Millennials’ impact on foodservice has operators adapting to provide more fresh, and made-to-order options.
Millennials’ impact on foodservice menus cannot be ignored. The Millennial Generation wants foodservice items ‘made their way,’ and their desire for unique, novel and individualized products is driving trends in the U.S. food and beverage industry.
Namely, the shift toward greater focus on fresh, creative, and personalized made-to-order foods has been a game changing development especially in the fast casual foodservice segment, according to market research firm Packaged Facts in the report Millennial Menus: Culinary Trend Tracking Series. The impact goes beyond the limited “white, wheat, or rye” custom options of yesteryear to encompass restaurant meals that are bespoke in their entirety.
“The mix-and-match, ‘built it for me’ trend in fast casual has diversified to all sectors of the restaurant industry, from fast food to fine dining, as well as noncommercial venues. Yet while most obvious on restaurant menus, this trend is bigger than just foodservice. Among prominent food retailers such as Kroger and Meijer, meal kits are a trending example of how even grocery chains are working the do-it-yourself trend in fresh foods,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts.
In the past, when customizable food options at restaurants were available, they were typically limited to DIY sandwiches, burgers, burritos and pizza. But Millennials and other diners have inspired restaurateurs to expand into more diverse areas such as salads, new-wave Asian (including fusion noodles, stir-fry, and sushi), and boundary-pushing global cuisines. For example:
Trendy Salads: The salad niche has proven to be a natural place for experimenting with healthy alternatives to fast food. Concepts like Tossed, Sweetgreen, and Mean Greens tout locally sourced, fresh natural ingredients and a Millennial-style sensibility to alternative eating styles (including vegan and gluten-free), social consciousness, eco design, community-building via social media, and other hallmarks of the new generation. Customers choose their own greens, veggies, toppings and dressings, often accompanied by fresh-squeezed juice or a smoothie. If the menu includes a manifesto or statement of core values, you’re in the right place.
Next-Gen Asian Cuisine: The Chinese, Japanese, and Southeast Asian playbook for restaurants is being rewritten by the customization trend. From stir-fry to noodle bars to sushi, it’s not entirely about authenticity: it’s about new flavors and custom-built meals. As a result, a new wave of Asian fast casual restaurants is offering customized meals within the context of more sophisticated ingredients and authentic flavors, within a framework of pan-Asian culinary tradition.
Expanding Global Palates: The customization-oriented fast-casual format is also working for less familiar cuisines, such as Indian and Korean. The premise: Customers can control the experience even as they’re experimenting with new flavors and ingredients.