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Fine-Dining Chef, Fast-Casual Food

For the last few months The Connect Group has been helping Chef Marc Forgione open Lobster Press at the new Oculus in the World Trade Center.  This will be our second location of Marc’s fast casual concept and it’s just one example of many strong chef-driven fast casual concepts, a trend that’s quickly on the rise. Our society’s obsession with all things epicurean has become more than a fad, it’s a part of our everyday lives. And so it’s a no-brainer for chefs and restaurateurs to concentrate on opening concepts that provide accessible, yet still high-quality, food to the masses.

Fine-dining restaurants receive the awards and the accolades but fast casual is the best category to scale because it reaches the most people. What Danny Meyer started as a burger stand in a Manhattan park has grown to 100 locations nationwide. Chicago Celebrity Chef Rick Bayless has Xoco, Tortas Frontera, and Frontera Fresco. “Top Chef” alums Richard Blais and Spike Mendelsohn have FLIP Burgers and Good Stuff Eatery, respectively. And even highly-respected groundbreaking Chef Jose Andres has his successfully healthy fast casual concept, Beefsteak. It’s about creating a new, exciting food at a lower price point. People want an acclaimed Chef’s food for under $20 but, with the explosion of “foodie” culture and people expanding their culinary horizons, they expect something more than a turkey sandwich, plain burrito or typical cheeseburger. It’s not only that fast casual concepts have the potential to reach more people but also more (and different) locations: airports, food halls, shopping malls, transportation centers, etc.

When the National Restaurant Association released it’s annual list of menu trends for 2016, chef-driven fast-casual concepts nabbed the #2 spot. With sales at fast-casual restaurants growing 11 percent in 2013 with total sales of over $173.8 billion dollars, this is not a trend I see dying down anytime soon and I’m excited to see what other concepts some of my favorite chefs will come up with.

Great articles on the rise of the chef-driven fast-casual concepts:

“Why Fine Dining Chefs Are Getting into the Chain Game” – Eater

“2016: Year of the Chef” – QSR Magazine

- Cassandre Pallas

From Packaged Foods to Restaurant Fare, Good Food Is Everywhere


Consumers are better-educated today than they have ever been about the foods they put into their bodies. They have easy access to information about where foods come from, how they are grown and how they will impact overall health. They watch cooking shows for inspiration, take more flavor risks when ordering out and are more apt than ever before to replicate what they’ve learned in their own kitchens.

Food trends are born and evolve in many ways and for many reasons. They can be driven by innovative chefs, economic changes, pop culture, weather trends and even agriculture. Easy access to information also means today’s consumer expects somewhat instant gratification. That means all aspects of the food industry – not just restaurants – have to be ready to provide their audiences with the exact eating experience they are demanding. A recent study by Technomic reported that more than half of consumers rank the ability to customize a dish or menu item as highly important in creating good value, taste and flavor.

Consumer customization can be especially tricky in the CPG food space. Bringing a new product to market used to take months of research and many more months (if not years) of actual development. So what are snacking and prepared-foods companies doing to deliver on consumers’ ever-changing – and ever more specific – food needs? The foodservice segment tends to evolve faster than the CPG foods space, however emerging snack brands and packaged foods companies have turned up the heat on product development in recent years. They know that consumers want to be able to find the unique flavors and textures they experience in restaurants on their grocery store shelves and they have been striving to deliver.   

Take a look below at some of the top food trends that were identified during the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting & Food Expo (IFT) this year by Innova Market Insights and Food Business News. Many of these are the same trends currently driving the restaurant space, so now is the time for these important categories to be listening to each other and taking note. 

1)      Flexitarian Options
“In the United States, there could be more than 120 million people who are considered ‘flexitarians,’ so it’s an absolutely huge market, and of course much bigger than vegetarians or vegans,” said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights.

2)      Tapping into Texture
“Front-of-pack texture claims have become more prominent and, in many cases, more specific, said Williams. “We’re seeing a lot more extreme texture claims… ‘velvety,’ ‘silky,’ ‘rich,’ ‘oozy.’ We’re seeing a lot more layers and more sophisticated products in terms of the experience it delivers.”

3)      Organic Growth and Clear Label Demands
Demand for transparency and simple ingredients has given rise to strong momentum for food and beverage products with organic or non-G.M.O. claims. Three of four U.S. consumers believe organic is healthier than conventional, and G.M.O.-free claims have surged in new product development, according to Innova Market Insights. “While this has mostly been driven by launches from small companies, you do start to see more and more bigger companies with a small organic line, and I think that’s just to say, ‘We can do it, too,’” Ms. Williams said.

4)      Veggies on the Go
“Drinking your vegetables has become “cool and trendy,” Ms. Williams said. “We’ve been talking about five (servings of vegetables) a day for 20 years or more. What’s happening now to boost this trend is the emergence of the super premium juice category.” Trending vegetables featured in global product launches include turnip (up 47% from 2014), cucumber (16%), artichoke (14%), fennel (13%), radish (12%) and beetroot (7%).

For the full list of trends, visit Food Business News.

Posted by Gennifer Horowitz