Food trends and brand optimization

food trends, traffic, sales, casual dining

Spend some time looking through the time capsule of January’s food trends listicles and something interesting pops up quickly. Most of these food trends don’t apply to your brand. I can write that with confidence despite not knowing for sure which brand you’re from. The problem with endless choice and (endless content for that matter) is that people can chase down niche interests; and each niche interest can become a trend.

Items on your menu should be built to generate interest, for sure. But it’s also important that brands stay in their lane. If your brand is build on fresh, stir-fried flavors, a hamburger might be an awkward addition. Seems easy until burgers show up on a list of top food trends. When we see the burger place next store doing well, we want to add something to our menu to get in on the trend, avoid the veto and compete with the leaders.

What can happen over time is the endless addition of items that build to a trend, but stretch the brand beyond normal range. Especially for brands coming from lower sales, the temptation to add trendy items is huge. But a focus on the core is critical for brands hoping to turn it around.

Inside food trends

Instead of adding items from the latest pile of food trends, understand the reason that each trend is catching on and build an item to capitalize on the ‘why.’ Kombucha and brain stimulants aren’t right for most mass brands, but the trend is about consumers maximizing perceived benefits from their food. Find ways to highlight ingredients that have a positive effect. This might be as simple as Chick-Fil-A’s recent addition of kale salad in place of the higher calorie cole slaw.

Take what works from the trend and apply it to your core customer. Despite the press that a lot of food trends get, most are so niche that there isn’t an audience that will change traffic. But incorporating an element into your menu can earn credit with those aware of the trend.

Improve core items

Sticking with the craveable core items of your brand forces your team to work to make each item as great as it can be. Ever been to a diner? They have a menu 20 pages long and a two-star Yelp! review because they keep adding items but don’t do any of them particularly well. Spend the time to make your menu unique within your category. If the trend is charcuterie, that might be a signal to focus on the cuts of meat on the menu. Look at what Arby’s is doing with their menu.

The goal is to take what the brand is best at and optimize it. For every wild new item added, there is distraction added to the operations which can slow down the kitchen and lead to service lapses.

Just say no

Discipline is easy when things are going well. If it’s not clear how a trend fits with your concept, walk away. Allow the independent shop down the street experiment with fermentation. If your core customer isn’t begging for it, or leaving you to get it elsewhere, be brave enough to pass.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of food trends. They tend to get the short-term attention. The key is to ensure that your brand is incorporating the parts of the food trends that work for your brand – and your guests.

Author: Adam Pierno

Adam Pierno has a one-of-a-kind perspective on restaurant and CPGs. He investigates the connections between strategy, media, digital and business goals employing social media listening, analysis and traditional consumer research to find meaningful insights for brands thinking about their futures.