The 7 trends that will shape foodservice in 2019

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Regardless of what weathermen and the Farmers’ Almanac might predict, a blizzard is certain to hit the foodservice industry through the remainder of the year in the form of predictions for 2019. The fourth quarter brings an avalanche of speculation about what’s ahead for the business.

One of the most anticipated annual forecasts comes from Technomic, the industry researcher and sister operation of FoodService Director. While most predictions are based on whim or intuition, Technomic’s expectations arise from research and analysis, and come with an explanation of why a trend is likely to unfold.

This year’s batch contains a number of surprises, including a prediction that will have foodservice operators looking at a map to stay abreast of the trends in ethnic foods. Unless, of course, they rely on video for the story, which of course will embody total transparency.

You’ll understand after taking a look at Technomic’s seven trends for 2019.

Photographs: Shutterstock

1. Levitating Levantine cuisine

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Growing interest in Israeli cuisine over the past few years has led to increased flavor innovation from Israel’s surrounding countries. Specialties from Lebanon, Syria and Turkey especially are finding momentum in trendy independent restaurants. Sauces such as s’chug, pomegranate molasses, toum, labneh and tahini are finding new and innovative applications, in addition to ingredients such as urfa, lavash and even schmaltz. But once exploration throughout the Levantine matures, what’s next? A likely winner, by way of Turkey as a bridge, is the Balkans.

2. Natural enhancements

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Functional foods are the “it” health trend today. The first wave of the trend is in full form: Operators are promoting natural remedies such as turmeric as ingredients that fix a lack of something in the body. Next year will bring a second wave of the functional trend: natural enhancements, meaning ingredients that enhance something in the body, even facets that don’t necessarily need fixing, such as brain function, beauty and mental health. Expect to see more innovative uses of ingredients such as collagen for beauty, cannabis for relaxation and karkade for stress relief, with operators calling out these specific benefits directly. 

3. Sensory thrills beyond a snapshot

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Over the past few years, Instagram and other photo-sharing apps have revolutionized the food industry. Restaurants have even created food and beverages with social media in mind. And now, Instagram stories, Facebook Live and YouTube have extended the trend beyond what works in a single snapshot to what plays well through videos. Audio enhancements such as popping candies or items that move or alter in time such as color-changing cocktails, glitter beer and bonito-topped foods wow diners, especially young ones. Because social media is evolving so quickly, expect menu trends to adapt in funky ways.

4. The next wave for third-party players

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Off-premise dining is booming, and third-party food delivery companies are stepping up to feed an on-demand culture. But between top players such as Grubhub and Uber Eats, and startup companies eager to get into the game, the third-party field is crowded, and companies are hustling to differentiate. Subscription models that eliminate per-delivery fees in favor of a flat-rate subscription will emerge to present a clearer value proposition for consumers. For third-party delivery services on pace to win the “last mile” with customers, subscription programs may be the next incentive to provide a true competitive edge.

5. Meat-free to the extreme?

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Plant-based dining now means more than just swapping meats for veggies; it represents a strategy that includes zero-waste policies and a wider focus on sustainability. Restaurant companies are banning plastic straws in an eco-friendly push to eliminate waste and pollution, and operators are making compostable, plant-based food packaging a priority. Can a full-on ban of meat be next? We’re already seeing companies outside the industry put policies in place to ban meat consumption on-site and to incentivize employees not to order meat when they dine out.  

6. Tech taking over the experience

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Technology amenities, from drone delivery to app-based checkout services, are redefining convenience and putting “frictionless” foodservice front and center. The game-changing rollout of Amazon Go into new markets is exposing more consumers to next-generation grab-and-go. But if the future is indeed frictionless, what lasting impact will it have on customer experiences and person-to-person interaction? Are brands poised to suffer in an environment where staff may no longer be the communicator of their identities? Restaurant companies committed to both tech-enabled convenience and the personal touch will be working to strike a balance between the two.

7. A new, multifaceted transparency

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Mention transparency in years past and consumers would likely connect it to a product story around sourcing, food origins and growing and processing methods. But tomorrow’s foodservice consumer increasingly will demand a more well-rounded transparency message, and in response, manufacturers and operators will craft a multifaceted approach. This means brands being fully transparent on several fronts, including pricing, by revealing true net costs and unbundled costs; corporate performance, by emphasizing fair trade, diversity, living wages and executive compensation; and the planet, by publicizing their real environmental impact, conservation initiatives and progressive stance on animal welfare. 

For Technomic's whitepaper on 7 key trends for 2019, click here

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