Gone are the days of bland American staples like meatloaf and tuna casserole. These days, folks are craving dishes with bolder flavors from all corners of the globe.
“I think it’s been interesting to see over the past several years how consumer tastes are really changing,” Mike Lukianoff, chief analytics officer for Fishbowl, told CNBC.
Fishbowl, which releases an annual list of emerging brands, found that consumers are craving a more robust diet filled with diverse foods.
“When we started tracking the emerging brands really what was popping up was the traditional staples,” Lukianoff said, noting that burgers and pizza were the most popular trends. “Consumers latched onto that because it was already a part of their eating habits.”
Now, Fishbowl’s list of emerging brands includes restaurants that specialize in Asian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Filipino and Cuban delicacies.
“We are seeing much more diverse types of concepts,” Lukianoff said.
The changing culinary landscape is the result of increased social media and television coverage that expand consumer awareness, and millennial eaters who are more adventurous and experimental with their food choices. Investment firms also are diving in, hoping to cash in on these trends.
Some 52 percent of millennials are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers new or innovative flavors, according to Technomic’s most recent flavor consumer trend report. In comparison, consumers over age 35 are only 35 percent more likely to visit these restaurants.
The food consulting firm also determined that 48 percent of millennials will spend more on a meal that features a new or innovative flavor. Only 33 percent of those over age 35 are willing to spend extra money on these dishes.
“These kinds of brands are becoming more accessible for the average American,” Lukianoff said.
Xi’an Famous Foods, No. 3 on Fishbowl’s emerging brands list, has received praise and patronage from the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Bobby Flay, among others, as well as positive reviews on social platforms like Yelp.
“Xi’an is its own cult favorite,” Fishbowl analyst Katharine Dalton told CNBC, noting that the restaurant is known for its authenticity and traditional menu items inspired by dishes found in the city of Xi’an in China.
The chain, which began as a small restaurant in Flushing, Queens, has expanded to 12 locations in New York and will soon expand to Boston and Washington.
Lemonade, a California-based chain dubbed a “hip cafeteria,” is a healthy fast-casual chain that caught the eye of the global investment firm KKR in 2014. The chain is now in Fishbowl’s top 30 emerging brands this year and is expected to continue to grow in popularity.
“There’s been a lot of money coming into the restaurant industry,” Lukianoff said. “People are putting in the investment dollars so these chains can exist and not just be a one-off.”
Here’s a look at some of the other culturally diverse chains that made it onto Fishbowl’s emerging brands list:
- VERTS Mediterranean Grill (No. 2)
- Asian Box (No. 5)
- Cava Grill & Cava Mezze (No. 6)
- Sushirrito (No. 9)
- Havana 1957 (No. 18)
- Naf Naf Grill (No. 24)
- Jollibee (No. 29)
There is one potential hiccup for these chains, however.
“As more new and unique flavors become available, consumers become desensitized to them more quickly,” Technomic wrote. “Operators and suppliers will need to continuously stay on top of flavor trends and raise the bar in order to drive traffic and sales.”