A move away from mass production is just one of the consequences of putting customers first, says Peter Backman, managing director of Horizons
My annual Stateside trip to the National Restaurant Association (NRA) show is always enjoyable, not least for the weird and wonderful on display. This year was no exception, featuring fishless fish fillets, gluten-free hotdogs made with celery juice, and a beef alternative to bacon.
What was noticeable this year was that there was less factory-produced food and many suppliers were promoting the freshness of their product and ingredients.
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The second noticeable trend was food customisation. Casual dining operators are moving towards catering more directly for the customer, adding ingredients and taking them away to create exactly what the customer wants in a more bespoke way.
Concerns over obesity and health are beginning to be heard in the US, prompting a renewed interest in all things healthy. A huge number of products at the show boasted ‘low or no' on sodium, sugar, fat and trans-fats, and there was lots of concern over authenticity and tasting original.
There is also a need to cater for the 'millennials' - the technologydriven 25 to 35-year-olds. Outback Steakhouse creator Chris Sullivan has launched the Carmel Café and Wine Bar in Tampa with a novel way of dealing with different generations. The outlet is built in two halves - one appeals to guests who want to order via iPad, the other to those who prefer waiters and paper menus.
The UK foodservice sector has its own dynamics and direction and has become very good at providing for customers' changing needs. But eating out in the US is starting to adapt to a changing customer. As in the UK, it is the innovative suppliers and operators who will profit.