The two most noteworthy trends in for 2016 have nothing to do with food;
Big disrupters are a revolution in high-speed food delivery to homes and offices and a national conversation regarding tipping and pay disparities – Cleansing menus of additives won’t be enough – Why there’s a new obsession with fried chicken, plus 24 buzzwords for the year ahead.
Baum+Whiteman creates high-profile restaurants around the world for hotels, restaurant companies, museums and other consumer destinations. Based in New York, their projects include the late Windows on the World and the magical Rainbow Room, and the world’s first food courts. Their annual hospitality predictions follow.
#1 DELIVERY — AMAZONING AND URBERIZING THE RESTAURANT INDUSTRY:
Consumers will have access to the world’s largest (virtual) drive-thru window without ever leaving home!
Tech-driven delivery is 2015-2016’s Big Disrupter of food retailing and food service … aimed at the ultimate consumer convenience … food brought quickly to homes, offices and (why not?) hotel guests. Delivery affects everyone from McDonald’s to your favorite white tablecloth emporium. Smartphoners, latching onto the ease of locating a restaurant, ordering, paying, and getting loyalty points … without ever speaking to a human being … are driving this revolution.
Muscling into high-speed food delivery: Google, uberEats, Amazon Prime Now, Postmates, Grub Hub, Yelp. None actually makes food … they’re middlemen connecting restaurants and customers … collecting fees and personal information about who orders what, when and from which restaurants … valuable additions to what they already know about you. In contrast, some startups are building commissaries in cheap rent locations. Panera’s building “food hubs” to handle deliveries without distracting regular shops from concentrating on customers. Starbucks added a delivery-only venue to just the Empire State Building. Domino’s is fielding an auto fleet with warming ovens.
And Chipotle’s tinkering with a second assembly line so its stores can ramp up deliveries. Most fast-casual outfits … initially designed for consumer involvement in the assembly process … will have to wrestle with this delivery challenge.
They’re all racing to your door. uberEats gets a limited menu to your curb in ten minutes … by pre-loading food into drivers’ cars. Amazon’s Prime Now app gets entire menus delivered in an hour (39 minutes in Seattle). Postmates Pop app promises 15 minutes in San Fran.
It’s happening in supermarkets. Amazon Prime in certain New York zipcodes delivers groceries … and prepared meals … from supermarkets and gourmet shops in an hour for an extra $7.99. For two-hour service, delivery is free.
An already over-crowded field is ripe for consolidation. Look at Seattle, where Amazon, BiteSquad, uberEats, DoorDash, Lish, Munchery, Square-owned Caviar, Postmates, Seamless, GrubHub, Yelp-owned Eat 24, Peached and others might clog the streets. They’re scrambling for scale … who one knows whether any will be profitable? Amazon just hiked its annual fresh service fee to $299 in New York, Philadelphia and Seattle … suggesting something’s financially askew.
Now things get blurry … outfits like Amazon and Google ultimately won’t care whether consumers order rotisserie chicken from Boston Market or Kroger or Dean & Deluca or a local food truck. This means the battle for food dollars among various distribution channels will intensify. (Example: 7-Eleven and DoorDash are offering on-demand delivery in five US cities.)
Furthermore, note that Facebook has added professional reviews … from Bon Appetit, Eater, San Francisco Chronicle, New York and Conde Nast Traveler … to its site. At the same time, Amazon’s teaming up with Fresh Nation to bypass supermarkets entirely … delivering food from farmers markets directly to homes.
This suggests that complete “ecosystems” are emerging that will give consumers one-stop stay-at-home opportunities for food shopping.
Danger for restaurants: Suppose customers are craving barbecued ribs … and sites like Amazon or Uber or Google gave them a dozen restaurants and gourmet shops near their zip code … and suppose they included professional reviews of these producers, and suppose they ranked rib restaurants according to some mysterious algorithm that works against certain restaurants? Poof! Restaurants lose marketing control of their businesses. Very blurry indeed.
Finally, check the rear-view mirror because another disruptor is sucking up venture capital: Meal Kits … dinners-in- a-box (photo, right) containing precise portions of every ingredient, delivered by subscription. People might start cooking again using trendy ingredients, without the bother of shopping. See Blue Apron, Chefday, The Purple Carrot, Plated, Hello Fresh, Peach Dish. At about ten bucks a head, these may be cheaper than takeout. Prediction: Star chefs’ names attached to meal kits; restaurants developing their own dinners-in-a-box; and meal kits tailored for specific diets.
#2. SCRAMBLING FOR “CLEAN MENUS”
After watching aggressive consumers attack Big Food companies over chemicals and additives, Big Restaurants are all-of-a-sudden dumping some artificial (and other bad-for-you) ingredients from their menus. We’re looking at the “healthification” of fast- and fast-casual food. A recent survey found that 36% of consumers worried about “chemicals” in their food … in another survey, 40% of consumers report it’s “very important” that foods use all-natural ingredients, free of GMOs and artificial flavors or colors.
But it won’t be enough. Consumers are no longer equate pictures of pastured cows and leaves of grass on menus with health and wholesomeness. They’re searching for more holistic initiatives from restaurants … control of waste, water conservation, human treatment of animals (and employees), and a host of other eco-social issues.
Chipotle Mexican Grill is purging genetically modified ingredients. Their tortillas still contain preservatives and dough conditioners but they’re working feverishly on that. Big Food getting rid of ingredient weirdness
Panera Bread listed more than 150 artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives that it will send into exile by the end of 2016.
McDonald’s is ridding its chickens of antibiotics used by humans. Chick-fil-A will take until 2019. Panera’s and Chipotle’s chickens are already free. Those antibiotics … cheap ways of fattening animals … reduce their effectiveness in humans. Subway over the next ten years will rid its meats of antibiotics … and no longer use azodicarbonamide in its bread, a dough conditioner used in yoga mats and shoe rubber. Dunkin Donuts will give the heave-ho to titanium dioxide, a whitening agent used in paints.
Odd that most of this is taking place among fast food and fast casual chains … with little word from sitdown restaurants, or from hotels that still make a big deal of rooftop beehives. But getting rid of selected no-nos is no mere fad … everyone will scramble to “sanitize” their menus.
There’s lots of wiggle-room. Most restaurants pushing for “clean” food haven’t tackled oceans of chemicals and colorings in soft drinks and numerous dessert items. Replacing “artificial” additives with “natural” additives means they’re still using additives: “natural raspberry flavor” shares no genes with real raspberries … but it makes good headlines. None of these restaurant companies whispers the word … “organic.”
Next culprits … sugar, salt and fat present even greater challenges.
Meanwhile, restaurant companies should be stitching together narratives about their overall eco-stewardship.
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