As would be expected of anyone whose job title is "haiku master," Jack Li of Datassential started his seminar during Operator Insights Day of Innovations 2019, Dot's annual trade show, with a fresh perspective. 

Li showed a video of a woman crunching loudly on various fried foods to kick off the keynote, and he talked about the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR)-a feeling of well-being combined with a tingling sensation in the scalp and down the back of the neck, which some people experience with certain sounds.

"Why am I showing this to you?" Li asked the audience. "People have watched this particular YouTube video 20 million times…it shows us that even the weird stuff has a purpose. When we talk about a trend that may seem very bizarre, there may be an underlying reason why."

He covered what different chains do really well and gave the ones in the audience this advice: "You want to aim to be really great in one category; good in two or three; that's the goal."

Li went on to describe the three main trends he sees emerging:

1. Personalization

2. Migration

3. Automation

Personalization

Li stressed there is a difference between having something customized versus truly, intimately personalized.

"Customization is 'I don't want onions on my burger,'" Li said. "We're stepping beyond that, like the stickers people have on their laptops. It's not just a MacBook; it's YOUR MacBook. It has an emotional connection with you."

With personalization, our perception of healthful eating is changing, and Datassential sees "Healthy 4.0" as personalized nutrition, with DNA-based diets, and people eating based on their own specific genetics.

Migration

People are coming from around the world and landing in the United States; the way things happen with food, there is a tipping point, per Li, on what restaurants and food trends will pop up.

"A small change in ethnic population can dramatically change the food and flavor experience," Li said.

Big chains are starting to bring ingredients from earlier into the menu adoption cycle into their menus.

"Chains are taking ubiquitous items and carefully adding a little bit of inception," Li said. "This ubiquity with a dose of inception is what we at Datassential are calling 'fusebiquity.'"

Items like citrus adobo pizza, Kung Pao monkfish, and carbonara benedicts were highlighted.

Automation

Li talked about "ghost restaurants," the delivery-only, virtual restaurants with no visible storefront, as an increasing trend. He also stated the desire for automation is rooted in convenience and showcased Zume Pizza, a co-bot human/robot collaborative line with the ultimate pizza automation.

"From the consumer perspective, automation is becoming expected," Li said as he showed drone-based food delivery to Uber vehicles that drive the last block. "The algorithm is tomorrow's customer."