The Sriracha effect
We predicted that several ethnic flavors would emerge from the Sriracha craze, and many of our predictions saw notable year-over-year Top 500 growth, including ghost pepper (200%), sambal (200%), gochujang (25%) and harissa (100%), according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor data. Aside from harissa, our other North African forecasts—sumac and dukkah—have not yet made their debut on chain menus.
Elevating peasant fare
MenuMonitor data shows meatball and sausage appetizers grew 20% and 2%, respectively, since last year at top chains. First Watch, The Cheesecake Factory and Houlihan’s all launched varieties of fancy toast, and meatloaf is now cropping up at Bennigan’s and Champps Kitchen + Bar.
Trash to treasure
Sustainable menu claims grew 12% over the past year, though it’s no surprise that operators aren’t quick to advertise their food as trash. Loot for leftovers is a new thing, though, where people pay a small fee to fill up a to-go box with leftover food at select eateries in California, New York and Illinois.
Operators like True Food Kitchen treated vegetables with meat preparations like charring and burning to make them more attractive to diners and even extend their shelf life. Charred and burnt veggies especially proliferated across LTO and seasonal items, including those at Modern Market, Chop’t Creative Salad Company, Legal Sea Foods, Veggie Grill and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro.
Our 2016 "bubbly" trend called for a slew of effervescent drinks on the menu—from hard soft drinks to fruity artisanal sodas to sparkling teas. Michigan-based emerging chain The Big Salad was just one of the restaurants this year to launch a lineup of artisanal sodas, which grew 15% on menus since 2015. “Sparkling” callouts increased 4% on beverage menus in general.
Modernizing the supply chain
Chipotle’s food safety scandals revealed the risks involved with sourcing local food, yet patrons continue to demand transparency and local ingredients. The fast-casual chain’s resulting mandates to its suppliers are a lesson to other chains: Press suppliers to be more rigorous and make food safety the top priority.
Fast food refresh
Year of the worker
In November’s election, four states—Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington—approved measures to increase the minimum wage. New regulations raising the federal overtime threshold from a salary of $23,660 to $47,476 were originally set to take effect Dec. 1, 2016, but are currently on hold and could potentially go into effect in 2017.
The delivery revolution
Technomic’s 2016 Takeout & Off-Premise Dining Consumer Trend Report shows that a fifth of consumers overall and a third of consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 say they are increasingly replacing carryout orders with delivery orders, helping spark the rise of delivery-only concepts.