Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Biggest story of 2010 will be the standout of '11, too

The Editorial Police kicked in my door last night to nab me for serious violations of the columnist’s code. Here it is, Dec. 29, and I still haven’t aired my picks of the past year’s biggest stories, nor my list of predictions for the year ahead. In some metro markets they make you dance on “Glee”—to an ABBA song—for far less.

Inspired by the current comeback tour of PeeWee Herman, I’m going to buck convention and skip the recap of restaurant developments that changed the business’ trajectory in 2010. To me, there’s only one that’s really worth noting, and that’s the trend that should top every prognosticator’s read of what’s ahead.

The industry, and our culture for that matter, are seeing a new mob mindset take hold. The highly processed, mass-produced, nutritionally suspect foods that somehow became our norm are being rejected faster than telemarketers who interrupt date night.

The public is demanding more integrity and wholesomeness in its food—not just the all-in-black hipsters in New York, Seattle and Los Angeles, but persons from all social strata. With schools planting student gardens and thought leaders preaching the virtues of sustainably produced foods, Tang and Tab (which, accordingly to lore, stands for Totally Artificial Beverage) may be doomed.

Consider for a moment that Frito-Lay has pledged to offer all-natural versions of Lay’s Potato Chips and Tostitos toritilla chips by the end of 2011.

Chain restaurants are lagging behind the trend. With the exception of Chipotle and the its little-noted fellow travelers, the Jason’s Deli chain, very few brands are shifting to less processed, more local, more natural options.

Non-believers say there’s no need—their patrons don’t want it. I suspect they also think the internet is a fad that’ll pass.

A greater number profess they’d adopt to the trend if they could, but the cost, limited availability and inconsistency of more natural foods make the task unfeasible. They haven’t found a way to do it while maintaining their margins.

They’d better try harder. The current is not going to abate, in 2011 or the years thereafter.

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