by David Portalatin
Vice President, Food Industry Advisor

I had the privilege of traveling around the country this past year presenting Eating Patterns in America and speaking with great people like you. I also had the chance to be a first-hand witness to your successes this past year. I saw menu innovations and out-of-the box strategies that drove orders and traffic increases, and ideas that reengaged existing customers and attracted new ones. All creative and smart and based on the same guiding principle: give the customer what they want. A Business 101 principle that sometimes gets lost in the craze and stress of every day operations.

Here are a few of my observations from this past year of innovative ideas:

  • Thinking Outside the Box: Companies like Green Summit, which operates nine restaurant brands out of one kitchen, can focus exclusively on the growing delivery market without the overhead of a network of stores and front-of-house operations. Other examples use technology to enable a virtual restaurant or “ghost kitchen.”
  • Being a Solutions Provider, Rather Than Just A Restaurant – If grocery stores can offer restaurant-quality foods, why can’t restaurants offer groceries? They can. Newk’s Eatery, which has more than 120 locations in 15 states, did just that when it launched its Express Market at 49 locations in June. Other chains are expanding their offerings to include meal kits or other grab-and-go meals.
  • Embracing Change and Not Dismissing It As Disruption – Although industry traffic has been stalled for several years now, this year I sensed a renewed effort to reinvent and innovate. For example, the operators who have taken a long time favorite food and made it even better, like some fast casual concepts have done with chicken. 

What’s Ahead for 2019:

Total consumption of foods and beverages will continue to decline slightly on a per capita basis, but population growth will lead to modest increases. This baseline increase is not likely to generate sales growth that exceeds inflation.

Pockets of growth will be found across the restaurant landscape as large chains focus on value, and emerging independents find a winning formula with innovation and experience.

The foodservice industry will go digital at an accelerated rate. Marketers who best know how to go to market beyond the dining room will gain an edge in the marketplace.

In order to grow above the baseline, distributors, manufacturers, and foodservice operators must align with emerging changes in consumption patterns, be leaders in creating customer solutions, and be differentiated in product innovation, quality, experience, and execution.

Along with these thoughts are my wishes for a happy and prosperous 2019.

Best regards,

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