The Writing’s on the Wall. These ‘Fads’ Aren’t Fading.

Allowing the latest foodservice trends to influence menu development obviously makes good business sense. But the revolving door of what’s hot and what’s not can often spin so fast, it’s difficult, if not impractical, for operators to keep up.

The key is to separate the trend from the trendy.

Take ethnic foods, for example. They’re huge right now.

Or bright colors, which is a craze called out by every pub from Food & Drink Resources to Nation’s Restaurant News.

Are these consumer fixations worthy of an LTO promotion or market test that could qualify a menu update? Absolutely.

Sweeping trends that operators can’t afford to ignore? Probably not.

Instead, what virtually every operator throughout the industry ought to give a longer look is the trend that’s becoming more like a movement—healthier eating.

Why? Flavor preferences come and go. The desire to live longer doesn’t.

With that in mind, here are 3 menu modifications that deserve serious consideration for their value that goes far beyond “what’s hot.”

1. More Plant-Based Foods

This isn’t about going vegan or even migrating away from serving the likes of bacon. (On the contrary, that could be a colossal mistake.)

It’s also not really about the fact that plant-based foods leave a much smaller carbon footprint than their meaty counterparts—though, the consumer demand for establishments that are greener and more sustainability minded is a powerful force in its own right.

This is about consumers being caught between knowing the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables and the logistics of trying to realistically maintain the recommended 9 servings a day.

They can buy the volume on a monthly grocery-store trip and watch half of it go bad, or make the college try to shop every other day and fail miserably because their schedules just won’t allow it.

Convenience has everything to do with the fact that consumers are devoting more of their total food spend to eating out. Part of that comes from the expectation that healthier foods are more accessible in retail and restaurant outlets than they used to be.

Not to mention, expectations are also up that plant-based foods can actually rival meats for their protein, sustenance and even their taste.

Introducing more plant-based menu options is a wise move for almost any operation, especially if done to maximize sustainability and profitability gains by going with fresh produce

2. More Locally Sourced Foods

Like plant-based isn’t about vegan, this isn’t about going 100-percent farm-to-table.

Such an ambition is extremely tough in foodservice. Depending on your location and your suppliers’ capabilities, imperatives like food safety and consistent delivery can be challenging.

Nonetheless, the trendline for local food is real and rising, even in foodservice. And consumers are willing to pay the premium.

The endeavor can be to introduce as much local sourcing as reasonably possible, and the Internet is ripe with resources that discuss how to do that.

The impact to your menu development, specifically, will be about flexibility.

This means, at least, partially shifting to a seasonal mentality. But it also means having contingency plans as well—in your supply chain, as well as your food offering—for when mother nature or some other X factor unpredictably affects your local vendors.

3. More Free-From Foods  

Allergies and intolerances are no longer characteristics of fringe market segments. Heightened awareness and expectations among consumers have them looking for and demanding foods that meet their needs.

Dairy and dairy-alternative beverages, for example, are expected to become a $28 billion business by 2021. A jaw-dropping 40 percent of that will belong to the alts (i.e. plant based), up from 25 percent just two years ago.

Likewise, the gluten-free market is exploding—expected to hit $7.6 billion by 2020, in part because of celiac-disease sufferers, but also because of those who simply want to be more ‘health conscious.’

And, of course, while weight-loss diets are timeless, the $70.3 billion diet-product industry continues to churn out new innovations like low-carb zucchini pasta and  cauliflower ‘rice.’

On the menu, all of these free-from opportunities call for creativity—not just in terms of ingredient substitutes, but presentation. The challenge is to exercise this creativity without deviating too far from your brand or investing too much time in food prep.

More Money to Be Made 

The best part about this trio of menu modifications is that the wisdom exists in much more than the timeliness of the decision. It makes good business sense long term.

Yes, fresher, more earthbound products, sourced locally and friendlier to diet-conscious patrons will enable you to capture the rapidly growing segment of healthy consumers.

But they also add value that those consumers recognize and, therefore, justify the kind of premium pricing that can increase your margins.