Consumers are back at restaurants. The forecast for consumer spending at restaurants is expected to be 108% of 2019 numbers, according to Marie Molde of Datassential. But what about their expectations? What are consumers looking for on the menu and how can you provide it in an inflationary environment? How do you develop a profitable menu while still working toward your organization’s sustainability goals? A recent food trends webinar from the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) addressed these questions.
Datassential’s recent survey of food service operators shows that the category that is most impacted by inflation is proteins, primarily meat. Fresh produce is further down that list with less than 30% of operators saying fresh produce is showing the most inflation in their spending. That leaves operators with a lot of options to introduce fresh produce into their menus while managing the bottom line.
Avendra is focused on helping our clients achieve their number one goal: customer satisfaction. We have the resources to help you delight your customers while managing profitability, providing product assurance, and supporting your sustainability journey. Our research indicates that fresh produce has significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) than animal-based protein production (see chart below). Our deep industry connections show you how to make a statement with your customers by using fresh produce to tap into the top food trends of 2023.
Fresh produce is a top food trend for 2023, however, with labor costs being a significant budget concern operators are looking for versatile and labor-saving products. Produce that is pre-packed, pre-washed, pre-diced, pre-sliced, and/or frozen are the options they’re looking for to overcome the back-of-house staffing woes and take advantage of changing consumer demands.
Limited Time Offers (LTO) are a rising trend, particularly with fresh, seasonal produce. Consumers find LTOs unique and fun. There’s a lot of opportunity to help restaurant operators manage their budget with LTOs. It allows for product testing of new foods and flavors, and it’s a great marketing tool to reward customers with a good deal, according to Jim Richter of AmeriFresh.
The question remains: is there a significant audience for a more produce-forward menu beyond the LTO? The answer is yes. In April 2022, 71% of consumers surveyed by Datassential indicated they were meat eaters, and 29% identified as meat limiters (flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan). The more important statistic to note is that of that 29%, more than one-third were Gen Z. This indicates that a newer, younger, growing audience segment is more focused on flexible, sustainable food options. Versus 2021 data, 2022 showed a decrease of 6% in the consumption of meat-based protein and an increase of 10% in plant-based proteins.
LTOs allow you to experiment with some of your existing menu favorites without a complete menu overhaul. Some successful examples include using charred corn, lentils, and roasted jalapenos in a chicken street corn salad or transforming a pizza by using a cauliflower crust. Add roasted sweet potatoes and pickled carrots and cabbage to your existing rainbow salad.
Using a familiar format, and “veggi-fying” it is a great way to get consumers to try a more plant-forward approach, according to Johnny Rodriguez of Datassential. Among the most popular options are cauliflower wings and tacos, potato tacos, and jackfruit in place of pork. It’s an approachable way to experiment with a variety of flavors to excite your customers about an LTO, which may ultimately become a menu staple.
Global flavors are another way to incorporate more fresh produce into your menu. Datassential surveyed consumers by generation and found that 58% of Gen Z had eaten globally influenced food in the past week, followed closely by Millennials at 48%, Gen X at 34%, and Boomers at 19%. Your up-and-coming audiences are looking for a globally inspired menu, which offers you plenty of opportunities for plant-forward options. Each of the generations prefers Italian, Chinese, and Mexican flavors but Gen Z is also trending toward Korean-inspired dishes.
The trend of Gen Z toward Korean meals means a lot of opportunities for you to mix textures like softer proteins and noodles with crispy carrots and radishes and unique flavors like seaweed. Gen Z also prefers Mexican cuisine over Chinese and Italian. Among the top plant-forward opportunities in this genre are cauliflower rice, jalapeno aioli, and watermelon radish, which have all seen more than 300% growth in the last 4 years.
Johnny explained that the long-term implications of these globally inspired trends are that the tastes of future generations will be more Latin and Asian, and will include more plant-forward options.
Panelist Chef Jason Knoll also noted that when consumers are looking for “plant-forward” menu options, they want real plants, not plants turned into something else. Plant-forward means whole food fruits and vegetables prepared in a way that celebrates the produce.