The fourth quarter has just gotten started, but predictions are already starting to trickle in about what will be the hottest food/beverage trends for 2013.
Restaurant consulting firm Baum + Whiteman released its list earlier this week, with 17 trends picked to take off in the coming year. They include continued specialty beverage innovation (including "artisan" bars). For example, as smoothies continue moving into the mainstream, the firm expects genuine juice bars to start popping up as well, particularly during the afternoon daypart.
Baum + Whiteman also predicts the fast casual segment to continue its staggering growth.
Its report (found here) writes: "Because fast cas (sic) concepts seem fresh and new, they're entry points to sample new ethnic cuisines ... especially for millennials."
Some traditional chains are rebranding to fit into this segment, including Sbarro, Shoney's, Denny's, Red Robin's Burger Works, and Pizza Inn's Pie Five Pizza Co. The key to fast casual's success, Baum + Whiteman says, is to provide/sell a holistic experience, develop personal connections to customers, and offer food transparency and a specific brand narrative.
That's not to say the firm predicts the decline or stagnation of quick-service, however. In 2013, Baum + Whitman said this segment will more strongly embrace the barbell menu model, with $1 deals featured alongside premium products that better compete with fast casual concepts.
QSRs are expected to fancy up their burger offerings (adding pineapple, for example), add more sauces and ethnic influences and flirt with different bread options (beyond the bun). Wendy's has hinted at its experimentation with the latter trend. During its investor day in June, Gerard Lewis, Wendy's senior vice president of Culinary Development, said he wants to be the first to market flatbread.
Wendy's also is exploring other types of breads such as a cheddar/jalapeno bun and a pretzel roll. "This will allow us to offer something you won't find at other QSRs. This will be special," said Lori Estrada, vice president, Culinary Development, during the event.
Another trend that has been gaining speed in the past couple of years leading to its predicted 2013 spotlight is the snacking daypart.
"Reasons vary," the report writes. "Life's too hectic; I need a pleasure fix; an energy jolt; I missed lunch; or want to chew more than just fat with a coworker."
Consumers are snacking significantly more now than they were just two years ago, in fact. Almost half (48 percent) of consumers polled by research firm Technomic say they're now snacking at least twice a day, compared to 25 percent in 2010.
Towing the snack line is the rollout of mini burgers, wraps, smoothies, bites and more. Within the past few months alone, McDonald's has introduced McBites; KFC introduced Original Recipe Bites; Whataburger launched Whatachick'n Bites; Popeyes' has featured its Rip'n Chick'n and Dip'n Chick'n; and Rally's has brought us Chicken Dippers.
Baum + Whiteman's other predictions for 2013 include:
- More lawsuits spawned from brands falsely using terms such as "natural," "organic," "artisanal" and "local."
- More meal bundles, a trend that's been increasing since the recession tightened wallets. Casual dining brands have been all over this (e.g. Chili's 2-for-$20 deal) and Pizza Hut has also launched variations of its Big Dinner Box.
- Pop-up restaurants setting the bar high for edgier design and sustainability features such as edible garden walls. LYFE Kitchen's new restaurant in Southern California, set to open in January, will include a hydroponic garden wall. The edible garden will grow hydroponically-grown vegetables that will be featured throughout the menu.
- Kiosk and vending machine innovations. This trend will include back-of-the-house upgrades to handle increased business. The advancement of this subsegment has been examined in QSRweb as well (See: Vending innovations pose threat to QSR segment).
- Restaurants baking breads in house to save costs, and "ramping up distinctiveness."
- Greens taking more of a center-plate role; for example, kale, beet greens, chard, turnip greens and mustard greens.
- Food suppliers and manufacturers starting to open their own restaurant concepts. Baum + Whiteman points to Dannon and Chobani's flagship yogurt bars in Manhattan to support this prediction. Ghirardelli Chocolate has also opened a shop at Disney California Adventure.
Sterling-Rice Group picks culinary trends for '13
Boulder, Colo.-based Sterling-Rice Group has also prognosticated culinary trends for the coming year. SRG is an integrated brand strategy firm that has worked with seven of the top 12 food manufacturers in the U.S.
The group's Top 10 predicted trends include:
- Food palates will move beyond sweet, salty and fatty to tart, acidic and bitter.
- Chefs will exchange butter and bacon for broth and beets to create better-for-you food that tastes good.
- Asian cuisine will be in the spotlight behind the spicy and fresh flavors of Thailand, Vietnam and Korea.
- Vegetables will get their chance to star as the main dish.
- Kids' menus will evolve; mac and cheese and chicken nuggets will take a backseat to kid-friendly versions of adult dining options.
- The number of local artisans will increase, making it easier to think globally without the travel.
- Small plates for sharing will be replaced with smaller, singular servings of meat, veggies or starches for a truly customized dining experience.
- Look for fruit used with savory flavors, incorporated as appetizers, soups and alongside meat dishes.
- From gluten-free to vegan, more restaurants will offer all-inclusive menus and services to accommodate all consumers.
- Popcorn will be the "snack of the year," and will be served sweet or savory, in ice cream, as croutons and everywhere in-between.
The 2013 Top Ten Food Trends list was compiled by SRG's culinary council – a team of more than 100 chefs, restaurateurs and foodies.
Read more about culinary trends.
Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.