Think you're the only one fending off all kinds of holiday food temptations? Try being QSR Land. I must wade through my tasty inbox, deleting email after email outlining delicious food trends we're all likely to consume in the coming year.
To start 2022 with a) an empty email folder and b) inspire readers with the never-ending inventiveness of restaurant minds, I offer the eight trends I'm most eager to see.
Since this is QSR Land and we're not food snobs, I'll skip the exotic taste predictions, like yuzu citrus and hibiscus. (But I will note plenty of intelligent people think turmeric and other immune-boosting flavors are more than ready to jump into the fast-food lexicon.)
I'll also bypass the yummy but hard-to-manage-for-mass-production fads, like cottage foods and hyper-local produce. Ditto trends that are already solidly here, just earning better names. (Kudos to Whole Foods Market for recasting all those "flexitarians" as "reducetarians.”)
QSR Land's eight most appealing:
*Collabs, collabs, collabs. From the Mariah Menu at McDonald’s to Meghan Thee Stallion, celebrity tie-ins are irresistible to loyal customers. Look for the definition of "celebrity" to expand, embracing more local chefs and heroes, as Shake Shack does.
*Business-as-unusual.Between labor issues, COVID-19 concerns and supply-chain snags, consumers are used to businesses closing unexpectedly. Food & Wine expects better restaurants to close more frequently, on certain days of the week and dayparts. Not so long ago, that would have sounded like heresy for QSR chains, but we expect to see it become an ongoing, consistent business practice. Look for units to step up their local social-media smarts to keep customers engaged and aware, even as they recognize that maintaining staff will require more humane scheduling.
*Blonde pizza has more fun. While it's true that the New York Times famously called pizza "the hero of the pandemic," some people are craving a reboot. "Blonde" versions, formerly known as white pizza, are what's next, according to Yelp's predictions. It's also forecasting the rise of the pizza cone, an innovation that makes everyone's favorite handheld food even more manageable.
*Moo-re milk. Fewer cows. It's not just soy and almond milk anymore. Consumers are thirsty for all sorts of non-dairy milks, from hemp to potato milk. "Plant-based milks have continued to surge in popularity due to their health and nutritional benefits, clean label attributes, and eco-friendly profile," says Food Technology's trend report. "Look for an explosion of new launches in this highly competitive space, where oat-based products recently outpaced soy to take the No. 2 spot in sales. While pea-based products have also caught on with consumers, a slew of new formulations made from beans, chickpeas, barley, hemp, and flax will continue to reshape and expand the milk-alternative space."
*More shopping while dining.QSR chains quickly figured out that selling other meal-fixing items was a way to both help customers and bolster revenues during the pandemic's early days. Many figured out that a good QSR restaurant can be a good convenience store, as well. We expect to see more branch out beyond the obvious branded items and staples, finding new ways to bond with customers.
*Comfort food, continued.Look for an increase in flavors, textures and recipes that make people feel safe and loved. "As communities deal with hardships and times of stress, comfort food is consistently in higher demand," Phelix Gardner, executive chef and partner at PAGO in Salt Lake City, Utah, tells Food & Wine. "Starchy dishes that warm the soul and nourish the body seem to resonate at a higher level. Things such as breads, pastas, braises, and soups hit the spot and remind us of better times."
*Fresh air is still fabulous.Yes, fancy restaurants may have led the way with all those yurts, bubbles and whatnot. But restaurants at all price points–even those adding drive-through capacity–are putting up outdoor tables wherever they can, maximizing every inch of grass, gravel and sidewalk they can.
*Hello, Croffles and Cruffins.Sure, the cronut's moment has come and gone. But Yelp’s taste forecasters predict the croffle, a combo of croissants and waffles initially cooked up in South Korea, will go mainstream. Same goes for the cruffin, combining croissants with muffins. Both are happening all over the place, in both sweet and savory combos.