Dec. 29, 2016 | by Shelly Whitehead

The end of every year is replete with predictions of food trends for the year to come, but researchers at NPD Group have gotten even more foundational in their 2017 trend predictions. What follows are the research group's top five predictions about the American diner's state of mind as it relates to the dinner plate. Taken collectively, these five predictions form the kind of information that brands can take and run with in their own directions in the coming year.  

  • Go home or (don't) go big:

NPD said the nation's trend toward more meals at home is not letting up, with more than 80 percent of meals now sourced from home, and just 20 percent eaten out. NPD says that comes out to an even split expenditure-wise, so if food service operators want to get in on the home-style action, they had better start figuring out ways to get their brands in the front door, according to NPD's summary of its findings. 

The research and analysis company has found that restaurateurs are increasingly turning to technology to get food into customers' homes and on the table as quickly, cheaply as freshly prepared as possible. Likewise, NPD said this trend also brings a whole new category of competitors into the already ultra-competitive restaurant industry. Now it's not just other restaurant brands fighting to the finish with you, but also food retailers of all kinds who want a seat at the dinner table, too.  

  • Help homemade happen:

This is an extension of the previous trend toward more meals at home that has consumers increasingly turning to food service brands that can take the cooking out of home cooking. Yes, everybody wants to eat fresh, newly prepared dishes at home, just like grandma used to make. No, nobody wants to work as hard at it as poor ol' granny used to do. So while diners may be willing to put some salsa on the table and open a beverage or two, they are not willing to cut up and toss a salad or slowly simmer that sauce or much of anything that requires time and effort. 

Enter the new "blended" meals, that rely on a few restaurant-retrieved edibles along with some already prepared items at home, to make a full family feast. Restaurateurs can get a piece of this action by making and marketing items that time-, work- and child-weary families can pick up at the  drive-thru on the way home for dinner with family. Aside from great sides and other offerings worth mulling over in this category, restaurateurs might also be wise to consider their packaging and delivery options to ensure what they have in place keeps food temperatures steady and require little more than a spoon or fork to serve. 

"Even in a mature, low-growth environment, there will be opportunities for double-digit growth," the company wrote in it's news release about the five findings. "But today more than ever, the consumer is in charge. Access to information is empowering people to do things on their terms. The days of a one-size-fits-all blockbuster idea are over."

  • Baby steps:

NPD researchers say restaurateurs need to think a lot smaller these days when it comes to growing their brands. The organization said in its study summary that the days of mega-campaigns and huge swaths of customers migrating from one brand to another are largely over. Instead, research indicates brands that make connections with customers in small, personal ways will win the restaurant race. 

"Even in a mature, low-growth environment, there will be opportunities for double-digit growth," the company wrote in its news release about the five findings. "But today more than ever, the consumer is in charge. Access to information is empowering people to do things on their terms. The days of a one-size-fits-all blockbuster idea are over."

NPD suggests restaurateurs look for their brand's value-added attributes like freshness, as well as benefits like micronutrients, and social values like transparent menus and local food sourcing. These are assets in the diner's mind today that serve as valuable marketing. 

  • Make it an "occasion":

NPD predicts the "meal occasion" as we understand it, will take on new meaning as we progress through next year. Though the company said consumers aren't necessarily adding new eating occasions, they are changing the ways their meals are composed. 

That's why the company predicts that restaurants featuring flexible food offering that can conform to a diner's needs at any given time, will thrive. This is particularly true they said for brands that offer choice on price, portion and portability. This points to brands like cone-shaped pizza concept, Kono, or menu items like those ever-popular sliders, that can serve in thesingular as a snackor in multiples as a meal. 

"The search for white space, growth occasions, and new product opportunity will be more important than ever for food companies and foodservice operators in 2017," Eating Patterns in America author and NPD Vice President and Food Industry Analyst David Portalatin, said in a news release about the study. "Opportunities to grow and innovate are out there but the key to finding them in the coming year will be staying in touch with the consumer. They’re the ones in charge." 

  • Do you have …  "experience"?

NPD says eating out is not just about the food for most diners these days. The value of the "experience" is becoming ever more precious to just about everything in the developed world. That means concepts that promote new ethnic offerings or learning experiences at the dinner table that diners can boast about all over social media are becoming increasingly important. 

Examples of this are everywhere and cropping up anew all the time, like Blast & Brew,where "beer geniuses" teach patrons how to pair that sauerkraut with the right suds, and Malawi Pizza, where diners get the donor's glow since a portion of their sales go to help impoverished kids in Malawi. 

"The search for white space, growth occasions, and new product opportunity will be more important than ever for food companies and foodservice operators in 2017," Eating Patterns in America author and NPD Vice President and Food Industry Analyst David Portalatin, said in a news release about the study. "Opportunities to grow and innovate are out there but the key to finding them in the coming year will be staying in touch with the consumer. They’re the ones in charge." 

Photo source: iStock


Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability


Shelly Whitehead / Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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