Ashley Nickle ( The Packer staff )

Trends excite consumers and therefore intrigue retailers and restaurant operators as well — especially in the Instagram era.

But how does one determine what is a meaningful, marketable trend and what is just a fad? And how important is it to be trendy?

Restaurateur Danny Meyer and a panel of foodservice buyers considered those questions at the PMA foodservice conference in Monterey, Calif. 

Markon Cooperative president Tim York and Sizzler USA director of food culture Tamra Scroggins both mentioned attending events like those held by the Culinary Institute of America, and they also noted paying attention to foodservice-focused publications.

York mentioned that Markon has a person whose job is to watch social media and keep up with what topics and themes are gaining steam.

Scroggins said using suppliers as a resource has been helpful, as are data and insights regarding what is happening in different categories. 

Brinker International senior vice president of supply chain management Charlie Lousignont listed social media, suppliers and working with the culinary team the organization has in place as ways to vet trends.

While it can be tempting to chase after all the latest talking points, York said restaurants in particular will benefit from being choosy. Fine dining establishments get to experiment, and many trends flow from those places, but chains have an identity to respect.

“There’s got to be some authenticity,” York said, explaining companies should remain true to their core competencies.

After all, people should get what they are expecting when they come to your restaurant.

Sometimes trends are not all they are cracked up to be, and sometimes they are simply not a fit for a particular company. Ultimately, customers will show you the way.

Meyer shared the story of Shake Shack switching to fresh fries — because fresh is best, say the trendsetters — but the company struggled to provide consistent quality and flavor after making the move. After listening to feedback from diners, Shake Shack switched back to frozen, with much success.

Lousignont gave another example, interpreting the growth in the company’s takeout and delivery business.

“What that tells us is the consumer wants to use our brand differently,” Lousignont said.

Another factor in evaluating the viability of trends, of course, is cost to the operator.

The anti-plastic movement continues to gain momentum, and many companies agree with the idea in principle, but alternatives can be expensive.

“Cardboard costs more than plastic ...” York said. “That’s one of the reasons plastic is big.”

While the latest and greatest might get some people in the door, the experience is what retains them. As Meyer said in his address, “I cannot take a picture of the way you make me feel.”

Trends may come and go, but wonderful service never goes out of style.

Ashley Nickle is The Packer's retail editor and editor of Produce Retailer magazine. E-mail her at anickle@farmjournal.com.

 
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