CHICAGO -- Whether eating in or away from their homes, consumers will focus on foods that they consider "real" or "clean" in 2016, according to Chicago-based NPD Group.
Natural, fresh and preservative-free are attributes they will look for when selecting the foods they eat. The influence of "clean eaters" on the restaurant industry is beginning to appear and it will become even more pronounced in the new year. More consumers will check food labels for ingredients they know are additives, preservatives or don't recognize when grocery shopping, according to NPD Group, which continually tracks all aspects of how U.S. consumers eat in and away-from-home.
Consumers will continue in 2016 the trend of being more concerned with what's in food than what's not. Sugar is the top ingredient they are trying to avoid in their foods.
Consumers now understand that not all fats are created equally, and that some have nutritional value. They are returning to foods that were once derided for having too much fat, such as eggs and oils. Genetically modified organisms will continue to remain top-of-mind with consumers and they will increase their use of products labeled "Certified GMO-Free" in the new year, according to NPD.
Not only will consumers care about what's in their food but they will also care about how the foods are sourced and produced. As more consumers seek humanely raised animals and avoid antibiotics in their meats, for example, more of them will research brands and their production practices. In response, a number of major restaurant chains announced plans to eliminate additives such as artificial ingredients or offer additive free proteins, and more are expected to do the same in the coming year.
Food manufacturers and grocers are also responding by offering more locally sourced foods and working with suppliers and producers that, for example, avoid antibiotics or pesticides.
Other trends NPD Group says to expect in 2016 are:
Spicy Hot.The past year was filled with spicy sauces used on everything from burgers to chicken sandwiches and wings to pizza and fries. The new year will bring even more creativity to menu innovation, expanding into other unique sauces and ethnic cuisines. These sauces will also be used as additives or ingredients for in-home meals and snacks.
Comfort Food. Some of the hottest chefs in America are putting a new twist on comfort food favorites by infusing them with high-end, fresh ingredients, and it's resonating with consumers. NPD Group anticipates seeing more innovation in this area in the coming year, in part, due the nostalgic memories associated with these foods. Comfort foods have always been popular in home meals but young adults are adapting them to meet their tastes.
Value Wars. Deals and value wars will continue in the restaurant industry in 2016. Many other chains will likely follow suit to compete in the battle for market share among value seekers, of which there are many.
"It can be a challenge to keep up with consumers' ever-changing needs and to demonstrate a competitive point of difference," said Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group's restaurant industry analyst. "As we move into the New Year, focusing on consumers' evolving food and beverage choices will lead to success as was demonstrated by a number of major quick-service restaurant chains in 2015. The ability to attract more customers in 2016 will ultimately come down to the food -- it's all about the food."