Crafting a New Route for Artisan Foods

May 12, 2020

Small-batch artisanal products poised to strengthen, sources say

Food is increasingly part of the craft movement.

Today’s consumers increasingly want their food to be artisanal, small-batch, healthy, organic and local, as well as from a supply chain that’s transparent and from a farm or plant that treats its employees fairly and takes care of the environment and the livestock involved.

“Craft, in general, is about variety and nuance. If you know where your food is coming from, that gives you a lot more comfort knowing what you’re putting into your body,” says Ethan Lowry, co-founder of Seattle-based Crowd Cow, an online marketplace for high-quality meats. “Plus, it usually tastes much better, too.”

Craft foods are anything made in small batches rather than mass-produced, says Darren Tristano, founder and CEO of Foodservice Results, Chicago. “Anyone who’s doing this is really trying to leverage the demand by younger consumers, who are the ones driving this and are willing to pay more for these products,” he says.

As we amble into 2020, which craft foods are we going to see, eat, drink and buy?

“The hype around Impossible and Beyond Burgers has certainly proven that nonvegetarians and nonvegans are willing to try, and are interested in, plant-based alternative burger options,” says Maeve Webster, president of foodservice consultancy Menu Matters, Arlington, Vt. “The issue with the top brands right now is that they are hyperprocessed products that largely fly in the face of the clean-label, transparent, natural movement.” Webster expects to see burgers shaped by new technologies, ingredients and techniques that will have a cleaner profile than many products on the market right now. She also thinks retailers with back-of-house skills will handcraft their own plant-based burgers “to create unique, nonbranded options.”

Craft Cheese

For the first time, an American-made cheese last year won the top prize at the World Cheese Awards in Bergamo, Italy. Rogue River Blue hails from Rogue Creamery, Central Point, Ore., and Americans are poised to scoop up more artisanal cheeses in the coming year. According to Innova Market Insights, based in Arnhem, Netherlands, product launches of cheese, semihard and hard, described with terms such as “craft” or “crafted” were up 110% annually from 2016 to 2018.

Organic, Natural and Biodynamic Wine

If you thought wine couldn’t get more natural, think again. Wine touted as “natural” has nothing added to the grapes, and nothing taken away. Bars such as 8arm in Atlanta and 320 Market Cafe in Philadelphia are offering only natural wines, and grocery delivery company FreshDirect, based in New York, believes there will be a greater assortment of these wines this year.

“Natural wines are a growing trend among millennial shoppers, and the trend is heading higher,” says Keith Wallace, founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia. “Giving shelf space to these wines is a great way to draw in wine consumers. It also has the added benefit of communicating positive ideals of freshness and health to the consumer.”

Plant-Based Cuisine

Plant-based foods will continue to evolve and expand into more categories, according to FreshDirect, with cauliflower remaining a favorite gluten substitute and oat milk coming to the fore. The company expects to see more products being launched this year. Lizzy Freier, senior managing editor of Chicago-based Technomic, WGB’s sister foodservice market research company, points out that with dairy milk production on the decline, and built off the meteoric rise of nut and seed milks, “the next nondairy milks will be oat milk and fruit and vegetable milks.”


As shoppers become more savvy, picking up a container of iodized salt will no longer cut it. From kosher to Maldon and Himalayan, there’s a salt for every occasion. SaltWorks in Woodinville, Wash., uses its Perfect Smoke technology to add extra flavor to salts that are “harvested from the world’s cleanest oceans.” Flavors include alderwood, applewood, hickory and mesquite sea salt.

Crafted Nonalcohol Spirits and Mixers

Check out any urban bar these days and you’ll find a range of low-alcohol or alcohol-free cocktails. Younger consumers especially are looking to enjoy several drinks and still be able to walk in a straight line.

Webster of Menu Matters expects to see an expansion of low- and no-alcohol spirits such as Seedlip, “but spanning a far broader range of spirit categories, such as whiskey, bourbon and rum, as well as interesting low-/no-[alcohol] mixers to support continued innovation in this category.” She also expects to see more drinks such as bottled or canned cocktails with low- or no-alcohol, which will increase the convenience of this category.

Crafted Spice Blends

Dukkah, berbere, za’atar, baharat: This may sound like an invented language, but it’s actually a list of spice blends, all from the Middle East. As Americans travel more and eat out more, they want to eat the flavors they experiment with at home.

Webster thinks in 2020 manufacturers will consider unique spice blends “that set their spice product line apart.” She also expects to see retailers creating their own. “As consumers become more familiar and comfortable with spice blends and their many uses, it’s likely they’ll start experimenting with creating spice blends at home and look for solutions at retail that help them,” Webster says.

Craft Dog Food

From 2016 to 2018, product launches of dog food and dog snacks/treats were up 52% and 51%, respectively, according to Innova. “It makes a lot of sense given how consumers treat pets like a member of the family and are prepared to shell out good money to dote on their pets,” says Tom Vierhile, VP of strategic insights, North America, for Innova.

Craft Meats

Product launches of craft meat jumped 59% from 2016 to 2018, according to Innova, which “shows meat producers may be trying to fend off challenges from plant-based innovators by going upmarket to appeal to meat lovers,” Vierhile says.

“The craft movement is spilling over into meat and it’s high time,” says Lowry of Crowd Cow. Especially with beef, consumers are recognizing different cuts and different breeds. “It matters what it was fed, and pasture-raised beef matters too. It makes a big difference what went into the animal,” he says.

While Angus is the dominant breed, Lowry also expects to see much more wagyu as consumers cross over. This is particularly resonating with consumers, who love a story and a sense of connection to where their meat comes from. However, he says, the main reason people are switching to wagyu is the taste. “Then it has to be healthy; then, is it good for the animal, the planet, the farmer? People love to check all the boxes,” Lowry says.

Low-Carb Adult Beverages

As the low-carb craze continues, consumers are looking for carb-free beverages as well as food. Hard seltzers such as White Claw from Mark Anthony Group are gaining in popularity, and craft beers are also part of this trend, with fuller-flavored styles, such as the ever-popular IPAs, and reduced carb content.

Underdog Produce

Expect to see more collard greens, red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, fiddleheads, cardoons, ramps, parsnips and their brethren in 2020, says Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, Tulatin, Ore. “There is a movement to praise the overlooked, undervalued produce. Cauliflower is the poster child for this trend and has opened the door to others. Each stands apart and really has no direct competition within its category,” she says.

Freier of Technomic expects to see “new vegetables being created through natural or purposeful breeding techniques.” Hybrids that could become more mainstream include kalettes (kale and Brussels sprouts), lollipop kale (Russian red kale and Brussels sprouts) and caulilini (baby cauliflower).

2020 Future of Fast Casual Report

May 12, 2020

Which brands and categories are best positioned to recover after the pandemic?


A decade ago, fast casual underwent a genesis. Once a niche category with a few players spread across a handful of cuisines—say, Chipotle and Baja Fresh covering Mexican and Panera Bread and Corner Bakery tackling the bakery-café space—fast casual suddenly became the hottest thing in foodservice. The Great Recession pushed casual customers to trade down, while the rise in foodieism drove young consumers—particularly millennials—to seek out higher-quality eats.

Fast casual stood right at the intersection of value and quality, and for the last 10 years has filled in every corner of the U.S. with every manner of food served quickly and affordably.

But, just like any other trend, fast casual has also worn thin on some. And with mobile ordering and off-premises experiences giving quick-service chains a boost in competition for market share, could it be that fast casual isn’t the darling it once was? 2020 Future of Fast Casual Study – Final Tristano, CEO of FoodserviceResults, says that, prior to the coronavirus, the fast-casual segment was experiencing lower growth rates compared with years past, especially as oversaturation in restaurants created difficulty for expanding chains to find opportunities to drive unit volumes necessary to building sustainable restaurants.

QSR partnered with Tristano in this first-ever Future of Fast Casual Report, which explores consumer sentiment toward the fast-casual industry prior to the coronavirus outbreak. The report offers valuable insights into customer preferences and ordering habits within fast casual. And while the pandemic and resulting economic downturn will drastically alter the restaurant landscape, the report’s findings offer a glimpse at what customers wanted from their favorite restaurants before the coronavirus—and what they will likely want once it’s in the rearview mirror.

“Although great uncertainty exists from the COVID-19 crisis, insights from this report will help suppliers and operators plan their strategy and manage scenarios for the current year,” Tristano says. “The report data and insights remain relevant as the industry prepares and plans to navigate the new normal.”

Here, we’ve dug deeper into six menu categories within the fast-casual space to explore how brands were innovating—pre-coronavirus—in an effort to rise above the competition. Take a glimpse at some of the data below, and click on the category links to get a deeper dive into the state of fast casual, including insights from Tristano on each of the six categories.

Future of Fast Casual 2020 Cover pageFor more information about purchasing the full report, which includes an 85-slide deck and a 20-page PDF appendix of Top 250 rankings, please contact Greg Sanders at