A review on the past year in foodservice
How would you sum 2022 in terms of foodservice trends and developments?
“If I had two words to describe 2022 it would be ‘unexpectedly challenging.’ We didn’t think it would be a walk in the park, but I think it was more difficult than many realized it would be.”
Is there one element or ingredient that has been the standout for you?
“Every year we can’t wait to update our MenuTrends database, which analyzes menus across the country to determine what the fastest-growing menu item was over the past 12 months. For the past few years the top spots have all been dominated by plant-based meats and plant-based meat brands, so it was exciting this year when a new menu item rose to the top.
The ranch water cocktail grew 152 % on menus in the past year, making it the fastest-growing single item on menus. That growth makes sense when you consider that the margarita is America’s favorite cocktail, so this simple variation keeps the menu interesting and is easy to produce back-of-house, which is essential as we’re still dealing with labor challenges. It also shows how Latin flavors continue to drive so many flavor trends on menus.”
How does this stack up against what you had forecast at the start of the year?
“We were so optimistic heading into 2022. I remember we were feeling cautiously optimistic heading into the year. It seemed like we would get a handle on inflation, Covid-19 was waning, and maybe we could finally get back to normal. Instead, inflation kept rising, labor shortages have kept up, there were new geopolitical factors at play, and overall it was as difficult as ever.
Without an end in sight, we continued to see a lot of restaurants close over the past year, with 1 in 25 restaurants having closed since the start of the pandemic. And the restaurants that are still open have been cutting hours, with the average operator reducing their hours 7.5 % per week. It’s a different landscape.”
Expert’s outlook is positive
What do you see as the main trends and challenges in 2023?
“I feel like I should have learned my lesson by now, but I’m still cautiously optimistic about 2023. The number one challenge will certainly be prices. Nearly 90 % of operators say they are worried about high prices in 2023, making it far and away their top concern. Yet, we’re at this unique time in that consumers want new experiences and innovation so badly after being stuck at home for the past few years.”
“The main trend this year will be doing more with less, meaning developing innovative solutions with what you have on hand, or with cheaper ingredients. In a way it’s almost a fun challenge because limits often make us more creative. Of course, there will be plenty of ingredients and flavors that will continue to grow in 2023.
Our list of flavors and ingredients that will be ‘everywhere’ in 2023 include options like yuzu, ube, spicy maple, and salsa macha, all trends that have been growing already. We also always include a list of the far-off flavors and ingredients that should be on your radar for the future in our annual forecast. This year that list includes options like cherry blossom, verjus, white coffee, sisig, and black tahini.”
What are the watchwords for the sector in the new year?
“Inflation. Prices. Innovation. Value. Experience. Novelty. Creativity. Stress. Normalization.”
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Gen Z drives foodservice trends
Where do these trends come from and have they been around building steadily for a while or are they new?
“The macro trends that the industry is dealing with like inflation and the labor shortage have obviously been with us more recently. The flavor and ingredient trends that will be big in the year ahead have been growing steadily for a few years, while the far-off flavors and ingredients we look at are still very, very new on menus or at retail.”
Who are the customers driving the foodservice sector trends?
“When you look at consumers by demographic, Millennials are the most open to trying new foods and flavors overall. They have the buying power now, they grew up as foodies, and they want to introduce their kids to new foods and flavors. But when you look at Gen Z, they are the most open to the weirder, quirkier stuff that often seems like a novelty. Half of Gen Z says they would try something just because it’s new, even if they didn’t think it would taste good, which is kind of a shocking statistic.
But don’t discount any demographic when it comes to trends. We just did a study on non-alcoholic beverages and learned that older generations are very interested in health-driven trends in that category.”
What will influence the direction of travel in the next year or so?
“Pricing and pent-up demand.”