QSR executives reflect on the top culinary stories of the year

It's in our very nature to reflect on the year as a new one approaches. And we've tried to do just that — pulling together 2013's top stories from the menu, as well as the top stories that had nothing to do with food at all.

We think we have (try to have) a unique perspective, covering the QSR industry as tradeshows come and go, news releases pour in constantly and feature ideas come to fruition. But we also wanted to get a pulse from those whose hands are most firmly on the beat of this broad, diverse and fast-paced industry. Here are the biggest culinary trends from 2013 from restaurant executives' point-of-view:

Biggest QSR culinary trends from 2013

"The promotion of locally purchased products and the use of key buzzwords in marketing such as 'fresh,' 'made from scratch' and 'baked daily.' Coincidentally, these are some of the key pillars of our business." – Justin McCoy, VP of Marketing, Cousins Subs.

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"We've seen a lot of innovation this year in terms of QSRs partnering with key brands to offer more flavorful destination menu items only available at their restaurants. For example, Taco Bell's expanded Doritos Locos Tacos platform with our partners Frito-Lay." – Chris Brandt, CMO, Taco Bell Corp.

"QSRs are using much better ingredients and attempting to use and promote locally-grown ingredients. Also, offering a spicier profile on some items has been big." – Gary Occhiogrosso, chief development officer, Trufoods.

"2013 was the year of the pretzel bun and, coming off of two culinary research tours in two months, they are everywhere. This also morphs into a broader trend of making the better burgers out there even better, competing for market share with new buns, cheese and topping varieties." – Donette Beattie, VP of Supply Chain, Culver Franchising System Inc.

"The biggest trend I've observed in 2013 is that spicy is everywhere and is popping up in some very interesting ways. This includes traditional spicy ingredients, but also the rise of ingredients like Sriracha. At Dunkin' Donuts, we just rolled out our Spicy Smoked Sausage Breakfast Sandwich, which really delivers on this trend. We've also recently offered a Hot & Spicy Breakfast Sandwich, Hot & Spicy Wake-Up Wrap and reduced fat jalapeno cream cheese spread." – Stan Frankenthaler, Executive Chef and VP of Product Innovation at Dunkin' Brands.

"Spicy! From Sriracha to chipotle, more intense flavors are hot. At Jersey Mike's, our customers are amping up the flavor with choices like chipotle cheese steak, cappacuolo (a spicy ham), hot pepper relish and our rosemary parmesan bread." – Hoyt Jones, president, Jersey Mike's Subs.

"Widespread consumer interest in a variety of BBQ-inspired flavors — from bold and spicy flavor profiles to those a bit more sweet. There seems to be no lack of love for BBQ." – Len Van Popering, SVP, Product Development and Innovation, Arby's.

"Better-for-you, fresh, natural yet indulgent snacking. Consumers are looking for fantastic-tasting, yet better-for-you foods and snacks as exemplified by the growth in the category and major snack companies, like Frito-Lay, coming out with natural line products, and the exponential growth of Whole Foods, Doc Popcorn, Menchie's Frozen Yogurt and other 'healthier and natural' retailers." – Rob Israel, co-founder and CEO, Doc Popcorn.

We also asked QSR executives to forecast trends — both on and off the menu — for 2014. Keep an eye on QSRweb.com on Friday to read their predictions.

Read more about trends and statistics.

Photo provided by Flickr user Mai Le.

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