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    Menus Face Changes as Population Evolves, Health Concerns Rise

    Foodservice industry must heed demands for healthier kids' meals and more ethnically diverse offerings.

    CHICAGO -- Population shifts and an increased focus on healthy eating are poised to be the main drivers behind changes in the foodservice industry, as the demand for restaurant prepared meals/snacks inches up slightly from 2011 levels, according to The NPD Group.

    The rapid growth in the Hispanic and Asian populations in the United States will influence foodservice offerings -- in 2012 and beyond -- as consumers demand more ethnically diverse food, the market research group explained. Specifically, tastes will change and consumers will look for spicier, more flavorful foods.

    Hispanics and Asians are not the only groups driving foodservice trends this year; Millennials and Baby Boomers will have an impact as well, NPD added. Based on NPD CREST information, juice drinks are likely to grow, particularly among younger adults, along with food items popular among Boomers like coffee, fish/seafood and breakfast foods.

    There will also be a big push to make kids' meals healthier. There will be continuing pressure from legislators and health advocacy groups, as well as more health-conscious mothers. Over the past few years, that pressure has led to children younger than 13 eating more better-for-you foods like fruit, non-fried chicken, chicken wraps, cereal; and less of the not-so-good-for-you foods, like French fries, dessert items/frozen sweets, regular-size burgers and fried chicken, according to NPD's CREST service, which continually tracks consumer usage of restaurants.

    In general, healthy and lighter foods are faring better than many foods and beverages consumers have learned should be controlled in their diets.

    Restaurants will also feel the heat from convenience stores and supermarkets as retail stores notch up the competition. Convenience stores are capturing more dashboard dining occasions, delivering the benefits of fast, on-the-go, one-stop shopping. Supermarkets, on the other hand, are making inroads with prepared foods being taken home to eat, according to NPD.

    Other trends on tap for 2012 include an increase in work-related visits and lunch, which suffered from the periods of unemployment over the past few years; and a change in menu items and prices as beef and chicken prices climb higher this year. There will be a shift away from high-cost beef and chicken items and those items under less price pressure will be promoted, similar to what happened with chicken in 2011 when beef prices rose. Coffee is also anticipated to be under cost pressures in the near term, the market research group added.

    In addition, in the year ahead, beverages will continue to be a focus of quick-service restaurants, according to NPD. Finding new ways to promote beverages will continue to be a successful strategy for restaurants in 2012.


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