The Food Forecast, Part 1

2014 trend reports, translated for c-stores

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. -- ’Tis the season for industry experts to place their bets on the biggest trends of the year to come. As we craft our forecast for the New Year (watch for the Jan. 2 issue of Convenience Store Products Newsletter for that), we’ve compiled top trends for 2014 from foodservice and CPG experts and translated them for the c-store industry.

Here’s our take on Chicago-based Technomic’s forecast. Watch for Thursday’s newsletter for another 2014 Trend Translation.

(Click here for Technomic’s complete report.)

Convince me it's real

Consumers want assurances that what they're eating is real—in every sense of the word. Today's menus describe items far more thoroughly, listing not only the ingredients but also where they came from and how they were prepared.

CS Products’ Take: This has been increasingly prevalent in the restaurant industry. In the c-store, the consumer demand for transparency will be found more in the snack aisle than on the food menu. The growth of better-for-you snacks and packaged beverages reflects that demand.   

Pushing the parameters of proteins

Rising commodity costs for beef mean that chicken will be big again in 2014. However, the latest protein star is pork—appearing in regional barbecue items, and in Hispanic and other ethnic fare. Also getting time in the spotlight are lamb and game meats, from duck to bison.

CS Products’ Take: The many pork-centric sandwiches at the NACS Show in October proved this trend is big in the c-store space, too. Pulled-pork sandwiches, barbecue and chorizo offerings all provide a unique point of differentiation for c-store operators.

Return of the carbs

Starches are staging a comeback, from ramen to buckwheat noodles and pasta made with unusual ingredients. Rice bowls will be big, in part because of continued fascination with Asian fare and in part because of an association with healthfulness. Look for more in the way of flatbreads, wraps and all kinds of artisan breads, including healthy whole-grain varieties.

CS Products’ Take: C-stores could have the upper hand on this trend, given the portability of rice and noodle bowls. Check out Rutter’s Farm Stores in York, Pa., to see how one retailer has perfected it—and how it doesn’t have to be Asian-inspired, either.

Creamy, cheesy, high-fat goodness

The demand for healthier eating is real, but so is the backlash. We'll see even more cheese melts, pasta with creamy sauces, fried appetizers and sides, and oddities such as doughnut-based sandwiches. Don't take super-indulgent items too seriously, though; outrageous LTOs such as Wendy's nine-patty burger are crafted more for social-media buzz than for eating. 

CS Products’ Take: C-stores are no strangers to the healthy-indulgent dichotomy. And just as many retailers are finally seeing health-conscious consumers put their money where their mouths are, so are they benefiting from that social-media buzz of outlandish menu items. Look at Maverik in North Salt Lake, Utah, which is at once developing a mobile app that helps users track energy burned through activities, and also selling The Beast: ham, sausage, bacon, eggs, cheese, hash browns and a maple spread—all tucked into a glazed long john. It’s all about balance.

Day for night

Consumers are less likely to eat according to a three-square-meals schedule; they nosh, skip meals, eat breakfast for dinner and vice versa. More restaurants are introducing innovative breakfast items—such as chicken, turkey or steak breakfast sandwiches, or super-spicy wraps with chipotle or Sriracha—often available all day. And while breakfast-and-lunch-only concepts are building a niche, other operators are promoting late-night breakfast menus, often in conjunction with 24-hour drive-thru service. 

CS Products’ Take: C-stores have the flexibility to offer breakfast around the clock—a key differentiator against many quick-serve restaurants. But as restaurants continue to ease up on the rigidity of day-parts, c-stores will feel more competition for the convenience factor.

Every day-part is a snack day-part

As the snacking lifestyle goes mainstream, diners are paradoxically less interested in snack menus per se. Millennials see dollar and dollar-plus menus as the snack menu. Limited-service restaurants are paying more attention to snack-size handhelds and car-friendly packaging; they're also stepping up their game with grab-and-go or market-style offerings.

CS Products’ Take: As with breakfast, the snacking segment is yours to lose. C-stores have the upper hand in the snacking game thanks to the convenience of the channel and the wide array of foodservice items and packaged goods--unless McDonald's starts rolling in merchandisers stocked with Snickers, Doritos and KIND Bars. To continue to compete, focus on consumer-driven menu development and marketing to make sure consumers know what’s available.