Mintel identifies top food service trends in the US


Mintel has tipped the top food service trends for 2011 in the US in the light of increased regulations, which require restaurants with 20 or more outlets list calorie counts on the menu, and consumer demand for variety or so-called limited-time offers (LTO) and opportunities to indulge.

Eric Giandelone, director of foodservice research at Mintel, said: “Both the government and consumers want healthier menu options, but restaurant-goers are also very concerned about value and how their food tastes. Keeping both parties satisfied might be a challenge as we move into 2011.”

Trend 1: Healthy by association
Sixty-two percent of consumers say they plan to eat healthier in the upcoming year, but many complain healthier food doesn’t taste as good without the added sugar, salt and fat, reports Mintel. Restaurants will address this problem by introducing healthier ingredients to their customers’ favourite dishes, and positioning them to appear better-for-you, it says. For instance, Taco Bell has quietly reduced salt at 150 stores in the Dallas market, while Jason’s Deli promotes its food as being free from high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), trans fats or pesticides. Consumers enjoy visiting restaurants perceived as healthy because these venues make them feel good about themselves and their meal choices, reports Mintel. Consumers might opt to visit the healthy restaurant, but be wooed by the not-so-healthy LTOs offered at these places (see Trend 5), it says.

Trend 2: Automated menus
Convenience and technology will form the perfect union this year as restaurant-goers will see an increase in automated menus at their favorite establishments, reports Mintel. These electronic order-takers will provide customers with the opportunity to order food to their specifications in do-it-yourself style, thus reducing the restaurant’s reliance on front-of-house staff, as well as full-time employees. Automated menus, in addition to mobile applications, will allow restaurants to reach a younger, more mobile consumer, says Mintel.

Trend 3: Transparency
Consumers want to know what they’re eating, and the recently passed healthcare bill mandates such disclosure. Restaurants with 20+ units are now required to list calorie counts on their menus. Consumers seem happy with the impending disclosure, as 61% agree restaurants should post nutritional information, like calorie counts and fat grams, on menus, reveals Mintel. More cities will start forcing restaurants to visibly display their letter grades from local health departments, further increasing menu transparency, it says.

Trend 4: Indigenous ingredients
While the local food movement continues to grow, the push toward indigenous ingredients takes the trend a step further, says Mintel. In 2011, it expects to see restaurants incorporating more traditional or authentic ingredients to their ethnic or globally-positioned offers. One example of this trend is Frontera Grill’s Panucho Yacateco, an entrée that boasts a traditional Yucatan crispy tortilla filled with black beans and hard-boiled egg with shredded chicken in tangy escabeche. Local as an ingredient marketing claim has grown by 15% from Q2 2009 to Q2 2010, according to Mintel Menu Insights, and it’s likely that number will increase in the coming year.

Trend 5: Exemptions to the rule
A vast majority of restaurants will have to disclose calorie counts on their menus, but the rule doesn’t apply to LTOs. Operators will take advantage of this loophole by offering less-than-healthy novelty or seasonal menu items, allowing customers to indulge in a guilty treat, without feeling pressured to make a healthier menu choice. As it stands, 43% of consumers say they’re likely to change what they order when calorie counts are listed on the menu. LTOs allow consumers the occasional opportunity to indulge in a meal out.