The return of eating out
For years the number of meals the average American purchases annually at restaurants has dropped -- 194 meals during the year-ended August 2012, down from 215 in 2000, according to Harry Balzer of consumer market research firm NPD Group. But Balzer thinks the decline bottomed in 2012, so expect an uptick in restaurant dining in 2013.
Traditionally, the beverage industry has been slow to innovate. But Beverage-Digest editor and publisher John Sicher says R&D from major soft drink and ingredient companies around new and improved diet sweeteners should start to payoff in 2013 or 2014. "The holy grail for the beverage industry is to have a natural diet sweetener that tastes the same as regular soft drinks," Sicher says. "It could be a game changer for the industry in terms of future growth."
International flavors go mainstream
Diners should expect to see more ethnic flavors on menus beyond ethnic food restaurants, says Mary Chapman, director of product innovation at research and consultancy firm Technomic. Growing in popularity? South American-inspired items. Chapman points to several restaurant concepts that, while clearly not classified as South American restaurants, are borrowing from its cuisine by incorporating elements like chimichurri sauce. As an example, try Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant's Churrasco Steak Tacos.
Treats with a healthy twist
We want our salty snacks and sweets but we want them to be better for us. It might sound impossible, but the food industry will respond in 2013 by continuing to fortify goodies with healthy ingredients, says Sharon Olson, executive director of Culinary Visions Panel. "It feeds the consumer's unwillingness to compromise," she says. Rather than a chocolate bar, have a handful of dark chocolate acai berries. Or trade in your potato chips for root veggie chips.
Food suppliers, tired of fighting to get their products on grocery shelves, are starting to open their own brick-and-mortar shops. The trend, which was pioneered by Haagen Dazs, is gaining steam: Dannon and Chobani recently launched their own yogurt stores in New York City, and Barilla is opening branded pasta restaurants next year. "It's a way to put something tangible in front of customers, where you can control the image," says Michael Whiteman, president of food consulting firm Baum + Whiteman.
Fullness as a selling point
We usually think of healthy foods' negative qualities -- their lack of calories, fat, or sugar. Going forward, the industry will focus more on positive attributes like satiety, according to Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at research firm Mintel. "What we're seeing is more products focused on hunger management, keeping you fuller longer," she says, pointing to Special K's Satisfaction"cereal and Baxters' Stay Full soups.
Sour, tart and bitter flavors
Sweet and salty are so 2012. As Asian flavors become more popular, diners will see a greater emphasis on sour and bitter foods, says Kazia Jankowski, associate culinary director at Sterling-Rice Group, a branding firm. That means new beverages like drinking vinegar -- a popular treat in China -- and sour beer, she says. Jankowski also expects tart foods like Chobani's blood orange yogurt to continue gaining prominence.
Fancy fast food
The rise of fast casual restaurants like Chipotle and Panera has hurt fast food chains, which were confined to lower price points as their rivals reaped greater profits. Now they want to compete in the space by adding higher-margin premium items, says Whiteman, who points to examples like avocado-laden burgers and "handmade" pizza. "They're trying to give people reasons to come in other than the el cheap stuff," he says.