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Global Concepts, Bold Flavors Among Top Restaurant Trends


International culinary trends continue to gain traction on U.S. foodservice menus, according to a Technomic Ignite Special Analysis report of menu fads.

The report also shed light on shifting consumer preferences around the foods consumer crave at restaurants and included operator predictions for some emerging menu trends.

The trend toward global influence can be seen in the growth of poke, ramen, and Korean-food chains. Poke restaurant concepts, for example, numbered 266 locations in 2022, up from just six in 2014. Ramen concepts grew almost as fast, totaling 108 in 2022, vs. 21 in 2014, and Korean restaurants totaled 221, compared with 51 in 2014.

Other operators focused on global cuisines have also seen unit growth since 2014, including Greek (up 133 percent vs. 2014), Filipino (up 97 percent), and Middle Eastern restaurants (up 64 percent).

In addition, operators surveyed said they expected Mexican dishes to be among the fastest-growing menu items in the next two years. These include birria (seen growing 183 percent) and chiles toreados (projected to increase 124 percent), as well as Mexican spirits, including mezcal (seen rising 136 percent) and sotol (expected to increase 110 percent).

Global and Regional Callouts

Global and regional callouts are also predicted to be among the fastest-growing menu descriptors during the coming two years, according to the Technomic research. These include terms often associated with BBQ, pizza, and some global cuisines from the Middle East.

Kansas City-style is expected to rise 150 percent (while Kansas City barbecue sauce is expected to increase 143 percent), for example, and Alabama-style is expected to rise 144 percent in menu penetration. Detroit-style—a descriptor for the city’s unique, deep-dish pizza—is expected to rise 124 percent.

Israeli is also seen rising 124 percent, and Saudi Arabian will grow 110 percent.

Sauces and condiments are also on the list of the projected fastest-growing items in a survey of operators in the fourth quarter of 2023.

Among the leaders are “sweet heat” options such as hot honey, with projected growth of 135 percent, and honey Sriracha, which is seen as growing 111 percent, and global options such as Korean gochujang (also seen growing 111 percent) and Italian zabaglione sauce (projected to be up 157 percent in the next two years).

The results showcase the increasing opportunity for flavor differentiation through sauces, Technomic concluded.

Similarly, bold flavors have also continued to grow on restaurant menus.

Although menu appearances of the term “chipotle” remains the most common of the hot/spicy flavor trends, both sriracha and habanero, up 71 percent and 45 percent, respectively, in the last 10 years, continue to grow in menu prevalence. “Hot honey” and “Nashville hot,” although they lack the penetration of sriracha and habanero, increased in popularity during the pandemic and continue to expand as descriptors on menus, the Technomic research found. 

Cookies, Donuts, Chicken on the Rise

When it comes to sweet snacking, cookies and donuts are on the upswing, while ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt, and milkshakes are all trending downward, according to the Technomic research.

Chicken, meanwhile, has become one of the most-craved menu items across several different restaurant segments. At quick-service restaurants, for example, chicken was the most-craved menu item, cited by 11.4 percent of consumers in 2023, up from 8.4 percent of consumers in 2019, according to Technomic Ignite Consumer data, which polled  26,980 consumers last year and 25,543 consumers in 2019.

Baked goods also rose in popularity, reaching 11 percent of consumers who cited these items as crave-able in 2023, vs. 8.9 percent in 2019. Pizza, burgers, and ice cream/yogurt were all cited as being craved less by consumers in 2023, compared with 2019.

Heath Claims Remain Important

 Consumers place more importance on the availability of healthy options on a restaurant’s menu than serving natural, organic, or sustainable items when choosing where to dine, according to Technomic research.

Among health-related claims, the share of operators that menu items described as vegan increased 4.1 percentage points compared to 2013, making vegan one of the top five health claims. While only 7.2 percent of menus featured items labeled as vegan in 2013, that increased to 11.3 percent in 2023.

The term “vegetarian,” meanwhile, fell to 34.8 percent of menus, down from 38.9 percent in 2013, while “plant-based” inched up slightly, to 31.6 percent in 2023, vs. 30.3 percent in 2013.

Gluten-free increased significantly as a menu descriptor, reaching 18.1 percent in 2023, vs. 11.8 percent in 2013.

Dairy-free, meanwhile, which was almost non-existent on menus in 2013, has surpassed other health claims, such as low carb and low calorie, and appeared on 2.4 percent of menus in 2023.

Operators forecasted some health- and sustainability-related menu callouts to increase in the coming two years, including blended meat ( seen rising 200 percent), cage-free (expected to increase 112 percent), and sustainable (seen rising 111 percent). In addition, alcohol-free is expected to increase 179 percent as a menu claim, and the brand Seedlip is projected to increase 124 percent.