Heeding the consumer call for more locally sourced produce, the U.S. restaurant industry is forecast to grow by 3.8% to reach $709.2 billion in 2015. according to the 2015 National Restaurant Industry Forecast.
U.S. restaurants will experience improving but moderate growth this year, representing the sixth consecutive year of growth for the industry, Hudson Riehle, senior vice president with the Research and Knowledge Group of the National Restaurant Association, said in a Jan. 27 Web seminar.
Top restaurant trends for 2015 will be locally sourced meats and seafood, locally grown produce, environmental sustainability, healthy kids meals and natural ingredients and minimally processed foods, he said.
About eight in 10 table-service operators saying their guests are more interested in locally sourced items this year, compared with 70% who responded that way last year ago, according to the report.
More table-service restaurants will try “hyper-local sourcing” by having their own on-site gardens or greenhouses to supply produce to their kitchens, Riehle said.
Relating to sustainability, he said decreasing food waste and increasing food donations are becoming priority items for restaurant operators.
Kids meals are also getting attention.
Riehle said chefs are ramping up nutritional and flavor profiles for menu items on the children menu compared with ten years ago, he said.
Limited service restaurants also are adding fruits and vegetables to kids meal and increasing local sourcing, he said.
The report said 80% of consumers say restaurants offer more healthful menu options now compared with two years ago, and 76% of consumers say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers healthful options. Nearly 70% of consumers say they order more healthy food choices at restaurants compared with two years ago, according to the report.
Consumers are relying on smart phones and tablet computers more than ever, and Riehle said about one-quarter of consumers say technology options are important features that factor into their decision to choose a restaurant, up from about 20% compared with the prior year. About 70% of all U.S. adults have a smartphone and 90% of 18- to 44-year-olds have a tablet or smartphone, he said.
Restaurant operators will look to integrate technology to aid productivity and boost loyalty, he said, since about 35% of consumers say they are more likely to use smartphone technology at restaurant settings than they were two years ago.
Food cost worries
U.S. restaurant industry sales growth is expected for the sixth consecutive year, he said, but higher food costs will remain a challenge for operators, he said. In December, food costs were identified as the top worry among restaurant operators surveyed, with 31% of those polled saying it was their top worry, compared with 10% who answered that way in December 2013 and 18% who said rising food costs were their top concern in December 2012. Wholesale food prices rose 5.5% in 2014, up from 2.2% in 2013 and 2012.