A Year to Remember: From ‘Ghosts’ to Plants and Every Food Trend In Between

By Marie Molde

It’s the end of the year, and along with the highly-anticipated Top 2023 Food Trends we’re sharing some of the most eye-opening insights from this year. As our extensive suite of tools and reports continuously uncover new food trends, we gleaned the insights below from our work over the past twelve months to bring you a year in a review, by the numbers: 

Year End FactsGhost restaurants are proliferating

43,907 – the number of ghost restaurants that are now tracked in Datassential’s universal operator database. Have you kept up with the explosive growth in ghost restaurants and virtual brands? What was recently mostly an unknown segment has reached almost 44,000 participating operators in 2022. Besides the fact that restaurants serve customers in-person and ghost kitchens operate exclusively by delivery and take out, there are also some differences in cuisines offered by the two - the top cuisines at U.S. restaurants are American, Pizza, Mexican, and Coffee/Tea, and the top cuisines cranked out of ghost kitchens are Wings, Burgers, American and Chicken/Southern.

Sentiment around early stage foods and beverages 

104 – new keywords added in 2022 to Datassential’s consumer sentiment tracking database, bringing the total over 4,000 and providing first-available data on consumer trial (‘have you tried this item’?), experience (‘do you know of this item’?) and affinity (‘do you like this item’?). This data can be especially helpful in unveiling sentiment around early-stage foods and beverages such as grass jelly, jollof rice, and sparkling coffee, and if you’re following sustainability trends and want to know how many consumers are aware of upcycled products, you’ll find that now in SNAP (spoiler alert, it's, 15%). 

Year End Facts2Nearly half of all restaurants offer plant-based alternatives

48 - the percent of restaurants that now offer plant-based alternatives, compared to 30% in 2012, as identified by our unique-to-Datassential plant-based algorithm that launched this year to help manufacturers and operators understand and quantify the ever-evolving composition of plant-based alternatives at restaurants. “Plant-based” overall is a key theme throughout 2022 – after all, it was the most-searched term in our ReportPro library (followed by c-store, and pizza) and the most downloaded food profile from SNAP (followed by pizza and hot honey). Even just knowing these key topics may offer insight into potential trend-forward innovations: brussels sprout pizza with hot honey drizzle, anyone?

Year End Facts3How to be a Superstar

4,400+ – the number of new menu items and LTOs (limited-time offers) launched at the top chains and c-stores this year according to our SCORES database, and all were rated by consumers for appeal metrics like Purchase Intent, Uniqueness, and Draw, and assigned a viability rating ranging from Low Potential (underperformer) to Superstar (exceptional performance with broad appeal and strong uniqueness). In 2022, about 5% of all new menu items and LTOs reached the coveted Superstar status, and the concepts most likely to be Superstars are desserts and non-alcoholic beverages. While not an easy accomplishment, future innovation in these categories may provide a head start on appeal and interest with consumers.

What people are reading

297 – reports published by Datassential in 2022, and a whopping 59 are available for free (the rest are included in paid subscription bundles).  The most-read reports were Midyear Trends, Foodservice and Industry Forecasts, and content on plant-based trends and LTOs.

The food industry's favorite webinar

27 – free webinars hosted by the Datassential team and attended by thousands of food industry leaders, with topics ranging from “The New Restaurant Landscape” to “The Modern Diner in America.” The most-attended webinars were “2022 Trends” (Parts 1 & 2), “The Inflation Webinar,” and “The New Eating Out Experience.”


Phew! After a review of all we accomplished in 2022,  it might be time for a glass of eggnog. Stay tuned in 2023 for more exciting discoveries, and download the FoodBytes unveiling our 2023 Food Trends.