2022 is already proving to be a year of lightning-fast change. So what does it hold in store for the food service industry? We asked research firm Datassential to share some of the higher-level trends shaping food service in 2022 and beyond.
Here are 11 of the most important trends you should know about:
- Menu prices are rising…but not forever. Restaurants were already raising prices to offset higher labor costs. And now, with general inflation running at 7+%, many are raising prices to keep up. Consumers see the gap widening between what they pay in restaurants and what it costs to make at home. While they have shown a willingness to pay a little more so far, a tipping point will come.
- Consumers are making fewer meals at home despite the pandemic. In November 2017, 75% of meals were made at home. By October 2021, only 69% were, with the remainder purchased away from home, even if they’re eaten at home. Many see this as a sign that the industry has made progress in satisfying off-premise customers. While 51% report visiting restaurants less, 64% get prepared food away from home at least once a week.
- At the same time, home cooks have more specialized equipment than ever. Led by the younger generations, home cooks are using a mix of trendy kitchen appliances to make their meals, including food processors, electric fryers, instant pots and sous vide. This trend may set new expectations for what these consumers want from their restaurants.
- Consumers are ordering food delivered from a wider array of sources. Ever order food delivered from a convenience store? In October 2021, 17% of Gen Z and 16% of Millennials did, nearly twice the average rate of all ages. Across the board, younger diners are more open to delivery from places like fine dining and supermarket prepared food sections. This means more competition for traditional restaurants and fast food.
- Plant-based has surpassed all other diet trends on menus. The move to plant-based continues. About 1 in 3 people are trying to increase their consumption of plant-based protein in 2022, and restaurants have responded. Menu penetration of plant-based items is up 2270% over the last four years, with vegan and climatarian items up 99% and 47%, respectively. Manufacturers are producing a wide range of plant-based proteins (beef, seafood, chicken) that are gaining acceptance. As the products continue to improve, they will find a willing audience: about 2 in 3 consumers say they would eat meat alternatives if they tasted better than traditional meats.
- People are choosing specific foods as a way of maintaining their mental health. Given the stress of the pandemic, this may come as no surprise. 83% of consumers agree that “food can be medicine,” and 54% are extremely or very likely to buy “foods or beverages specifically designed to improve mental well-being.” For Millennials, the number rises to 66%.
- It may be time to prepare for the Metaverse. Virtual worlds are in their infancy, but investors are making big bets that the Metaverse—“a virtual environment that users can build things, socialize and purchase goods within a digital space”—will be the next big thing on the order of cell phones and the Internet. Already industry leaders like Chipotle have created a virtual presence in the popular Roblox online games. They gave the first 30,000 visitors a coupon for a free burrito to redeem in their brick-and-mortar stores.
- Restaurant design is changing to accommodate off-premise orders. For example, limited-service chains are considering adding dedicated lanes for mobile app orders and third-party delivery drivers. Some will eliminate the dining room altogether.
- Automation is on the way. As we noted in an earlier article, the ongoing restaurant labor shortage has attracted interest in automated solutions for both the front and back of the house. Datassential predicts automation will come to the back of the house first (like the Spyce robotic kitchen at Sweetgreen), allowing redeployment of human workers to the care of guests. On the delivery side, self-driving cars will become crucial as a last-mile delivery solution that’s financially sustainable.
- Human service will become a premium offering. As technology assumes more of the tasks within restaurants, human service will become a feature that guests will be willing to pay extra for. Datassential predicts the more expensive the restaurant, the more human service will be expected.
- Patrons are getting more adventurous in their eating. The Millennials and Gen Z are the first generations to prefer Mexican over Italian, long America’s favorite global cuisine. Of the foods people seek away from home, Asian items are the most popular. In 2022, look for Eastern European dishes like latkes and pierogies to gain traction, as well.