elements along with implementing technology and the new guest/employee flow through the restaurant or property.”
From an operator point of view, Don Fox, CEO of national sandwich chain Firehouse Subs, says the use of e-commerce for an ever-increasing share of retail activity has had two significant points of impact. “It has changed the traffic patterns of consumers. As they offset traditional trips to brick and mortar establishments with e-commerce generated delivery of retail goods, it takes away the opportunities for restaurant occasions that are traditionally triggered by those trips,” he says.
“Second, technology has had an impact on where the customer is choosing to consume their meals. The growth of off-premise consumption of prepared food has led to a shift in how restaurants are used by the consumer – and it has not been for the better.”
The people conundrum
FCSI Associate John Reed, owner of Customized Culinary Solutions, points to a tough labor market as the number one element to impact on commercial kitchens. The proliferation of commercial foodservice means operations are fighting for the same workforce that is also changing.
“The cost of education rises, student debt grows, minimum wages rise and the need to provide opportunities such as healthcare and a living income affects the industry,” he explains. “Designers, equipment manufacturers and the ingredient supply chain have had to adjust to make the impact of a smaller less trained and higher paid labor pool less significant. Robotics, pre-programmed equipment and convenience products are all a result of the labor issues.”
This is something Bandy has noticed too. “We spend more time helping clients with recruiting, hiring and retention than ever. There are more positions open than qualified applicants to fill them,” he says.
The increased price of labor, aligned with the smaller spaces available for restaurant kitchens has presented unique challenges to foodservice operators, says Melanie Corey-Ferrini FCSI, CEO of 3.14DC Design and Consulting. “With the newer cooking methods with less equipment, smaller kitchens mean more innovative cooking methods on these pieces of equipment. Often traditional kitchen staff has a more difficult time with the smaller footprint kitchens with less traditional equipment – which makes it more difficult in the planning phase of a project,” she says.
She points to the emergence of versatile “plug n’ play” equipment that can perform multiple functions – cook, boil, grill – all in one. “From a design perspective, the other aspects are the residential nature of the design as far as far as the scale of spaces, placement of equipment and flow, a less industrial feel, and customers seeing all of the back of house equipment. More open spaces mean less walls, less cost and often less square footage for planning,” she says.
Power of data
Fox says technology has made things easier for operators – specifically he points to the availability of data, and the means to interpret it and apply it to the business. “It is the biggest difference from ten years ago,” he says. “People are still people, and the art of leading, coaching, and inspiring them has not fundamentally changed. But the increase in business intelligence is tremendous. It is a great asset, and as CEO, makes the decision-making process much better than it was a decade ago.”
He adds that the last ten years have served to reaffirm the inherent strength of large brands, “but also shows that not even the largest is immune from seismic shifts in their trajectory,” he says.
“The disruptive nature of technology-enabled social media is a driving force behind this.” Mainly, he says, the decade has validated once again that even though the industry is saturated with too many restaurants, the sector is unique compared to many others. “Why? Because there is always room for another great restaurant – though more than ever, it will come at the expense of other operators.”
Taking stock, looking forward
Looking at the decade of the teens as a whole, Spiegel thinks what we’ll remember is the endless options for dining public. “There’s an almost unimaginable amount of options in the choices of cuisines available,” she says. “Levels of service from delivery, pick-up, through mobile devices; and the pressure on operators to develop intimate relationships with guests in spite of the ‘wall of technology’ keeping them apart.”
The big change, says Reed, has been how we as consumers and professionals approach the sector. “The foundational methods of providing food and service have not changed, it is our approach on how we interact with them,” he says.
“Cooking methods are the same; they are better managed and replicated through technology to reduce the need for higher level employee skill sets. Hospitality is the same we just rely on data on how to provide it and whom to target. However, the customer still expects high-quality food as a given and served on their terms whether as a delivery or sitting down at a restaurant table.”
For him the one development of the decade that towers over all else if the rise of the digital foodservice environment. “The online culinary experience was born in the 2010s,” he says.
Of course most of these trends from the past decade will not go away just because we enter the 2020s – indeed some will grow even stronger. Consider the rise of healthier eating trends and the emergence of more plant-based meat alternatives. “We see more healthy, sustainable and plant based dining – that tastes appetizing to a wider demographic than ever before,” says Corey-Ferrini.
“With fast food chains having more healthy dining options than ever before, these trends seems to be lasting and will continue either as they are or morph into more healthy and possibly adventurous menus.”
A new report has found that more than a quarter of diners would be happy to pay more for ethnic food – as long as it is authentic
Every new year brings a flurry of predictions for the food trends expected to take off. Guessing what ingredients, meal or cuisine will take off becomes a competitive sport for market experts and observers.
Among the mooted predictions at the start of 2018 was that ethnic food would become more even more popular – 61% of respondents in the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot report thought so. From Italian pizza to Chinese bao buns, different kind of cuisines continue to excite diners.
Now insight firm Technomic has confirmed that diners have continued to expand their minds – and their palates – where trying new foods is concerned, but with the caveat that consumers would look for authentic offerings.
Based on insight from 1,400 respondents, Technomic’s 2018 Ethnic Food and Beverage Consumer Trend Report has found that 32% of consumers who ever order food with ethnic flavours would be willing to pay more for authentic ethnic cuisines.
Another 44% said they would always prefer completely authentic fare while 36% of respondents said they like to explore regional varieties of mainstream ethnic cuisines to try new foods and flavours.
Of course it can be a challenge to define exactly what authenticity looks like for different consumers, so a key take-away for operators is to be transparent and clear.
“Everyone’s definition of authentic is different, so when it comes to ethnic fare, it’s vital to clarify the flavour profile and ingredients upfront so consumers aren’t surprised or disappointed in their order,” explains Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights at Technomic. “Additionally, ethnic options must feel accessible rather than intimidating and this can be achieved through providing flavour and sourcing information about each ethnic dish.”
Mediterranean cuisine, ancient grains and chef-driven fast-casual are just three trends highlighted by a recently released trend report, reports Amelia Levin
Les Dames D’Escoffier International (LDEI) has released its 2018 Trends Report, forecasting the international, restaurant, catering, health and lifestyle trends, among other categories, that will shape the culinary cultural landscape of tomorrow. LDEI is a prestigious society of women in all aspects of the food and beverage industry with more than 2,300 members.
Top three regions identified as having the most influence on the American food scene in the coming year:
Top five international food concepts and flavors expected to become prominent food trends:
Puebla Hot Pot (Latin America, Mexico): ancho chile, smoked paprika and spices in chicken stock, served with chicken or pork, corn, avocado crema and fresh garnishes.
Manouri (Mediterranean, Greece): a semi-soft, fresh white whey cheese made from goat or sheep milk.
Millet (India): ancient grains harvested from small-seeded grasses used for porridge etc.
Mishkaki (East Africa, Tanzania): marinated meat skewers including a blend of lemon, tomatoes and green papaya, curry, garlic, red pepper and ginger.
Jianbing (North Asia, China): street-food breakfast crepe brushed with umami-rich hoisin and chili sauce; layered with egg, pickled veggies and herbs, and sometimes customized with sausage or bacon.
Top three established and growing restaurant concepts:
Top three emerging restaurant concepts:
Retail trends: fresh experiences driving zeal for retail
Top three retail departments expected to generate the most consumer excitement:
“Grocerant” in-store drinking and dining
As plant-based products sweep the US and Europe, Emily Lewis looks at whether the Eastern hemisphere is as keen on its greens
“I am very pleased to say that, finally, the plant-based movement is here,” says Clara Ming Pi FCSI. Herself a subscriber to a vegan diet, Pi has not been shy in predicting big things for plant-based goodies this 2018.
The prediction is by no means unjustified – perceptions of vegan and vegetarian diets have undergone massive overhauls in recent months. No longer are vegans associated with niche groups of hemp-wearing hippies: plant-based food has successfully worked its way into the mainstream.
It’s no secret that Europe and the US have already jumped on the bandwagon. Nationwide UK supermarket Tesco has just released its own line of plant-based ready meals, ‘Wicked Kitchen’, and the US has seen sales of plant-based foods spike by 8.1% over the past year.
Now, attention is turning to the Asia Pacific region, where the demand for meat alternatives continues to grow. Due to the sheer size and varied demographics of this side of the globe, foodservice operators have recognised a significant growth opportunity in plant-based goods.
Cool as a cucumber
2017 saw the idea of a balanced lifestyle become trendy. Sugar took over from fat as the new food ‘evil’, and toast ceased to exist without avocado. Vegetarian and vegan demands feed into this health shift, and appear to especially resonate with the younger demographic.
“In Australia and New Zealand there is a definite increase in alternative diets. The primary demographic appears to be Generation Z and, to a lesser extent, the Millennials,” says Toni Clarke FCSI, of New Zealand-based RT Hospitality Solutions.
Robert Mang FCSI, of Dishes Company Ltd in Hong Kong, agrees that the main opportunities here lie with those born in the past few decades, “Some big cities like Shanghai, Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Beijing could be opportunities for foodservice operators to develop their business to target the younger generations.”
As 20 and 30-year-olds begin to move into the workforce, operators have identified a chance to capitalise on office workers who want quick and healthy lunch choices.
No time for waste
Veggies may be in vogue, but it is not just their trendiness that is capturing the minds of consumers.
Mang points out that plant-based popularity is unlikely to be solely down to the demands of steadfast vegans. Instead, the popularity of dairy-free, meat-free food choices is probably the result of an increasingly health-conscious population.
“Adhering to a vegan diet can be extreme. For most people I know, plant-based food choices were due to health concerns. So, there are a lot of people who support and patronise these foodservice operators, but it’s not because they are vegan,” explains Mang.
Michael Lau FCSI, of Singapore-based Pro-kit Design and Project Management, believes that health is essential to the success of vegan and vegetarian diets. “It is important to associate plant-based diets with health. Personally, I think labelling it as ‘plant-based’ rather than ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ has more health connotations, and so could allow the movement more room to develop.”
A healthy lifestyle is not the only decision-making factor for consumers: “Our food supplies contribute to 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions, and the foods that create the most greenhouse gases are the same foods that are contributing to many of our chronic diseases,” explains Pi. Indeed, a single cow is estimated to release between 70 and 120kg of methane per year, and high consumption of red meat has been correlated with increased risk of cancer.
Clarke has also highlighted the role of the environment in decisions to eat green. “Hand-in-hand with the ‘plant-based’ trend is the ‘minimising waste’ trend,” she explains, “more and more are using the nose to tail approach; returning to farmers markets for local and seasonal produce, and buying just what you need.”
With the environmental and health benefits apparent, the next step is operators deciding how to respond. “It is a positive move for the foodservice industry to embrace plant-based diets, and to take on the responsibility to offer both eco- and health-friendly food to our client,” says Pi.
Embracing the trend won’t be without it obstacles. “The challenge is to fund the resources required to produce high volume food items as a reasonable price. There is a vast difference in a group of artisan suppliers providing product to 20 or 30 restaurants, and supplying to a chain supermarket,” says Clarke.
However, a new trend means new chances for operators, who now have a shot at filling gaps in the market.
“Foodservice operators are faced with opportunities and challenges to educate themselves with the various plant-based alternatives and substitutions for traditional ingredients,” says Pi.
Lau notes that, for a shot at longevity, chefs aspiring to offer plant-based menus may need to pull out all the stops. “When constructing a menu, the chef must have good knowledge of vegan ingredients, and know which ingredients are not animal by-products – this could limit the creativity in dishes.”
Many within the industry have already been quick on the mark to innovate and create plant-based options in all corners of the globe.
Impossible Foods, a Californian food tech start-up, have already promised their debut in Asia later this year. Famous for their meat-free ‘Impossible Burger’, or ‘the burger that bleeds’, COO David Lee has called the move into Asia a “milestone”.
Despite the inevitable ups and downs of alternative diets, it looks like plant-based has truly taken root. Pi agrees, “This is a mass movement, and this lifestyle is highly contagious and here to stay.”
American chef Dan Barber of New York's Blue Hill restaurants has brought his wastED concept to London
I had this a-ha moment in the middle of writing my book, The Third Plate – the world’s greatest cuisines all stem from a “waste not” mentality. They evolved to make the best possible use of every ingredient, every part of the harvest. It was partly out of necessity, of course – they didn’t have the same luxury of throwing away parts of the animal or the vegetable – but it came out of culinary curiosity, too. Take coq au vin, for example, or ribollita – while we think of them as just delicious today, they were conceived to soak up certain kinds of “waste.” wastED was meant to be a celebration of that tradition.
There are several nods to British cuisine throughout the menu: we’re doing wastED spins on everything from fish and chips (in our case, fish bones and skin with a tartar sauce made from pockmarked potatoes) to treacle tart (made with waffle scraps).
So many iconic British dishes come to mind: bubble and squeak, shepherd’s pie, haggis. For family meal tonight we made fish pie, a dish that traditionally used up leftover fish from the previous night (what doesn’t taste great smothered in mashed potatoes?). Even Marmite has a history of waste – someone found a way to make spent brewer’s yeast into an iconic condiment.
Chefs are hardwired to look for culinary opportunities in something that would otherwise be thrown away. And we do it in pursuit of flavour. If we can make that part of the waste conversation – show diners that these byproducts can be tasty ingredients in their own right – then maybe we can help change the culture.
Again, most chefs do this work every day. But I think we’re starting to look beyond the confines of our own kitchens toward other byproducts of the food system. And maybe we’re wearing it on our sleeves a bit more.
People are increasingly willing to experiment with new ingredients, particularly if there is a story behind them. But ultimately it comes down to: does it taste good? I can sell you on why we should be cooking with juice pulp or spent grain, but if I can’t make it delicious, it won’t make a difference.
Our industrial food system is based on this philosophy of extraction – take more, waste more. It’s allowed us to cherry-pick certain coveted ingredients – say, a pork chop – while discarding others. That’s obviously not sustainable in the long run. The challenge for the future is to create a more holistic way of farming and eating, just as traditional food cultures did for hundreds of years. Hopefully chefs can help make that transition more delicious.
Happily for us, there was no persuasion needed – the support here has been amazing. For us, it’s a chance not just to celebrate other chefs’ work, but to learn from it.wastED London runs until 2 April 2017.Tina Nielsen
Photo: Gareth Davies
The secret chef looks at the year ahead with the hope that the food industry can get back into good habits
I’ve been learning about what is expected of me as a chef in 2017. In order to have any chance of staying vaguely on the curve, let alone ahead of it, the menu will have to be populated with ancient grains and carbohydrate replacements in the form of vegetables.
The small amount of animal protein that I’m permitted to offer must be extremely aged and cooked over charcoal. We must be willing to accommodate flexitarian diners and ensure there is ample watermelon water to allow everyone to stay hydrated.
Kale is passé and burgers have long since jumped the shark. Our guilty calorific fix will be in the form of the freakshake: a carcrash of a dessert seemingly dreamt up by a Ritalin-starved eight year old. In the pre-Instagram days of yore, it would have been aborted the second it made its way out of the kitchen. Now it is snapped and shared and lauded with the same enthusiasm previously foisted on a Rembrandt.
It’s impossible to tell whether the cart or the horse is leading. Chefs in general are a pretty needy bunch: constant reassurance serves merely to prevent suicidal thoughts rather than create feelings of adulation. We slavishly follow trends. Fear of being left behind or being viewed as outmoded is a permanent niggle. But these crazy trends aren’t, in general, generated in the trenches. They are parachuted in from on high, from focus groups and futurologists, from marketing companies and celebrities looking to capitalise on their new-found fame.
Very occasionally a true pioneer will break through the boardroom-generated bullshit. In the 2000s it was Ferran Adrià and the nouvelle vague (or perhaps that should be nueva ola) of Spanish modernist cuisine. The New Nordic movement followed thereafter, René Redzepi its glorious posterboy. Most recently the bile-inducing smugness of the #cleaneating brigade has stripped many dining experiences of their previously innate pleasure.
The popularity game
The speed at which these trends proliferate through the world’s kitchens is now unparalleled, as is the pressure from the expectant public. The social media games we play, the hungry desire for “likes” and public affirmation is creating a new industry, one not driven by gastronomic satiation, but by the need for popularity. It’s not what you eat that counts, it’s how many people have seen you eating it.
The importance of this shift within hospitality can’t be underestimated. Play the game well and you’ll effortlessly fill the dining room. Play it badly, or not at all, and see those seats empty at a pocket- depleting rate. For this is the new age and the boundaries are shifting apace. Very few can lead and those that don’t must make a choice: follow and adapt and risk losing a USP or stand proudly as an outlier with a staunchly Cronut-free dessert menu and chance it alone, hoping that there is a wide enough customer base that doesn’t Snapchat their lunch.
Clearly, I’m aware that the herd mentality is nothing new. European powers went to war over nutmeg in the 16th century. Wherever bounty exists over subsistence there will be faddy diets and fashionable foods. Clean eating will be to the mid 2010s what Atkins was to the 1990s. What concerns me is that amid all the noise is a goal that appears less and less visible or relevant. We work tirelessly to nourish the belly and the soul. Food and cooking is about generosity and living in a particular moment. The beauty of food is its transient nature, a delicate Will o’ the Wisp that teases the senses before fulfilling its true goal of satisfying the basest of desires. Food, quite simply, as food. Now that is a resolution I can fully endorse.
The secret chef
Barry Skown of Cini-Little International explains why he thinks fresh food subscription services could be the solution to busy workers' lives
The pace of life gets faster and faster every day. We constantly struggle to reclaim personal time in a world where “instant” and “now” describe just about everything we do in our lives. Dining trends and purchasing habits in the US are no exception. A faster pace of life means eating on the run more often during the week and, yes, even during the weekends as well.
Luckily, new solutions have cropped up to help consumers combat the frenetic pace of life and carve out time for what many of us fondly remember as the most important family meal of the day – dinner. In the past couple of years, a new trend has come onto the scene: fresh food subscriptions, or home meal kits – a service that delivers fresh ingredients and easy recipes directly to your home so you can skip the drive-thru and cook a complete, balanced and healthy meal. Led by companies like Blue Apron, Chefday and HelloFresh in 2012, many other subscription service businesses have cropped up since. In fact, research firm Technomic released a study predicting this type of subscription foodservice to grow from $1bn in 2015 to $10bn by 2020.
It’s only natural to consider the next progression of this emerging segment – B&I and employee dining. Consider this: being able to take home a fresh food meal kit, recipes included, straight from your corporate cafeteria after a long day’s work, rather than wait for the delivery at home or hope it comes on time and all in one piece.
In the past, the B&I/employee dining segment has struggled to offer home meal replacements (or HMR, the old term for prepared foods) and fresh food subscription services – either not offering them at all or abandoning these programs after dismal results.
Home Meal Replacement programs first cropped up at major foodservice management companies like ARAMARK, Bon Appetit Management Company, Guckenheimer, Eurest, Sodexo and others in the early 2000s when high-tech and other growing companies began building on-site cafés as an employee benefit and to increase productivity. As employees worked later into the evening, the choice for dinner increasingly became fast-food and unhealthy dining choices so these HMRs were a favorable option that employees could pick up before leaving the office and reheat at home.
For some reason, however, these programs began a steady decline in sales over the years. But the nature of the home meal replacement concept has truly changed. Fresh food subscription (FFS) services focus more on customization, fresh foods you cook from scratch with ease, and options for special diet meals like vegetarian, vegan, low calorie and low carbohydrates. As such, we could see a revamp in these types of programs at cafeterias nationwide.
The demand is certainly there. Speaking with an industry colleague (who has 4 children), the challenges of finding a healthy option for dinner other than fast food or restaurant take-out, trying to cook your own, fresh meal, encourage family time, and teach your kids about nutritious, balanced eating and cooking – all at the same time – are stronger than ever before. But that’s where these fresh food subscription services come into play.
Of course, there are challenges for B&I operators to offer these services, and that’s where the HMR failure might have occurred in the past. One operator I talked to believes that the main reason Blue Apron and other fresh food subscription programs work well is because they deliver food straight to the home, so there is no need for last minute stops at the corporate café or lugging items home on a train or bus.
Another operator believes that the popularity is due to the fact that most of these cafes are not open past 1 or 2pm., and many employees don’t think about their dinner meal early enough in the day until it’s too late. Perhaps having some meal kits already prepped and ready to go in a cooler could help solve this solution, but the risk there becomes food waste, tricky pre-payment plans and subsequent operating cost losses. One solution could be to plan/order meals for pick-up earlier in the week for pick up throughout the week.
Furthermore, most operators will not allow the sale of raw protein to a customer to take home and prepare at home. It poses both food safety and liability issues because the operator loses temperature control of the food once it leaves the office. Perhaps there are licensing opportunities or pre-cooked options. However, with some work on the B&I operator’s legal department, there could be solutions for this challenge.
None of this is not to say that a HMR or FFS program would not work in the right application and employee environment. If the employer is willing to invest in the program and drive corporate culture to encourage participation, there is a strong chance either, both or a hybrid program could see plenty of success. Without firm and sustained commitments from both the operator and employees, however, programs like these in the B&I segment will be destined to literally “die on the vine.”
Barry Skown is a Senior Associate at Cini-Little International, Portland
Read our full story on B&I dining in the Q2 Americas edition of Foodservice Consultant
What major foodservice trends should operators anticipate in 2017? Ellie Clayton looks to the future
If 2016 taught us anything it was that the political and economic future of Europe is proving very hard to predict. Mapping future trends in foodservice is, thankfully, a little more straightforward. Here are the megatrends that will impact the region in 2017.
As the northern European market matures, and consumer confidence begins to return, consumers in the UK, Germany and Scandinavia will be throwing caution to the wind, says Jack MacIntyre, lead analyst at food and beverage research specialists Canadean. Customisation will be a major trend, with fast casual operators looking to emulate the success of burger chain Five Guys, which offers 250,000 different combinations of burger toppings. “Consumers are demanding this a lot more, and are willing to pay more for it,” he says.
As northern European consumers move away from more established chains and flavours, there is set to be an opportunity for more unusual Asian cuisines, both for independent restaurants, and from larger operators. Those offering Vietnamese and Cambodian menus could do well, as consumers are more willing to experiment. This could be an opportunity for street food operators, predicts Bidvest Foodservice, as bold flavours from untraditional oriental regions are introduced to consumers’ palates through smaller portions and more exploratory formats.
In 2017, says MacIntyre, we can expect to see the end of health and indulgence as mutually exclusive concepts. He uses the example of Pod and Tossed in London, UK, that offer “an element of indulgence” by allowing consumers to pick their own proteins for a salad, for example. “If a consumer knows which farm their burger comes from, and maybe even sees where it is being made, they’re likely to think it’s healthier,” he says. Market intelligence agency Mintel also notes that more campaigns and innovations to make it easier for lower-income consumers to fulfil their healthier eating ambitions will be needed.
From Ramen to Buddha bowls, Asian flavours have come together with the enduring health trend, bowls – particularly common at fast casual and lunch outlets. Bidvest predicts this trend will continue, and expand on the “layering” approach to food production. Single bowl meals with grains, rice or noodles layered with vegetables, condiments and proteins. Health food retailer Whole Foods lists Japanese Breakfast Bowls as one of its products to look out for, normally made up of rice, avocado and fish.
With fast food operators’ trialling alcohol sales, and pubs improving their food offering, lines between different types of outlets will become less distinct. “Everybody is offering everything better,” says MacIntyre. “The lines between what is a full-service restaurant, what is a quick service restaurant and what is a pub are becoming really blurred.”
In Southern Europe, however, the market is more challenging. In Spain, in particular, the youth unemployment rate is at 45%. The term mileurista, used to describe those earning €1,000 a month, has been coined to represent the younger Spanish population. It defines those who are highly educated, living with their parents and working in insecure, temporary jobs. They are searching for an outlet to be unique and experimental, which has seen a rise in Americanised, “gimmicky” menu options, says MacIntyre. Fast casual brand Telepizza, for example, has released a pizza burger.
For older generations in less-established economies however, their economic frustration is resolved by “harking back to simpler times”, says MacIntyre. Countries known for their strong food-based cultural identities have seen a degree of Americanisation in recent years. “Consumers in Italy and Spain are saying they want to eat more local food. We can expect to see localism emerging, and will also see more independent operators and chain operators taking advantage of this trend and offering more food items.”
According to Mintel, consumers globally will be looking to reduce the amount of waste they create, with retailers following the example of French grocery store, Intermarché, which was the first to promote the “ugly” fruit and vegetable campaign, seen across European countries in 2016. In the UK, supermarket Asda has launched its budget vegetable box scheme, filled with enough misshapen produce to feed a family of four for £3.50. In 2017, Mintel said, more attention will be given to innovations that commercialise edible food waste. Technology will also play a part, it said. This includes a Dutch app, Koken met Aanbiedingen (Cooking with Offers) that helps people create meals using ingredients that are on promotion, and the Too Good To Go app, which lists offers on food that would otherwise be thrown away.
An understanding of ethical and sustainable food is likely to spread right across the sector. The International Society of Hospitality Consultants believes that social enterprises are set to secure a more substantial place in the hotel market. The Magdas Hotel in Vienna, Austria, opened in 2015 – staffed by refugees, while the Good Hotel – a floating hotel which opened in London’s Royal Docks in November, aims to help long-term unemployed people get back into work.
The appetite for social media sharing shows no sign of waning, and UK supermarket Waitrose says in its annual food review, consumers are expressing themselves through food like never before. “Food is today’s hottest social currency,” it says. Photogenic, “Instagrammable” dishes such as the Australian export the freakshake, rainbow bagels, and colourful spiralised vegetable salads are highlighted in the Waitrose Annual Food Review.