This Week In Foodservice

The editorial team aggregates key industry information and provides brief analysis to help foodservice professionals navigate the data.


A Closer Look at the National Restaurant Association’s Annual Study

A culinary forecast highlights the impact of social media on menus. Are restaurants finally getting some relief? Alto-Shaam breaks ground on a plant expansion. These stories and more This Week in Foodservice.

Visit any foodservice operation, regardless of whether it’s a quick-service or fine-dining restaurant, and you will notice a ritual playing out time and again. As soon as a guest receives their food, they whip out their phone and share their order with their friends and followers on social media. As a result, restaurant dishes continue to become viral sensations. In some cases, popular social “food fads” earn a place on menus or appear as limited-time offers. That’s according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2024 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast.

The survey uncovered several broader menu trends to watch for next year as well as specific dishes, ingredients, flavors, and condiments that are set to become fast favorites among consumers. Here’s a list of some of the top trends, per the NRA’s annual study:

  1. World stage soups and stews (birria, chicken tom kha, laksa, salmorejo, upscale ramen)
  2. Global chicken wings
  3. International BBQ
  4. Incorporating social media trends
  5. Grilled/cooked cheeses (provoleta, queso fundido, raclette, halloumi, juustoleipa)
  6. Wagyu beef
  7. Stuffed vegetables (chiles en nogada, stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage rolls)
  8. Regional menus
  9. Streamlined menus
  10. Hot honey breakfast sandwiches

“This year’s trends are dominated by consumer craving for comfort and community with a healthy side of curiosity influenced by social media,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of Research for the Association. “Old favorites like BBQ are taking on new flavors and social sharing is influencing the spread of regional fares like Nashville Hot. Even the chicken competition is going global on local menus.”

Across all the food categories, comfort foods ruled the day, with respondents pointing to soups and stews, stuffed vegetables, and melty cheeses as next year’s hottest trends. In a sign of increasingly sophisticated preferences, natural flavors took center stage for alcoholic drinks, including botanicals like spices and herbs, along with low-alcohol spirits, while drinks with perceived health and energy benefits led the way for non-alcohol offerings.

Foodservice News This Week

  • Restaurants may be known for their food but one multiconcept operator believes it’s the company’s operating model that represents its true strength. “It’s always a little dangerous to say this, but at the end of the day, our product is not Tim Hortons coffee, and great subs at Firehouse and burgers and chicken,” said Patrick Doyle, chairman of Restaurant Brands International. Doyle made these comments during a fireside chat at the Restaurant Finance and Development Conference on Monday and was reported by Restaurant Dive. “Our product is an economic model. As the franchisor, what we provide is a great economic opportunity for franchisees.”
  • Joe & the Juice has a new majority owner. Investment firm General Atlantic will acquire a majority stake in the juice, coffee and sandwich chain and the previous owner Valedo Partners will fully exit its investment in the company, per a Restaurant Business story. Terms were not disclosed but the deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter this year.
  • Following a few years of stiff economic headwinds, are restaurants finally starting to feel some relief? A Bank of America report says yes, pointing to several factors, including easing food price increases and wage increases. The report also points out that consumers still want to use restaurants, which is a positive. As margins stabilize, the Bank of America report projects there will be higher interest in mergers and acquisitions as well as IPO activity in 2024.
  • Alto-Shaam broke ground on an expansion of its U.S. headquarters and manufacturing facility in Menomonee Falls, Wis. The 100,000-square-foot facility will include a research and development lab as well as engineering, product management, shipping, and finished goods spaces. The facility will also expand Alto-Shaam’s manufacturing capacity. Alto-Shaam expects to complete the facility by 2025.
  • For the second year in a row, ServSafe has been named to the list of America’s Top Online Learning Providers 2024 by Newsweek and Statistica Inc. The rankings highlight institutions other than a university or college platform, which provide access to online courses.
  • Magid Glove & Safety was named one of the 2023 Chicagoland Top Workplaces for the third year in a row. Magid was one of only 196 businesses to make this list.
  • The Foodservice Equipment Distributors Association recognized the accomplishments of four dealer members and three factories with a series of annual awards. The FEDA Awards also recognized the contributions of four up and coming foodservice professionals.

Economic News This Week

  • The Consumer Price Index was unchanged in October, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This comes after a 0.4% September increase. Over the past 12 months, the CPI has increased 3.2%. The index for shelter continued to rise in October, offsetting a decline in the gasoline index. The food index increased 0.3% in October, after rising 0.2% in September. The index for food at home increased 0.3% over the month while the index for food away from home rose 0.4%. “Inflation is slowly but steadily moderating, and all the trend lines look good,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics told CNBC. “It feels like by this time next year inflation will be very close to the [Federal Reserve’s] target, and something the American consumer will feel comfortable with.” The Fed aims for a 2% annual inflation rate over the long term.
  • Are higher prices impacting the way consumers use restaurants and grocery stores? Perhaps. Specifically, 31% of consumers say they are preparing meals at home more often and 60% say they are eating out less, per FMI—The Food Industry Association’s U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends, Holiday Season report. Twenty percent of shoppers say they are buying more groceries to contain their spending. "Interestingly, while shoppers tell us they are saving money by going out to eat less, they are also taking advantage of expanded foodservice options at their local grocer. Shoppers are increasingly enjoying ‘hybrid’ meals that pair food made at home alongside semi- or fully-prepared items from the grocery store. This hybrid approach can offer shoppers tremendous value during this hectic season by offering convenience and affordability for any holiday meal celebration,” said Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI.
  • Small business owners’ outlook remains subdued as they continue to address a variety of economic challenges. The October NFIB Small Business Index totaled 90.7, a 0.1. decrease from the previous month. Specifically, 22% of small business operators point to inflation as their single most important problem. Owners expecting better business conditions over the next six months were unchanged from September at a net negative 43%. A net negative 17% of all owners reported higher nominal sales in the past three months, down nine points from September and the lowest reading since July 2020.
  • Initial jobless claims decreased by 3,000 for a reading of 217,000 for the week ending November 4, 2023, per the U.S. Department of Labor. The 4-week moving average was 212,250, an increase of 1,500 from the previous week. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 218,000 claims for the latest week, so these results represent the latest example that the jobs market is showing few signs of slowing down.