Some say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but don’t be so quick to dismiss the impact of lunch and dinner. 

By Sherry Tseng

Some say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but don’t be so quick to dismiss the impact of lunch and dinner. While the breakfast daypart is gaining ground, lunch and dinner still dominate the majority share of restaurant traffic, with lunch being the largest revenue driver for the foodservice industry overall, according to Datassential’s Pulse 2018: Market Overview, which tracks more than 100 factors determining restaurant trends. Moreover, it’s a growing segment in a growing industry. In 2017, Statistics Canada reports that total sales across all foodservice and drink establishments in Canada topped $68.5 billion, up from $52.6 billion in 2012. What people want to eat when they go out still matters, and what they want to eat at lunch matters most.

 

Younger generations are the primary drivers of increase. Datassential’s Millennial and Gen Z Keynote Report found that Millennials and Gen-Zers are both more likely to consume meals away from home than the overall population. Restaurant operators are well positioned to grab a share of this market, particularly when busy work or school days can make the convenience of restaurant food that much more appealing to consumers. Indeed, many in the industry are seeking ways to innovate their businesses to better attract customers, whether it’s expanding their service to include more dayparts or revamping their menus to feature flavours and dishes that resonate more with consumers.

 

To Dinner and Beyond

More Canadians are choosing to graze throughout the day rather than adhere to the standard three-meal-a-day structure, and when it comes to skipping meals, lunch is often the first to go, according to a Dalhousie University study. Operators can combat this is by expanding their service, which also has the added benefit of allowing existing customers more opportunities to revisit.

 

Restaurant Mélisse in Montreal opened in June last year offering only breakfast and brunch, but upon acquiring a liquor license, added a dinner menu featuring apéro-style dishes that focus on healthy, lighter offerings like charcuterie, seafood and grill platters. Featuring small plates and shareable platters can be an effective way for operators to increase traffic and, often, cheque averages, as they encourage guests to bring their friends. Shareables can also be more appealing to consumers who prefer snacking over eating full meals. Millennials in particular, Datassential found, are more likely than the general population to eat out for snacking occasions.

 

As the lines between different dayparts become increasingly blurred, operators should also consider serving dishes traditionally offered in other dayparts for lunch and dinner. One trend that’s rapidly growing and poised for continued growth is all-day breakfast. Quick service giant McDonald’s, for example, announced last February that it would be serving its signature breakfast items throughout the day after a pilot program in 20 locations across Canada proved successful. The company first rolled out all-day breakfast in the U.S. in 2015 after reporting that the option was its top request from diners. According to MenuTrends, a tool Datassential developed that helps restaurants identify and leverage industry trends, the presence of breakfast wraps and breakfast sandwiches have increased by 200 per cent and 125 per cent on lunch and dinner menus in Canada, respectively, indicating that the craveability of classic breakfast items can be leveraged to bring traffic to the lunch and dinner dayparts as well.

 

Some Like it Hot

Consumers today are much more familiar with global flavours and spices than they were ten years ago. Just think about the explosive rise of sriracha, the now-ubiquitous spicy Thai condiment that’s seemingly everywhere. In 2008 sriracha was barely a blip on anyone’s radar, appearing on less than 1 per cent of Canadian menus, but today it can be found on nearly 15 per cent of menus, up 40 per cent within the past year alone. Now, those in the foodservice industry are beginning to search for the next sriracha. Gochujang, a fermented Korean chili paste, could be it. In the past year alone, Gochujang has grown by 33 per cent on Canadian menus, and there’s still plenty of room to grow. It was starting from almost nowhere, overall menu penetration is still less than 1 per cent.

 

Even chain restaurants are beginning to pick up on the increasing popularity of gochujang. Moxie’s Classic Grill & Bar, for example, introduced a new spicy tuna roll in May that combines tuna with a chili ponzu sauce made with gochujang, ginger and sesame oil. Mentions of bibimbap, a traditional Korean dish that combines gochujang with assorted beef or pork, vegetables and rice, have also more than doubled on lunch and dinner menus in the past year. Datassential’s Haiku tool, which uses machine learning to predict future menu penetration of ingredients and dishes, estimates gochujang will continue growing on U.S. menus by 98 per cent over the next four years, and that growth is likely to be mirrored in Canada as more operators become familiar with the versatile chili paste.

 

Other Global Foods on the Horizon

It’s safe to say that the spice trend isn’t going away any time soon, but operators should also be on the lookout for flavours from other international cuisines as well. Poke, a Hawaiian dish typically made from rice topped with cubes of raw fish seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil, has practically exploded on menus in the past four years, growing by nearly 2,000 per cent.

 

Datassential’s Global Flavors Keynote Report advises companies to also be aware of rising trends in Middle Eastern cuisine, which 42 per cent of U.S. consumers say they are interested in. Labneh, a thick and creamy Middle Eastern yogurt, is the one of the top-growing ingredients among both appetizers and entrees on Canadian lunch and dinner menus and can be used in place of Greek yogurt in a variety of applications.

 

Filipino cuisine, which bears passing resemblances to several culinary traditions, including Indian, Chinese, Spanish, and Southeast Asian foods, is also poised to become big in Canada. Statistics Canada reports that the Filipino-Canadian population is currently the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country and may double in size by 2031, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Filipino fast food chain Jollibee. Jollibee, which has over 1,000 locations in its native Philippines, announced in June that it’s planning on opening 100 new stores in Canada over the next five years. Given the popularity of QSRs with Canadian consumers (42 per cent favour QSRs over FSRs when dining out, according to a study by Restaurants Canada), the expansion of Jollibee within the country is yet another a sign that operators will have to continually stay educated on the latest global flavors in order to remain competitive in the future restaurant landscape.

 

Sherry Tseng is a publications specialist at Datassential