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Technomic's latest menu trends: Indulgence is the thing for all generations, and each has their own way to treat themselves

Katie Belflower, editor at Technomic, broke down menu trends by demographics at the FoodService Director's MenuDirections conference.
Katie Belflower
Katie Belflower led a general session on menu trends at the 2024 MenuDirections conference. | Photo by Scott Mitchell.

Millenials are obsessed with strawberries, while Gen X is partying hearty with loaded baked potatoes. While the different segments of onsite dining have quite a few similarities, the demographics of the diners they serve tend to be different. Understanding the demands of the generation you serve can be valuable in crafting the perfect menu. In a session titled Consumer and Menu Trends to Watch at the 2024 MenuDirections conference, Katie Belflower, editor at Technomic, an industry research and consulting company, discussed the ins and outs of menu trends. During her session, Belflower took a deep dive into what trends are resonating with each generation. To identify the trends, Belflower looked at data on purchase intent to see which demographics are more likely to purchase certain items.

While there are clear differences in what menu items are most appealing to each demographic, there is an overarching theme of indulgence. While men prefer meaty options and women opt for sweet desserts, both of those craveable offerings provide satisfaction. And when it comes to the different generations, matures are splurging with spendy options and Baby Boomers love a decadent breakfast. Meanwhile millennials are elevating their beverage experiences and Gen Zers are looking for reimagination of familiar favorites. Gen X has a thing for potatoes...and bacon, particularly together. Here’s a breakdown of what trends are resonating with different demographics.

Men buy meaty dishes

When it comes to male foodservice diners, it's meat-centric dishes that grab their attention most, along with an emphasis on classic American faves. One item that Belflower noted had high purchase intent from men was a bacon-cheddar crispy burger. Steak was also another popular offering among this demographic.

A large slice of New York style pizza was also high on the list. Many of these popular items also have strong menu descriptions such as, “extra-large,” “hand-seasoned” or “iconic.”

“So, describing the premium levels of unique options can help really make a difference,” said Belflower. 

And some of Technomic’s consumer data reinforces this trend. Three-fourths of males surveyed indicated they eat a beef-based entree once a week, and a little over half reported that they eat pork at least once a week, said Belflower.

“So, if you're looking to appeal to males specifically, maybe you offer these classic meat dish options, yes, doubling up on the meats in any given dish,” she said. “But also calling out those quality descriptors and the item names or description just to quantitate the premium levels of those new dishes.”

Women choose fruit-forward desserts

For female diners, there is a clear trend toward sweet options, specifically fruity desserts. A few call-out dishes that Belflower noted are a “legendary” strawberry shortcake, apple crumble pie and handmade apple fritters.

Men and women both respond to bold, strong descriptors. Branding products with verbiage such as legendary, fresh and handmade may be an effective way to draw consumers into new products especially.  

Other areas men and women have in common include indulgence and cravability, with each group defining indulgence in their own way.

Gen-Zers are feeling nostalgic

Nostalgia is everywhere lately. And, it has even made its way into foodservice in recent years as foodservice operations use menu items to unlock the good feelings and memories of simpler times (1990s/2000s) when developing their menus. Technomic’s consumer research revealed that Gen Z diners, in particular, are fond of menu offerings that invoke a sense of nostalgia. Many of these items aren’t just bringing back offerings from the past, instead they are often reimaginations of classic offerings. Some items that fall into this category are funnel cakes and a French toast cookie.

funnel cakes sweet and savory

Half-savory, half-sweet funnel cakes (gluten-free!) were spotted (and tasted) on the Menu Directions show floor.

“So, this generation in particular, even though they still are on the younger side, are kind of wanting to look to the past, maybe feel a little bit like kids again,” said Belflower. “So, they're all looking for new takes on more familiar favorites.”

Strawberry has its moment with millennials

Apparently, millennials love strawberries in lots of forms, especially beverages. A few items of note that are popular with this generation are strawberry blast Sprite and strawberry iced tea. While strawberry was a clear favorite with millennials, elevated beverages in general are another trend that is continuing to grow in many areas of foodservice. Millennials find adding flavors into various types of beverages an appealing way to elevate simple drinks. For instance, millennials like adding strawberry into soft drinks, sparkling water and smoothies.

“And, of course, here you don't have to be constrained by strawberry specifically; the larger trend is really just offering beverages with different flavor profiles,” said Belflower.

Potatoes and bacon party hearty with Gen X

The menu items Gen X seems to want to order most include potatoes and bacon, a comforting duo with warm feelings attached. One popular dish in Technomic's research: A loaded baked potato with applewood-smoked bacon, sour cream, topped with cheddar and green onion. Another popular dish was sizzling butter potatoes with bacon.

“And over half of Gen Xers do say that satisfying cravings is important or extremely important specifically when choosing a side and those potato sides are pretty hearty, I would imagine pretty satisfying,” said Belflower.

This again plays into the trend of indulgence. However, when appealing to this generation, said Belflower, it can be important to balance this indulgence with simplicity. That’s why, offerings like a simple baked potato can be perfect, as it leaves space to add an indulgent element as well.

Baby Boomers love breakfast

Indulgence is apparent in the cravings of Baby Boomers as well. This generation craves breakfast options, but specifically, decadent breakfast options. Some items that were popular with Baby Boomers were homemade apple fritters, cinnamon roll French toast, and a T-bone steak served with two eggs and two sides.

“And once again, Baby Boomers really want things that are going to satisfy them, even in the morning. They start at breakfast. So, these kinds of choices make sense here,” said Belflower.

Matures want surf 'n turf

For the oldest living generation, matures, surf 'n turf was a clear favorite. One popular dish was a flame grilled certified angus beef top sirloin and roasted Maine lobster tail. And a 10 oz filet mignon served with South African lobster tails was also popular.

This generation seems ready to splurge, opting for more pricey choices.

”I think obviously surf 'n turf is popular but also it's just these more premium options, these more splurging options this generation is willing to spend on,” said Belflower

 

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