How to Spot a Menu Trend

Technomic report gives guidance on how to predict when and if a flicker will catch fire
Broccoli under magnifying glass
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CHICAGO — With targeted menu and consumer data analysis and expert insights, it’s now possible to predict menu trends.

Here are the steps in doing so, according to a recent report from Chicago-based Technomic, CSP's sister company. 

First, figure out where the trend began. Most consumers see a trend only after it’s widespread (the mature phase), but it’s possible to spot one much earlier, in the introduction phase, when a small number of independent restaurants and smaller upscale chains work it onto their menus.

For example, in the early 2010s beets, brussels sprouts, kale and quinoa were rising and are now mainstream.

Second, establish where the trend has been and where it might go. Identifying its history helps determine if it’s a trend or fad. Fads, driven by social media, usually arise and burn out quickly, but trends take time to grow and are determined in part by consumer preferences or major menu movements.

Recently, however, several menu trends appear to be moving faster through their life cycles or appearing at some top chains sooner than in the past. There are a few theories on this, one of which is the power of social media.

Also, determine if the trend has moved past the introduction phase, if this trend has been around before, and where it started (the inception of menu trends is typically urban areas).

Third, discover why the trend exists. Consumer preferences and behavior, availability of certain goods and current events all play into macro trends, which drive micro trends, such as kale and nut milk. Consumer preferences and the availability and cost of goods are two factors that model macro trends.

Fourth, examine how the trend is being applied in menus and examine what consumers are responding to well. One best-in-class item from a top-500 chain that Technomic highlighted is bourbon BBQ brisket, which meets a meat-on-meat macro trend, a next-level bacon micro trend, keywords including “succulent” and descriptor connotations such as “13-hour smoked brisket.”

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