Industry Insights

The trends from Casual Dining, lunch! and Commercial Kitchen 2023

By Rawlingson Lane


7 Minute Read


Wednesday, 4th October 2023

Last week saw the return of Commercial Kitchen, Casual Dining, and lunch! as some of the sector’s leading names gathered for the fashion week of the food industry, smashed - just how we like our burgers now, apparently - into two days. Following suit from its merger in 2021 the three shows co-habited at London’s ExCeL serving up the perfect opportunity to bring F&B decision makers, buyers, chefs, and retailers all under one roof.

Visitors to Welbilt's stand at Commercial Kitchen

lunch! took the biggest bite out of the venue, packed (predominately) with the latest health kicks – mainly protein bars - as well as canned sugar-free soft drinks and non/low-alcoholic beverages which continue to dominate the trends as the market moves fully away from single-use plastic. Talk-wise industry-led discussions from the likes of Coco Di Mamma’s Head of Food, Cleopatra Sharpington, and Tossed Brand Director, Angela Harrison, swirled around tech-savvy solutions which are helping QRSs adapt and thrive in this ever-changing climate, and become more energy efficient. Yes, sustainability was the name of the game at this year’s show.

The eco fever swept across Casual Dining too, which was kicked off by an insightful keynote speech by Peach 20/20’s Director Peter Martin. Citing from Nutritics data it seems that when job hunting in hospitality the sector people aged between 18 and 34 are more likely to select an employer, or brand, to work with based on its environmental responsibility. And there were many attractive potential options at the show, including cocktail makers Bottle Proof and wine merchants Canned Wine Co., which are going against the grain by offering an alternative to glass bottles (watch this space), establishing themselves firmly as eco-conscious brands.

In a slight twist my team tell me that in comparison to last year there was less vegan-centric activity in 2023’s Casual Dining, which could arguably be echoed by the slight decline in sales of meat alternative products - as reported in The Grocer back in March 2023. Nevertheless, representatives were there - including Strong Roots, Meatless Farm, Beyond Meat, Moving Mountains, and Shicken - creating quite the buzz as passers-by eagerly tried and tested the stalls’ meat-free samples. While plant-based alternatives remain very innovative, it would appear that we’re on the precipice of another shift with consumer’s love affair with fake meat. But that food for thought is for another blog.

Commercial Kitchen was also hot on the sustainable action with chefs exchanging the flaming theatrics for the latest energy efficient cooking surfaces, demonstrating how electric appliances can still offer up the same great tastes and textures (just without the high bills). The show occupied a smaller segment of the floorplan for sure, but suppliers were still able to heat things up! Synergy Grill, – who won FEJ’s Supplier of the Year for New Product Development – cooked up perfect steaks, chicken bites, and Asian fusion dishes to showcase its new griddle, meanwhile Welbilt came equipped with brand power showing off the latest tech advancements including Merrychef’s  new conneX® range – which won a Kitchen Innovations Award earlier this year.

Synergy Grill at Commercial Kitchen

What did you miss? Three top takeaways from the show

Because we can can can!

Turning our backs on single-use plastic isn’t anything new, but to see the industry respond with such force ahead of the ban was wonderfully overwhelming. It was evident that if your drink’s not in a pastel-coloured bottled made from recycled plastic, then it’s definitely in an attractively branded can – have you seen Grind’s iced coffee range? Yes, cans were everywhere. But are they just a fad, or are they here to stay? Well, it would appear brands are not only actively ramping up their own CSR, they’re also responding to the consumer demand for more sustainable products as reflected in reports like ‘Sustainability Matters: What consumers want and how brands can win’ from Nutritics and CGA by NIQ. The survey, with 5,000 respondents, fed back that 70% of Brits are trying to live more sustainably. It also states that consumers aged between 18-34 “are nearly twice as likely to pay more for sustainability”. So, you could argue, that it’s not necessarily that Gen Z and millennials have strayed down a dark path, unable to buy a house because they’re hooked on Netflix and avocados, it’s that they’re gallantly whacking out the Apple wallets and paying up for sustainable products. So yes, can it.

Belvoir canned drinks

Water water everywhere

In the world of still water, brands such as Re:water have branched out from recycled plastic bottles and cans altogether, positioning aluminium bottles as the way forward to surpass recycled plastic as the superior material and still provide consumers with a reusable bottle. Meanwhile, when it comes to sparkling water, there is no “just sparkling water” anymore. There is now a plethora of sub categories cascading down upon us. You can take your pick from a CBD-infused refreshment from TRIP, fizzy water with an Avocado’s worth of magnesium (OHMG), a gut-friendly living soda from FHIRST, a prebiotic pop by Selfish, or a wonky fruit concoction by food waste fighters DASH.  If you’re feeling spoilt for choice, it’s made even more challenging by the beautifully designed branding wrapped around these 250ml cans.

Re:Water at lunch!

Pumped up with protein

If lunch! was a frat party, the high-fiving jocks would have dominated – but in 2023 they look more like jacked wellness gurus. In the world of wellbeing sugar is getting kicked to the curb, and we’re seeing natural snack bars packed with protein and organic healthy living growing in popularity across the food-to-go sector. Some stalls came out punching including superfood specialists Rheal, armed with caffeinated vegan oat bars (as well as the Dragons’ Den-approved powered formulas); the Insta-ready Barebells with eye-grabbing retro packaging (and t-shirts); My Protein with its pre/post-workout energy-boosting brownies and cookies; and Ombar, which is boldly reintroducing chocolate to the market as a superfood. Yes, “safe snacks” are here, providing us with the antidote to over-processed junk food so we really can have our cake and eat it too.

Stay tuned for our next expo blog: we’re back at ExCeL!

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