Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Global flavors are hitting US restaurant menus in a big way

asian noodle bowl
(Image credit: Unsplash)

Sign up for Restaurant SmartBrief today, free.

Consumers want to experiment with different cuisines in an authentic way, and US operators are starting to catch on, but there’s still huge potential for growth in authentic and global flavors

Still, there are some guardrails to keep in mind.

Consumers have the highest interest in seeing global versions of noodle and rice dishes, meat entrees, sides and appetizers, according to Datassential. Consumer interest is lowest in desserts and snacks – which may be due to the fact that consumers view these as comforting and indulgent and put less weight on the value of experience and flavor that global influences provide. 

Interestingly, how consumers prefer to experiment with new global foods depends somewhat on where they are eating. At home, consumers prefer to experiment with main items like noodle/rice dishes, but away from home, they are more likely to try a globally-influenced appetizer or side dish. 

Of the five global regions Datassential explored in its Global Flavors report, Asian cuisine is by far the most favored by consumers. Nearly 40% of consumers say their last global dish — outside of Italian, Mexican and Chinese — was Asian-influenced. Asian food is also the most frequently consumed – and has seen the greatest uptick in overall consumption in the last year. That may be due in part to broader accessibility, but also because consumers consider Asian cuisine to be healthier that some other global options. It’s also broadly enjoyed by all generations, a rare agreement among age groups in terms of cuisine preference. 

There is one cuisine, though, that has untapped potential: African. Most US consumers aren’t aware of African cuisine and a majority — 60% — have never eaten African food, according to Datassential. At the same time, Africa (currently home to over 1 billion people) is booming. And awareness in the US is gradually increasing. 

Whatever cuisine fits best with a particular restaurant, operators are taking notice of the global trend. More than one-third of operators are planning to add more globally influenced foods to their menus in the next year, Datassential said, and nearly one-quarter added more in the last year. 

The overwhelming reason operators are going global? To add variety to their menus. 

Particularly in this time when the foodservice industry faces critical labor shortages and supply chain challenges, operators are looking for creative ways to boost their menu without added headaches and complexity. 

Global spices and seasonings can help add much-needed pizzazz and excitement to existing menu items, or even turn a single item like roasted potatoes into multiple offerings depending on what is sprinkled on them before they are tossed in the oven. On-site and retail operators are especially likely to turn toward ready-to-use sauces or packaged or frozen fully-prepared items.

Global flavors are a sensible risk in an environment when consumers are looking to restaurants for innovation. And there’s a clear appetite for them: two-thirds of consumers told Datassential they’ve had a global dish outside of the “big three” within the last month. 

And just think: sushi was an unknown and obscure dish when it arrived in the US fifty years ago, but today you can find thousands of restaurants that serve sushi all over the US.

The world is becoming increasingly connected and food is a prominent catalyst in that movement. Enjoying a dish that features global influences or ingredients brings Americans closer with people all over the world. And when we eat, we realize we’re not so different after all. 

Related stories:

Samantha Des Jardins is a writer for Datassential, a food industry market research and insights firm.

If you liked this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free email newsletter from the National Restaurant Association. It’s among SmartBrief’s more than 250 industry-focused newsletters.