While 2017 has been a “slow” year for fast-casual restaurants, they’re still one of the most popular dining destinations across the country. Fast-casuals have hit the sweet spot with consumers by offering higher quality, healthier options compared to fast food restaurants, but still maintaining quick service and an affordable price range. Sales for fast-casuals reached $26 billion in 2016, compared to $15.7 billion in 2015, and while the final numbers aren’t out for 2017 yet, sales growth projections are expecting a 6 to 7 percent increase.
To help your fast-casual stand out in what’s become an increasingly competitive market, here are four trends restaurants should follow to keep up with consumer demands in 2018 (and beyond):
1. Cutting-Artificial Ingredients
This trend might sound familiar, but it’s still catching on with fast-casuals across the country. Some chains announced several years ago that they were in the process of removing artificial ingredients from their menus, and by now, they’re completely free from using artificial ingredients. Consumers want more clean ingredients in their food, and it’s certainly not too late to start offering those, and in return, helping your menu stand above the competition.
2. Locally-Sourced Ingredients
While it’s sometimes harder for national chains to use locally-sourced ingredients in their menus, more and more regional fast-casual chains are starting to offer locally-sourced menu items. Today’s consumers want transparency, especially when it comes to where their food came from, and the closer to home you can get, the happier they are knowing it didn’t travel halfway across the country.
3. Greater Variety & Balanced Options
When fast-casuals burst onto the scene a few years ago, their unique style allowed for some more creative restaurant concepts to thrive. From fusion cuisine like sushi burritos to build-your-own-pizza bars and everything in between, restaurants with diverse offerings have piqued the interest of consumers and have seen diners increase the frequency of their visits—especially among Millennial and Gen X diners. If you’re looking to stand out, don’t be afraid to increase your variety and offer some more diverse menu options.
4. Chef-Driven Menus
To help cement their position as a higher-quality alternative to fast foods, fast-casual restaurants are reaching out to fine-dining chefs to help improve their offerings. Not only that, but given the growing popularity of fast-casuals, some chefs have even abandoned their full-service kitchens for a chance to capitalize on the fastest-growing segment in American dining. As the competition heats up for fast-casuals in 2018, having a chef-driven menu can help signal your food quality.
For fast-casual restaurants looking to take advantage of these trends, while also reducing the high-fat, high-cost ingredients found in more traditional fast-casual foods, incorporating functional whey protein into your formulations is the ideal solution. Not only is it all natural, but it can also help enhance the mouthfeel and texture of your foods to be just as good as, if not better, than the original formulation. To learn more about how you can incorporate more natural ingredients into your menu, all while reducing costs, make sure to read our How to Improve Your Product’s Food Quality — While Reducing Costs whitepaper.