As the leading foodservice agency we make sure we always keep abreast of the latest insights and trends in the food and drink market, which is why we were once again delighted to attend the MCA’s Food Strategy Forum which this time took place at the Courthouse Hotel in Soho.

Here are some of our top take-outs from the afternoon:

Consumer Trends

Overall the market is performing better than expected in light of economic uncertainty and a fall in consumer confidence, with modest growth achieved despite falling frequencies. Breakfast is the only daypart in growth – up 3% yoy – driven by coffee shops and cafés and an increasing demand for healthier options, while lunch falls to a record low – with consumers shifting towards making their own lunches and cutting back for health and financial reasons.

Menu Insights

Dish counts on menus have increased 3.6% yoy, rising to an average of 70 dishes per brand, based on casual dining menus from MCAs menu tracker service. New product development has also increased, mainly around plant-based meat alternatives, healthier and lighter meal options and premiumised desserts. As vegetarianism and veganism continue to rise in popularity, it comes as no surprise that there has been a 43.7% increase in vegetable protein main course dishes, as operators continue to innovate with meat-free alternatives. Average prices have also increased, but are in line with inflation.

Menu Engineering

As MCA’s Daljit rightly put it, one of the most valuable commodities is peoples’ attention. When someone is looking at a menu, their entire attention is focussed on that brand and their products. An operator’s menu is the most important internal marketing and sales tool that they possess; it can guide not only what people purchase, but also how much they spend. There are many different techniques you can use to optimise a menu to maximise sales.

One of the ways to do this is through psychological pricing strategies – dishes priced at £##.00 are often associated with higher value products, £##.99 with lower, and £##.95 the most common.

Another key way that operators can guide consumer decisions is through dish descriptions. The more dish descriptions on a product, the higher the price point tends to be. Operators use longer, more vivid descriptions to tempt consumers into purchasing higher ticket items. Carefully crafted, evocative descriptions that paint a picture of what the dish will taste like are the most effective. Adjectives which relate to texture, such as ‘crunchy’, ‘crispy’ and ‘tender’, are particularly effective. The most common descriptor across operators is ‘fresh’ – 66% have this at least once on their menus. Interestingly, 4 out of the top 15 dish descriptors relate to healthier eating. Conversely, superlatives, such as ‘The world’s greatest’ or ‘best ever’, have an adverse effect – they tend to come across as forced and cheap, so people tend to ignore them.

‘Recommended’ tops the list of descriptors that are associated with higher prices – it communicates a sense of confidence and pride in that item, which allows the consumer to trust that the dish is worth paying a little extra for. Five out of the top twenty phrases are associated with provenance and craft – a major trend in the eating out market at the moment, and as the data suggests, also a lucrative one.

Market Trends

The 8 mega trends that the MCA have identified and have an impact on both the eating out market and wider society include Convenience, Customisation, Experiential, Healthier Eating, Indulgence, Quality-Led, Sustainability and Value Scrutiny – all of which have become more pronounced, with operators continuing to refine offerings to meet consumer sentiment.
The mega trends can be drilled down further into 10 specific key trends, which each have a link to one or several of the mega trends. While mega trends are already well established and impactful, these key trends are less so, with some being stronger than others, but they are all expected to have a big impact on consumer decisions:
• Asian-based adventurism
• Delightful desserting
• Drink diversification
• Environmental responsibility
• Food to go
• Instagrammable dining
• Personal responsibility
• Plant-based growth
• Provenance & craft
• Rising breakfast

Future Trends

Looking at the market in 2020 and beyond, there are a number of scenarios that could materialise:

Aspirational Adventurism; the strongest growth and most lucrative scenario, with consumers actively seeking to dine OOH and seek new experiences.

Added-Value; a situation of lower growth, but where consumers are still eating out, seeking convenience and customisation.

Mindful Pragmatism; again a lower growth scenario, but where consumers are looking to be more responsible by actively contributing to environmentally good causes, eating out less often and focussing on sustainability.

Responsible Consumption; a high growth situation, with less constraints on spending, but where consumers are looking to be in more control, seeking healthier eating.
Importantly, all of these scenarios can coexist.

More prominent cuisine trends in 2019 retain a significant Asian skew and include contemporary Indian, Japanese and Thai cuisines. These follow on quickly from the growing profile of Korean, Sri Lankan and Taiwanese that were highlighted in 2018. There is also a growing influence of contemporisation and modern re-working of some major cuisines, including British, Indian and Italian.

5 rather niche but worthy trends to keep an eye out for include:
• Lab-grown/cultured meat
• Alternative proteins
• Cannabis cuisine
• Joint ventures
• Less is more

So, despite the uncertain economic climate it’s not all doom and gloom, with the market continuing to grow and a number of exciting trends on the horizon. Thank you to the MCA once again for a wonderful and informative afternoon.

As ever our insight blog highlights some of our key take-outs, but if your business relies on keeping up to date with the latest eating out trends, we would highly recommend you become an MCA Insight Forum Member to access the full in-depth reports and access their fabulous events. For more information visit

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