As a forward thinking design firm, Interact is constantly working to stay ahead of the curve. Staying up on business journals and food trends is crucial to our success, and yours. The best we’ve read lately is a Forbes article written by Carol Tice on emerging food trends for entrepreneurs. Enjoy the read:
If the National Restaurant Association is right — their track record is spotty — you can expect to be eating more arcane cuts of pork and breeds of salmon this year, along with more plant-based entrées and quick-serve pasta. Those are the highlights of the organization’s recently released annual forecast.
But some entrepreneurs aren’t riding the obvious trends — they’re pushing into unknown territory in hopes of finding a food craze that’s still under the radar, where they could get in on the ground floor and cash in big.
What are entrepreneurs putting their effort behind? Here are ten of the most interesting new food ideas emerging in 2015, along with my take on their chances:
1. 3-D Printed food
When you want an unusual dessert, soon your chef may grant your wish by stepping into the kitchen — and over to his 3-D food printer. The first food-safe printers were unveiled this month at the Consumer Electronics Show. 3D Systems'DDD -3.91% CocoJet (a collaboration with HersheyHSY -0.37%) and ChefJet machines enable entrepreneurial chefs to print out designs in chocolate or sugar.
A 3D printing pioneer, 3D Systems plans to open its first Digital Kitchen “3D printed food experience” in Los Angeles later this year. And 3D Systems is bringing its machines to the Culinary Institute of America, which recently announced the first training program that will teach chefs to print confections. This should spread the trend to many new, innovative eateries in the next year or two.
Outlook: Sky’s the limit. Put the 3D printer out where customers can see it, and this has the “wow” eatertainment factor that’s sure to draw crowds…until the technology becomes commonplace. As 3D printers improve, hopefully we’ll eventually hit the Star Trek instant-food level. This will rock.
2. Bugs & reptiles
This trend started to be seen last year, with insects showing up in snack barsand smoothies. This year, interest is already growing in unusual forms of protein, which can go a long way in setting a restaurant chain apart from the pack. Witness the franchised soup-salad-sandwich chain Zoup!, which has 60 locations, and introduced rattlesnake stew to its menu this month. The chain reported early reaction to the dish ranged from “yuck!” to extreme interest.
Industry trade journal Fast Casual reports this isn’t a limited-time offer, either — rattlesnake stew is joining Zoup!’s regular, rotating menu. No doubt there’s a rattlesnake farm somewhere that’s hustling to breed more snakes.
Outlook: Adventurous eaters will love it, but the ‘eewww’ factor will persist. Expect this one to be a viable cult niche, but not seeing mass acceptance in the near term.
3. Healthy candy
Entrepreneurs have been experimenting with this idea for years, but 2015 may be the year it breaks out of health-food stores and goes mainstream. Healthy candy company U-Be-Livin-Smart saw its olive-oil based, protein-and-fruit packed Pocket Treats soar to over 10,000 distribution points last Halloween, including 400 Walmart locations. The three-year-old Toronto company also makes natural vitamins and healthy “Karmaffins” in four flavors.
Then there’s Zollipops, the candy that is supposed to help prevent tooth decay. The brainchild of 9-year-old inventor Alina Morse of Wolverine Lake, Mich., Zollipops are already on shelves at Whole Foods MarketWFM +0.19%. Made with Xylitol and stevia, the candy treat aims to raise your mouth pH, neutralizing acid and preventing the growth of bacteria.
Outlook: Strong. Moms are always trying to keep kids from eating junk, so the market for this category could be set to explode, as word of mouth spreads.
4. Fat-burning drinks
It’s the holy grail of the food and beverage industry — a product that helps you lose weight. Celsius Holdings has been at this for 11 years, quietly selling its research-backed, fat-busting drinks in GNC, Shaw’s, Ralphs, 24 Hour Fitness gyms, and other chains. Revenue shot up almost 50 percent in its most recent quarter, though Celsius is still struggling for profitability.
Soon, the company could get a visibility boost from a big competitor — Nestlé shared its research on fat-burning drink formulas last summer and is in the process of trying to formulate a beverage that will stimulate your metabolism and help you burn more fat.
Outlook: Could be huge, if Nestle rolls out a product and it really works. Even without, existing products will likely continue to gain market share.
5. “Gastro-fast” dining
Chipotle ramped up the quality of food diners could expect delivered to them fast. But in the coming year, watch to see the fast-dining concept extend one step further. Miami gastro-pub Buns & Buns is pioneering bringing faster speed to fine dining, promising fine-dining quality food for $20 in 20 minutes. The eatery calls its process for rushing those chili-infused shrimp and spinach poofs to you promptly “gastro-fast,” as the restaurant recently demonstrated to Foodable TV.
Outlook: Slow going. Delivering gourmet, restaurant-quality food instantly is a major challenge. Many chefs who try this likely won’t succeed, but those that do could birth hot new restaurant chains. With more and more people pressed for time, this could be the future of fine dining.
6. Halal food
Many franchise chains have some kosher locations, most notably Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts. And most of Baskin Robbins’ ice cream is kosher, too. But until now, finding food certified under the Islamic halal system has been tougher to find.
Enter The Halal Guys, a New York City chicken and gyro concept. Currently, it’s just two restaurants and four carts around the city that have operated quietly since 1990, but this budding chain is set to grow fast through franchising. Earlier this month, Halal signed a 50-unit development deal for restaurants in southern California, and another one for 10 stores in Washington, D.C. Other deals will bring multiple units to Houston and the Philippines.
Outlook: Mixed. There could be blowback in light of recent Islamic terrorist actions in France, but Islam is prevalent in many countries. International expansion could be huge.
7. Meal replacements
Busy diners are increasingly eating on the go. One hot startup is catching buzz for its drink that claims to give you 100 percent of your daily nutritional needs. Maybe it’s the name: Soylent. The Los Angeles-based company currently sells only from its own website, but is raising money for growth at a $100 million valuation. Backers include Andreesen Horowitz, which has been diversifying its investments beyond tech. Its 2013 crowdfunding campaign set out to raise $100,000, ended up raising over $3 million.
Outlook: Mixed. This could become a huge craze, especially with boomers — for whom the product name’s similarity to a cult-classic 1973 movie title grants instant recognition. On the other hand, people could figure out it’s not that different from Ensure and other meal-replacement shakes already on the market.
8. New takes on pizza
Pizza is one of the most popular foods on Earth, so food innovators are always looking for ways to give us a fresh take on it. Here’s a fun one which, for extra cred, actually comes from Italy: Cone-shaped, lower-calorie pizza.
Kono Pizza was introduced in 2004, and quickly spread across Europe. Its first U.S. unit opened in New Jersey in 2013, and now franchising is spreading the concept across the U.S., with agreements signed for units in California, Florida, North Carolina, and Iowa. The company plugs its low-cal crust as offering a healthier alternative to the typical overstuffed American pie.
Outlook: Good. There’s seemingly no end to how much pizza we’ll eat, and variety is always a good thing. Also, cone-shaped pizza has the advantage of being more easily consumed while you drive, an activity Americans seem to be doing more and more, to the dismay of fine dining purists.
9. Savory pies
Pie is a no-brainer. We love it! Now, Australian company Pie Face is teaching diners that pie is more than dessert with its savory pies. The first store opened in the U.S. in 2012, and now there are six New York City locales, and plans to open at least 100 Pie Face stores around the Middle East, through a development partner.
Outlook: Fair. Pie is an easy sell, but will diners unused to the idea be willing to consider it their entrée? We’ll see.
10. Single-food restaurants
Last year’s craze was eateries devoted entirely to grilled cheese sandwiches,with several entrepreneurs betting that could be the next big franchise chain. In 2015, we’ll see startups trying other single-food concepts.
Two promising new entrants are build-your-own potato dish startup Potatopiaand the gourmet ice-cream sandwich shop Cream. Targeting malls for starters, 3-year-old Potatopia is expanding via franchising from four locations in New York and New Jersey, expanding locally while also looking at Toronto and London as possible markets. Berkeley, Calif.,-based Cream began in 2010, and is growing through franchising as well. The startup expects to see 50 locations open around the U.S. this year.
Outlook: Mixed. Restaurant offering only one food choice drive some customers away. Of course, ice cream should be an easy bet, since consumers are used to standalone stores that only sell ice cream. But it’s notable that Cereality, the cereal store that opened with a splash in 2003, didn’t take off, has closed most of its stores, and now has just two units, in Dallas-Forth Worth and in Richmond, Va. The key to success in this type of novelty restaurant is a super-high traffic location, combined with a winning concept.
Kono Pizza photo: Masaru Kamikura