In 2009, the (lousy) economy will be the driving force behind trends we saw emerging in 2008, including energy conservation and sustainability, health and nutrition, and new technologies like online ordering, mobile applications and social networking.
Tough times inspire change
According to a poll conducted by the National Restaurant Association, the issue that had the greatest effect on companies in 2008 was –surprise!- the economy, followed closely by rising food costs, food safety, and nutrition and calorie legislation. So, although these are not new concepts, I think they’ll be back with a vengeance in 2009.
Not just about saving the planet anymore
Foodservice operators are scrambling to improve efficiency and productivity in light of the economic downturn (can we finally just call it a recession?), so I think sustainability and energy conservation will continue to be at the forefront of foodservice trends in 2009; now, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because our livelihood may depend on it.
According to the Associated Press, restaurants, colleges and other institutions are coming up with new, innovative ways to cut waste. We’re beginning to realize that these practices are good for more than just saving the planet—they’ve also helped improve the reputation and bottom line of many dining establishments.
I think it’s kind of a shame that it took some –but not all!- of us an economic crisis to become interested in “green” business and conservation. But, regardless of the reason, it can only help keep the industry afloat during these tough times.
Healthy eating trend sparks conversation and controversy
In the same way that we’re learning about the importance of conserving energy, we’re realizing that promoting health and nutrition will be crucial to staying prosperous in the foodservice business.
The controversy surrounding menu labeling, and the efforts of restaurants to introduce more healthful menu items, are just two examples of America’s new interest in healthy eating. And a 2008 investigation that found some restaurants had published inaccurate nutrition information, shows just how seriously consumers and federal regulators are taking it.
Niche Web communities maturing
It also shows just how much the Internet, and the developing trend of social networking has affected the industry. Whereas once, an obscure report in a trade journal would be overlooked by just about everyone, most consumers now have the tools to research and share just about any piece of information that’s out there.
And whereas, in 2008, we dabbled in social media, and restaurants began publishing menus online and a few even created the capability for online ordering, in 2009, this is a trend that the lagging economy will force everyone to embrace.
Not only will businesses have a web address, but they will become more conscious of their online presence; they will be more saavy when it comes to search engine optimization and PPC marketing. They will use the Internet to promote special events, catering, promotions and merchandise. They will offer applications for customers to download to their mobile phones. They won’t do it because it’s trendy; they’ll do it because they have to.
According to Food-Management.com, “Web community is important to more than just the ‘geeks’ among us. It also matters in personal and professional group life, and the food service industry — where networking is such a critical activity — is no exception.”
In closing, I think there are tough times ahead, but I think we as an industry are innovative –and perhaps, desperate!- enough to continue to develop new ways to prosper.
The economy is forcing us to save money by eliminating waste and conserving energy; the obesity epidemic is helping us realize that we can serve healthy food and that our customers will appreciate it; and the Internet is allowing us to do it together, using our growing network of online customers, colleagues and friends.
I think 2009 is going to be a great year for foodservice.