For Prepared Foods’ readers (the processed, packaged foods industry), “restaurant customers” may well refer to industrial clients, e.g., restaurant chains that purchase packaged, processed foods.

As such, advice and opportunities for foodservices can translate into useful information for food manufacturers, also. Kevin Higar, director operator product development, Technomic Inc., offered such information at Prepared Foods’ New Products Conference this September.

Trends, in themselves, are meaningless, noted Higar. The challenge is to “transform relevant trends into ‘resonating menu options.’” Higar listed 10 foodservice trends and interpreted how they relate to food and beverage characteristics. Three influential trends include “Focus on Flavor,” “Avoiding the ‘Commodity’ Position” and “Comfort Foods: Traditional or With a Twist.’”

For example, under Focus on Flavor, Higar reported that Technomic research shows the primary factors influencing consumers’ choice of restaurant includes menu familiarity, variety and uniqueness; restaurant location; and types of foods and their flavor/quality. Although these factors vary amongst themselves in importance--depending on the type of restaurant (limited service, casual or midscale) and the meal occasion under consideration--food flavor/quality always ranks at the top. Foods with consistent flavor that also are unique are a real driving force behind which restaurant is chosen.

Higar noted that positioning products as artisan or premium helps them avoid falling into a commodity trap--that is, a situation of price inelasticity where margins are difficult to increase. For example, if consumers perceive a food is “better for you,” it helps them rationalize why it should be consumed. A recent Technomic study supports this.

Comfort foods connect the consumer with a positive memory. This changes by individuals and generations, depending on life experiences. Higar referred to a Technomic survey that indicated that when it comes to appetizers, American-style finger foods were preferred by 63%, Mexican-style by 56%, shellfish/seafood by 45%, Italian-style by 40% and Asian-style by 35%. “This shows that simple, familiar foods are good,” said Higar; however, old favorites can be updated with a contemporary twist. For example, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, which targets Boomers, offers BBQ Rabbit Wings with Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce as an appetizer. A similar update in the entrée category is the restaurant’s meatloaf topped with horseradish BBQ sauce and, for dessert, there is “Campfire Pie,” described as toasted marshmallow fluff, fudgy chocolate, almond ding and Oreo cookie crust.

For s’more information on trends from foodservice, we provide you this New Foodservice Product Annual.