The past six months have been busy for new product development, according to Nancy Kruse, a menu trends expert and contributing NRA Show Floored! blog contributor who revealed her observations last week at the 2012 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show.
Kruse cited examples of new items in three categories that she predicted will continue to grow, including comfort foods, food trucks, and authenticity.
In the comfort category, she said, new bread products are evolving, particularly waffles and pretzels. New versions of chicken and waffles, waffle sandwiches, upgraded Belgian waffles and savory waffles are appearing in everything from quickservice chains to fine dining restaurants, she said.
In addition, a hot-dog resurgence is catching the tailwind of the better burger revival, Kruse said. Regional hot-dog preferences have held back the trend, but some chains recently have added some of the regional flavors to their menus.
Food trucks also are succeeding because of their personalized, made-to-order service style, she said. About 30 large chains have introduced food trucks and use them for catering and bringing their products to local events.
Kruse said "menu innovation" is making inroads around authenticity, artisanal and handmade techniques, even in national chains. Hand-scooped milkshakes and hand-breaded chicken at Carl's Jr. qualify, as do fresh-cut fries.
The return of butchery and nose-to-tail meat cuts and foraging, where municipal health departments permit it, are other developing examples she cited. Some restaurants, hospitals, and universities are growing some of their own produce, and advertising is promoting the farmers, growers, and fishermen who supply restaurant chains.
Finally, Kruse advised attendees to watch for sustainable initiatives. "No matter what your segment, there are multiple opportunities for you to tap into this phenomenon," she said.