Every year, I polish up the FSTC crystal ball and create a Forecast seminar that looks at the coming year in terms of food trends, equipment innovations, energy prices, sustainability, and FSTC lab and field research. The seminar program also includes an economic forecast created and delivered by Robin Ashton, publisher of Foodservice Equipment Reports magazine (www.fermag.com). This year the Robin and Richard Forecast Roadshow made stops at the PG&E FSTC as well as the energy centers at SoCal Edison (SCE) in Los Angeles and SDG&E in San Diego. Turnout was good, conversation was lively, and a lot of great information was shared. At the SCE event, Robin and I were introduced by Chef LaLa (www.cheflala.com), an amazing Latina chef, nutritionist, business woman, author, and media star. Was I star struck? You bet!
Here are some of the highlights from the 2016 Foodservice Forecast:
Robin offered up good news for the CFS industry: 2016 looks like a great year for business and here’s why: Employment is up and the numbers show the US at near “full employment”. Gasoline is cheap, which has put billions of dollars back into the pockets of the dining public. To top it off, “real income” has inched up just a little bit. This is important because real income has been flat since the meltdown back in 2008. To sum it up: working people with stable jobs and disposable income will go out to eat a lot in 2016. The one potential hitch is that Wall Street has been in panic mode since December 2015 – the bankers could possibly reign in investment and dampen the party a bit. However, as Robin pointed out, Wall Street and Main Street are two different things and if the bankers can keep cool, foodservice will have a banner year.
…Wall Street and Main Street are two different things and if the bankers can keep cool, foodservice will have a banner year…
The Forecast seminar always includes a look at the NRA’s What’s Hot Chef Survey to see how food trends are evolving and how that might impact the world of CFS equipment and energy efficiency. According to the American Culinary Federation (ACF) survey, chefs think the hot trends now and for the coming decade will include “locally grown”, “natural”, and “environmental sustainability”. The subject of “locally grown” spurred much discussion around the elephant in the room – the potential compromise of food safety as demonstrated by Chipotle last year. Food safety is “priority one” in foodservice and Chipotle is going out of their way to make “local” and “safe” fit into the same sentence. Everyone else will need to follow. The Forecast asked the question, “What might happen in the kitchen to ensure safety for all produce?” One suggestion was that we may see more equipment-based solutions like produce washers or increased safety practices like blanching.
…what might happen in the kitchen to ensure safety for all produce? One suggestion was that we may see more equipment-based solutions…
Another major trend that chefs agreed upon was “Chef Driven Fast Casual” which suggests highly focused menus and kitchen equipment packages that will need to be fast, flexible, and efficient. Also, small plates continue to be big business, which means that dishmachines are not going anywhere. The FSTC has been digging in deep on dishmachine energy and water use and some of the findings are surprising. Stay tuned for reports and seminars!
And, of course, food trucks are still red hot as both an entry into the foodservice business and a stepping stone toward brick-and-mortar for more experienced professionals. The California Energy Wise program – a workforce education and training partnership between PG&E, SoCal Edison, SoCal Gas, and SDG&E foodservice centers – is offering several workshops this year on starting restaurants, food trucks, and small, fast, and flexible equipment. You can find all the dates and locations for these free events at fishnick.com/education/seminars/events.
The California Energy Wise program is offering several workshops this year on starting restaurants, food trucks, and small, fast, and flexible equipment
Animal proteins are giving up more center-of-the-plate space to plants as broiled veggies are gaining popularity, which means that we need more high-efficiency, high-performance broilers. The FSTC will be studying underfired infrared broilers in the field in 2016 to see what the potential savings may be. Preliminary numbers suggest savings in the $1,000/year range.
More plants on the plate also suggest that there might be more steamers in kitchens. In the FSTC lab, we just tested three high-efficiency, high-production steamers – two counter-top units (Vulcan C24E3/5-LWE) and one two-compartment institutional style unit (Cleveland 24CGA6). These boiler-based steamers really deliver on food production and incorporate controls to cut energy and water use. One steamer even has a “set-back” mode that cuts idle energy and water use when the unit is not cooking. You can find hot-off-the-press research reports from November and December 2015 right here: fishnick.com/publications/appliancereports/steamers.
The industry decided to tackle food waste reduction in a big way in 2015 and that movement continues to trend upward in the 2016 What’s Hot rankings. Reducing waste is a large undertaking so expect to see more food waste digesters and dehydrators moving into small and mid-sized kitchens in 2016. The FSTC is getting their first in-house dehydrator to road test – stay tuned.
Moving from the kitchen and looking at big-picture energy trends, the forecast found that most energy prices are stable – we expect a slight increase in electricity and some correction in natural gas prices – probably around 10%. That’s good news. However, water continues to be a constrained resource and water infrastructure continues to age. That means that water prices will continue to rise faster than the rate of inflation and operators cannot afford to ignore their leaky sinks, poorly maintained dishwashers, and sloppy operations. Big hint: don’t pre-rinse your dishes with a kitchen hose!
Despite all this forward movement and evolution in food, perennial favs like fried chicken, biscuits, and BBQ are still strong and the demand for traditional equipment – especially fryers – is not going away. The FSTC is stressing the message that high-performance fryers are not just for big chains. The higher upfront costs can easily be recouped in high food production and energy & oil savings. It’s time for smaller operators to step up their frying game.
It’s time for smaller operators to step up their frying game.
We always love to touch on new lighting technologies and the big news is that we now have some really cool LED replacements for Edison style bulbs. Could this be the year that we finally sideline the most energy-inefficient device in all of foodservice?
Last but not least, the conversation turned to zero energy buildings or ZEB. The Department of Energy just released a new definition of what makes a ZEB and both chains and institutions are starting to look at it seriously. With the continued increase in available renewable energy and the evolution of solar and wind generation, we might start to see some ZEB restaurants in the next few years. The FSTC is already looking at two institutional ZEB projects. Zero energy is not going to be easy for the energy intensive foodservice world but…it is heading that way and now is the time to start the learning process.
All in all, 2016 looks exciting from both a business and technology perspective. We hope to see you at all our free seminars and the many other events at which we speak. What’s up 2016? The future, that’s what!