State of Watermelon in Foodservice: Findings from 2022 Foodservice Operator Omnibus and Consumer Survey

In 2022, the National Watermelon  Promotion Board (NPWB) invested in updating the consumer at foodservice and foodservice operator research to better understand the shifting opportunities and challenges to growing watermelon use and consumption in foodservice in the future. This research built upon past efforts to track shifts in both consumer and foodservice operator use and perceptions, as well as identify new issues that may have arisen as a result of the COVID pandemic and economic issues in the behavior and needs of both audiences.

More specifically, the consumer survey’s objectives were to:

  • Measure awareness, interest and engagement with watermelon away from home
  • Understand appeal of potential watermelon applications, pairings, preparations
  • Gauge impact of potential watermelon messaging, positioning
  • Determine impact of away from home watermelon menuing on at home use and purchasing behavior

The following methodology was used to complete this project and meet stated objectives:

  • Online survey fielded to a nationally representative sample of consumers
  • 1,000 consumers between 18 and 70 were qualified to participate with 1,168 completes
  • The online survey was fielded in July 2022

The operator omnibus’ objectives were to:

  • Understand current use of fresh watermelon overall and by format
  • Identify pain points or hurdles to use
  • Identify opportunities for driving increased use of watermelon
  • Measure perceptions of watermelon
  • Gauge opportunities for NWPB messaging and activities

The following methodology was used to complete this project and meet stated objectives:

  • Online survey fielded to operators across all commercial, noncommercial and retail segments
  • 400 operators were qualified based on purchase responsibility
  • The online survey was fielded in June 2022

To best utilize the findings, the results were overlapped to look for consumer and operator insights that support each other. Here are some key findings:

  • The pandemic temporarily impacted years of consistent penetration gains.
  • Current use of fresh watermelon has increased significantly since the last study in 2020.
  • Most operators will continue using watermelon in their operations.
  • Growth in menuing is likely driven and supported by consumer interest.
  • Summer is peak watermelon season, but opportunities exist to extend the season.
  • While main menu features are up, foodservice is still leveraging watermelon as a seasonal LTO ingredient.
  • Of consumers surveyed 72% agree, “Fresh watermelon is under-appreciated, and restaurants should be doing more to use fresh watermelon in new and interesting ways.”
  • Foodservice, and retail innovation around watermelon is shifting perceptions away from strictly nostalgia/old-fashioned.
  • Most consumers believe watermelon can be an on-trend ingredient, and operators agree.
  • Watermelon can occupy every trend stage, depending on application.
  • Grilled watermelon is an untapped prep opportunity, as well as a potential prepared product innovation area.
  • Whole ingredient meat alternative options, including fresh watermelon, are on-trend.
  • Of consumers surveyed 60% believe watermelon is a healthy fruit option.
  • Hydration is very important to consumers, with room to grow watermelon’s functional association with this health benefit.
  • In foodservice, watermelon rind has potential, but consumer acceptance will likely be pushed by foodservice use.
  • Consumers are interested in prepared options with watermelon at retail, particularly – as with restaurants – desserts and salads.
  • Away from home innovation and access will impact retail purchase behavior.
  • NWPB can help raise awareness on options available that address several of these key issues for foodservice.
  • NWPB can educate foodservice on how best to leverage fresh watermelon on the menu in the most impactful ways.

To learn more, review the full report, The State of Watermelon at Foodservice or request the individual consumer survey or operator omnibus reports from Megan McKenna at [email protected].

watermelon salad set in salad bowl on cloth napkin, fork on side on wooden cutting board2021 Foodservice Menu Research Summary

The National Watermelon Promotion Board (NWPB) conducts menu trend research to understand the opportunity watermelon has in foodservice and to benchmark watermelon’s presence year-over-year. In 2021, the NWPB invested in Datassential MenuTrends Research. This database includes menus from more than 4,800 restaurants including independents, regional chains, and national chains in all restaurant segments collected from September 2020-Juy 2021. This research includes all mentions of watermelon, not just fresh usage.

Note: Prior to COVID, the number of menu offerings/items increased in recent years. Menus shrank by 10.2% during COVID. All of the top fruit varieties have declined on appetizers, entrées, and sides in the past year as well. All trends were impacted to varying degrees, but all signs point to trends bouncing back as the industry recovers.

Research Highlights

Watermelon perceptions from Datassential’s Flavor database (collected July-September 2021):

  • 98% of consumers know it
  • 94% of consumers have tried it
  • 82% like or love it
  • 23% of consumers have had it many times
  • More loved by women, Gen Z, and Hispanics

Watermelon Overview

  • Watermelon is found on just over 12% of all restaurant menus, and while it has declined by 6% in the last year, it has grown by 8% in the past 4 years.
  • In the Fruit Menu Adoption Cycle, watermelon is in the ubiquity phase – it’s found just about anywhere.
  • Watermelon has grown in all segments, most notably in fast casual, in the last 10 years.
  • Nearly 17% of casual dining menus feature watermelon, making it the leading segment.
  • Watermelon appears most often on beverage menus, especially within cocktails.
  • Watermelon has grown the fastest within non-alcoholic beverages over the past 4 years.
  • Watermelon on appetizer, entrée, and dessert menus has declined the past 4 years.
  • Restaurants in the South are more likely to offer watermelon than other regions. It has grown on menus in the South by 14% in the last 4 years.
  • All day menus have shown the strongest growth of usage in the past 4 years at 66%.
  • Lunch and dinner menus have also experienced growth (29% and 7%).
  • Chain operators are more likely to serve watermelon than other restaurant types.
  • While independents are less likely to offer watermelon, it is growing the fastest at these operators (62% in 4 years).
  • New watermelon items and LTOs shine in the summer but there have been menu launches in each month of the year in the last decade, highlighting watermelon’s transition to a year-round product.

Watermelon on Savory Menus

  • Watermelon is featured on 3% of all appetizer, entrée and side dish menus and growing, with casual dining driving much of this growth.
  • Fine dining has the highest penetration but has fluctuated throughout the past decade.
  • Watermelon is offered more often in appetizers than entrées and sides.
  • While appetizers with watermelon are declining, they remain a vehicle for innovative dishes like salads, gazpacho, and poke bowls that can feature watermelon.
  • Watermelon side dishes are growing, often served by itself or in a fruit cup.
  • Over the past 4 years watermelon appetizers, entrées and sides have declined across all regions of the U.S.
  • The West and Midwest are more likely to serve watermelon with lighter offerings like quiche and salad, while the South leans towards BBQ combos and sandwiches.
  • While menu penetration is less than 1%, chains are the only restaurant type where watermelon has grown over the past 4 years.
  • The top dozen ingredients paired with watermelon on savory menus would make a great fruit or savory salad; strawberries, cantaloup, pineapple, grapes, honeydew, feta, tomato, chicken, potato, onion, vinaigrette, cucumber.

Watermelon on Dessert Menus

  • In the Dessert Flavors Adoption Cycle, watermelon is in the adoption phase – it’s found in trendy restaurants and specialty grocers.
  • The majority of watermelon dessert offerings are featured in frozen treats like sorbet, Italian ice, frozen yogurt, and shaved ice.
  • QSR dessert menus featuring watermelon outpace all other segments, but watermelon desserts are trending at midscale operators.
  • National chain menus are more likely to offer a watermelon dessert than other restaurant types and these offerings are growing.

Watermelon on Non Alcoholic Beverage Menus

  • In the Non Alcoholic Beverage Flavors Adoption Cycle, watermelon is in the proliferation phase – it’s found in chain restaurants and mainstream grocers.
  • Watermelon is featured on over 4% of non-alcoholic (NA) beverage menus and has grown 6% in the last year and 39% over the past 4 years.
  • Fast casual has the highest menu penetration of NA beverages featuring watermelon, where it has grown by triple digits over the past decade in a variety of applications, from lemonade and agua frescas to smoothies and watermelon water.
  • Watermelon in NA beverages has grown in all segments over the last 4 years.
  • One fourth of NA watermelon beverages are blended drinks, including smoothies, milkshakes, and slushies.
  • Other non-fizzy drinks featuring watermelon include trendy agua frescas, coolers, and flavored water.
  • In smoothie flavors, watermelon menu penetration is 7.6%, having grown 16% in the last year and 40% in the last 4 years.

Watermelon on Cocktail Menus

  • In the Cocktail Flavors Adoption Cycle, watermelon is in the proliferation phase – it’s found in chain restaurants and mainstream grocers.
  • Watermelon is found on more than 10% of alcoholic beverage menus and although that has decreased by 6% in the past year, it has grown 15% the past 4 years.
  • Casual dining operators are most likely to offer watermelon alcoholic beverages.
  • Watermelon-focused alcoholic beverages have grown in all segments except fine dining the last 4 years.
  • More than a quarter of watermelon offerings are in margaritas and showcased with bold, spicy flavors like jalapeno and Tajin.
  • Watermelon has been paired with both classic and up-and-coming cocktails such as frosé, French 77, and smashes.

For more information or to request the full report, please email Megan McKenna at [email protected].