Well, hasn’t a lot happened across the past eight months? Most notably, we have witnessed a controversial US presidential election, a female PM who is leading us out of the European Union (well, at least she is trying to), and a plethora of new and interesting food concepts opening up almost every other week. It is becoming hard to keep up with it all! All of these events have caused some form of disruption to the foodservice market, but there is something else that is sweeping under the radar of everyone’s nose. While consumers are aware of new openings, cuisine growth is something not as many people pick up on.
There has been a major move in cuisines across the market this year, so much so that the variety of styles that are now established at a number of different operators include flavours from a host of Asian regions, South America and Africa. Operators who favour a focus on world cuisines are now looking further afield for inspiration, as well as looking at different locations across the world to become more regional and selective in the cuisines they choose. As a result, menus are more specific and instead of finding ‘Asian fried duck’, you may now see ‘Vietnamese fried chicken with authentic spices’. As a result of this movement, the market has seen a number of independent specialists open up units dedicated to these unique and individual styles, such as bao houses, Vietnamese noodle shops and Arabian coffee shops. These cuisines, which were always there but more hidden, are now becoming more mainstream as the market adjusts and guests become more adaptive to change.
Sandwich shops, the typical ‘safe’ lunchtime offer that provides a simple yet effective product, or at least they used to, has seen significant changes. Guests used to walk in, grab a pre-packed sandwich with a packet of crisps and drink before heading out moderately satisfied with their purchase. Nowadays, guest can spend up to 10 minutes trying to decide which product, or products, they want. This is largely due to the increase in options available, which now extend to flatbreads, wraps and salads on top of sandwiches, all with specialty fillings and toppings, such as a Peruvian steak wrap, Jamaican jerk pork, Vietnamese banh mi and Mexican chipotle beef. The Beaver has even noticed some shops enhancing their hot food to reflect the growth and interest in certain cuisines, with examples including South American fajitas, Korean rice noodle soups and Lebanese kofta pots. Sandwich shops are no longer simple safe options, but are a global food hub for the adventurous foodie looking for an exciting meal choice.
Restaurants are mixing up their menu offers too. Anywhere with a world cuisine style-menu now serves up many more interesting and authentic dishes than ever before; think Malaysian goat curry with coriander rice instead of just a plain chicken curry. Consumers are more open to trying new formats, cuisines and cooking styles too, which has opened the door for operators to evolve and introduce new products to the consumer. Whereas the pizza was once a staple of the world cuisine restaurant operator’s menu, nowadays they might be looking at including the pide (Turkish) or Lebanese flatbreads to their menus. The Beaver expects this to expand even further, as more cuisines emerge from the market into the mainstream light.
Another cuisine that has seen recent growth is Caribbean. While little was understood about Caribbean cuisine in the past (jerk was assumed to equal hot), there is now a core awareness around its food and culture, with operators tapping into the music, drink and atmosphere, creating social, ‘funky’ environments that bring people together, rather than just a restaurant with annoying loud music, serving rice’n’pea with a single double rum cocktail.
The same is true in the drinks industry. Take beer as an example. Now guests have the luxury of ordering stouts infused with chocolate, ales created from berries and craft lagers featuring sweet after tastes to add a new dimension to drinking beers. More of the same can also be said for spirits, such as gin, rum and vodka, which are now infused with elderflower, filtered four times over lemon, or mixed with honey extract, treating guests to new and tantalising creations.
What does all this lead to? Well, it does mean that the restaurant market is immensely diverse in comparison to what it was a few years ago, let alone 10 years or more. Foodservice operators in larger cities are embracing the interest in new cuisines, driving new and exciting menu opportunities to create real points of difference. On the flipside, for the operators that do not keep up with this change or momentum of ‘popular flavours of the month’, it could mean that their offer becomes boring, samey or not interesting enough for consumers, which may result lost sales.
Consumers are now more demanding and know what they want. It is up to the operators to keep up with the trends and keep a close eye on the ever-changing cuisines – to provide something ‘different’, exciting, to become mainstream and in the now. Don’t get left behind!