March 12/Chicago/PRNewswire -- Interest in where food comes from, as well as changes in restaurant spending will both be driving the foodservice rollercoaster in 2012, according to Mintel's latest report.

"Overall, restaurant economic prospects for 2012 look positive," says Eric Giandelone, foodservice director at Mintel. "In spite of the down economy, Mintel estimates the U.S. restaurant industry will be worth $416.4 billion in 2012, showing that operators really have listened to consumer wants and needs and made appropriate changes."

Fresh and local fare: Interest in where food comes from and a desire for fresh, unprocessed food will lead more operators to focus on American regionalism. With an increase in nutrition awareness, expect to see more double-sided menus: menus providing something for everyone along the nutrition and economic continuums.

“Fresh” is the top-rated menu descriptor that interests Mintel respondents (89%) followed by “made from scratch” (71%) and “real” (67%). In recent years, the term “artisan” has garnered much attention but seems to be falling out of favor, as it is now the least favorite menu description with only 28% of people finding it of interest.

Restaurant spending: In spite of economic conditions, most Mintel respondents (65%) who have visited a restaurant in the past month say they will spend the same amount at restaurants in 2012. Meanwhile, 12% plan to spend more. Of the 12%, the highest percentage of them (59%) say they will spend their extra dollars at a casual restaurant, followed closely by a family restaurant (57%).

Count 'em up: When the FDA imposes its planned calorie count nutrition menu labeling laws, the highest percentage of respondents (41%) who have eaten at a restaurant in the past month say they will make no changes in how they dine out, while 33% say they will order menu items that are healthier overall and have fewer calories.

The industry will be waiting to see the economic effects of these upcoming menu labeling laws. Consumers could change their dining-out habits when they face the facts about the calories of the food they order from restaurants. Some 7% already predict that they will eat out less when calories are disclosed.

 From the March 14, 2012, Prepared Foods' Daily News.