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 consumer 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].

Watermelon on Menus

Consumer Omnibus Survey

The National Watermelon Promotion Board (NWPB) conducted a consumer omnibus survey with Datassentials to gauge consumer preferences regarding watermelon on menus. The method was an online survey of 1,519 consumers, focusing on 1,291 who did not reject watermelon. Objectives were to assess opportunity for watermelon on menu, understand consumer preferences for watermelon in foodservice including preferences in applications, preparation, daypart, and seasonality and determine premium perception of watermelon as it compares to other fruits.

Research Highlights
  • Most consumers (71%) order watermelon away from home (in a dish or drink), but few order it with regularity.
    • Lack of availability on menus is the primary inhibitor to watermelon orders – this is an actionable inhibitor!
    • General dislike of watermelon is a smaller hurdle than creating new recipes and dishes with watermelon as an ingredient.
  • Watermelon is most likely to be enjoyed away from home as a snack.
    • Of the traditional meals, watermelon fits best at lunch.
    • There is no single daypart at which watermelon is completely rejected, with different applications likely to pique interest at different times of day.
  • Raw (no preparation) watermelon in fruit cups / bowls is most preferred.
    • Beverages, like juice or smoothies, are appealing applications.
    • No preparation methods are appealing, possibly due to low trial of non-raw watermelon.
  • Watermelon drinks and desserts (smoothies, popsicles, cocktails, & agua frescas) garner the highest interest.
    • While consumers agree that watermelon pairs well with both sweet and savory items, interest in savory watermelon-based items is generally lower than sweet items.
    • Interest in grilled watermelon doubled with the presence of an image.
  • There is opportunity for popular summer time drinks and food items that incorporate watermelon.
    • There is near universal interest in watermelon in the summer.
    • Few consumers want watermelon in the winter, but a quarter believe it is a year-round fit.
  • Consumers overwhelmingly agree that watermelon is healthy and pairs well with many different flavors.
    • Limited availability is an issue, more than ¾ of consumers wish there were more items with watermelon on menus.
    • While few seek out watermelon in the fall / winter, most know that it’s available year-round.
  • Nearly half of consumers believe watermelon is more premium than oranges and other melons like honeydew and cantaloupe.
    • Premium perception of watermelon is on par with strawberries.
    • None of the tested fruits are considered more premium than watermelon.

Watermelon on Menus

Operator Omnibus Survey

The National Watermelon Promotion Board (NWPB) conducted an operator omnibus survey with Datassentials to gauge operators preferences regarding watermelon on menus. The method was an online survey of 410 operators. Of the 410 surveyed, 254  currently offer or used to offer fresh watermelon and 156 have never offered fresh watermelon. Objectives were to measure watermelon penetration on menus and assess usage and interest for various watermelon applications, gauge operator readiness to include watermelon items on takeout and delivery menus, understand what types of support would motivate operators to menu more watermelon items.

Research Highlights
  • Fresh watermelon works best in slices or as a salad ingredient.
    • Smoothies, salsas, and desserts are also promising watermelon applications.
    • Watermelon is a good fit at on-sites, while restaurants (especially chains and QSRs) are less willing to adopt it.
    • However, restaurants are likely to use watermelon in alcoholic beverages.
  • Operators are open to including watermelon on their takeout menu.
    • Roughly half of those who serve watermelon are already doing so.
    • Though being takeout-friendly is not a top attribute associated with watermelon, many operators can see themselves offering watermelon items on both their dine-in and takeout menus. This is especially true for watermelon salads and condiments (sauces, salsas, glazes).
  • Recipe ideas can help boost positive perceptions of watermelon.
    • Watermelon is already viewed as affordable, easy to prep, and readily available from distributors.
    • However, some operators believe it’s too seasonal and would not fit the menu or sell well.
    • New recipes that showcase watermelon’s versatility would motivate operators to purchase.
    • Operators would also appreciate more consistent availability, although watermelon generally performs well in this area already.

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