After some grueling years behind the grill, the food service industry now has a brighter outlook for 2022. Food innovation is turning startups into household names and allowing QSR (quick-service restaurant) brands to reengage with their consumers on a personal level. Most QSR innovations stem from addressing the elephant in the room: Consumer appetites, ethics, and motivations aren’t what they used to be. Most guests want today’s brands to serve more than delicious meals. There are concerns about health, sustainability, and – often at the top of the modern consumer’s pyramid of needs – convenience.
Convenience is now the biggest determining factor driving consumer decisions, especially when making grocery and supermarket purchases. A survey from Chicory in January 2022 found that 52% of consumers were regularly making use of online services at groceries and cited convenience as the primary reason for this preference compared to their pre-pandemic behaviors. As 2022 is already in full swing, below we’ll look at four food innovations that will shape the next few years in the industry.
- The next generation of food innovation will see customer convenience and consumer choices reach new highs.
- Upcycled byproducts, farming automation as a service, and overcoming challenges like inflation are driving the latest wave of innovations in the industry.
- QSR firms are poised to manage the challenging climate effectively and achieve the expected growth that return-to-normal operations present.
- Sustainability, waste reduction, and improved customer experiences are what consumers care about most in 2022.
A Look Into 2021 QSR Innovations
In 2021, the dominant QSR innovations were alternatives. Alternative meats and proteins, alternative (and sustainable) packaging options, and alternative (or fresh) dining experiences aimed at coaxing people out of their comfortable nests are all featured heavily on the list of QSR innovations. Startups and brands that embraced these consumer-driven trends and innovations are reaping the benefits.
The alternative protein market is set to grow at an average CAGR of 14% until 2035. If alternative proteins are conveniently available at QSR locations, consumers will similarly embrace these options. Some of the other major food innovations from 2021 included:
- Ghost kitchens – These “to-go” only kitchens aren’t exactly new but are now becoming more mainstream as bigger brands are taking note.
- Cooperative organic foods – By selling only to registered customers, brands like Thrive Market are bringing organic foods to the masses with more than 1 million registered customers.
- Healthy and sustainable eating – Organic sweeteners with zero calories and coatings that keep produce fresher for longer are helping communities eat healthily and sustainably.
Top Food Innovations Shaping QSR Brands and Startups Today
In this new climate, QSR brand innovations aren’t just focusing on creating more sustainable, ethical footprints in the industry. They are also leveraging technologies like personalization, artificial intelligence, and robotics to streamline operations. Here are the food and QSR brand innovations that will dominate over the next few years.
1. Automated Farming Operations as a Service
Companies like FarmWise Labs are using artificial intelligence combined with robotics to improve farming operations that usually struggle with labor shortages. The robots can recognize weeds that are detrimental to crops and automatically remove the infiltrating plants without any human intervention. What makes the company innovative is that instead of selling robots to farmers, they provide their servers at a cost per weeded acre. Half of the U.S.’s top 20 vegetable growers are using their Weeding-as-a-Service solution and weeding crops for leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower.
2. Upcycled Byproducts that Reduce Waste
Upcycling byproducts to eliminate waste from the food supply chain are a rising trend and now catching the eye of brands like Nescafé and ReGrained. Nescafé’s Nativ Cascara uses upcycled coffee berries, but the company insists it’s neither a coffee nor a tea substitute. Instead, they are marketing it as a drink in its own right and perfect as a non-alcoholic beverage or ideal for use as a mixer in cocktails. With ReGrained, consumers get a sustainable alternative for baking mixes that comes in four flavors, including brownies, banana bread, and pizza. The upcycled waste grain comes from beer production processes that make up 85% of brewing waste.
3. Focusing on Added Convenience
Many QSR brands are innovating for greater convenience at certain locations. Dedicated pickup lanes for pre-ordered food and integrations with location services apps like Google Maps are driving the convenience bandwagon to new heights. Firstly, consumers loathe waiting in line for their orders even more now, and secondly, searching for a restaurant close by but then having to download an app isn’t efficient either. Panera now allows you to order quickly from a single button placed on the Google Maps app, and brands like Shake Shack are testing dedicated drive-through pick-up only lanes. Both approaches add convenience to consumers who researchers believe expect a new quick-service standard.
4. Overcoming Growth Barriers Like Inflation
Finally, cost-efficiency is one of the biggest challenges that brands and QSR operators need to overcome. Seasonal supply chain disruptions put the responsibility on modern operators to come up with solutions and find substitutes for ingredients, while social media platforms like TikTok make it possible to share and broadcast these ideas. The marketing arena changed dramatically over the last two years and social media is playing an ever-greater role in how brands present and disseminate their new ideas or recipes. QSR firms are ideally placed to manage the rising inflation costs and use platforms that attract youthful patrons to their brands. By managing growth barriers like inflation using innovative approaches that bring convenience to customers and reduce waste in the process, QSR brands can maintain growth and overcome short-term challenges over the next year.
Convenience Driving the Next Decade of QSR Innovation
The next year will see innovative changes to the food industry that will include automation, artificial intelligence, and greater personalization including digital transformation that adds convenience to the customer’s experience. Brands that champion convenience, eCommerce, and food safety are set to secure the biggest market share according to the latest research.
To learn more about the food innovations that will shape the coming years, register for attendance at SIAL America’s next event in 2023.