The food and beverage space has undergone rapid evolution in 2022 and doesn't show any signs of slowing down in 2023. So, we put together a list of five dining trends to watch in the new year.
Convenience Goes QSR
Our first dining trend for 2023 is the rise of convenience stores as bonafide quick- service restaurant options. As budgets remain tight heading into 2023, value perception over traditional QSRs has many consumers turning to c-stores for quick, filling, and budget-friendly eats. And c-stores are leaning into this shift in consumer demand, offering fresh menu items that challenge the perception of gas station food.
Wawa, a leader in the gas and convenience store space has had a cult-like following from its customers who go wild for the chain’s famous hoagies. Of late, Wawa has embraced the c-store dining trend and made a full-fledged pivot toward attaining QSR status as well. The brand has bulked out its dinner menu and expanded made-to-order options. Wawa even has two QSR-style drive-thrus – with more in the works – blurring the line between c-store and QSR. Wawa’s year-over-year (YoY) monthly visits have outperformed the QSR Industry in each of the last six months, indicative of the potential for Wawa’s fare to take a bite out of the QSR pie.
Nostalgic Menus, with a Twist
Everyone misses the good old days, and earlier this year McDonald’s set records with the adult happy meal that motivated visitors with a blast from their pasts. But fast food chains don’t have to go back as far as childhood to give customers a feeling of nostalgia. Our next trend for 2023 is discontinued dishes re-staking their claim on QSR menus.
Mexican food giant, Taco Bell, is perhaps one of the best at delivering a throwback menu item to its customers. In recent months, two highly popular dishes have made a reappearance – the Mexican Pizza and Nacho Fries. Both items have come and gone from Taco Bell menus in recent years and one can never be sure how long they will be sticking around – which may stir up even more anticipation and excitement surrounding their return. And Taco Bell doesn’t just recycle old flavors. Both the Mexican Pizza and Nacho Fries are back with new flavor combinations and ways to customize the dish, appealing to a new generation as well as nostalgic diners.
The popular menu items have brought in a wave of new and returning visitors to Taco Bell. The weekly visit data shows that following the return of these dishes, YoY foot traffic to the chain and the percentage of loyalty visits – those coming from customers who visit at least twice per week– both spiked.
Comfort Food That Fits
It’s been a tough couple of years; the pandemic affected almost every aspect of how we live our lives and many of these changes are here to stay. That’s why our next dining trend for 2023 is comfort food that adapts to the new normal.
Enter Insomnia Cookies, a brand dedicated to delivering treats long after most other establishments have closed for the night. The company started as a haven for college students up late studying or partying. And while the brand still attracts a heavy dose of sugar-crazed academics – note the spike in back-to-campus visits in mid-August – the brand’s allure has expanded to all ages and professions. With many in the workforce continuing to work from home and set their own hours, the Insomnia Cookies brand is the fix for comfort food that keeps up with a flexible lifestyle. Heading into 2023, it’s fair to say that students and professionals alike will continue to find solace in late-night cookies.
Take-Out or Check-Out?
Another dining trend for 2023 comes, perhaps surprisingly, from the grocery aisle. Grocery is quickly gaining traction in the eating-out space and is poised to continue to do so in the new year. The pandemic ushered in an era of meals at home and inspired a growing segment of home cooks. As the pandemic waned, inflation tightened budgets, driving many to cut down on eating out and have more meals at home.
As a result, more and more ready-to-eat or ready-to-prepare meals are popping up in grocery stores. And while, traditionally, exploring new flavors has been the cornerstone of eating out, curated meal kits from the grocery store are often a far better way to try something different and get value for money.
Today’s value-conscious consumer has also given rise to several value-oriented grocers which have further put a dent in QSR visits. Consumers who would have otherwise turned to fast food for a meal fix are attracted to these grocers they perceive as offering a better value.
But choosing the grocery store in lieu of a restaurant doesn’t have to be a dry affair,
Whether it’s coffee, wine, beer, or kombucha, more grocery stores, like Publix, are doubling down on bars that let visitors drink while they shop, giving shoppers the experience of going out. Look for more grocery stores to bridge the gap between bar, cafe, and dining out in 2023 and siphon visits from the QSR space. Year-over-three-year (Yo3Y) visit data for the last six months demonstrates that grocery continues to post strong pandemic gains and outperform QSR foot traffic compared to 2019.
Keep scrolling, because TikTok influencer-inspired foods aren’t going anywhere. Our final trend to watch in 2023 is the rise of social media and celebrity collaborations in the food and beverage space. And just like our last trend, grocery stores are capitalizing as they venture further into the dining sector.
Erewhon Market is tremendously successful in the food and beverage space. The high-end grocery store’s smoothies are branded with the names of celebrities and social media influencers that go just as viral. The smoothies not only get more visitors in the door but also showcase some of the unique ingredients found on Erewhon’s shelves as well as encourage membership signups as customers look to take advantage of smoothie promotions.
Visit data for Erewhon clearly illustrates how smoothies created in conjunction with pop-culture icons, or brands with a strong social media presence, drive visits to the grocer. Change in Baseline visits to Erewhon since June 2022 shows the foot traffic boost provided by the launches of Hailey Bieber, Joolies, and Kourtney Kardashian inspired drinks.
No Ball Drop Here
Dining trends will no doubt evolve and surprise in 2023. One thing’s for sure: restaurants, grocers, and convenience stores alike will continue to innovate and elevate the dining experience to compete for the attention of consumers. How will these trends and others play out in the new year? Only time will tell.
For updates and more data-driven retail insights, visit Placer.ai.