From cannabis demos to robotics, the influence of Gen Z and Millennial consumers on the foodservice landscape was unmistakable as we look back at this year’s National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show held in Chicago last month. Sessions on the plant-based food craze, cutting edge technology and omnichannel marketing serve as a reminder that the meat industry must evolve quickly to keep tomorrow’s consumers engaged.
As two of those “consumers of tomorrow” who attended the show, we naturally gravitated toward what’s resonating now with Gen Zs and Millennials. Here are our picks for the trends with the most staying power:
1. Convenience is king. From “no wait” order pick-up solutions to Uber Eats delivery services, foodservice operators are partnering with vendors to bring added convenience to customers while driving off-premise sales. Restaurant Business reports that 86% of consumers are using off-premise services at least monthly.
Convenience driven product offerings also had a strong showing, like Dos Rios, a fully cooked taco meat product in a variety of flavor profiles, and Kronos World Cuisine’s precooked chicken shawarma, which allows operators to expand their menus without additional prep work.
2. Corporate social responsibility is a key selling point. Sysco highlighted its Delivering a Better Tomorrow campaign throughout its booth and illustrated “What Better Looks Like.” US Foods touted products and ideas designed for “today’s diners” that focus on sustainable ingredients and local produce. As consumers up the search for products that they deem as good for me, good for others and good for the environment, the food industry is responding.
3. Sustainability is influencing dining choices. From recyclable packaging to paper straws and eco-friendly to-go containers, restaurants are incorporating sustainability in all facets of foodservice operations. According to a National Restaurant Association survey, more than half of consumers say choosing a restaurant is influenced by whether the restaurant recycles. Embracing environmentally friendly packaging is also helping operators attract diners.
4. Genetics take claims a step further. With Halperns’ W.Black brand featuring Wagyu genetics and FPL Food’s Châtel Farms showcasing its Akaushi Reserve program, genetics are taking center stage in the conversation about where food comes from and helping operators distinguish their high-end meat offerings.
5. Alternative proteins are growing and diversifying. It’s no surprise that alternative proteins garnered significant booth traffic at this year’s NRA show, as consumers seek out meat substitutes that fit their health and wellness lifestyles. A recent study by Midan Marketing revealed that about 25% of meat consumers plan to purchase plant-based meats. And protein alternatives are expanding beyond just a simple burger patty; they now include sausage links, sliders, ground beef and even seafood.
6. Cannabis will create higher expectations (no pun intended) for diners. If you want to hear about disruption in the industry, this is it! For the first time ever, cannabis was a topic of conversation at NRA, sparking a lot of curiosity from participants. The educational sessions were fascinating because of the molecular cell biology education and precision needed to produce a cannabis-infused meal. Look to companies like Herbal Chef who are leading the charge and educating individuals on this new twist in foodservice.
Although the 2019 National Restaurant Association show has come and gone, the trends we observed there are gaining ground every day and will continue to effect big changes in foodservice.