In 2023, the foodservice industry experienced a start-and-stop, lopsided recovery and rightsizing compared to previous years. Not everything is fully ‘back to normal’, but much of the industry is grooving at a familiar pace, even if with higher food and labor costs.
There's a sense of optimism about what this means for 2024, so we asked foodservice business and culinary leaders in our network to share what trends and innovations they’re excited for next year.
In this article, we’ll explore the results of this survey, including…
- The top four challenges leaders faced in 2023 that they’re eager to solve in 2024
- Areas of incoming tech investment (hint: not AI or robotics)
- Food and cuisine trends that our network of chefs are excited about
Let’s get into the details.
Join our webinar on January 30, 2024 as we dive deeper into this data and more.
Trending Challenges in Foodservice: A Four-Way Tie (Almost)
The survey asked: “What are the TOP THREE challenges that your team faced in 2023 that you want to solve in 2024?”
We talk to culinary leaders every day, and like to think we have a strong pulse on the day-to-day challenges that our industry faces. But even we were surprised to discover that four challenges nearly tied for this question (and a few challenges fell far, far behind).
- 69% of respondents said Food Waste
- 56% said Labor
- 56% said Food costs
- 56% said Managing Allergens & Diet Restrictions
The gap between these frontrunners and the next greatest challenge (Manual Production Processes) was a stunning 50%, indicating that these top four challenges aren’t just big ones. They are the big ones.
Food waste, food costs, and labor were, frankly, no surprise. These issues have been covered frequently in food and general media and are among the most critical challenges we set out to solve with our culinary operating system, Galley.
Luckily for foodservice organizations, food cost rises are expected to decelerate and the labor market is cooling. New legislation like California’s SB 1383—which penalizes businesses for throwing out food instead of redirecting it to other uses—may explain the spike in concern over Food Waste.
Managing allergens and diet restrictions, however—this is a challenge that’s underrepresented in media coverage. We’ve been writing about the communication gap between nutrition, culinary, and business teams for over two years. We’ve witnessed and commented on tragic stories that demonstrate how critical allergen and nutritional tracking is, like when Whole Foods got slapped on the wrist by the FDA, a college cafeteria mixed ingredients without updating labels, and Panera Bread failed to properly label caffeine content.
We’ve sensed a growing urgency to get nutrition tracking and labeling right, and that urgency is well-reflected in the survey results. Foodservice leaders are just as concerned about this challenge as they are about labor and food costs—that’s saying something.
Notably, Manual Production Processes (26%), Menu Diversity (17%), and Production Planning (4%) fell far below these frontrunner challenges.
Here’s the Technology Foodservice Leaders Are Investing In
The survey asked: “What technology are you or your teams thinking about adopting in the next 2 years?”
The results revealed a clear trend in where industry leaders are channeling their technological investments for the coming years.
- Kitchen Equipment (78%) — Kitchen equipment investment is hot in 2024, with three quarters of respondents indicating they’re looking to upgrade their organization’s gear soon. This move towards new-tech kitchen solutions is a direct response to the challenges of labor shortages and the need for greater efficiency.
- Labeling Systems (60%) — A surprising runner-up (to some). With so many leaders concerned about managing allergens and diet restrictions more effectively, it's no wonder that organizations are looking to reimagine and invest in their labeling systems.
- Menu Display Systems (52%) — It seems leaders are not satisfied with how menus and orders are communicated across teams and spaces, with Menu Display Systems being a target for investment for just over half of respondents. The days of the printed paper ticket are numbered.
Between digital menu display systems (52%) and point of sale (POS) systems (34%), these technologies reflect a broader trend towards digitization and streamlined customer interactions. By improving menu accessibility and optimizing transaction processes, these systems play a critical role in modernizing the foodservice experience.
Despite what the media frenzy might cause you to believe, robotics and automation are not yet a primary focus, with only 17% of leaders considering them for immediate investment. This suggests a cautious approach towards fully automated solutions, perhaps due to the complexity and cost involved. However, with novel and impressive use cases for AI walking onto the scene, it's likely that we'll see an acceleration of interest in robotics and AI as these technologies become more accessible and tailored to the foodservice use case.
Plants, Sustainability, and More Plants
The survey asked: “What other emerging trends in food service are you excited to explore in 2024?”
We asked this as an open-ended question, but our network of leaders demonstrated a strong alignment toward a few key areas.
- 43% talked about healthier, plant-forward foods for a variety of dietary needs
- 17% mentioned ingredient repurposing, ingredient upcycling, or waste minimization
- 13% talked about integrating software and culinary (inventory, purchasing, etc)
These findings reflect a growing awareness and commitment within the industry to embrace more environmentally-friendly and health-oriented practices. As we step into 2024, it’s clear that the foodservice industry is not just adapting to changing consumer demands but also playing a proactive role in shaping a more sustainable and health-conscious future.
What About Specific Emerging Cuisines?
The survey asked: “What new foods or cuisines does your team plan on putting on menus this year?”
The survey results reveal diverse food and cuisine interests among respondents, with no two respondents saying the same thing (unlike in the previous question). That said, a few key trends stood out:
- Fusion Cuisine — 8% of respondents noted wanting to explore fusion cuisines, everything from Malaysian-Indian to Asian-Appalachian.
- Environmentally Friendly Options — Multiple respondents noted wanting to feature more locally sourced ingredients in their existing menus.
- Ethnic Foods — Ethiopian, Chinese, Indian… 21% of respondents indicated an interest in expanding the ethnic footprint of their menus
- Mocktails — The non-alcoholic trend being driven by Gen Z and Millennials is finally making big impacts on restaurant and bar menus.
- Custom Meals — Multiple respondents noted that build-your-own stations and highly customizable recipes are coming to their organizations.
In our network, there is no dominating cuisine trend, but there are clear hints of trends that echo the broader trends occurring in the foodservice world.
The Culinary Operating System Ties Trends Together
It's evident that the industry is on the brink of exciting transformations, both big (robotics and AI) and small (fixing how we label allergens).
At Galley, we understand the significance of these trends and stand ready to support your culinary journey. With our comprehensive culinary operating system, we're here to help you navigate these changes, optimize your operations, and delight your customers with innovative offerings. Galley helps organizations…
- Automate accurate labeling with real-time connections between recipe teams and nutrition teams
- Minimize food waste by optimizing inventory and purchasing workflow with up-to-date production and demand planning data
- Maximize every labor hour with automated production guides that optimally order and schedule kitchen tasks
Get in touch with us to see how we can enhance your culinary operations in 2024 and beyond.
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