2012 Trends Include Importing Ideas From Overseas

Not only are U.S. restaurant chains increasingly looking to overseas markets for growth, they are now reversing the traditional scenario by originating menu and product concepts in those markets and then importing them to the U.S.

This is one of five key 2012 restaurant trends identified by Mintel Menu Insights.

Mintel points out that McDonald’s Chicken McBites -- the mini “cupholder cuisine” snacks launching in the U.S. in January -- originated in Australia. “Given the importance of international markets for growth, this is a trend that will continue to grow beyond this year,” the analysts note.

On the other hand, 2012 menu offerings will increasingly reflect U.S. consumers’ growing interest in regional American cuisines ranging from Kansas City or Memphis barbeque to New England clam chowder to Low Country grits. “Consumers and restaurants are looking at U.S. regions and cities to identify ‘best of’ cuisine,” Mintel reports.

Other trends speak to people’s growing demand for more control and more options.

One example: Both customized ordering systems and menus that allow more flexibility in designing a meal will continue to proliferate next year.

Another trend: “double-sided” menus, meaning ones that give consumers plenty of indulgent choices, balanced with healthier offerings. This concept also extends to offering both premium and value pricing on the same menu. “Operators understand that it’s not either/or anymore; it’s both,” according to Mintel.

And while QSRs aren’t about to abandon margin-enhancing efficiencies, a growing number are responding to consumers’ longing for more than sheer speed by offering “handmade” or “home style” items that require more time-intensive preparation, the research firm reports.

Mintel Menu Insights tracks flavor, ingredient, marketing and nutritional claims from the U.S.’s 350 largest chains and 150 independents.

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