Foodservice & Concessions

Hot New Food Trends

By Bethe Ferguson

People notice a hot, new restaurant. Celebrity chefs are like rock stars and a new food can become a global craving. The key to turning a trend into a concession stand profit is finding the right balance of must-have impulse buys and long-term interest. This will not only generate new sales, but also boost word-of-mouth appeal, which is your best, cheapest form of advertising.

Just remember, no matter what you choose to introduce on the menu, don't forget to balance new items with proven concession classics to pack in the profit power. Your customers expect to see popcorn, cotton candy, nachos, Sno-Kones, hot dogs, funnel cakes, and caramel and gourmet flavored popcorns at concession stands. Their appeal is universal, and these time-tested treats are built into our culture and memories. Don't alienate customers and waste money trying to compete with the latest "it" restaurant.

Finally, routinely evaluate your ROI by tracking sales and waste, and ask your employees for feedback. Their interactions with customers can provide invaluable opinions not only about what you're serving, but also what your customers hope to see.

Food Trends You Should Note

Every year, industry experts predict the next year's trends, and then they and the trendsetters create masterpieces to inspire purchases. At this June's Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) conference, some of the following trends piqued the interest of Gold Medal's food technologist who reported back the following items.

Spicy salt is sweeping the nation and it's a perfect way to decrease fat without sacrificing taste. This comes in the form of savory shake-on flavor combinations like bacon jalapeno. A little further down the hot tip, show participants were adding chili pastes, powder and flakes to drinks. This concept isn't entirely new as the classic Bloody Mary has been around since 1921.

Tailor to your snack bar: Tastemakers at the show were mixing the savory shake-on flavors in condiments for sandwiches; create your own specialty mayo, wing sauce or ketchup. Sprinkle it on fries, popcorn, hamburgers, hot dogs, nachos, pretzels and pizza. Add chili paste to your sodas or alcoholic beverages and let your guests test their taste buds in limited-time-only promotions.

According to Baum + Whiteman, a premier food and restaurant consulting company, people are demanding "new taste thrills and culinary invention… There's no limit to what people will slap onto hamburgers (head cheese, bone marrow, pastrami-and-eggs, Cajun crawfish)… Guacamole is being spiked with wasabi paste. Hummus comes in a dozen or more flavors."

Tailor to your snack bar: Customers want to be adventurous, but also respond to new tweaks on classics. Take a hint from Baum + White and offer a variety of unique guacamole or hummus flavors with pita chips in addition to your nachos. Serve distinctive hamburger toppings like feta cheese, artichoke hearts, pesto, onion rings or hummus. Look at what you can buy in bulk and what has the longest shelf life.

Another hot trend Baum + Whiteman notes is "round things that go pop in the mouth," including meatballs, falafel and fried goat cheese balls. They're easily shared, contemporary, and people pay less attention to the calories.

Tailor to your snack bar: People like food that's easy to eat, share and dip. Try mozzarella cheese balls instead of sticks, pop up Puff Poppers (round, bite-size, baked dough you can bake sweet or savory items into), Funnel Fingers, and offer chicken nuggets or corn dog bites.

Money-Making Healthy Options

The desire to eat great-tasting, better alternative foods is still a trending item. The problem is balancing your customers' requests with what will turn a profit and actually move off the shelf.

In more news from the IFT show, Superfruits still had tongues wagging across the nation—they're antioxidant- and nutrient-rich. These are pomegranates, starfruits, acai, blueberry and bananas, just to name a few. Superfruits were everywhere; some even sweetened iced coffee with them.

Tailor to your snack bar: Add them to smoothies or serve the juice in your cold drink dispensers. Or, top off ice cream with the fresh fruit.

Especially interesting to the recreation market is the coconut water trend and its promise of improved hydration with lower calories. It's naturally fat and cholesterol free and it has more potassium than bananas or a sports drink. According to NPR's food blog The Salt, "U.S. coconut water sales doubled in 2011, and will reach an estimated $110 million in sales this year."

Tailor to your snack bar: Promote the health benefits on your menus or signs. There are numerous packaged and bulk drink products on the market, in addition to ice cream bars. Or add coconut water to your slush machines and cold drink dispensers.

Twist Up the Classics

Despite the new flavors entering markets every day, people are still asking for familiar favorites. Recreation facilities that want to grow with the expanding globally influenced markets are responding by tailoring traditional favorites to regional tastes. Tweaking a traditional recipe can boost your bottom line and allow you to use existing equipment.

No matter what the flavor craze, companies are making it easy to add local flavors to existing products. Choices range from simple syrups for popular soda drinks to creating new flavored popcorn. Fruit flavored Sno-Kone syrups or popcorn glazes can easily be paired with other regional fruit sensations. Savory popcorn flavors like Garlic Parmesan can also add depth. Also just like hamburgers, you can easily add unique toppings to your nachos for splurge-worthy BBQ Pulled Pork Nachos.

Lastly, don't forget to keep an eye on the trends at festivals and fairs for hidden gems. Recently, Red Velvet Funnel Cakes have been popping up across the midway. Now you can easily bring them to your concession stand.

Now that you know more about the trends, it's up to you to find the right balance for your market. It will take the correct combination of new items to attract attention and tried-and-true classics to keep profits rolling in. Again, keep an eye on your bottom line, top sellers, slow movers, and feedback from employees and customers.

Bethe Ferguson happily balances her time between free-lance writing and full-time positions as the marketing communications coordinator for Gold Medal and mommy/wife extraordinaire. She lives in Cincinnati with her two very spoiled dogs. Visit

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