July 3, 2012
July 6, 2012

Menu Development, Consumer Trends, Fast Casual, Emerging Concepts.
In the highly competitive restaurant industry, where innovation reigns, a lot can happen in the span of half a decade. Five years ago, the quick-serve industry was a different place. The better-burger category had yet to explode. Headlines began commitment to sustainable food. And operators were raving about hot trends like eco-friendly packaging and the renewed focus on coffee.

Now, of course, all of that is old news. Once-trendy ideas like greener packaging and gourmet coffee are now a given at many companies. In a similar vein, restaurants in their infancy today could be the heavyweights of tomorrow, spurred to growth by a new generation of customers.

Weaned on social media, scarred by the recession, and increasingly interested in global flavors, today’s consumers are seeking out a different kind of restaurant.

In the next half-decade, these five segments stand to gain the most.

The Eco-Burger.
Anthropologists believe all of Western civilization was built on wheat and beef, and, Americans eat more meat than anyone else on the planet.

But some believe within five years, the “Meatless Mondays” movement and a commitment to less meat consumption will permanently change the face of the quick-service burger industry.

Of course, no one believes burgers will go away. Instead, they’re going to evolve. While the “better burger” concept is already well established, tomorrow’s burger will be a “cleaner burger.” Some chains will claim the moral high ground in the next five years with fewer preservatives and a strong sustainability message.

In a growing percentage of the population’s attitude about meat and meat consumption, there’s this idea that when we do eat meat, we want to eat meat that we trust and that we consider safe, especially when it comes to ground beef. We want to feel good about it.

Asian Meets Fast Casual

India and China are the world’s most populous countries, but so far Asian food has made only limited inroads in the American quick-serve industry. But that’s all set to change. The market is wide open for an Asian concept with a mid-market price point and a semi-upscale feel.

There was very high end for casual-dining Mexican and then there was lower. Chipotle kind of changed that by offering that in-between. The same is kind of true with Asian food right now..

Juice: The Next Step in Fresh
Starbucks latest offering, the Evolution Fresh juice bar, is a taste of what we’ll be seeing in 2017.

One key element of the new juice craze will be to-go offerings. Ready-to-go drinks and foods continue to gain in popularity, even in locations not traditionally associated with healthy eating.

Build-Your-Own Everything
From drive-thru speakers to high-efficiency fryers to touch-screen POS systems, quick-serve restaurants have long been the earliest adopters of new restaurant technology. But the restaurants of 2017 will put even today’s tech-savvy restaurateurs to shame. Robotics, touch-screen ordering, and customized-to-the-max orders will become increasingly established parts of the quick-serve experience.

Part of the technology is behind the counter. Automated rice cleaners, mixers, cookers, and sheeters make sure the whole process is quick and consistent.
Customers increasingly are going to be placing their own orders.  That churn is going to get ever quicker because of that.

International Invasion
As the economy rebounds, the American market will be increasingly saturated with foreign-based brands, experts say.  U.S. is ripe for new concepts.

From a growth standpoint, the U.S. is ahead of Europe in terms of coming out of the sluggishness of the economic downturn. 

The conveyor-belt sushi chain (where customers pick and choose from color-coded dishes as they slowly roll by) just opened its first location in the U.S. and aims to have between 50 and 70 locations by 2017.

But while economic strength is one factor, there are other reasons for international chains to set up shop under the stars and stripes. Particularly due to the changing tastes of a younger generation. As kids raised on Italian and Mexican food seek to broaden their culinary horizons, a growing population of immigrants is looking for a taste of home.

In the United States, the population has become much more diverse.  It is no longer a typical extended suburban nation anymore.

During the next five years, old chains will expand and new ones will enter the market. The biggest pressure will be on existing concepts, which risk losing market share if they can’t convince customers they’re just as good as the “real thing.”

The world of 2017 will be a different place. Better burgers will be more eco-friendly, and they’ll be ordered via touch screen. Upscale Asian restaurants—possibly even some from Asia—will grab more market share. And as time pressure builds, fresher-than-fresh juice will become a grab-and-go commodity. If all the progress seems like a blur, there’s a reason for that. Trends aren’t just taking hold—they’re taking hold faster than ever.

Source:  6.25.2012

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