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Enhancing the experience

Light bites, smaller portions and communal dining are just some of the key trends highlighted in McCain Foodservice’s annual trends report as Jo Holborn, marketing and category controller, explains in more detail

How is the foodservice sector looking and what’s the forecast for the next few years?

Over the last decade, casual dining has gained a rightful reputation as a haven for the foodservice industry’s innovators and entrepreneurs.

With a willingness to think creatively, try out new things, and offer unique experiences, the sector has undeniably been home to some of the most exciting cooking of recent years.

The McCain Foodservice 2018 Casual Dining Report highlights meat substitutes, food halls and experiential dining amongst trends set to grow throughout the next few years, with additional focus on healthy eating and menu development.

From pubs and bars to restaurants, McCain Foodservice has supported professionals across the foodservice industry for years. In an increasingly competitive sector, we understand how important it is for operators to have an open mind, carry out research on new trends and ultimately listen to what consumers want, which is how the 2018 Casual Dining Report was born.

What trends does the report show in terms of what people are eating?

Although serving consistently great food at affordable prices will be enough to hold onto existing customers, in an increasingly competitive industry, consumers are now looking for tangible experiences within their menus, for example, live cooking at the table.

With the limited-time-nature and frequent changes within much of street food culture, creating a “blink and you’ll miss it” hype, eating out is now a more personalised, exclusive experience than ever.

Offering customers a ‘light bite’ is another trend featuring highly on menus, as well as reduced meat options, smaller portions or alternatives such as sweet potato fries instead of regular fries.

What changes are we seeing in where and when people are eating out?

More and more, it seems that consumers aren’t simply happy with the concept of a traditional, sit down meal at a restaurant. Shifts in spending patterns indicate that consumers are increasingly gravitating towards operators that offer experiences, whilst handing over less money to traditional retail and foodservice outlets.

Placing an emphasis on the communal aspect of both cooking and eating, an area that has seen great success recently is food halls, with the UK’s largest – Market Hall Fulham – opening back in March 2018, with a further 16 halls set to open in London over the next few years.

Whilst trends for eating out are continuing to develop, an area that operators still need to consider within their offering is the delivery and takeaway market. According to JustEat, the UK spends £9.9billion on takeaways each year, and with UK households now spending 25% more per month on takeaways than they did 10 years ago, there’s no sign of this trend slowing down.

What should shops be doing to respond to this?

Successful operators are the ones that are creating experiences around the food they serve, whether through limited time menus or placing emphasis on communal or interactive dining.

Offering something different from the norm allows operators to stand out from the competition and continue to drive footfall through a new, innovative approach.

Is healthy eating still important or are consumers forgoing this when they eat out for indulgence? 

Whilst healthy eating has long been at the forefront of diners’ minds, it is now becoming more prevalent in their decision of where to eat out. According to The Caterer, around 50% of diners say they now consider whether a healthy option will be available when choosing where to eat.

However, the picture is more complex than it might seem; while many consumers don’t necessarily want to make choices they view as ‘unhealthy’ when dining out, they’re not heading to restaurants simply to calorie count or moderate either. Instead, customers just want food that tastes good, with considered health benefits.

Casual dining operators can meet the idea of ‘healthy indulgence’ by offering meals that are lower in carbohydrates, fats, salts, sugars or even animal products. A report from The Guardian has shown that, since 2016, the number of adults going vegan has increased by over 500%, with an estimated 3.5 million adults in the UK now choosing to avoid eating meat, fish and animal by-products altogether.

How important is it for fish and chip shops to respond to these consumer trends?

With the demand for takeaway and delivery ever-growing and consumers constantly in search of something new, fish and chip shops need to make sure they are taking these trends into consideration when defining their offering.

Providing alternatives to chips such as sweet potato or skin-on wedges, as well as tapping into other casual dining trends helps to position fish and chip shops alongside the competition, is something to suit all large groups and families.  

How can fish and chip shops differentiate between a trend and a fad?

To differentiate between a trend and a fad, fish and chip shops should be looking to leading brands in the casual dining sector, as well as industry insight, to see what consumers are looking for. If there is clear-cut evidence that demonstrates the needs of consumers, then it’s safe to assume this is a trend worth looking further into.

Click here to download a full copy of The Casual Dining Report 2018.

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