Foodservice operators can thrive in this environment of evolving demands of consumers by staying focused on sustainability, innovation, and economics.

Stephny Halstead, Vice President of Marketing & New Product Development

January 18, 2024

4 Min Read
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Igoriss / iStock; Peshkov / iStock; Bryan Allen / The Image Bank - via GettyImages

Already, 2024 is shaping up to be another transformative year for the foodservice industry.

Foodservice and manufacturing companies faced no shortage of challenges in 2023, many of which can be traced back to the widespread economic uncertainty felt across much of the US. However, as businesses dealt with the sudden changes brought on by fluctuating economies and inflationary pressures, they were compelled to adapt and innovate.

Restaurants and other foodservice businesses across the board sought out new ways to operate efficiently despite labor shortages, increasing costs, and the evolving demands of consumers.

As the landscape continues to shift once again, the food industry will continue to uncover ways to demonstrate resilience and reinforce its position as one of the most robust sectors in the world. Here are the top three trends foodservice businesses need to know for the new year.

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1. The sustainability imperative.

In a world where environmental impact is top of mind for companies and consumers, the foodservice industry is working in overdrive to prioritize sustainability. The reduction of food waste is one area attracting attention. The effects of food waste are far-reaching, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, over-utilization of water resources, and land degradation. It has become imperative that operators implement effective strategies that not only curb waste but also incorporate sustainable packaging.

The introduction of local and state-by-state regulations is also causing operators to adopt more sustainable packaging practices. Each state and municipality has its own approach to foodservice packaging regulations, which can create complexities for businesses operating in multiple states. These regulations often focus on the materials used in packaging, as well as how it is disposed of after use. Partnering with renowned suppliers, industry groups, and other stakeholders is essential to stay ahead of legislation. Packaging has become a key pillar in any foodservice sustainability policy, from compostable or recyclable options to solutions that ensure a longer shelf life for fresh food and takeout.

Beyond products, true sustainability champions will incorporate eco-friendly measures into all facets of operation. Collaborating with suppliers committed to sustainability can help ensure that a company’s supply chain is environmentally friendly. Transparent communication with suppliers, especially regarding packaging and waste reduction goals, can help ensure alignment in meeting these objectives.

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2. Innovation with a capital “I.”

From cutting-edge food packaging to menu trends, and adapting to the ever-evolving consumer behavior tendencies, the future promises to hold another extraordinary year for innovation in foodservice. As consumer tastes continue to change, restaurants, convenience stores, supermarkets, caterers, and fast-casual establishments are pushing the boundaries of culinary creativity.

From personalized menus catering to dietary preferences to increased emphasis on plant-based options, operators are looking for new ways to elevate the entire dining experience, whether on-premises or off. Consumers are also paying more attention to ingredients, providing an even larger opportunity for operators to further their locally sourced narrative.

With rising consumer demands for eco-friendly packaging solutions and the need for enhanced food safety and preservation, there is also tremendous appetite for material innovation to meet consumer expectations and pave the way for a more sustainable future.

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3. Economic pressures.

Economic uncertainties and global conflicts will carry over into 2024. As markets fluctuate and technological advancements continue to shape the industry, foodservice and manufacturing businesses will explore strategies and innovative ways to adapt.

Shifting labor market dynamics and wage pressures are adding stress to the foodservice and manufacturing industries. There will be an increased interest in embracing technology and automation to mitigate some of these issues and enhance efficiency. Businesses will also explore cost-saving measures, such as inventory management, to help manage expenses and maintain profitability.

During periods of financial instability, foodservice businesses need to generate value for their consumers. Consumers facing financial constraints or difficult circumstances seek affordability, quality, and convenience. To win the dollars of these consumers, foodservice operators will look at different ways of offering convenience, such as online ordering and delivery, shortcuts like prepared foods and food kits and improving the overall consumer experience. Of course, having the right packaging will play a crucial role in current and future risk mitigation across these areas.

Carpe diem: The time is now.

Sustainability priorities, consumer expectations, and the regulatory landscape will open opportunities for foodservice and manufacturing companies. Forward-thinking and forming partnerships with like-minded organizations equally committed to advancing the status quo in foodservice will be instrumental. Finding success in this new era will require a collaborative effort, and we’re excited to see the new ways this teamwork will continue to drive this industry forward. 

About the Author(s)

Stephny Halstead

Vice President of Marketing & New Product Development, Sabert

Stephny Halstead is Sabert's Vice President of Marketing & New Product Development. In this role, she leverages the innovation capabilities within the organization to drive strategic growth initiatives and marketing communications activities.

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