Food Halls on the Rise

I distinctly remember excitedly sending a few messages back home from Lisbon in 2015 about a food market that was unlike anything I had seen. This is well before my official “days in the industry”. After wandering the city, I stumbled upon “Time Out Market Lisboa” – a food hall with more than 40 spaces that covered just about every category of local and global cuisine I could imagine. Today (and then, in many cities around the world), it’s a pretty well-known concept. From my personal initial “awe”, I can understand why. But what’s behind this concept that’s growing at a crazy fast speed?

“Time Out Market Lisboa” in Lisbon, Portugal

What is it?

Food halls are a gathering of independent, chef-inspired pop-up restaurants that are often housed in a repurposed urban, post-industrial setting. How’s that for an image? If you have been to one, or a few, you know that this doesn’t really capture the experience at all. Much of what makes a food hall interesting, in my opinion, is the volume of options and the ambience in which you get to make your selection(s).

Why It’s Happening 

There are a number of underlying factors that are driving the rapid expansion of Food Halls globally. From 2010 to 2017, the number increased around 700% and by the end of this year, it’s anticipated the number will double from that.[1] The concept itself is appealing to critical stakeholders: diners, developers and chefs.

Much like trendy food trucks or street food vendors, food halls allow diners to access numerous independent restaurants all in one place, and at a full range of price points. In addition, the ambience works well for solo diners, large groups, or families. Developers are on board in a big way as this concept allows them to repurpose abandoned spaces – plus, they typically draw a crowd and are popular with Gen Z and Millennials.[2] Last, but certainly not least, food halls allow chefs to open an independent concept with some critical built-in benefits: foot traffic (if done right) and lower operating costs.

What’s Next

In our own backyard and across the country, what’s next is more food halls with varying twists! In Minneapolis alone, there are a number of projects underway and many of the “originals” are getting more attention from the buzz alone. The Midtown Global Market has been around since 2006 and offers cuisine from all around the world. Now, there are at least two significant developments underway downtown that will house food halls in our own backyard. In Manhattan, Mercado Little Spain will open as a Spanish-themed food hall with support from renowned chefs and restaurateurs.[2] This rapid growth certainly raises the question around saturation. While food and retail are changing rapidly, the verdict is out as to the longevity of this concept and its ability to meet the ever-changing consumer who demands novelty at every turn.

[1]“The Origins of the Food Hall and Its Booming Popularity.” Hautzinger, Daniel. February 15, 2019.
[2] “What if Food was the New Rock’N’Roll and Food Halls were the New Stages?” Brennan, James. January 3, 2019.

Expo West 2019

This was our third year of traveling to Anaheim for Expo West and each time it has been inspiring in its own way. The energy of 86,000 people from 136 countries gathered in one place to partake in the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event is contagious. Aside from sharing the enthusiasm (which is critical!), the trends that emerged this year are important for many reasons – and will likely shape much of the dialogue and direction of the CPG space in months to come.

First: The Smarts

This year, the education sessions really stood out in both content quality and relevance. One of the most informative was hosted by NEXT and shared findings from recent consumer research. The research captured a broad spectrum of buyers that identify with different attitudes and behaviors and established five consumer segments. Each of these segments are unique in many ways but what really shaped the dialogue around the presentation was a key finding: that the segments agree on what the most important issues are in the industry: Waste Reduction, Sourcing Responsibly, and Regenerative Agriculture.[1]

Then: The Trends

Global / Environmental Responsibility. Waste Reduction, Sourcing Responsibly and Regenerative Agriculture were prominent trends at Expo West this year, in a broader umbrella trend of “Global / Environment Responsibility”. Definitely the most dialogue and energy from “the crowd”, these themes came to life through the show in a number of interesting ways. Generally, products and brands are talking about much more than the end product. More of the messaging is around the larger footprint – partners, sourcing, labor practices and sustainability efforts. Applegate Farms was acknowledged in the “Regenerative Agriculture Innovation: Humane Animal Treatment, Soil Health” category for its ecological practices, specifically for their Organic Chicken Strips.[1] The chicken is verified for animal welfare through certified programs that ensure they meet strict requirements for the treatment of animals.  

Applegate Farms was acknowledged for its ecological practices

CBD. If you’ve read any of the post-show recaps, you already know how massive a presence CBD had at Expo West this year. I won’t pretend to be an expert on this topic – in fact, as someone who attends a number of industry events that include education sessions dedicated to this very topic –I still find it pretty ambiguous. Aside from the regulatory complexities, the broad range of products and claims leave a lot to be desired when it comes to minimizing consumer confusion. What is clear is that there is a huge appetite to develop new and innovative products in this space. The sheer quantity of products with this messaging compared to a year ago proves that – along with the wide variety of formats in both food and beverage. In speaking with a number of founders at different booths, there is a high level of energy to understand, educate and adjust – which will likely be a key factor of success in upcoming months and years.

CBD had a massive a presence at Expo West 2019

Fats + Fads. As NEXT dubbed it, “sugar villainized” was a key theme at Expo West this year.[1] Alternatively, products flaunted the prominence of fat. In fact, many incorporated it in the name and messaging, and often embraced the animal-base that it was derived from. Whether a fad or here to stay, the prominence of lifestyle diets has grown over the past year – Paleo and Keto, in particular. The incidence of the use of “Protein Claim” on products exhibited this year is now in the top 10 at the show[1]. This is inline with what I saw when it came to messaging that spoke directly to being Paleo- and Keto-friendly. It will be interesting to watch how this evolves over time alongside Vegan, Kosher, Clean and Whole-30.

Many products embraced the animal-base that it was derived from

Final Thoughts

Expo West continues to grow each year – not only in the number of exhibitors and attendees but also in content and conversation. Based on what we saw this year, there is going to be a continued focus in the natural food space on how products fit into a more integrated lifestyle that incorporates values, functional ingredients and the ongoing pursuit of healthy living.

[1] “Connecting with the Changing Consumer” NEXT, Data & Insights division of New Hope Network. Expo West: 2019. March 2019.

Questions, comments or want to learn more? Let's connect! weshouldtalk@jtmega.com

Want to receive more Thought For Food Insights?
Subscribe Now »

Recent Posts

Burgers – what’s in your patty?
What’s On Your Grill?

As we head into grilling season, what gets thrown on the BBQ might look a little different this year. While plant-based eating is certainly not a new trend in 2019, it is becoming increasingly more mainstream – particularly when it comes to the format we know and love: burgers.

Read More »

JTM Scale: A New Series
Series: JTM Scale

Last year, JT Mega launched JTM Scale, an initiative designed to bring our agency’s expertise to the rapidly growing food start-up space. In the next couple of months, we’ll share some highlights we’ve observed over the past year.

Read More »