The foodservice industry continues to look for new ways to remain relevant and menu engineering is one of its most powerful levers for growth. Most recently this growth was driven by breakfast sales and menu innovation featuring unique flavors, ingredients and spicy sauces such as the sriracha craze that has been infiltrating nearly every restaurant. Before you discard this tactic as nothing more than jumping on the trend bandwagon, consider this: our work rebranding major players such as DQ Grill and Chill and, more recently, Boston Pizza has demonstrated how great new food stories help drive growth.
The success is the result of a major trend driven by foodie Millennials who are seeking new experiences and more adventurous meal options. With the rise of “foodie” consumers, according to The Food Marketing Institute, “discovery” is a new “must-have” food attribute in which retailers and manufacturers help create more sophisticated food experiences. As everyday fare moves “out” and exotic recipes and food options are now “in,” nowhere has this manifested itself more than with the meteoric rise of the Asian food category, with growth of more than 450 percent from 1999 to 2014.
The Millennial foodie generation is globally oriented, driven by the increasing ethnic diversity in North America. This growth is creating greater desire for specialty and exotic meals, bringing new cultures and menu influences to the masses. Our firm was retained recently to launch a new South Asian fast casual chain to respond to the growing appetite for exotic foods. Consumers today are familiar with menu items such as chicken marsala and naan to provide variety in their meal options. The trend towards non-mainstream food is also driving supermarkets to launch new concepts. One of Canada’s largest supermarket chains tapped our firm to launch a South Asian supermarket that included a new name and interior foodservice concept. Statistics from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade identifies that 76 percent of American adults enjoy talking about new or interesting foods, and two-thirds of adults purchase specialty foods for everyday home meals. The study also identified that more than 50 percent of casual diners consider themselves foodies because they want to try new menu items when going to a restaurant.
The growth of exotic foods is also driven by Millennials’ interest in the quality of ingredients and healthier food options. A PWC report identified 47 percent of the 18 to 34 age group surveyed had changed their eating habits toward a healthier diet, as compared to just 23 percent of those over 55. This healthier-for-you trend is just starting to gain momentum, according to a global consumer survey by A.C. Nielsen featured in USA Today, which notes the most health-centric are Generation Z – consumers under the age of 20 – with 41 percent saying they would willingly pay a premium for healthier products. That compares with 32 percent of Millennials (ages 21 to 34) and about 21 percent of Baby Boomers (about 50 to mid-60s).
Beyond the obvious kale and quinoa, healthier food preferences are ushering in the introduction of new leaner, healthier-for-you meat options such as bison, wild boar, rabbit, venison, ostrich and elk. These protein alternatives are not only better for you but also deliver a unique sense of adventure, easily shared through social media networks. According to a Euromonitor International study, consumption of less traditional meats like horse, venison, camel, rabbit and game grew in Canada an average of 10.6 percent a year between 2010 and 2015. The growth is a clear indication that consumers are looking beyond the conventional when considering what to have for dinner.
Restaurants and the foodservice industry should take heed of these emerging trends as they consider new ways of attracting consumers to their establishments and driving sales.
Revitalize your condiment program
Consumers are looking to spice up their daily routine with exciting, unusual flavors. All you need to do is visit the supermarket snack aisle to see how exotic new flavors are enticing customers to buy: from Swiss Chalet Sauce Lays Potato Chips to Ed’s Real Scoop Maple Bacon Ice Cream; never before has the consumer palate been so hungry for adventure. Restaurants from fast food to fine dining might want to explore ideas on how to elevate their offerings by providing unique condiments not traditionally found on supermarket shelves.
Explore healthier protein options
Meat consumption continues to rise and operators can take advantage of the trend towards healthier eating by introducing leaner, non-mainstream meats such as ostrich, bison, and boar to name just a few. These healthier-for-you offerings provide new eating experiences and a great story for Millennials to share on social media. With a rise toward transparent nutritional information for food eaten in restaurants, the trend toward leaner and healthier ingredients will only grow.
Tell better sourcing stories
Millennials are hungry for new discoveries that can be shared, with recent studies confirming the experience is of greater value to Millennials than the actual purchasing of products. Restaurants are well positioned to meet these needs by sourcing their products locally and providing stories of the point of origin of both the ingredients and how it’s cooked. With the growth of social media and rating sites such as TripAdviser, it is important for restaurants to provide the food content stories that will be shared to help drive new business. New flavors can be made even more exciting by presenting them within the context of unique stories about how they have been sourced or made, creating a whole new sense of discovery for consumers looking to feed their foodie cravings.
With same-day sales growth a key indicator of a chain’s success, offering healthier-for-you food offerings from around the globe is a sure way of gaining attention amongst Millennials. Whether it is wild rabbit with grandmother’s mint sauce or an Australian ostrich burger special, the experience will be shared, tweeted and rated. Ultimately, offering unique menu items helps provide one more compelling reason to frequent your restaurant.