What’s Next for the Foodservice Industry?

Foodservice brands–from small mom-and-pop shops to multinational chains–have been learning to adapt more quickly in an age where everything’s moving at lightning speed. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, ‘Boom!’ along come Foodora and Uber Eats and you’re back to the drawing board with another disruptive challenge. One of the ways foodservice brands can cope with change is by getting ahead of it. In this episode, we speak with PepsiCo’s Senior Director of Global Marketing, Nancy Rooney, about the future of foodservice.

Nancy’s Key Takeaways

In terms of current trends in the foodservice industry, there are five things that I think will help build your business for future growth.

  1. Health and Wellness: This is something we’ve obviously been tracking for a while, but the definition of health is constantly changing and what people say versus what they do is often different. It used to be that being healthy was about burning calories, but now it is more focused on balance and a concept called “Fast Good.” This is essentially about making good things more indulgent. For example, if I could take a banana and turn it into a banana chip, like we have with Bare Snacks, that would be something that is healthier but still indulgent. Another idea is an ice cream bar that is actually made of Greek yogurt and dark chocolate. Really, it’s about merging health and indulgence and offering something that is the right balance.
  2. Frictionless Commerce: At the basic level, this is about removing friction points from the buying experience. This process is often driven by technology, such as apps that get customers to the front of the line or delivery services that allow customers to track their order and know when it will arrive. We know that customers are time-starved, so making their lives as easy as possible through these technology-enabled solutions remove friction points and can have a big impact on the future growth of a business.
  3. Youth: As we all know, youth are so important in foodservice. They eat out more than any other group and are projected to be a larger group in size than any other, but their habits are a little bit different. As much as they’re connected with people online and through their phones, they have few friends, and many are lonely. For foodservice operators, the question is “how can we play a role in helping young people connect with each other?” It’s an interesting thought, but foodservice can really become a venue for youth to connect with their tribe and to get some social status among their friends.
  4. Value: This can be an exhausting topic at times because it is such an important driver of traffic. What we are seeing at the moment is a lot of dollar drinks, happy hours and value menus, which really puts a lot of pressure on operator margins. When you think about it from a different perspective though, value doesn’t mean things have to be cheap, just that they are worth it. Another way to frame the question is “how do you premium-ize your offering?” Things such as exclusives, limited time offers, and marketing partnerships are a way to give consumers unique access to things. And this is where you can start to explore premium pricing, because consumers are getting valuethrough access and experience.
  5. Sustainability: This is obviously really important, not just from an industry perspective but as humans on this planet. We’ve got to figure out how we work together–operators and consumers–to be responsible and support recycling efforts. This is something we all play a role in.

While these are some trends that foodservice operators have to keep in mind as they look to the future, there are a couple of things that should be implemented today. Here are two things that should be at the top of every operator’s to-do list:

Invest in Digital Capabilities: The good news is there are lots of young people that work in the foodservice industry, many of them are probably your staff. My recommendation would be to listen to them, because they’re also your consumer and an important knowledge base in helping you understand the digital landscape. There are lots of young people and students looking for jobs and internships – hire them and let them have a critical eye and look at your business because understanding the power of digital is a big game change for foodservice operators.

Invest in Community and Culture: I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with some of our most successful foodservice operators in both rural and urban settings and have been surprised to hear them attribute their success to the same thing: culture and community. In these restaurants, the manager and staff make it part of their job to build community-based relationships. They know their neighborhood and the schools, fundraiser groups, local sports teams etc.

People are creatures of habit, and when a community gets comfortable and familiar with a place, they are far more likely to return as customers. If a restaurant can nurture those relationships and say, “we’re going to donate to your cause,” or “we’re going to host your team dinner” it goes a long way. The real insight is that personal connections are how brands and businesses are built to last. If foodservice operators can establish some meaningful relationships with their community, they are setting themselves up for success now and well into the future.


Nancy Rooney is the Senior Director of Global Marketing at PepsiCo. Nancy has a consumer first mindset, an ability to build joint strategies between brands and customers, and a mission to deliver awesome work that drives growth.

Think Retail is a podcast where top designers, strategists, thought leaders and business people discuss what’s coming next. For more information, email