Five years ago, I wrote a piece for QSR called “The 5 in 5: A look at the five segments everyone will be talking about in 2017.” But I had my doubts.
Who was I to make these predictions? Since the biggest changes are surprises, wasn’t it dumb to extrapolate the future from the present? And was anyone going to hold me accountable for what I said?
Well, the future is finally here. We do have hoverboards and jet packs, but trust me—they’re not what you were hoping. Virtual reality and AI are a little hit or miss too. But now that it’s 2017, we finally know how we did on our predictions for the industry. Let’s take a look.
The prediction: In 2012, sustainability was hot. We predicted low preservative “cleaner burgers” would be ascendant and people would eat less meat. Chicago chain Epic Burger had recently grown to seven locations with big plans to expand outside of Illinois by 2014. And Shake Shack, also known for its cleaner product, was on the move.
The reality: America’s not eating any less meat, and Epic never made it out of the Windy City. But Shake Shack grew from 21 locations to 136. The Beyond Burger, a vegan burger that simulates blood, is making inroads in grocery and quick service. And most importantly, everyone from Arby’s to McDonald’s has felt the pressure to up their beef quality or offer more vegetarian options.
The Scorecard: QSR Magazine 1, You Can’t Know The Future 0.
Asian Meets Fast Casual
The Prediction: In 2012, Chipotle was the chain that could do no wrong. Its creation of ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen led some trend watchers to expert a repeat of their success in mid-market Mexican food. If anyone wanted to start a thriving fast casual company, the delicious cuisines of China and India were wide open.
The Reality: Those delicious cuisines are still wide open. Chipotle, struggling to maintain its core brand, shuttered all 15 of its ShopHouse locations earlier this year, and no one has meaningfully stepped into the breach.
The Scorecard: QSR Magazine 1, You Can’t Know The Future 1.
Juice: The Next Step in Fresh
The Prediction: When Starbucks bought juice bar concept Evolution Fresh in 2011, it looked like the start of something big. Customers were claiming they wanted fresh and natural foods. And since juice is one of those seems-healthy-but-is-actually-a-sugar-bomb items (see also: granola bars) it seemed like a category with lots of room for growth.
The Reality: Between 2012 and 2017, the juice industry shrunk by an average of 2 percent each year. Starbucks closed their last remaining Evolution Fresh stores in 2017. So who saw the explosive growth we predicted for juices? Shelf-stable flavored waters, which were barely a blip on the radar in 2012.
The Scorecard: QSR Magazine 1, You Can’t Know The Future 2.
The Prediction: Kiosks! Robots! Everything customized! Even before mobile apps or online orders, the technology was there for customization. We never claimed the world of 2017 would be perfect, but at least you’d be able to get your burger exactly how you wanted it.
The Reality: Never underestimate Americans when it comes to getting their way. Chains are responding to dietary restrictions with double meat for the carb-averse or gluten-free options. Fast casual pizza and Mexican places build your food to order with whatever odd combinations you’d like. Even pop culture is getting in on the act with “secret menus” and a petition to restore Szechuan Sauce. Quick service has never felt so personalized.
The Scorecard: QSR Magazine 2, You Can’t Know The Future 2.
The Prediction: The U.S. was popping out of the recession in 2012 and leaving the rest of the world behind. We predicted chains like Nando’s, Pollo Campero, and Jollibee would take advantage of the booming US market and our desire for authenticity to expand their footprints stateside.
The Reality: All three of the chains mentioned did grow their US presence, but it was hardly explosive. Jollibee and Pollo Campero grew their unit counts by roughly 50%, which is in line with the growth of the restaurant industry as a whole. US chains have responded to demand for the exotic by adding international flavors, further reducing the market opportunity for foreign chains.
The Scorecard: QSR Magazine 2, You Can’t Know The Future 3.
To paraphrase Meat Loaf, two out of five ain’t bad. For me, the real eye opener was what we DIDN’T see coming. Our list had nothing about food delivery services, the health care bill, or the fight for a $15 minimum wage.
It’s impossible to really know what’s going to happen next year, much less 2022. So rather than make a new set of predictions, I’ll say this. Stay flexible. Stay humble. Keep your eye on the fundamentals. Good restaurants will always be in demand, no matter what the future brings.