Fast Food – Not So Fast

People eating and drinking

What’s that line around the block? For a burger joint? And what’s in these chicken nuggets? Bulgur wheat? And since when did sriracha become a fast-food condiment?

In recent decades, the term “fast food” went from positive to pejorative, becoming perceived as a quick fix of salt, sugar and grease. But the timely collision of several national dialogues on nutrition, locally-sourced ingredients and the digital revolution have caused a real change in thinking.

It’s seen in chef David Chang’s $8.00 spicy fried chicken sandwich at his upscale “fast-casual” restaurant, Fuku. Or in the vegetable puree and togarashi-topped flatbread pizza substitute at Oakland’s revolutionary Loco’l. Or in the 30+ assembly-line salad locations of Sweetgreen, whose $100 million in venture funding was championed by billionaire AOL co-founder Steve Case.

This “American food revolution” did not happen overnight. It took two decades for wine to see a 50% increase in consumption, while the USDA’s move to certify foods as organic took nearly as long.

But with examples like McDonald’s closing 400 more restaurants than it opened, along with their statement of wanting to move entirely to sustainable beef, it’s clear that there is considerable economic pressure to reinvent the food that we think of as “fast.”

Marketers take note: Socially-conscious Millennials and aging Baby Boomers (looking to preserve their vitality) have demonstrated a willingness to spend their disposable income on quality food products. Those who think beyond illustrating benefits will see the reciprocity principle realized: A segment will take root when credence is given to both its aspirations and beliefs.

Dining In – Home Cooking Is the Comeback Kid

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The growth of restaurant sales has slowed in the last decade, with some of the largest casual dining restaurants reporting stalled or falling sales. Meanwhile, meal-kit businesses are on the rise with companies like Blue Apron, Plated and Green Chef generating $1.5 billion in 2016. The single largest food retailer? Walmart.

Look around: home cooking is back in a big way.

While Americans are still overworked and under-rested, health and wellness trends have created a new middle-class ambition: healthy, home-cooked meals. Supported by falling food prices and the popularity of all things artisanal, this trend shows no signs of slowing. People are clearing jackets, homework and mail off the dining room table and replacing them with meals they’ve assembled or fully cooked themselves.

As this market expands, simplicity, flexibility and affordability are crucial. Ordering from a meal-kit service or online grocer (that now includes Amazon), accommodating dietary restrictions, access to transportation or delivery, and ease of prep will be omnipresent. It’s unlikely that home chefs will be constructing complicated, multi-ingredient recipes, but a simple, fresh and inexpensive option at home will be an increasingly common occurrence.

Successful entrepreneurs will need to find a way to add one more unique element to distinguish themselves from the pack. Look to see a focus on fair trade ingredients, tailored offerings to a specific dietary clientele, or specialized growth in a desire for non-GMO-fed verified products in the near future. The nugget here is that a growing market is a diversified one, and the visionary leaders will identify a need ahead of their own consumers.

Healthy Treats: It’s Not Just About Kale Anymore

For the past few years we’ve been hearing about super foods—like our favorite kale—and dieting. But now this healthy eating focus is extending past those initial fads and instead becoming incorporated into all our favorite things, including cupcakes. We are beginning to see more and more startups and brand extensions aimed at satisfying our desire for sweets and great tasting food while maintaining a healthy value. Eat Limmo is one of the most recent examples: a startup that uses fruit peels to make a healthier, but still tasty, cupcake. [Source]

A Taste of Spain

 

Tempted to take your tastebuds on a tour of Spain, but can’t pack your bags and hop a last minute flight? Well, you’re in luck. New York City has a growing number of exquisitely authentic Spanish-style restaurants, sure to please even the most gourmet foodies. Two restaurants in particular, Toro and Txikito, both located in Chelsea, boast a scrumptious selection of tapas and Spanish-inspired craft cocktails to accompany your authentic meal. Muy delicioso!

‘Tis The Season: Restaurant Week

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—at least for foodies in NYC. Restaurant Week is upon us yet again, offering 18 calorie-filled days of the city’s finest dining experiences at a fixed price that makes our wallets and taste buds equally happy. With over 290 restaurants to choose from, you can enjoy a 3-course meal for lunch ($25) or dinner ($35). Happy dining!

When In…Russia?

 

When in Russia-like weather conditions, do as the Russians would do. Which makes it rather serendipitous that today’s forecast also brings the grand opening of Moscow 57, a new Russian/Central Asian restaurant and live music venue on the Lower East Side. This eclectic new spot is dripping with red decor and offers up Russian specialties such as blini, kebabs, caviar, and vodka—bushels of vodka made with horseradish, white pomegranate, pickles and rose petals. Also featuring live musical entertainment that ranges from jazz to African, this sounds like the perfect spot to seek refuge from the slush outside.

Save the Haggis

 

Saturday is Robert Burns Day, when Scot-lovers across the globe gather to honor Scotland’s national poet. But for most Americans, haggis will probably not be on the menu. Scotland’s most notorious dish, haggis, typically consists of sheep entrails and organs mixed with oatmeal and seasoning, and boiled in a bag made from the animal’s stomach.

From the description, it’s clear to see why 2014 has been declared the Year of the Haggis. And why not? The Scottish Meat Traders are trying to engage younger lads and lasses eating the traditional dish. And these days, they get stuffed in chicken breasts, battered and sold at the chip shop, and even served up as pakora. But for the country that gave us  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swenson, Robert Louis Stevenson and bagpipes, we will be taking a cup of kindness—or good whisky— with our haggis.

Holy Guacamole! Meet Burritobox

 

Hollywood never ceases to amaze us. Earlier this week we heard about Kimye possibly taking their honeymoon in outer space, and now this: a vending machine in West Hollywood that delivers warm burritos in 60 seconds. A Mobil station in West Hollywood is home to the very first Burritobox, a bright orange vending machine that not only satisfies your burrito craving, but is servin’ up all the fixings along with it. Burritos are $3 each, and for just a few cents more you can also get Tabasco sauce, sour cream and (most importantly) guacamole. Our minds are officially blown.

Cafeteria Comeback

 

Two words: “School Lunch.” This could be a fear-inducing thought, but NYC Public Schools are doing their part to change that. They serve a wide variety of breakfast and lunch choices, including a number of international dishes, as well as an entirely vegetarian menu. We’re daydreaming about their “French Toast with Warm Peach Topping and Canadian Turkey Bacon” or their “Colby Cheese Omelet and Honey Croissant.” Relive a much cooler childhood in your own kitchen by recreating their “Sabroso (English translation: delicious) Roasted Chicken with Spanish Rice and Sweet Plaintains” or even their “Chickpeas and Tomatillos with Roasted Carrots and Braised Collards.” Take that, stale pizza and Jell-O!