We Americans love to eat. Earlier in 2013, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) predicted that restaurants would take in $661 billion this year, and while final stats aren’t in yet, we're expected to spend even more in 2014.
There’s a lot of opportunity in the food business. The challenge is keeping up with the ever-changing tastes of American consumers. If you want to grow your existing restaurant or get into the business, you need to know what America is eating. According to the NRA, 2014 isn’t going to be particularly innovative—six of its top 10 trends for 2014 are “all about local sourcing and sustainability,” and most of the top 10 trends made the list in 2013:
1. Locally sourced meats and seafood
2. Locally grown produce
3. Environmental sustainability
4. Healthful kids' meals
5. Gluten-free cuisine
6. Hyper-local sourcing (restaurants with their own gardens)
7. Children's nutrition
8. Non-wheat noodles/pasta (quinoa, rice, buckwheat)
9. Sustainable seafood
10. Farm/estate branded items
When the NRA asked chefs which trends they thought would still be hot 10 years from now, “environmental sustainability” topped the list, followed by local sourcing, health-nutrition, children’s nutrition and gluten-free foods.
Admittedly, as a diner and not as a restaurateur, this sounds a bit boring to me. But there’s still a lot of opportunity for restaurant owners to have fun with their menus as well. In fact, the 7th annual report from hospitality and restaurant consultants Andrew Freeman & Co. (AF&Co.) predicts one of 2014’s hot food trends will be “haute homey,” where “chefs will be having fun with familiar favorites, [creating] highbrow versions of classic comfort foods.” Think fancy French fries or upscale peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
AF&Co. also expects more chefs as “mad scientists, creating hybrid versions” of longtime favorite foods like Dominique Ansel’s croissant and donut mashup, the cronut, or the ramen burger.
And after years of experts predicting the end of the cupcake craze, AF&Co. predicts 2014’s hot dessert will be ice cream sandwiches. The report cites the popularity of Coolhaus ice cream trucks, which features exotically flavored ice cream sandwiches.
Food trucks in general also have a solid future. A report from the National League of Cities says the food truck industry currently generates $650 million in annual revenue, and is expected to soar to $2.7 billion by 2017. Food trucks are a great way to get started in the restaurant business: The average startup cost is $55,000 to $75,000, far less than building out a restaurant. If you already own a restaurant, adding a food truck is a great way to build brand awareness, try new menu items or expand to new neighborhoods.
Artisanal food in general will continue its popularity rise. Several years ago, research firm Packaged Facts reported nearly half of all Americans “like to eat foods with artisan appeal.” Artisanal foods are really about reinventing existing food staples. Recently, entrepreneurs have had great success adding innovative touches to foods such as bacon, mayo, ice cream, flavored oils, salad dressings, syrups, sparkling waters, ketchup and juices. This is one area of the food industry that has multiple entry points, from food trucks to restaurants to food manufacturing to the newest innovation, food halls, which restaurant consultants Baum + Whiteman predict will be big in 2014.
Baum + Whiteman's annual trends outlook also predicts that Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines will gain mass market appeal. And don’t forget the beverages. Baum + Whiteman says Starbucks is helping revive the popularity of tea and pressed juices. If you serve alcoholic beverages, the company says vermouth will be hot this year, as will carbonated cocktails and sour beer (I think I’ll pass).
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