The Rise of Global Fusion on QSR Menus

There is an opportunity for QSRs to attract new customers by integrating bold, exotic flavors and ethnic cuisines into LTOs and menus. Eighty three percent of Gen Z is excited for new food and beverage trends with 25 percent expecting to dine out more this year, according to a recent Datassential report. This is coupled with the global ethnic food market projected to grow by approximately eight percent from 2023 to 2023.

To better understand this trend, Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine reached out to Luis Martinez, senior vice president of R&D and Commercialization at Rubix Foods. In this role, he manages the Culinary, Innovation, and Commercialization teams, and oversees R&D project implementation. He and his team at Rubix work with top QSR and restaurant brands at the culinary and food science-focused provider of flavor and functional ingredients.

What are some examples of fusion foods? Are some more popular than others? Are there some fusion profiles you see on the horizon?

Fusion foods on restaurant menus aren’t as rare as you might think. Consumers have become familiar with global mashups like Mexican pizza, sushi burritos and lemonades with boba. But what’s most exciting as of late is the shift to more flavor-forward fusions, led by Gen Z, who are evolving their palates and expectations for diverse flavors bearing no geographic boundaries.

Indo-Chinese and Japanese-Peruvian are two global flavor mashups that are anticipated to gain popularity in 2025. Indo-Chinese dishes like Hakka Noodles blend classic and approachable Chinese cooking techniques with traditional Indian spices, and trending Japanese-Peruvian dishes bring seafood together with Peruvian staples like yukka, lime, corn and aji peppers for a fresh and elevated flavor experience.

What factors fuel the rise of global fusion foods on menus, particularly in QSRs? Does this trend have staying power?

Gen Z, the most diverse generation in U.S. history, is the driving force behind the growth of global fusion foods. With 22 percent of Gen Zers having at least one immigrant parent and the unlimited access they have to the world through social media, this generation has grown up with more exposure to dynamic cultures; and that global perspective has influenced everything from fashion to food.

As foodservice operators, especially QSRs, compete to drive new traffic, Gen Z has become a prime prospect. According to Datassential, 83 percent of them are excited about new food and beverage trends in 2024, and one in four plan to eat out more in 2024 – more than any other generation.

How can restaurants optimize menus and capitalize on these trends? How can they integrate items but still remain authentic to their brand?

Limited-time offers (LTOs) are the best way to capitalize on trends and reach new audiences, without alienating your core menu or loyal customers. If you’re featuring a bold, aspirational flavor, pair it with one or two familiar menu items like chicken nuggets or french fries to make it more approachable for a consumer who may be hesitant to order something new.

Ultimately, the best way to maximize the momentum of a buzzy new flavor trend is to be the first to market with it. Partnering with suppliers like Rubix, who specialize in delivering successful LTOs and immerse themselves in flavor trends from the moment of inception to the peak of their virality, will deliver the right concepts with the speed to market required to win the on-trend flavor fight.

What are some best practices for promoting fusion foods on a menu?

Be in the right place at the right time. Now more than ever, consumers are turning to social media for real-time inspiration and guidance on the next big thing. Thirty-seven percent of diners find new restaurants through social media; this is even higher for Gen Z (42 percent) and Millennials (46 percent). More than half of Datassential surveyors said they purchased a food, beverage or ingredient just because they saw it on social media.

Aligning menu launches with a seasonally or culturally relevant moment that you can amplify on social feeds will maximize consumer interest. But operators must also keep in mind the differences between appreciation and appropriation and should be sensitive in crafting meaningful and accurate promotional messaging around their diverse and global offerings.