Food Trends

5 Reasons Why Portable Meals Mean Business for Restaurants

Mar 12, 2024

5 Reasons Why Portable Meals Mean Business for Restaurants

Have you eaten a meal in your car lately? You have plenty of company.

Drive-thru lanes are now the most preferred service format for limited-service restaurants, after all. And according to Technomic, U.S. households with kids under 12 aren’t waiting to eat until they get home:1

• 9% of limited-service restaurant meals are eaten while parked, a 300% increase since 2013
• 9% of limited-service restaurant meals are eaten while driving, a 22% increase since 2013

Once unheard of, the trend has grown to include full-service establishments:

• 4% of full-service restaurant meals were consumed while driving, up from 0% in 2013
• 6% of full-service restaurant meals were consumed while parked, a 600% increase since 2013

It all points to an American consumer forced to eat on the go thanks to the demands of work, school and family life. They might grab a breakfast burrito on their way to work or a grab-n-go salad during a short lunch break.

But it’s about more than just speed; it’s also about the ease of eating on the run.

This is where the portability of your menu items can have a huge impact on their popularity and success.

Why the portability matters: The appeal of one-handed meals

As lifestyles evolve, so do eating habits. Activities like picnics in the park, road trips, and even the trend of “desk dining” at work necessitate food that can be easily carried and consumed in various environments. Portable foods are designed to be less messy and more durable, making them ideal for consumption in non-traditional dining settings.

Expansion of delivery and takeout: The pandemic has irreversibly changed the dining scene, with a marked shift towards home delivery and takeout (delivery increased 5% in 20232). Restaurants have adapted by creating dishes that maintain their integrity and flavor during transport. For example, sandwiches, wraps, and bowls are more likely to survive a trip via a delivery driver than more delicate, plated dishes.

TIP: Chicken & waffles has never been a very portable item—until now. Simplot's new Maple City™ Waffle Flavored Waffle Fries are the first waffle fries that actually taste like waffles. Made with real maple syrup, they're gently sweet and decidedly delicious. Now you can finally offer chicken & waffles to customers on the go just by adding these fries to the fried chicken, chicken strips and nuggets you're already serving.

Cost-effectiveness: For restaurants, portable foods can be more economical to produce. They often require less labor-intensive preparation and simpler packaging than traditional dining options. Moreover, these items can be prepped in larger quantities and stored, reducing kitchen waste and labor costs. Finally, they’re popular: 54% of millennials say they are extremely or very likely to order grab-n-go sandwiches/wraps as a snack outside of regular meals from restaurants. Some great examples are pastries, sandwiches, and pre-made salads.

TIP: Simplot Ready-to-Eat (RTE) Frozen Vegetables reduce expensive labor by eliminating the cooking and chilling steps in the prep of vegetables for cold items like meal kits, grab-n-go salads and more. Just thaw and serve for farm-fresh flavor and color. You’ll also enjoy six days of refrigerated shelf life (unopened) to reduce waste.

Innovative menu options: The need for portability pushes chefs to innovate. This might involve reinventing traditional dishes in a portable format or coming up with entirely new creations. This kind of innovation can attract food enthusiasts who are always on the lookout for novel dining experiences. For instance, a sushi burrito combines the essence of sushi with the portability of a burrito.

TIP: If you're looking for new ways to reinvent traditional dishes or come up with entirely new creations, check out Simplot's LTO Planning Calendar for 12 months of ideas and inspiration. After all, what better way to try a new concept than as a limited-time offer?

Catering to outdoor and event-based dining: Food trucks, outdoor concerts, sports events, and festivals are venues where traditional dining setups are impractical. Portable foods are ideal in these situations as they can be easily consumed while standing or walking, and they often require minimal to no utensils. Items like hot dogs, tacos, and skewers are popular in such settings.

TIP: How do you serve authentic Mexican guacamole to crowds at events? Check out Simplot® Harvest Fresh® Western Guacamole in convenient 2 oz. cups. They make portioning a breeze, and you can store them refrigerated for up to 35 days (or 18 months frozen) to reduce or eliminate waste from spoilage.

Health and wellness trends: With a growing emphasis on healthy living, consumers are seeking food options that are both nutritious and convenient. Portable foods that are health-conscious, such as protein-packed smoothies, whole grain wraps, or salad jars, cater to this market. These options provide the dual benefits of convenience and wellness, aligning with the lifestyles of health-focused individuals. Here are a few things to bear in mind:3

• 67% of consumers say they would be more likely to buy an all-natural snack
• 73% of consumers agree that healthy snacks can be just as crave-able as indulgent snacks
• And 78% of operators who serve snacks say they are profitable and 77% say they sell well

TIP: Add roasted cachet to any menu item with on-trend products like Simplot® RoastWorks® Roasted Vegetables, the industry’s bestselling line of frozen roasted products. RoastWorks® eliminates hours of washing, slicing, dicing and roasting, delivering welcome consistency, day in, day out.

Make it popular, make it portable

Portable foods represent a convergence of convenience, adaptability, efficiency, innovation, and health consciousness, making them a critical component of the contemporary restaurant industry. They address the diverse needs of today’s consumer, from the time-strapped office worker to the health-conscious fitness enthusiast. And they play a pivotal role in keeping restaurants aligned with current market trends and consumer preferences. With the right frozen products, you can build your bottom line with minimal labor and waste.

1 Technomic, Ignite Consumer Data, November 2023
2 CREST Q4’23 Topline
3 Datassential, 2023