Technomic, a Chicago-based research and consulting firm, has gathered a wealth of information on the food trends that may significantly impact the restaurant industry in 2013. Some of the developments are mainstream trends among major players, but others are edgy urban movements that may or may not spread to the wider public. Some of the others are in the process of evolving from leading-edge to mainstream. Here are a few of the results:

Vegetables are the star. As more diners discover the joys of occasional meatless meals, the flirtation with vegetarian fare evolves into a fascination with actual vegetables. This means both innovative salads and creative presentations of roasted or steamed veggies can be used in the center of the plate. Diners continue to seek fresh, local, healthful fare as operators are squeezed by rising costs for proteins.

Great grains. Recognized as nutrition powerhouses—packed with protein as well as texture and full, rich taste—grains are also playing star roles on trendy menus. And a number of grains—quinoa, amaranth, millet, wild rice, corn, oats and buckwheat—do not contain gluten, so they’re being nudged to the fore as part of the movement to gluten-free eating.

Snacking nation. Habits of around-the-clock eating, the street-food/food-truck craze, consumer demand for flexible portions and prices, and operators’ need to move beyond price-cutting on core menu items all combine to make snack fare a key trend. Tapas and upscale bar bites in full-service restaurants are matched by flavorful novelties in limited-service restaurants, from Spicy Chicken McBites at McDonald’s and Chicken Littles at KFC to mini corn dogs at Jack in the Box and cheesecake bites at Sonic Drive-Ins.

More is more. On the other hand, there’s an opposite value-as-volume movement. Look for more deals like Pizza Hut’s Big Dinner Box (two pizzas with multiple sides) and Olive Garden’s Dinner Today & Dinner Tomorrow (a dine-in meal plus a to-go meal), as well as multi-course feasts for two, four or more.

Fast casual goes globe-trotting. Success in the exploding fast-casual sector isn’t limited to bakery cafés and Mexican concepts. Build-your-own-better-burger chains and gourmet brick-oven pizza restaurants have been on the rise for some time, but now more ethnic foods and flavors are cropping up from American barbecue to Southeast Asian soups and sandwiches to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fare.

For additional food industry trend-tracking insights, visit Technomic’s blog at or contact Chris Urban at 312-506-3929.