Whether or not consumers are flocking to the better-for-you items they’re demanding from quick-serve restaurants is up for debate, but there’s really no argument about yogurt’s success. The dairy product’s growth is hard to ignore; according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, yogurt production doubled between 2002 and 2012 to meet demand.
Barney Wolf is an Ohio-based freelancer for <em>QSR</em> magazine.
Some like it hot. And some like it even hotter. Fiery dishes are heating up limited-service menus as operators increasingly recognize consumers’ growing interest in spicy, hot entrées.
A 2013 Consumer Flavor Trend Report by Chicago-based restaurant market research firm Technomic found that a majority of Americans (54 percent) now prefer hot or spicy foods, sauces, dips, and condiments. That’s up from 48 percent in 2011 and 46 percent in 2009.
The morning meal has long been a key element of some limited-service restaurants, and it’s no surprise that the number of operators entering this daypart continues to grow, as owners look to boost their revenues and build customer loyalty.
During any given year, a restaurant company that records a 50 percent increase in its stock price could expect to crow pretty loudly about the accomplishment. But even that type of gain wasn’t good enough to crack the top 10 among publicly held limited-service restaurant operators in 2013, as equities market soared.
“It’s been a very good year for the market and for many restaurant companies,” says R.J. Hottovy, a dining industry analyst at Chicago’s investment firm Morningstar. “There were some pockets of weakness, but most restaurant [stock] values have had good gains.”
There is always excitement at the beginning of a new year, with renewed hopes of health, wealth, and happiness. It’s no different in the limited-service industry, where brands are studying up on potential trends for the next 12 months to ensure a prosperous 2014.
For now, operators are feeling cautiously optimistic about the next year. The National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) most recent Restaurant Performance Index, a measure that tracks the industry’s health and outlook, was on the upswing after a late-2013 swoon.
Despite their name, french fries are as American as the 4th of July and are a mainstay in the quick-service universe. Fries are the most popular side item at U.S. limited-service eateries, outpacing others by a wide margin, according to various menu-monitoring reports.
But other fried sides are now showing more growth potential than french fries. As consumers look to experience new flavors and seek a healthy halo from vegetable consumption, restaurateurs are providing more fried-side options.
Despite a year filled with turmoil in Washington, the limited-service restaurant industry showed moderate growth and promise in 2013, thanks in part to creative new ideas and products, plus another good gain from fast-casual units.
With issues such as sequestration, a payroll tax increase, the government shutdown, and the Affordable Care Act hanging over the industry, it’s perhaps not surprising that gains have only been nominal, despite employment increases and an improving economy.
Beef, pork, poultry, and seafood may be the staples of the limited-service restaurant industry, but non-meat items aren’t taking a back seat on the menu these days. Although vegetarians make up a small percentage of the American dining population, an increasing number of consumers are deciding to eat less meat.
“Ten years ago, it might have seemed like a fad, with just a small population, but it’s been constantly increasing,” says Jesse Gideon, corporate chef and chief operating officer for Fresh To Order, a 10-unit fast-casual chain based in Atlanta.
Baked desserts aren’t always at the forefront of customers’ dining decisions, but that doesn’t mean they need to be an afterthought. Cookies, cakes, pies, and other sweets have made their way onto menus of all types of limited-service restaurants, giving operators additional sales opportunities during lunch, dinner, and, increasingly, snacking periods.
As fast-casual pizza concepts make their mark across America, one of the nation’s top 10 pizza chains is joining the growing movement.
Sbarro will open its first Pizza Cucinova restaurant next week in a strip at Columbus, Ohio’s popular shopping center, Easton. The concept’s second and third units will open in early 2014 near downtown Columbus and in Cincinnati, respectively.