Menus in 2017, Part 1 | Keeping it “clean”

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Predicting the future is something typically best left to the mystics and seers. But we decided to try our hand at it at the VantagePoint Insight2Impact Foodservice Marketing Summit.

Renowned menu analyst Nancy Kruse highlighted five major trends she foresees coming to dining in 2017, shifts that are the result of changing demographics, changing priorities and a changing culture and economy.

We will unpack each of these predicted trends in a series of blogs over the coming weeks. First up: ingredients.

What it is

The coming focus on ingredients is really more about what’s not in them than what it is, Kruse says.

Gluten-free.

Non-GMO.

Antibiotic- and hormone-free.

“Clean” and “free-from” ingredients have been staking out an increasing foothold in the day-to-day vernacular — and pantries and refrigerators — of many consumers. Restaurants large and small will continue to follow suit to meet consumers’ demands.

Why it’s coming

This trend is driven in large part by millennials, who often are skeptical of commercial agriculture and long and unpronounceable ingredient lists. In addition to checking labels in grocery stores, they’re also now demanding greater menu transparency from the places where they’re feeding their families.

It’s a demand that has moved very quickly from the fringes to the mainstream, helped in no small part by Panera and Chipotle, two standard bearers for the clean eating movement.

Where it’s showing up

Panera’s much-referenced “no-no” list of ingredients not allowed in its foods was first published in 2015 and continues to be updated regularly.

Other major chains joined the bandwagon in various ways and to various degrees, including:

Smaller chains, too, followed suit — Noodles and Co. removed artificial ingredients from its core menu; California Tortilla went GMO-free; and Shoney’s announced its switch to cage-free eggs.

What’s next

As more and more restaurants design all or parts of their menus to meet clean eating demands, expect more messaging and promotion around the concept of simple and simplicity.

“Simple” is a far easier, and much less intimidating, concept to grasp than the technical and sometimes legally regulated terms like “organic” or “GMO-free,” Kruse says.

McDonald’s already tapped into the power of simple by registering the phrase, “The simpler the better” for trademark in March 2016 and using the tagline in ads.

Denny’s publicly changed its pancake recipe to one with only four, easily recognizable ingredients — eggs, flour, vanilla and buttermilk.

And retail brands have latched on to the trend with formulations and packaging that emphasize simplicity. Simply Lay’s, Keebler Simply Made cookies, Simply Heinz Ketchup and Pillsbury Simply cookies, to name a few.

“It’s like the gold rush, this pile-on on the retail side,” Kruse says.

Recognizing and preparing for the demands — and the inevitable supply chain disruption that will accompany them — will allow those in the foodservice industry to adapt to this “simple” new world.

Subscribe to the blog for the next installment of the Nancy Kruse’s trends report, on modern-day dieting and the transition to healthier eating.

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