Posted on Tuesday, 5ᵗʰ January, 2021
Following a tumultuous 12 months that no one could have anticipated, forecasting the dominant trends a year in advance can be fraught with challenges. However, that won’t stop us from giving it our best shot to make a series of predictions that we think could define the upcoming year in hospitality.
The events of 2020 have led to a rapid acceleration in the uptake of technology across the hospitality industry. No corner of the preparation, serving and delivery of food has been left untouched.
The most visible forms of technology, of course, revolved around takeaway and delivery services. Restaurants and cafés had the power of online ordering starkly demonstrated, whether hosted at their own website or provided by a third party. We predict the ordering, payment and fulfilment of food, whether delivered or consumed in-venue, will be further facilitated by technology in 2021.
Most obviously, the opportunity exists for food venues to step into the world of branded apps, where, suddenly, table reservations can be done at the click of a button, offers can be sent as push notifications, an integrated rewards programme can help to drive loyalty and contactless payments can be made.
At the supermarket, QR codes are increasingly used to share product lifecycle information. In an age where provenance is growing in importance among chefs and diners alike, restaurants are starting to use QR codes on menus to help guests learn more about their meal.
QR codes can also be used to give diners a direct link to submit a Google review, provide allergy advice, connect diners to the venue’s free wi-fi service, order and pay for meals and much more.
Melbourne-based start-up, Mr Yum, makes full use of QR codes to bring to life its ‘visual menu’ concept. Now used by more than 500 venues in Australia and New Zealand, along with one million diners each month, Mr Yum is a free online ordering platform that has recently started a delivery partnership with Sydney company, Drive Yello. Incremental growth of the platform underlines the value to restaurants of this inexpensive, frictionless and flexible technology.
Finally, the influence of social media over people’s food choices has been obvious for a few years, but we predict restaurants will become smarter users of this marketing channel by investing in analytics. This will enable venues to find out, for example, what activity works at different times of the day or week, the drivers of negative comments and which menu items receive the most positive comments.
The shift towards reduced-meat diets shows no signs of abating. While the emphasis may be moving away from complete abstinence (notwithstanding the steady growth in vegetarian and, particularly, vegan restaurants), there is plenty of evidence the movement will gain further traction in 2021 as people focus on their health and recognise the environmental benefits.
In her new book, ‘A Zero Waste Family’, Sydney doctor Anita Vandyke uses the term reductionism to describe the idea of a flexible and sustainable approach to eating less meat. She advocates a change of thinking, where reductionism is actually a chance to discover a broader variety of fruit and vegetables.
Thought-provoking research out of the United Kingdom by investment bank, Barclays, underlines the value to hospitality venues of the reductionist sector, with data showing 92% of plant-based meals are consumed by the nation’s 22 million non-vegan flexitarians.
Hand-in-hand with the reduced-meat diet is the growing tendency to use flavour boosters that offer the savoury hit of meat. The likes of shiitake mushrooms, tamari sauce and coconut aminos are gaining widespread approval because they lift the flavour profile of classic meat replacements such as lentils, tofu and chickpeas.
When it comes to real change, business often lags slightly behind consumers. With research from Roy Morgan showing more than 12% of Australians are now vegetarian, and Google Trends data putting Australia in second place for vegan-related searches, it’s no wonder eateries dedicated to meat-free menus are starting to pop up regularly. With Ikea committing by 2025 to having 50% of its menu turned over to vegan meals, plant-based diets are moving headlong into the mainstream.
One industry that has not stood still during 2020 is the alcohol-free beverage sector. If anything, it seems the COVID-enforced downtime has given rise to a range of ever-more creative flavours and sophisticated alternatives.
According to a recent report by consulting firm KPMG, people are seeking out healthier drinks and, crucially, are willing to pay for more for them. The consultants go on to say, ‘Millennials, in particular, are quickly adopting more mindful habits in their purchase and consumption of alcohol’.
Alive to the opportunity, major brands and artisan distillers alike are targeting health-conscious drinkers with a growing variety of alcohol-free options. While low-alcohol wines and beers have been around for some time now, the real interest is in the likes of gin where trendsetting brands, such as Seedlip and Lyre’s, are turning out zero-alcohol variants with an inventive collection of botanical flavours and vegan credentials.
No one anticipated the advent of a worldwide pandemic in 2020 but the hospitality businesses that were already invested in delivery, and those who were quick to pivot to the new out-of-venue model, typically did well during the lockdowns.
In fact, with table count restrictions remaining in force, some venues have contemplated a permanent shift to a delivery-only business, while others have seen the value of an extra revenue stream and will continue to strongly push and invest in their delivery and takeaway offering.
This is leading to more venues using so-called dark or ghost kitchens, where the emphasis is purely on preparation of meals for takeaway and delivery. We think the trend will continue given projections that indicate Australians will retain their love affair with eating at home.
For restaurants, the benefits are twofold. Firstly, a dark kitchen can be set up as a dedicated space for preparing and despatching meals for delivery with maximum efficiency. Secondly, the dark kitchen helps dine-in spaces retain their integrity and ambience.
Aggregator Deliveroo believes so much in the concept that it has created a worldwide network of ‘super kitchens’, where the company invites restaurants—and their chefs—to prepare delivery-only meals in kitchens operated by the aggregator. Its site in the inner Melbourne suburb of Collingwood has preparation space for 25 restaurants, with brands such as Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria hosted there.
Industrial agriculture and automated supply chains have traditionally offered a limited variety of vegetables and grains to wholesale and domestic markets, effectively restricting access to, and the popularity of, heritage or heirloom vegetables. In fact, it is said that around 75% of our food supply comes from just 12 plant species.
But, in recent years, efforts by ecologists to rebuild the planet’s biodiversity systems and the creativity of chefs who are dedicated to bringing a wider range of vegetables to their dishes has seen a renewed focus on these lesser-known varieties.
Chefs value heirloom vegetables for their intense flavours, unique textures and exotic beauty, while diners are captivated by carrots that are purple, tomatoes with a pineapple flavour and radishes that look like Christmas baubles.
Some of the iconic Australian heirloom varieties currently available include the Queensland Blue pumpkin, Western Red carrot and Crystal Apple cucumber. For the chef who wants to stay ahead of the game, heirloom varieties are a surefire point of difference in 2021.
American author and food futurist, Darryl Benjamin, recently said:
‘Food transparency is the new normal and an essential part of building loyalty and keeping guests happy. Guests will stay loyal to an establishment that provides easy access to trustworthy information. Don’t dismiss guests as uninformed or disinterested; instead, treat them as stakeholders.’
Apart from obligations by restaurants to provide customers with detailed information around ingredients, particularly in the area of allergens, Benjamin says transparency can actually be a selling point—especially for local or ethically sourced ingredients. And the more honest a business is, the greater likelihood of customer loyalty in return.
Multinational food processing company, ADM, said in an October 2020 research report that people expect food labels to provide greater transparency around the entire product lifecycle. Furthermore, according to ADM’s research, 26% of global consumers now actively search for the country of origin on food and drink labels—a trend it expects to grow.
We see the demand for locally sourced ingredients continuing to balloon in the coming twelve months as chefs and diners recognise the benefits—environmental, economic and security—of homegrown produce.