AHDB: Opportunities for red meat amidst menu evolution

The foodservice market has had a tough few years, being unable to recover to pre-Covid volumes before the cost of living crisis hit, informs AHDB.

Posted on Mar 29 ,00:15

AHDB: Opportunities for red meat amidst menu evolution

Squeezed household income impacts this discretionary spend market, with 46% of consumers planning on eating out less in the future (AHDB/YouGov Consumer Tracker, Nov 22). While market value is up year-on-year, the main driver of this is spend per trip as inflation at restaurants, fast food and canteens currently stands at +9.3% (ONS CPHI, Jan 23). Operators are having to balance menu price increases against their costs and the consumer market backdrop.

While we saw a tactical simplification of menus from operators during the pandemic, this has started to reverse with restaurant and pub/bar dish numbers in 2022 up year-on-year, although menus do remain smaller than pre-Covid. Price pressures are evident with the market seeing lighter offerings and more meat-free options allowing for smaller portions and utilisation of less expensive ingredients. According to Lumina Intelligence, the proportion of dishes containing meat has fallen by -3ppts from 2019. Starch based dishes have increased in presence, driven by chips – a universally popular and low-cost item that can be bolstered by additional toppings and sauces. The use of vegetables has also grown, with peppers, lettuce and celery being top menu share gainers for veg. However, despite meat dishes losing share overall, the biggest growing dish in pubs and bars is burgers, which benefit from being straightforward and cost effective, as well as indulgent and customisable to tap into those treat occasions. Along a similar line, pizza is the second biggest growth dish.

Nearly three in four consumers look for something new at least some of the time when eating out or ordering a takeaway and 77% agree that trying flavours from all over the world is fun (Mintel Menu Trends - UK - 2023). But, at the same time, 78% of consumers agree familiar dishes are comforting. Therefore, winning menus can tap into traditional dishes for a sense of nostalgia and/or cater to those adventure seeking consumers who want diverse cuisine options.

According to Lumina Intelligence, retro foods are growing in popularity as consumers seek comfort and familiarity in these hard times. They are wanting classic dishes or childhood favourites. Examples include Parlour in London “bringing back the artic roll” or Bompas & Parr in Arcade Food Hall re-vamping the traditional trifle. Beyond desserts many will be tempted out by classic British main dishes such as meat pies and Sunday roasts done well. Utilising and communicating quality meat and ingredients will therefore be key to standing out.

Trending world cuisines include West African, International BBQ, Authentic Mexican and Caribbean (Lumina Intelligence Menu Tracker Dec 2022). BBQ is an example of a cuisine that can be difficult to make at home due to specialised cooking equipment and methods. Smoked barbecue street food brand HotBox, for instance, offers seasoned smoked meat, using a combination of kiln-dried hickory and oak in its one-tonne rotisserie smokers, covering burgers, brisket, short ribs and sticky pork ribs. This taps into 46% of consumers who agree that restaurants/takeaways can charge more for dishes that are difficult to make at home (Mintel Menu Trends - UK - 2023). World cuisines also offer the opportunity to utilise different meat cuts which may have commanded less menu space in the past and could help aid carcase utilisation.

This doesn’t mean more established cuisines such as Korean and Vietnamese are becoming redundant, innovation in this area is thriving. Both cuisines lend themselves to the highly popular street food concept, with Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwiches and Korean steamed buns becoming more widely available. Cuisine trends we may see coming down the line include Filipino, German Street Food and Austrian. One example is Filigrillz, a Filipino BBQ street food concept currently trading at food markets across London, with their signature dish being pork belly BBQ marinated with ginger, garlic and soy sauce. 

We have all heard of the "lipstick effect" - a theory that when faced with an economic crisis consumers will be more willing to buy affordable treats or indulge in guilty pleasures. So, despite some consumers having to eat out less often, when they do, some occasions may be more quality and experience led. Operators, particularly premium operators, will therefore have to utilise their menus and offerings to earn those sales by demonstrating added value and justifying the extra cost of better dishes. Descriptive words on menu are one way to elevate a dish’s appeal. According to Lumina Intelligence words such as crispy, fresh, classic and spicy are among the top used descriptive words currently, but pickled, house, smoky, spicy, indulgent and homemade are among the top growing. Detailing spices communicates flavour with chilli, turmeric and cumin growing in usage across menus from 2017-2022.

Personalisation allows a diner to elevate a dish and provides the operator with an upsell opportunity. Currently 46% of items on menus are customisable and there has been a +20ppt increase in the share of dishes from 2019 to 2022 (Lumina Intelligence Menu Tracker Dec 2022). Offering different meal components, sides, toppings, and sauces are just a few examples. While taking a much smaller share of pub and bar menus at only 6%, sharing dishes e.g. platters and tapas, are gaining importance. According to Mintel, 21% of consumers are encouraged by shareable dishes, driven by the demand for socialising with friends and family over food and drink.

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