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10 Food Trends and 10 Up-and-Coming Food Franchises That Embody Them

Being on-trend is commonly heard of throughout the fashion industry, but what about franchising? Trends fluctuate year after year and drive newness in major business industries, with the following 10 up-and-coming franchise brands doing just that. Representing some of today’s hot food industry trends, these franchises provide a chance to get in on the ground level with rising concepts.


As always, performing in-depth research and due diligence are a critical part of determining if an investment opportunity is right for you.


Trend: Grass-Fed Cows & Beef

Franchise: Elevation Burger

Origin: Arlington, Virginia

Estimated Number of Units: 50

Initial Franchise Fee: $17,500

Estimated Initial Investment: $408,500 - $821,500

Royalty: 6%

When it comes to animal products such as beef, there are two main categories: grain-fed and grass-fed, with the latter garnering more attention of late. Proponents of grass-fed beef claim there is a difference in taste compared with grain-fed beef, as well as superior nutritional benefits.


“Ingredients matter” is the slogan of Elevation Burger. The Virginia-based burger franchise emphasizes quality ingredients and goes as far as sourcing beef from co-op farms—the precise locations of which are “a trade secret” according to general manager Mike Giglio. Elevation Burger first opened in 2005 and since it began franchising in 2008, the franchise has grown to nearly 50 locations with a pronounced presence in Middle Eastern countries like Bahrain, Dubai, and Kuwait.


Expansion in the Middle East was a bit of a happy accident. Because its burgers are considered Halal (food fit for Muslim consumption), the franchise’s wares are acceptable to the largest religious group of the region, encouraging major growth in the area. The burger franchise continues its steady growth in the United States as well, planning new locations in the Midwest and Southeast. CEO Rick Altizer, a former McDonald’s executive, is hopeful of expanding to the West Coast one day too.


Trend: High-Quality Comfort Food

Franchise: Cheeseboy

Origin: Milford, Connecticut

Estimated Number of Units: Under 10

Comfort food evokes a sense of nostalgia that may endure slight variations from generation to generation and from culture to culture, but, as QSR Magazine puts it, comfort food is “a cuisine interestingly impervious to the vagaries of foodie fashion, and positively oblivious to modernist trends.”


Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Side Salad


One US comfort food staple that hasn’t waned in popularity over the years is the grilled cheese sandwich. A number of concepts have opened in recent years celebrating this relatively simple meal, one of them being Cheeseboy.


Cheeseboy is now at the outset of its franchising journey with fewer than 10 locations as of March 2014. The franchise, founded in 2009 by a Cornell and Yale-educated entrepreneur, strives to give its customers “the comforts of home without the hassle”, thus the company revels in serving its food with a “professional and welcoming staff”. Encouraging franchisees to create a warm and friendly workplace for employees, the company also caters to public interests by going beyond just taste, subscribing to a policy of responsible sourcing.


Trend: Farm-to-Table Snack Concepts

Franchise: Totally Nutz

Origin: St. George, Utah

Estimated Number of Units: Under 10

Initial Franchise Fee: $37,000

Estimated Initial Investment: $81,000 - $236,500

Royalty: 7%

At the 2014 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo, one of the major trends discussed was snacking. According to US Department of Agriculture studies, about 25% of people’s daily calories come from snacks. In addition, more than 50% of people snack two to three times a day.


Totally Nutz takes a popular snack to another level. Founded as Barker’s Olde Fashioned Almonds in 1990 and franchising since 2014 (with a name change in 1992), the cart and kiosk franchise offers a variety of natural and glazed nuts. The flavors are part of the appeal and marketing of their snacks, with glazes that consist of ingredients like cinnamon, sugar and vanilla that “will draw the customers to your business and have them going ‘nutz’ for their favorite new snack.”


Following the farm-to-table food trend, the franchise directly sources nuts from growers to provide the freshest possible product to customers.


Trend: Vacation Destination Inspired Food

Franchise: The Lost Cajun

Origin: Frisco, Colorado

Estimated Number of Units: Under 10

Initial Franchise Fee: $35,000

Estimated Initial Investment: $85,700 - $204,000

Royalty: 6%

Creole and Cajun are the main categories of food that come to mind when Louisiana cuisine is on the menu. The main difference between the two is their roots, with Creole meals often inspired from old-world traditions descending from France and Cajun from local meal ideas born out of practicality, often prepared in a single pot.


Despite being founded in Colorado, The Lost Cajun has Bayou roots. Its founder, Raymond Griffin, owned a fishing lodge just south of New Orleans where he learned how to cook authentic Cajun food. Opened in 2010, the in-demand franchise is now expanding, bringing the culture and atmosphere of Cajun country across the US.


Trend: Craft Beer Enthusiasm

Franchise: Golden Brew Tap House

Origin: Edwardsville, Illinois

Estimated Number of Units: Under 10

Initial Franchise Fee: $40,000

Estimated Initial Investment: $298,000 - $488,000

Royalty: 5%

Pub Shot of Craft Beer

Between 2007 and 2012, the craft beet industry netted a 17.2% increase in sales while overall beer sales declined by just under 2%—and the increase is still on the rise. “Craft beer has been growing at double digits for quite a few years now, and as the major breweries are declining, people are turning to more interesting beers,” says Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. “Craft brewers have really changed the dynamic of brewing in this country and even globally.”


One franchise riding this wave is Golden Brew Tap House. Global Brew is “built around the customer experience” and features 50 beers on tap and approximately 200 bottled craft beers from around the world. Franchising is brand new to the company, which started operating in February 2011.


Trend: Ethnic-Inspired Food

Franchise: California Tortilla

Origin: Bethesda, Maryland

Estimated Number of Units: 35

Initial Franchise Fee: $30,000

Estimated Initial Investment: $421,800 – $691,600

Royalty: 5%

Market research firms Canadean and Packaged Facts report that the growth in demand for ethnic cuisine is only going to continue. Specifically in 2015, Canadean sees a growing desire for hotter and spicier food. With its “Wall of Flame,” a collection of 75 hot sauces, award-winning franchise California Tortilla is a franchise that is certainly ready to grow with the demand for spicy ethnic-inspired fare.



But the food isn’t the only reason this fast-casual Mexican restaurant has been so successful. According to the company, its “combined emphasis on ‘spunky’ customer service, specialty burritos and playful promotions is what has led to lines out the door since our inception.” First opened 1995, the California Tortilla was sold in 2003 to industry veterans Bob Phillips and Keith Goldman who have led “Cal Tort’s” foray into franchising and its subsequent growth.


Trend: Sustainability

Franchise: La Prep Daily Fresh

Origin: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Estimated Number of Units: 55

Initial Franchise Fee: $35,000

Estimated Initial Investment: $275,000 - $425,000

Royalty: 6%

“We’ve been seeing strong trends toward sustainability in the food space for several years now and that’s going to continue to grow,” says Annika Stensson who is the National Restaurant Association's senior manager of research communications. La Prep Daily Fresh is a franchise dedicated to not only serving food prepared with fresh and high-quality ingredients, but also to operating with environmentally-friendly operational practices.


In accordance with these principles, La Prep sources 100% of its coffee from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. According to the Rainforest Alliance, certification encourages farmers to grow crops and manage ranchlands sustainably. It focuses on three pillars of sustainability—environmental protection, social equity and economic viability. Furthermore, the coffee cups La Prep uses are compostable in municipal and commercial composting facilities.


Trend: Healthier Vending Options

Business Opportunity: Naturals2Go

Origin: Idaho Falls, Idaho

Estimated Initial Investment: $5,000 and up

Royalty: N/A

Putting a Dollar in Vending MachineAccording to Health Corps, healthier vending machines will become even more popular in 2015. This is particularly relevant when it comes to school vending machines. A business opportunity and not a franchise, Naturals2Go is primed to take advantage of this trend.


The mission of Naturals2Go is to help the world eat healthier—“One Vend at a Time!” The company offers different types of machines so the investor can customize their business to the demands of the local area. Machine varieties focus on offering all snacks, all drinks, or a chilled combination of both. Additionally, because location and marketing is so important to vending machine success, Naturals2Go has developed three marketing options to accommodate franchisees’ individual needs and skills.


Trend: Rise in Gastropubs

Franchise: Publik Draft House

Origin: Atlanta, Georgia

Estimated Number of Units: Under 10

Initial Franchise Fee: $35,000

Estimated Initial Investment: $300,000 - $600,000

Royalty: 5%

Gastropubs are an offshoot of the pub tradition in England. “With a gastropub, you have that relaxed pub atmosphere but at the same time you're having food that's a little bit more elevated, a little more interesting,” says Bart Hibbs, executive chef at Publik Draft House.


Many sources claim the gastropub came into being in 1991 with a London pub called “The Eagle.” The gastropub movement in the US is estimated to have begun in the early 2000s. Opened in 2004, New York City’s “The Spotted Pig” is generally accepted as America’s first gastropub.


Founded in 2009, Atlanta-based Publik Draft House intends to bring the gastropub experience to the Southeast US. Along with the food, ambience is key to a gastropub, and Publik’s “mission is to provide the public with a warm environment and fun entertainment.” To that end, the franchise designs visually stimulating locations and the auditory sense is catered to by giving local artists and musicians a place to shine—a common occurrence in gastropubs.


Trend: Reduced Footprint Locations

Franchise: Wings Etc.

Origin: Fort Wayne, Indiana

Estimated Number of Units: 35

Initial Franchise Fee: $34,500

Estimated Initial Investment: $315,000 - $715,000

Royalty: 5%

A positive side effect of the recession is learning how to make do with less. In food franchising, that translates to making a franchise location work with less space. These “reduced footprint” locations allow franchisees to buy-in for less money up front.


Founded in 1994, Wings Etc. is bringing its unique family-friendly pub to new markets via franchising since 2004. The franchise has adapted its concept so that new locations can be just as efficient in larger centers (i.e. strip malls) as in freestanding buildings. According to the company, new Wings Etc. locations have been “cost-effectively retrofit into existing restaurant and freestanding retail space, providing operators with lower break-evens, more rapid project development, and a faster track to Grand Opening.”

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