Summer 2016
Cutting-Edge Food Trends of 2016

Obsessed with food? Look no further for the latest news on trendy edibles. Recent developments in the food-sales world range from the “heathification” of manufactured foods to rustic foods, farm-to-table choices and dinner-in-a-box delivered right to your front door. As millennials push manufacturers to extract the red and blue dyes from their children’s Trix cereal, restaurants are being pressured to offer antibiotic-free chicken. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to please every palette, so chefs, restaurateurs and leasing agents are intensifying their strategies.

Hitting the high notes for foodies in 2016 requires using one or all of these adjectives: healthy, fresh, customized, organic, local and experiential. The food hall craze is taking the country by storm. For example, in Baltimore this fall, a 500,000-square-foot car showroom is being converted to a food hall where 10 different concepts and chefs will operate. There’s even a central bar serving craft cocktails, beer and wine. Food halls around the nation are popping up with rotating local and visiting chefs who test out new concepts.
Another trend that is here to stay is customization. Stop and consider just how many foods you can purchase that allow you to choose everything you want on top or inside. From burritos, to Ramen noodle bowls with your choice of protein, salads with a selection of assorted toppings, to design-your-own pizzas; everyone wants food the way they want it, and they want it to come with good, fast customer service.

But some on-trend foods are perennial favorites that never go out of style. Who doesn’t like the sinfully delicious Auntie Anne’s brand of hand-rolled salted pretzels, or a melt-in-your mouth Cinnabon with a cup of coffee? Whether you are strolling around the shopping center or boarding a flight, these products from Focus Brands are the perfect snack foods—portable and right-sized.

catering_stackedpretzels_1_croppedAuntie Anne’s serves hot, golden-brown pretzels straight from the oven, and lets the customer choose whether they want salt, no salt, or cinnamon sugar toppings. “Portability and speed are the keys to convenience, and mall shoppers need foods that can easily move with them,” says Chaz Kurtz, Public Relations Manager for Focus Brands.

Auntie Anne’s has also developed a local app called “My Pretzel Perks,” which allows guests to order in advance from an online menu, check nutritional information and earn points and rewards. Other reasons that Auntie Anne’s is high on everyone’s snack list are the company’s many convenient locations, the simplicity of its ingredients (you can count them on one hand), and the appeal of its on-premises cooking demonstrations: the “watch them make and bake” sessions one never seems to tire of.

With 1,245 domestic Auntie Anne’s franchises, this retailer requires just 400 to 700 square feet for an inline store, and 180 to 250 square feet for a common area kiosk. Auntie Anne’s also leases short-term specialty retail units in seasonal locations that are just 80 square feet, with operators of permanent locations serving as the bakery source for satellite locations. Having a productive inline location makes this leasing scenario work.

Auntie Anne’s has adapted well to the developers’ needs. “Common area kiosks have become more prevalent in the past three to five years,” says Janice Fisher, Specialty Leasing Representative for the company. “Developers want to get rent year round, which is why kiosks work.”

“The trend in shopping centers is all about the experience and the food kiosk is right on. It’s working and meeting both the franchisee’s needs and the developer’s needs,” says Okey Reese, Vice President of Real Estate at Focus Brands. “We like the flexibility of [kiosks].”

Auntie Anne’s is perpetually creating new product introductions, from mini hotdog-rolled pretzels to pretzels with pepperoni and stuffed pretzel nuggets. Introduced this past spring, the bacon/cheddar cheese-stuffed pretzel nuggets and wild berry lemonade mixers are keeping the menu fresh. The company also offers catering platters for holiday parties and seasonal offerings like pumpkin-spiced pretzel nuggets.

Healthy dining trends

9j9a0003Increasingly, customers are looking for healthy food options and information about where their food comes from. From juice-cleanse bars to customized ice cream sandwiches and French macarons; the demand for healthful and hand-made food remains high, especially in shopping centers. And along with these trends comes the idea of dining as an experience. The social and entertainment value of dining out adds to the attraction of sit down restaurants, and common-area offerings that give the feel of al fresco dining.

With a movement by some developers to add more food kiosks in common area, the focus on the food court/food hall in shopping centers could be questioned. However, according to Ted Kaminski, Senior Vice President Mall Retail at Westfield, “I don’t know that it has changed the inline food court at all. We create uses in the common area that are not competitive. You find hot meals in the food court. The common area offerings are complementary but it is a fine balance. We still have a mix of pretzels in the mall food courts, and the kiosks we leased to are in satellite locations,” Kaminski said.

For several years, Westfield has intentionally beefed up its common-area food offerings, using merchandising plans that focus on three separate approaches that focus on what they call “Grab ‘N Go,” “Surprise and Delight” and “Dwell Offerings.”

“We want to talk to the time-pressed customer who doesn’t have time to sit down at a restaurant or in the food court,” said Kaminski. For those customers, Grab ‘N Go types of foods like pretzels are wildly successful. The Surprise and Delight strategy, according to Liza Cantu, Mall Retail Marketing Manager and blogger, “Is a go-to catch phrase for common area activations. It means ‘to surprise the shopper with something unexpected,’ but something that also, at the same time, appeals to their base needs—refreshment, small bites, etc.—while ‘delight’ gets at our core goal of consistently delighting and amazing the shopper with our mix of tenants and offerings,” she says, noting that Pinkberry, a yogurt concept is an example of this Surprise and Delight approach.

Dwell Time refers to the premise that the longer you keep a shopper on premises, the more they will spend. At two Westfield California shopping centers, Elixir, an espresso bar/trattoria transforms its business by time of day: “In the morning, it’s all about coffee, and by afternoon the experience changes to wine and cheese and relaxation after work,” explains Kaminski.

Future food trends

snappindogs7Food is the most difficult concept to develop and incubate because of the required individual city health codes and sanitary standards. “How do we reduce the barriers of entry so we can incubate local food purveyors? And do it so that it’s affordable to the operator?” Kaminski asks.

Another challenge for food purveyors is staying ahead of the trends: evolving new products with creativity and, doing it in such a way that makes it exciting. “How do we do it for short-term food operators, make it different and change it up?” Kaminski challenges. “I think food uses have evolved and we are offering the traditional shopper who is well-traveled more of an international cuisine in certain centers. Westfield properties have an array of food uses with Asian flavors like mochi ice cream, Vietnamese pho and green-tea gelato. They have also had success with Latin food operators selling churros and Splash Fruits. ”People are willing to try new things, and tastes have evolved,” said Liza Cantu, National Marketing Director of Mall Retail at Westfield. She sees the growth of heritage cuisine, where one matches the demographics with the right food appeal for Latinos, Asians and Mexicans.

When asked what he sees as the next new, big food trend, Kaminski said “poke.” This Hawaiian, fresh (and often raw) chopped fish dish (pronounced pokay) has moved to mainland USA, and Kaminski is trying to discover a way for operators to sell the fresh-cut ahi tuna and seaweed combinations. In the Hawaiian Islands, poke is often sold in street shacks, where it is prepared, refrigerated and sold—until it sells out. As Kaminski points out, it would be a great Surprise and Delight food concept if he can figure out a way to sell it within design, health regulations and hours of operation. “I would say poke is a great example of a hot food trend, and the key is how to execute it,” he says.

The tipping point in prepared foods

Another food trend is companies like Blue Apron, The Purple Carrot and Plated, which are disrupting the grocery store supply chain by redefining how food is both grown and distributed in the U.S. Weekly, working families who subscribe to these services, receive dinner-in-a-box. Which contains fresh, pre-measured, perfectly proportioned ingredients that are packaged and delivered, ready to prepare dinner at home.

Essentially, Blue Apron and its counterparts are teaching American households how to cook with new flavors, products and recipes. In busy households, this trend works for now. However, it raises the question, how long will this trend last? Once customers have learned to cook, there’s an abundance of online recipes to try; who will continue to pay the price for delivered food?

But meanwhile, the top performing food use in specialty leasing, at least in Westfield’s portfolio is still pretzels, because according to Kaminski, “They have high mass appeal—it works for moms and kids, and Auntie Anne’s are a nationally recognized brand. Our job now is to make sure that those sentimental brands stay fresh.”


Duffy C. Weir

Duffy Weir is the former vice president and director of specialty retail and marketing at The Rouse Company of Columbia, MD. Now an independent retail marketing and sponsorship consultant and writer, Weir travels the world searching for what she says "makes marketplaces tick." She can be reached at or 410.252.8885.
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