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PMA Research: Trends Influencing Consumers’ Menu Choices in 2017

Friday, 12 May 2017 | Posted in Industry/Consumer Trends by Renee Harrison

Produce growers and marketers are well positioned to take advantage of the growing appetite for natural, simple and flexible diets, as this preference will drive further expansion of flexitarian, vegetarian and other plant-focused formulations. Simplicity is an important component of a successful menu, and as the clean label/clean menu trend continues, more chefs are responding with a “less is more” approach to their ingredient lists. But featuring on-trend dishes infused with vibrant flavor on menu offerings is key to driving growth for your business.

2017 Restaurant Industry Outlook

Restaurant industry sales are forecasted to reach US $799 billion in 2017, a 1.7 percent gain (adjusted for inflation) over the industry’s estimated 2016 sale, according to the National Restaurant Association’s “Restaurant Industry Outlook 2017”. Significant variance among geographic regions and industry segments will affect restaurant sales performance, with quick service and fast-casual sales expected to total $233.7 billion in 2017, a 5.3 percent gain over 2016 sales volume.

Consumer Expectations

Much of this outlook is based on meeting consumer expectations. As their food-decision matrix grows increasingly complex, consumers will be even more engaged and discerning. Diners continue to become more knowledgeable about food and they expect menu options that fit their dietary preferences no matter when or where they visit restaurants. This has resulted in food trends becoming more concept-based than ingredient-based, with an evolving focus on production, sourcing and preparation. (2017 Restaurant Industry Outlook)

Local, hyper-local, natural ingredients, clean menus, and environmental sustainability are some of the top trends influencing consumers’ food choices when dining out, according to the NRA’s What’s Hot in 2017 survey of 1300 professional chefs

“Menu trends today are beginning to shift from ingredient-based items to concept-based ideas, mirroring how consumers tend to adapt their activities to their overall lifestyle philosophies”. (Hudson Riehle Senior Vice President of Research, NRA)

Global Comfort Food

A sense of uncertainty and the unpredictability of current events is leading consumers to seek products rooted in comfort - and more recognisable than revolutionary. Authentic connections to the past provide an element of trustworthiness. But trust in the familiar does not eliminate the need for revolutionary, which has chefs figuring out ways to delight consumers with twists on tradition. (Mintel, Food & Drink Trends 2017).

While global flavors continue to influence menus in 2017, chefs are paying close attention to the quality and provenance of the raw ingredients they use. They’re focusing on minimally processed food items, and serving a larger variety of natural, whole foods that are healthful and great tasting.

With regard to putting produce on menus, chefs seem to be prioritising exploration, reflecting consumers’ growing appetite for exotic flavors, as well as connections to the past, with chefs ranking heirloom fruits and vegetables as the top influence. The other influences rounding out the top four are:

  1. Unusual/uncommon herbs
  2. Hybrid fruits/vegetables
  3. Exotic fruit
  4. Dark greens

According to chef Margarita Fores, named 2016’s best female chef in Asia, a vibrant food scene means farmers and producers are more creative and adventurous as they try to grow and create new products wherever they are.” (The hottest food trends for 2017 from the hottest chefs, CNN.com)

Veg-Centric Goes Mainstream

The veg-centric trend will continue to influence commercial menus well into the future as 62 percent of the ACF chefs surveyed agreed that veg-centric cuisine continues to be a hot trend. And “Flavor and the Menu” magazine finds that the trend is experiencing another surge in momentum as chefs increasingly experiment with vegetables as center-of-the-plate ingredients and dining consumers enthusiastically follow their lead. Vegetable-centric cooking continues to have strong sales-building potential for operators across the country. (Flavor and the Menu March/April 2017).

The evolution of this trend is in part due to consumers’ aspirations for healthier and cleaner lifestyles and the growing adoption of more flexible approaches to eating in mainstream culture. Consumers’ aspirations for healthier and cleaner lifestyles are motivating them to prioritise fruits, vegetables, seeds, and grains in their diets – and they want to include some protein as well. For consumers, it’s less about restricting themselves and more about indulgence and flavor discovery.

This flexible approach includes eating both protein and vegetables, but just a lower proportion of protein. The careful inclusion of boldly flavored proteins in a dish provides a huge new flavor arsenal for chefs to work with, but result in dishes that are not vegetarian. The upside is that veg-centric dishes appeal to the vast majority of diners who do not adhere to a meatless diet. It is now apparent that having vegetables and meat in a dish is no longer an either/or proposition and dining consumers are proving that they will order more vegetable-based dishes in restaurants if they possess increased levels of craveability. (Flavor and the Menu, March-April 2017)

“Chefs are on an endless quest to redefine how consumers eat. By masterfully transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary, culinary professionals are at the forefront of changing the culinary landscape.” (Thomas Macrina, CEC, CCA, AAC American Culinary Federation National President) 

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Access additional resources on Consumer Trends via the PMA A-NZ Information Centre.

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