Consumer spend in the foodservice sector continues to increase, but there is still no room for complacency, according to the latest Focus on Foodservice report from the beef and lamb industry organisation EBLEX.
The report, which looks at the latest trends and opportunities in the foodservice market, reveals that consumer spending grew by 2% in the year to 30 June 2014.
However, despite the positive signs the findings, compiled by NPD Group/Crest, show that not all sectors are in growth and that more needs to be done to attract customers in certain markets.
There are opportunities, for example, in Quick Service Restaurants, where male customers have driven the steady increase in visitors, but female custom has declined. Similarly, although the pub sector is showing good growth among those aged under-50, there has been a steady decline in custom from over-50s, a group that traditionally spends more per head than any other.
One issue to come out of the research is that consumers have noted the lack of lamb-based dishes on menus. This is despite the fact good quality lamb in plentiful supply and prices are competitive.
The report also highlights the latest menu trends around the UK. The popularity of world foods continues, reflecting today's multicultural market. Meat dishes, for example, are increasingly served slow-cooked, pulled, or from the smokehouse, with a strong Southern US or South American influence.
EBLEX foodservice project manager Hugh Judd said: "Slow-cooking is going through a revival; it brings out the flavour of the meat and enables caterers to use a variety of cost-effective beef and lamb cuts to create wonderful dishes."
The popularity of street food continues to gather momentum, with pop-ups appearing even in pubs. Cuisines taking the lead are American, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Lebanese and Vietnamese.
The premium burger is also thriving, with menus regularly displaying the provenance of ingredients. This extends to details such as the breed of cattle and where it was reared, as well as whether it's a 28 day mature beef patty, or 20-hour braised shin of beef.
Another menu trend is the emergence of the "celebrity cooking platform", with menus often including descriptions of how dishes are prepared. For
instance: "smoked low and slow for 18 hours over hickory and fruit woods" or "cooked in a charcoal oven which sears meat instantly at temperatures as high as 300ºC".
Judd commented: "The UK foodservice market is an exciting place to be at the moment, with so much innovation delivering new concepts and formats… It's an exciting time for the meat industry too, with chefs increasingly wanting to experiment with alternative cuts… The "Dirty Food" phenomenon best sums it up; it's about getting back to basics and enjoying the food, forget the cutlery, eat it with your fingers if you want."
• You can read the report in full at www.eblextrade.co.uk