American diners are displaying an overwhelming fascination with food, as new research from Mintel reveals that nearly half of Americans who visit restaurants consider themselves to be foodies (47%), including 68% of consumers age 25-34. As food enthusiasts who are typically on the forefront of trending dishes and cuisines, foodies display dramatically different attitudes and interests than non-foodies in what they would like to see more of at restaurants, with 91% of foodies agreeing that they like to experience new flavors when dining out (vs 56% of non-foodies).

Mintel research shows that these “food hobbyists” are on the lookout for new types of foods and restaurants. Some 86% of foodies are interested in learning more about international food (vs 42% of non-foodies). What’s more, nearly half of foodies would like to see more international options such as tortas (49%) and schwarma (48%) on menus. Similarly, foodies are three times as likely as non-foodies to be interested in seeing unique items such as kimchi (35% of foodies vs 12% of non-foodies) and matcha (30% of foodies vs 10% of non-foodies) more at restaurants.

Foodies also have a strong desire to share their diverse food interests with others, especially via social channels. A full 90% of foodies use social media, and mentions of “foodie” on social media have grown 23% from 2014 to 2015. As foodie culture is driving consumers to share their food related experiences and interests online, Mintel research shows that there are more than 2 million mentions of “food” on social media daily in the US. What’s more, 24% of consumers report that they discover new flavors and ingredients via social media.

“Americans are self-identifying as foodies and displaying an interest in trying new experiences and unique flavors while dining out,” said Caleb Bryant, Foodservice Analyst at Mintel. “Social media continues to be a powerful tool for restaurants to connect with customers, for customers to share their food experiences with friends, and for consumers to learn about new flavors and cuisines. Our research shows that foodies are using social media to share their dining experiences with friends and peers while also using social channels to discover new flavors. Restaurants can engage with consumers on social media, especially when debuting new menu items that will resonate with foodies.”

Ancient grains and vegetables grow on menus with health top of mind

The incidence of ancient grains is increasing on menus as consumers turn to them for health attributes like protein and fiber, with quinoa leading the way. Some 34% of consumers are interested in seeing more ancient grains on menus and 61 % agree that they are trying to eat healthier, indicating that incidence of ancient grains may expand beyond quinoa, such as amaranth, teff and farro.

Nearly half of consumers look for health claims on menus before ordering food (48%) and, with health being top of mind for many consumers, vegetables are also appearing on more restaurant dishes. Mintel Menu Insights research indicates growing interest with vegetables as a menu ingredient increasing by 5% from Q2 2012-Q2 2015. Additionally, vegetarian menus experienced 66% growth at restaurants while 61% of consumers agree they enjoy items that heavily feature vegetables. This sentiment peaks among consumers age 25-34 (75%).

“With health being a focal point for many consumers when dining out, ancient grains and vegetable-based options are growing more popular. Rising interest in vegetables is especially promising for restaurants, as the price of beef has been increasingly volatile in recent years while fresh vegetable prices have dropped in the last year. Restaurants could benefit financially as they introduce new vegetable dishes while also meeting consumer demand, as restaurant goers aren’t just accepting vegetables, but are embracing them in their diet. Additionally, incorporating local and seasonal vegetables satisfies the consumer desire for both locally sourced goods and menus that change with the seasons,” continued Bryant.

Mexican taking over the menu

Mexican foods are present at local independents and chain restaurants across the country, and the continued proliferation of Mexican foods on menus indicates innovation across the foodservice category. Already the second-most menued international cuisine behind Italian, Mexican cuisine grew 5% on menus from Q2 2012-Q2 2015, led by a 22% growth in incidences of tacos. This healthy increase comes on the heels of rapid menu growth from Q1 2009-Q1 2012 (10%). In comparison, Italian cuisine decreased by 4% on menus over the same span, despite growing 8% from Q1 2009-Q1 2012.

Half of consumers (50%) show interest in Mexican foods, compared to 43% that are interested in Contemporary American and 39 % interested in Southern US options. Another 61% agree that they enjoy eating spicy items/dishes on menus, leading to impressive growth of menu incidences of chipotle peppers (33%), habanero peppers (32%) and jalapenos (20%) from Q2 2012-Q2 2015. Avocados also grew significantly, seeing a 20% increase in menu incidence over the same time span.

“Mexican foods have become so common in the US that certain Mexican ingredients have seemingly lost their ethnic connotation. Such is the case with avocados, which were a hot ingredient on US menus in 2014 and 2015 due to their versatility and superfood status. As more Americans become familiar and comfortable with Mexican foods, this ethnic cuisine will continue to emerge and could usher people toward more unfamiliar South American dishes. We are also seeing very interesting international mashups of familiar Mexican foods such as the Korean taco or a banh mi burrito. These mashups are a way to showcase unfamiliar flavors on a familiar platform, allowing restaurants the opportunity to expand menu offerings that appeal to a wide range of consumers,” concluded Bryant.