Menu maven Nancy Kruse, president of the Kruse Company, and Lizzy Freier, managing editor, menu analysis at Technomic, drew a standing-room-only crowd for their “Menu Forecast: 2020 and Beyond” presentation at the Show on Sunday.
The pair explored a variety of current trends influencing food and beverage menus, from health to ethnic foods, Asian and Middle Eastern flavors and ingredients, evolving kids meals and more.
Health concerns are an issue that cuts across all restaurant categories, Kruse observed, with the latest wave of healthy eaters focusing on foods with specific nutritional benefits. More than half of consumers say they have made some level of commitment to this way of eating.
Paleo, keto and Whole 30 are today’s the big three diets, with about a third of consumers adhering to one of the three. Gluten-free, which has dropped out of the headlines, is also still a trend, Kruse said—about 11% of customers are committed to a gluten-free lifestyle. Dairy-free “milks” also continue to see strong demand growth. Those last two categories were in heavy evidence on the Show floor, in breads, desserts, pizza doughs, gelatos and other forms.
When it comes to changing a menu to add new and trending items, Kruse said it comes down to this: “Who are your customers?”
Beyond 2020, Freier said, the next wave of healthy diners will be looking for foods that provide natural enhancement—“ingredients that promote physical, mental and emotional health,” such as collagen, golden berries, functional mushrooms, turmeric, nutritional yeast and CBD oil. Menu descriptions calling out these ingredients can speak directly to health-focused diners.
Healthier substitutes for foods perceived as high in fat, sugar and other qualities are cropping up more often as well, Freier observed—carob for chocolate, aquafaba in place of eggs, plant foods being transformed into meat substitutes and more.
Traditional Asian flavors have inspired plenty of variations on familiar foods, such as burgers with ethnic toppings. She’s also seeing a lot of Asian crossovers, with ingredients such as gochujang, kimchi and miso turning up in applications such as aioli, dressings, sauces, condiments and cocktails. There’s also growth in General Tso and kung pao-style dishes, which are up 3.4% on menus.
On beverage menus, “Japanese gins and whiskeys have really been having a moment over the past year,” Freier added, representing a fast-growing category for the largest restaurant chains.
Middle Eastern influences are growing as well, Kruse said. Craveable, healthful flavors, accessible ingredients and increased travel to this part of the world have popularized these foods. Kebabs remain popular and appealing to both consumers and operators, who can control portions. Kruse said toum—a mix of garlic, lemon, olive oil and salt—and za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend, are condiments to consider and seek out on the Show floor.
Adding Middle Eastern spices, herbs, rosewater, dates, condiments and other ingredients to appetizers, desserts and drinks is an ideal way to introduce them to consumers, Freier said, because they don’t pose the same risk that ordering an entree would. “These are just small, easy additions that can make something that’s more traditional a little bit more exciting,” she said.
Kruse also recommended operators consider following McDonald’s lead and modernize their kids menus by promoting antibiotic-free dishes that avoid artificial ingredients. She suggested two routes to appeal to families: Offering kid-sized versions of dishes from the regular menu, and suggesting choices for picky eaters.
Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.