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Pandemic Shapes Key Food Trends for 2021


CHICAGO — Four key trends influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the foodservice industry throughout 2021 and potentially for years to come, according to analysis, insights and recommendations from Mintel.

The U.S. Foodservice Trends for 2021 report finds that foodservice will be driven by menu and operational innovation in the immediate future.

The key trends are:

1. The Great Divide

Over the coming months, consumers with disposable income will splurge on dining while others will tighten their restaurant spending and visit more affordable, limited-service restaurants.

Regardless of their spending plans, diners will prioritize restaurants that they are already familiar with that offer menu flexibility, such as tiered pricing options. Limited-time offers (LTOs) and everyday deals can encourage visits.

"Long-term, economic recovery will have consumers feeling more comfortable with discretionary spending, including dining out," said Amanda Topper, associate director of foodservice research at Mintel. "Off-premise investments and creative revenue sources restaurants turned to during the pandemic can be long lasting solutions for meeting consumers' dining needs in the future."

2. Play With Your Food

Diners cling to the foods they know and love in uncertain times, as they bring a sense of comfort. Brands should focus on nostalgia and adventure this year, offering diners a welcome break from life's stressors, according to Mintel. This could include hyper-local or regional flavor innovation as well as foods that become a family activity, such as tie-dye doughnut decorating kits.

In particular, indulgent categories such as desserts, snacks and cocktails are prime for innovation in the next two years, whether this is in the form of total reinvention or revamping the classics.

3. Restaurants Redefined

Consumers can expect to see restaurants help foster social connections virtually, refocus for at-home celebrations and offer hyper-LTOs and tech-driven pop-ups to remain top-of-mind.

"Food/catering trucks, mobile kitchens, cooking/cocktail classes, and music playlists all offer brands the opportunity to meet consumers where they are — at home," Topper said.

Restaurants will likely adapt to a more casual, speed- and value-focused society over the next two years, resulting in the growth of speedier fast-casual concepts and casual, budget-friendly fine dining. To succeed, foodservice operators must make their food and/or service model more accessible to price-sensitive consumers who remain largely at home.

4. Trust or Bust

Pandemic-related safety concerns are not going away any time soon, so investment in long-term safety features needs to begin as soon as possible. The approach to safety and employee rights must be honest and transparent over the next years, and support of minorities, communities, employees and consumers will only be effective alongside a straightforward game plan, Mintel reported.

"2020 highlighted the lack of diversity and inclusion for many leading restaurants," Topper said. "Looking ahead, a proactive approach to establishing employment treatment policies will be necessary and operators won't want to be the last ones standing without one."

The full report is available for download here.

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