Sometimes it’s due to consumer fatigue. Other times, declining sales. But like clothing styles, foods that are wildly popular one year can start to fall out of favor the next.
That’s not to say that the following five trends will be disappearing from menus anytime soon. These ingredients and preparations have risen in menu mentions almost every quarter for the past five years, according to Technomic Ignite menu data. That is, until recently. It’s too early to tell whether this decline will continue. But maybe it’s time for operators to look beyond these former stars to energize their menus for 2020.
Peak quarter: Q3 2018 (1,597 items)
% decline (peak quarter to today): -4.4%
Packed with valuable vitamins, minerals and other nutritional benefits, kale has been classified as a superfood. Its healthfulness and versatility soon made it a star of the salad bar, but it has since branched out into smoothies, stir-fries, soups, flatbreads, grain bowls and even breakfast items. Kale was kind of a gateway supergreen for many consumers, opening the way for operators to menu other power greens, such as bok choy, Swiss chard and tatsoi, an Asian leafy green. Kale is not disappearing from menus, but it’s no longer the only salad green getting called out for its health benefits.
Peak quarter: Q4 2017 (711 items)
% decline (peak quarter to today): -3.1%
“What’s the next Sriracha?” is the question often asked by operators and chefs. This spicy red chile sauce first appeared as a condiment in Asian restaurants, but now sits on tables in concepts serving everything from burgers to sandwiches, bar food and breakfast platters. Sriracha opened consumers’ taste buds to more complex fiery condiments, including Korean gochujang, Indonesian sambal and North African harissa. Sriracha is now almost as ubiquitous as ketchup, and consumers and chefs are beginning to move on to other spicy condiments. Be on the lookout for Chinese chile crisp and Filipino palapa, a chile-coconut sauce.
Peak quarter: Q3 2018 (451 items)
% decline (peak quarter to today): -3.1%
Greek yogurt is menued most often in smoothies, breakfast bowls and parfaits, pancakes, salads, chicken marinades and desserts. Hotels lead the way in using the ingredient, with 49% offering Greek yogurt on the menu. Although restaurants in every segment feature it too, the product is more dominant in noncommercial operations. Healthcare, recreation and college and university locations are all big users. Greek yogurt is known as a probiotic that aids digestion. But as health continues to be a driver of menu development, other functional ingredients are coming to the forefront, including the most buzzed-about—CBD.
Peak quarter: Q4 2018 (412 items)
% decline (peak quarter to today): -1.2%
Ramen isn’t showing as steep a decline as the other items on this list, and operator penetration still seems to be at its summit. In both Q4 2018 and Q1 2019, 2.3% of operators in Technomic’s database menued ramen, the highest penetration recorded. Although the brothy Japanese noodle bowls have hatched a genre of dedicated ramen concepts, the item is time-consuming and tricky to execute authentically in mainstream restaurants. A no-broth ramen called mazemen is gaining traction; Technomic Predictive forecasts that over 14% more operators will offer it in the next two years. Unlike ramen, which is most popular in cold weather, mazemen is more of a year-round dish, combining noodles, veggies and protein in a customizable bowl.
Peak quarter: Q3 2018 (244 items)
% decline (peak quarter to today): -2%
The poke trend traveled to the mainland from Hawaii and soon caught on stateside, no doubt fueled by the popularity of sushi, bowls and customization. Poke is traditionally a combo of marinated raw fish cubes, rice, veggies, Asian sauces and crunchy toppings. A number of fast casuals now specialize in build-your-own poke bowls, and the trend has moved into college dining. Several varied-menu chains have recently jumped on the trend, too, and we may not yet be done with poke penetrating the mainstream. However, since the dish requires careful sourcing of high-quality fish and strict food safety guidelines, it may be a little too niche for the long term.