With all of the year-end reflecting in the books, there's just one thing left to do before we pour the eggnog and toast to the New Year: Place our bets on the next big thing.
A handful of QSR executives took a look into their crystal balls and shared what they think will be the biggest trends in 2014. Here are their predictions.
Menu trend forecast
"Clockless eating — QSR visits in between the usual breakfast, lunch and dinner meals. I expect to see innovation around snacking as a daypart. I also expect an increase in menu options as consumers seek more customization and better-for-you items." – Chris Brandt, chief marketing officer, Taco Bell.
"Continued retro (made new) and Southern influences, so items like grits, biscuits, pickles, mac-n-cheese, and flavors like garlic, honey and Buffalo used in new ways. Also, it will be the year of chicken innovation, versus beef. The influence of removing transfats from all foods will also start to play out with more butter and other fat call outs, and acrylamide will start to hit the consumer radar in a bigger way." – Donette Beattie, VP of Supply Chain, Culver Franchising System Inc.
"Sausage will be the new bacon. This includes seeing sausage pop up in new and interesting ways, and also seeing different types of flavors of sausage being offered more broadly, from the traditional pork sausage to other varieties, such as turkey sausage, infused with different spices and ingredients." – Stan Frankenthaler, Executive Chef and VP of Product Innovation at Dunkin' Brands.
"Empowering consumers with choice and customization options, like mix-ins for yogurt concepts and specialty high-end artisan products from coffee retails, as customers continue to want their foods their way." – Rob Israel, co-founder and CEO, Doc Popcorn.
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"Specialty breads will become even more of a trend and a strategic differentiator on many leading menus. From pretzel to brioche, consumers will continue to look for delicious, signature bread options." – Len Van Popering, SVP, Product Development & Innovation.
"We will see two food trends. Authentic, 'real' food and chicken. Millennials are looking for authentic, 'real' food. Health is important, but not always No. 1. They want to sink their teeth into things like high quality meats and cheeses on fresh baked bread and smothered with fresh produce. Customers are also choosing chicken. Surprising to us, more customers are choosing the chicken cheese steak than the traditional steak cheese steak." – Hoyt Jones, president, Jersey Mike's Subs.
"Taking classic QSR food, like burgers, and preparing it with a better-for-you result. Also, house-made beverages, like soda, brewed teas and cold-pressed juice. I expect more use of healthier grains like quinoa and buckwheat, the use of Ramen and other Asian flavors, and the customization of almost every menu item." – Gary Occhiogrosso, chief development officer, Trufoods.
"With the evolving healthcare regulations, and the demand for healthier options, many brands will examine their menus and explore ways to meet the growing demand for these products. Many QSRs, including us, will be working to bring calorie counts to their menu boards." - Justin McCoy, VP of Marketing, Cousins Subs.
Off the menu
"Online ordering is a growth opportunity and mobile is where everything is going, so we'll see more apps combining the two and more. We have learned that a relevant app must continually evolve, adding new and improved features, to keep up with today's mobile consumer." – Hoyt Jones, president, Jersey Mike's Subs.
"Consumers will look for more engaging experiences from a customer-service perspective. This will include both in-restaurant and social media points of connection." – Len Van Popering, SVP, Product Development & Innovation.
"Convenience is a very important deliverable in 2014. Consumers more than ever will want what they want, when they want it. Technology that can offer value, convenience and loyalty will continue to grow. With the ubiquitous use of mobile, loyalty programs and other offerings will continue to migrate to consumers' phones." – Rob Israel, co-founder and CEO, Doc Popcorn.
"The exploding growth of mobile technology and its ties to service options such as online ordering, continue to have a huge impact. We are working on various ways to reach our guests in the mobile space, including our messaging, loyalty programs and online ordering." - Justin McCoy, VP of Marketing, Cousins Subs.
"Continued supplier consolidation, strategic buy-outs and alignments, along with calculated trimming of excesses to be lean and mean and serve the needs of the operators effectively." – Donette Beattie, VP of Supply Chain, Culver Franchising System Inc.
"QSRs are rooted in value and convenience and consumers expect both. One opportunity is to enhance the overall customer experience at the restaurant. I predict we will see the lines blur between fast casual and QSR in terms of design, mobile experience and customer service." – Chris Brandt, chief marketing officer, Taco Bell.
"More mobile-to-market-to-guest. Also, more 'food halls' instead of food courts. There will be a big push toward creating eating environments that marry the food to the brand image, so as to move away from promoting the product and move to promoting the lifestyle that connects the brand." – Gary Occhiogrosso, chief development officer, Trufoods.
Read more about restaurant trends.
Photo provided by Flickr user Jlhopgood.