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Beneath the Trends -- 2024

The trends driving change in our industry reflect evolving consumer priorities, shifting economic realities, and transitions in decision-maker demographics.  Consumer concerns like health, sustainability, and transparency cross generations and demographics, in every category and segment.  These perennial concerns transcend predictions about the hottest flavors, and outlive cutting-edge fads.  Operators who respond to these underlying concerns and to today’s more demanding consumer expectations will be poised for success not only in 2024, but for well beyond the new year. 

As we look ahead, several key trends that influenced the foodservice industry in 2023 will continue to shape its future.   

Human health and wellness are top of mind for consumers.

Brands and operators will need to highlight fresh, high-quality ingredients and provide nutrient-dense menu options to appeal to the 79% of patrons who base their restaurant choice on the availability of healthy menu items at least some of the time.  

Our research has shown that “healthy” can mean different things to different diners.  Defining that word on your menu – whether by addressing the majority of diners who want lower salt or sugar; those who want less-processed, more natural foods; or those who worry about antibiotic use on farm animals – will help patrons identify your operation as an ally in pursuing their health goals. 

For the 32% of consumers on weight-loss diets or who use weight-loss drugs like Ozempic, “healthy” can also relate to appropriate portion sizes and healthy, snackable options.   

Diet Drivers 2: Why we eat what we eat and what we do differently as a result.

Environmental sustainability and climate change influence dining trends.

In addition to health, portion size addresses the concern expressed by a whopping 71% of consumers about food waste.  Back of house efficiency benefits your operation in reduced costs and, communicated correctly to consumers, in increased sales and loyalty.   

We also see more and more interest in ocean-friendly foods like algae and seaweed, found on the menu at Central, the actual Best Restaurant in the World, and Blue Zones diets and practices, at restaurants like Cava.  In our latest research consumers gave us detailed answers about ways they’re looking to the ocean for their own health and as a resource and habitat to be protected. 

Animal welfare has become a priority for 65% of consumers. 

Operators can differentiate themselves by using locally-sourced or sustainable products, or those grown through regenerative agriculture.   Communicating about those commitments is key to educating consumers about the distinctions in terms. 

Our recent research, from Q4 2023, investigated some of the language used to distinguish livestock farming methods and found that operators need to provide that education and careful messaging. Terms like grass-fed, free-range and regenerative appeal to consumers, but we found gaps in awareness and confidence.  The right transparency and authenticity can build trust and confidence in your operation, even in a time when people have grown cynical about green-washing. Great food that delivers on consumers’ sustainability and animal welfare concerns will win.  

Ultimately, taste remains paramount.

Consumers want food that reflects their values and diet, but exceptional flavor is non-negotiable. Successful operators, from fine dining like Dal Pescatore near Milan, to QSR at the Taco Bell or Pizza Hut down the street, will address health, sustainability, and ethics while delivering craveable dishes people want to eat. These overlapping trends provide ample innovation opportunities for the years ahead.  

Elohi’s proprietary consumer research sheds light on emerging consumer preferences, like the statistics referenced above, from sugar reduction to sustainability and cleaner ingredient statements. Our latest report, Diet Drivers 2 delves deeper into the ways consumer beliefs translate into behaviors and the ways customers will interact with food innovations like upcycling and regenerative agriculture.