As the first link in the pork value chain, pork producers need to know what's in store for participants further down the chain in the year ahead. While restaurant trends may not effect you directly, they do impact your product long term.

According to the National Restaurant Association, Americans will be looking for healthy options, environmentally conscious choices and more convenient takeout options when they eat at restaurants in the next year.

So here's a snapshot of four trends highlighted in NRA's 2008 Restaurant Industry Forecast

  • Healthy Choices:The forecast reports that 76 percent of American adults are trying to eat more healthfully when they dine out, compared with two years ago -- or at least that's what they said. They recognize industry efforts in this area as 87 percent noted that table-service restaurants are providing more healthy options than two years ago. For quick-serve restaurants, 83 percent of consumers surveyed said there are more healthy choices.
  • Green gets priority: NRA points out that most environmental efforts in restaurants have occurred behind the dining room. Actions such as installing water- and energy-saving techniques and equipment. However, restaurants are adding what their patrons see as eco-friendly options to their menus. Such things as organic products and sustainable meats and seafood. The forecast reveals that 62 percent of customers report choosing a restaurant based on whether it's environmentally friendly.
  • Grab and go: In the forecast, 47 percent of adult consumers said they would opt for curbside takeout if their favorite table-service restaurant offered it. If the restaurant offered a home-delivery option, 54 percent said they would use it.
  • Electronic ordering and payment: This is a longer-term trend as only a few restaurants now offer electronic ordering. But in the NRA forecast, 44 percent of consumers said they would use the option at their table; while 53 percent said they'd be willing to pay at the table electronically. For quick-service restaurants, 57 percent of consumers who have not yet used a self-serve ordering terminal said they would if it was offered.

While, some look for Americans to eat out less because of tightening purse strings, it's apparent that cooking for themselves is not a place where they're willing to cutback much. NRA's forecast projects that restaurant sales will reach a record $558 billion in 2008 -- that's a 4.4 percent increase over 2007 sales.

Source: National Restaurant Association, Meatingplace.com