Unified Data, a data-analytics company that provides market intelligence to the foodservice industry, has revealed four consumer and sales trends that are impacting the restaurant industry in 2022.
In this increasingly digitized and chaotic post-pandemic world, it’s more imperative than ever that dining establishments make data-driven decisions to continually optimize their offerings so they remain competitive and on the cutting edge. This includes adhering to consumer tastes and preferences by offering the highly sought-after and trending menu items that are searched for online. Additionally, the ability to nimbly respond via menu innovation to supply-chain disruptions that negatively affect ingredient availability can’t be underestimated. More than ever, restaurants must be agile, open to change, and driven by relevant data analytics.
As the restaurant industry recovers from the huge hit it took during the pandemic that began in March 2020, Unified Data has pinpointed four notable consumer and sales foodservice trends that are changing the industry landscape.
1. Fast food is the hottest restaurant search online
Making up the largest portion of the food-and-beverage industry, quick-service restaurants (QSRs) are also the most searched for online when compared to fast-casual, midscale and casual-dining. No doubt, a large part of this QSR boom is directly related to the pandemic and the population’s sudden need for socially distanced food delivery. Even as 3,346 restaurants permanently closed across Canada between January 2021 and April 2022 (source: Unified Data), many fast-food restaurants experienced heightened demand for their takeout and delivery services. Others partnered with food delivery apps such as Grubhub, DoorDash and UberEats.
Another reason for the popularity of grab-and-go places is that they typically cater to a single market by offering only one type of cuisine (such as tacos, pizza, or sandwiches, for example). Not only does this make it easier to keep prices low and preparation times short on the part of the restaurant, but these specialized offerings also tend to mass appeal to the locals and their flavour preferences.
2. Diners desire health-conscious menu options
On the heels of the plant-based-food revolution is a trend that favours health-conscious restaurant dishes. In some cases, they even overlap. A case in point: the growing interest in cauliflower crust (and even cauliflower wings). The reasons why people are increasingly more interested in purchasing and consuming these kinds of food may, in fact, be twofold: they’re plant-based as well as healthier than the regular alternatives. Unified Data has identified, however, a well-established trend toward healthier dining, and this includes beverages as well.
Non-alcoholic beverages as well as ready-to-drink options such as Seltzers continue to increase in popularity and are appearing more frequently on menus. So how can restaurants leverage this healthier mindset and convert it into more sales? Perhaps by preparing dishes that are made of the freshest and healthiest ingredients possible and communicating this information to customers. Offering more sugar-free menu options and giving diners the ability to customize their meals may also help satisfy their desire for better health, thereby leading to more sales.
3. Consumers crave fusion flavours and ethnic cuisines
Even while QSRs experience runaway success, in part because of their focus on satisfying local taste preferences, data from Unified Data indicates that many consumers desire experimental and/or unique menu items that aren’t simply a duplicate from another restaurant. Instead, diners are responding favourably to dishes they believe are innovative and different.
In addition, ethnic cuisines and flavours are also in vogue with a particular emphasis on fusion flavours (exotic culinary blends such as Korean potato salad, tandoori chicken burgers, Mexican ravioli, and chicken wonton tacos). Consumers appear to enjoy the contrast of various flavours and textures in dishes that, though otherwise familiar, can’t easily be replicated at home. Experimenting with unconventional flavour and texture combinations may indeed lead to a boost in sales for restaurants that are willing to think outside of the box.
4. Plant-based menu items keep gaining in popularity
While not necessarily a brand-new trend (plant-based meat was introduced to the North-American masses in the 1970s and vegan products have been gaining significant traction over the last decade), vegetarian and vegan menu alternatives — frequently marketed as “plant-based” — have ballooned in popularity since the beginning of the pandemic. Perhaps spurred on by an interest on the part of many people to be healthier (and hence, eat healthier foods) in the face of COVID-19, more people have begun eating meat-free foods — even when they’re dining out at a restaurant — than ever before.
Meat eaters are more frequently calling themselves “flexitarians” who consume non-meat alternatives due to preference and not because of a dietary restriction. Even plant-based seafood options have picked up steam, and Unified Data is detecting an increase of more versatile and innovative plant-based options on menus. As the popularity of plant-based foods continues to rapidly progress, it may be in the best interest of many restaurants to tailor their menus accordingly to capitalize on this profitable trend.
The Bottom Line
In hindsight, the many ramifications of the pandemic (still ongoing, of course) have forced the restaurant industry to literally re-define itself. As it adjusts, restaurants must continue to innovate, optimize, and take heed of data-supported trends such as the sustained rise in popularity of plant-based products, healthy menu items, ethnic ingredients, fusion foods, and quick service. Putting blinders on and choosing to ignore these ever-growing consumer and sales foodservice trends is undoubtedly a risky proposition.
Kyle Brown is the vicepresident of Unified Data. He can be reached at [email protected]