The foodservice scene in the U.K. continues evolving in appealing ways, with some trends mirroring developments also seen in other parts of the world, while others are distinctly British. Looking forward, Technomic has identified five key trends expected to play major roles in the coming year, each based on consumer demand.
Customisation Encourages Experimentation
For customers, the lure of customisation is control. Restaurant-goers increasingly want more command over nearly everything on the menu, from ingredients and portion size to flavour combinations and healthfulness. They also want value and convenience, both of which are satisfied through a flexible menu. Operators who incorporate a service model of customisation into their concepts will propel themselves ahead of their competitors by creating unique, customer-created food and drink.
Think made-to-order meals à la Chipotle Mexican Grill. Five Guys Burgers and Fries is entering the U.K. from the States, seeing a market for its small menu of burgers that can be customised with dozens of toppings, as well as different rolls and proteins. Home-grown player handmade burger Co. taps the same opportunity, promising “our burgers are made to order, so if you would like to change any of the ingredients in your burger, please let out team know, and they’ll be happy to do that for you.” That’s after guests peruse the 40-some burgers already on the menu.
These operators recognise also that it’s safer for customers to experiment with a new flavour or ingredient if it comes along with something that they are already familiar with. It’s easier to add a chimichurri sauce to a burger, for example, than to select a foreign dish with a name that’s hard to pronounce.
Expect to see more operators branching out with creative approaches to build-your-own dishes, offering mix-and-match combo meals, and even making customisation a cornerstone of their concept.
Ingredients from Two Extremes
The U.K.’s current crop of leading independent chefs is striving to understand and cater to consumers’ disparate desires for both super local foods and authentic global foods on the same menu. Concepts that can satisfy both cravings in innovative ways will be the most successful.
Technomic’s recent U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report found that eight out of 10 U.K. consumers purchase ethnic foods and flavours away from home at least once a month, and half of consumers who live in London do so once a week or more often. Additionally, three in 10 U.K. consumers say they are eating ethnic food more than they were a year ago.
Younger consumers are even more likely to enjoy global food and flavours. At the same time, we generally find that younger people are also more likely to say they care about issues like sustainability and local purchasing.
Some restaurants are already using local ingredients in global preparations, such as Bohemia Bar & Restaurant, whose Roast Fillet of Local Line-Caught Pollack gets Asian influence from sweet-and-sour purée and hoisin sauce; and The Mistley Thorn, which offers Griddled Local Wild Bass “à la Niçoise.”
Watch for local British ingredients highlighted in street foods such as Middle Eastern falafel and Mexican tacos. Not only will such items excite diners’ palates, but they are also an opportunity for chefs to pioneer new flavour combinations and dishes without spending a bundle.
Although healthy eating is an established trend, the stealth-health movement—in which chefs replace salt, fat and sugar with healthy, bold flavours without promoting it to consumers—is gaining ground.
On one hand, because consumers now expect healthy options in all restaurant types and segments, chefs need to comply by offering such without sacrificing flavour. Creating healthy yet satisfying meals is chefs’ new battle. On the other hand, there are still many consumers who say they want to eat healthful foods, and even say they do eat them, but when it comes time to order their meal at a restaurant, they don’t consider calories, nutrients or how much the ingredients were processed. In fact, those same consumers may perceive “better for you” items to have less flavour.
Some menu developers have decided that it’s to the benefit of all diners—if not their responsibility—to offer plenty of dishes that are made with healthier ingredients and preparation methods. Thus, even those consumers who neglect their health when eating out will eat healthier.
Next year will bring a surge in stealth-health ingredients, including superfoods like beans, dark-green vegetables, salmon, soya, walnuts, yoghurt, tea and blueberries, as well as standard dishes with a healthier spin.
Keep in mind that many concepts are unabashedly proud of promoting the quality and healthfulness of their food; witness Apostrophe and its Superfood Salad with sprouting broccoli, sweet potato, broad beans, kidney beans, beetroot, red onion, baby spinach, roasted pumpkin seeds, soya and balsamic vinegar. Apostrophe is one of the restaurants that have listened to their consumers in order to provide what they want. Regardless of menu trends, that is a smart tactic.
Consumers no longer have three meals a day, seven days a week. They skip meals, nosh throughout the day, and have breakfast food for a late-night snack. Eating patterns are inconsistent by the day and even within each day. And they want foodservice outlets to be prepared to accommodate.
Restaurant operators are expanding their snacking menus to boost traffic between dayparts, particularly from younger consumers. Retailers that have long dominated the snack market are now competing with restaurants to hold share of consumers’ snack pounds. As the snacking daypart grows up, so will the types of snacks on offer. Between-meal bites are maturing into gourmet offerings with the addition of high-quality ingredients and innovative flavour combinations.
More restaurants will be adding full snacking menus while others will look to discounting snacks during off-peak hours. Trends to watch include around-the-clock snacking, ethnic snacks and bite-sized offerings. Some new offerings that have already debuted in the U.K.: Cheddar Cheese Bites from Burger King, Cheese & Onion Bites from McDonald’s, and Jalapeño Bites from Southern Fried Chicken.
Swift-Service Concepts Cater to Hurried Diners
Convenience is top-of-mind for today’s consumer. Fast-paced diners want quick, portable and inexpensive meals that don’t sacrifice quality. Expect to see an upsurge in food trucks, quick-service and fast-casual restaurants increasing takeaway options and meal deals for on-the-go consumers.
Also expect to see a rise in express-version spin-off concepts from established sit-down restaurants. Some examples that we’re seeing already include Little Chef Express from Little Chef; Café Rouge Express from Café Rouge; Ed’s Shakes ‘N’ Hotdogs from Ed’s Easy Diner; and Giraffe’s Burgers & Cocktails by Giraffe, a replacement for its Giraffe’s Guerilla Burgers brand.
The trends driving restaurant growth and innovation are all driven by consumer demands for customisation, new flavour, better-for-you food, flexibility and speed. It’s worth noting that it’s a rare restaurant that would follow all of these trends. Trying to be all things to all people is generally a losing proposition in today’s environment. Savvy restaurant operators will examine and heed the trends, but follow the lead of their own customers and those they are trying to attract.