The economy continues to lurch wildly back and forth, sending stocks (and consumer confidence) up, down, and then up and down again. Tax laws, healthcare costs, and minimum wage requirements are beginning their classic election year dance. And Apple and Google are ensuring that whatever mobile technology quick serves adapted to last week will be obsolete by this Thursday—at the latest. Fortunately, even a shifting marketplace has an order to it. Several experts reveal a new kind of consumer in 2012: one still cautious about the recession, but ready to spend again if the value is right. But value means different things to different people. From artisanal food to clean label products, from responsiveness to new family dynamics to location-based mobile promotions, here’s what you can expect in the rest of 2012.

Trends in Burgers
Technomic‘s research shows that burger consumption is on the rise. Nearly half of today‘s consumers (48%) eat a burger at least once a week, up from 38% in 2009. The rapidly growing better-burger category is giving consumers more options and allowing consumers to enjoy burgers at prices that represent a trade-up from quick service or a trade-down from full service. Today‘s top trends for specialty burgers include premium proteins, toppings that add sweetness or spice, housemade sauces and globally inspired flavors and ingredients. Going forward, watch for preparations that feature premium proteins and ingredients; spicy, fruity and sweet toppings; ethnic flavor influences; and signature sauces. Why not top your favorite burger with an egg? Many local burger restaurants are doing just that. Sure it’s a trend, but why not? It adds a point of marketing differentiation, and adds a shot of protein. You can grill the egg inside the ground meat, or cook the egg separately and slap it on top of the burger. The egg also bridges the menu daypart gap between breakfast and lunch called “Breaklunch.”

Fueled in part by the Asian rice & noodle bowl boom of recent years, there’s been an uptick of restaurants offering a base of rice, grain or beans, with any manner of veggie & protein toppings and flavor profiles. Lyfe Kitchen offers a farro and quinoa bowl, Protein Bar, as well; Silvergreens offers the choice of bowl, wrap or scramble; Beautifull has bowls of rice or quinoa in Moroccan, Asian and Curry options. And Shophouse is experimenting with Chipotle’s successful build-a-bowl (or burrito) model, but in an Asian vein. Heath, comfort and customizability are big drivers here. The captivating flavor and aroma of a bowl at a bar has replaced fine china and white tablecloths as the monikers of a fine-dining experience. Leading chefs have created the experience, and foodies are flocking to it.

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