Trend Tracker

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Fresh, healthy items are a big draw for fast-casuals and QSRs, say reports from a variety of industry groups, and nothing speaks fresh and healthier better than salad, especially if it’s topped with seasonal vegetables. In fact, according to Technomic's Left Side of the Menu: Soup & Salad Consumer Trend Report, restaurant customers are ordering more salad: Over the course of two years, diners are ordering salad—at least occasionally—76% of the time, up from 66% of those surveyed in the 2009 study.
Colorful, wholesome fruit is moving beyond its everyday snack and juice roles to inspire a host of new menu items and products that offer good health, flavor adventure or even an artisan experience. Fresh Takes on Fruit: Culinary Trend Mapping Report, a joint publication of the San Francisco-based strategic food and beverage agency CCD Innovation and market research publisher Packaged Facts, finds that fresh fruit has a welcome in every daypart, from breakfast to the late night snack.
Combined, the Hispanic and Asian communities now make up 22% of the U.S. population—a statistic that is having a huge impact on Americans' eating habits. Add to that the large number of additional Americans who embrace change and multicultural influences, and the result is a majority who seek out and appreciate authentic and flavor-forward global foods. This growth is paradigm shifting, states the Asian and Latin Culinary Trend Report published by Packaged Facts and CCD Innovation.
Heartened by signs of economic improvement, consumers are showing more interest in doing what’s right for the environment—as long as it doesn’t cost them more, according to the Harris Poll. And that’s especially true when it comes to buying food. The researcher discovered that three out of five Americans believe the designation of a product as organic is merely an excuse to gouge them.
Breakfast sandwiches continue to be popular with consumers, in both the commercial and noncommercial sectors. Datassential’s recent update on morning meal trends, The Breakfast Club, reports that over half of restaurants that serve breakfast have sandwiches on the menu, and at the QSR level, they've shown a 9 percent growth since 2008. For the younger set, the portability factor is key.
Nobody does comfort food quite like the South. The current popularity of Southern cooking taps into the need for comfort combined with our cravings for American regional delights. 
Deals are no longer driving restaurant traffic, according to a recent report from the Chicago-based NPD Group. In fact, customers perceive discounted meals offered over a prolonged time period as regular pricing—not a bargain.
From the “wild salmon-ich” at Jason’s Deli and the sourdough cheesesteak melt at Jack in the Box, to the Omni Hotel’s Moroccan-inspired chicken musakhan sandwich featuring chicken thighs, house-made ketchup and a sumac-garam masala spice blend, the sandwich has been re-imagined.
The courts may have challenged Mayor Bloomberg's ban on oversized sugary soft drinks in New York, but public opinion appears to be on Hizzoner's side. A new study from Mintel Research Consultancy revealed that Americans support reducing total sugars in 12 food and beverage categories. In fact, concern about  total sugars in products outweighs concern about high fructose corn syrup content.
Consumers' perception of what is considered healthy eating at restaurants is changing. Patrons are taking more of a balanced and personal approach; they're seeking out better-for-you foods offset by occasional indulgences. And health-halo claims like "local," "natural," "organic," "sustainable," "whole-wheat" and "free-range" are increasingly driving food choices, according to Technomic's Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report.
Requests for gluten-free menu items are not coming only from those with gluten sensitivities anymore. Americans have gotten it into their heads that a gluten-free diet is a healthier way to eat. As of January, 2013, almost one-third of U.S. adults say they want to cut down or be free of gluten in their diets, according to The NPD Group, which has been tracking the eating habits of Americans since 1976.
As more brands, flavors and varieties of hard cider appear, experimentally minded American consumers are discovering a taste for the fizzy apple drink. A recent survey from Consumer Edge Insight’s Alcoholic Beverage DemandTracker shows an increasing number of women being drawn to new cider options, and men seeking them out as an alternative to other beverages.