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Watch your step!

Encouraged by a strong economy, restaurant chains are growing with confident—if somewhat conservative—steps.

Financing

How to buy into world flavors

Asian, Latin and Mediterranean have been the big three global influencers on American menus, but now chefs and operators are digging deeper.

With health and freshness two of the major forces driving menus today, produce is top on operators’ purchase orders. Indeed, restaurants have been making a big effort to put more fruits and vegetables on the plate. But this effort hit a roadblock with recent E.coli scares and salmonella outbreaks. As a result, food safety has become the priority for suppliers and buyers of fresh produce.

It’s hard to believe that a mere five years ago, menu developers, purchasing agents, food manufacturers and restaurant customers were in the grip of the low-carb craze.

Poultry is the number one protein buy for a majority of qsr and casual operators.

If your impression of a distributor chef leans more toward a salesman in a chef’s coat, you’ve not met Daryl Shular.

Dairy prices seem to be going up faster than cream rises to the top of a vat of milk. While relative bargains were available when cheese prices crashed in January 2009, there's been a surge upward since then. To ease the pain, some operators can cut down on the number of cheesy appetizers and entrees they serve, but concepts that focus on pizza, cheeseburgers, enchiladas and quesadillas simply can't do without it.

While not exactly rolling in dough, the pizza category is experiencing modest growth, according to a 2011 report from Mintel. Pizza is affordable, convenient and a canvas for variety—three favorable factors in today's challenging economy.

What makes the sale for restaurant patrons? According to the NPD Group’s Crest foodservice market research, consumers are less enthused by combo-meals and dollar menus of the past. “On-a-deal” spending decreased for the second year in a row since 2008.

For the strongest inkling of what will unfold for restaurants in 2014, consider some of the sleeper trends of late 2013.

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