The US foodservice sector is losing its usefulness as a benchmark for the eating-out sector, with the UK, which is growing at least as fast when population growth is taken into account, set to take its place as the international trend setter. For years operators and analysts in the UK foodservice sector have looked to the US for eating-out trends and concepts likely to be seen here a few years down the line. However, that view is set to come increasingly into question, with the UK eating out sector arguably now seen as the most dynamic in the world, with constantly emerging trends catering for an increasingly sophisticated audience. According to research by foodservice consultancy Horizons, for 19 out of the past 30 years, the UK’s eating-out market has grown more quickly – on a population-adjusted basis – than the US. In other words, in most years over the past quarter of a century and more, British consumers have been growing their eating out more ravenously than their American counterparts. But, as the US and UK markets have taken divergent paths, and as the UK eating-out sector is growing at least as fast as that of the US when population growth is taken into account, American trends are losing their usefulness. The foodservice market in the US is worth some $600bn (£382bn) or 10 times the UK market, which is worth a shade over £40bn. But within the markets there are substantial differences that reflect the social, economic and cultural differences between the two countries. The most significant is linked to the limited service or quick-service sector. In the US, this accounts for almost 28% of all consumer spend on eating out of home – in the UK it’s only half that. Peter Backman, managing director of Horizons, said: “So, while the US looks to its limited service restaurants as the bellwether of the industry by virtue of its importance, in the UK the sector is much smaller and therefore not nearly as significant as a sign of what’s happening. “On the other hand, in the UK, pubs account for over 15% of foodservice sales (and even more when all of their alcohol sales are included). In the US, the sector closest to pubs is referred to as bars and taverns, which only accounts for 3% of foodservice sales.” Horizons argues that because of these wide variations between the two countries, trends in the US are not indicative of trends in the UK and are certainly not a valid basis for drawing conclusions about the future direction of the UK market except, perhaps, at the level of specific types of outlet. Backman said: “Furthermore, the sector seeing the fastest growth in the US is quick service, as fast food has long been part of the American culture and continues to be so. And rather than home delivery, collection is more common. Conversely, the UK’s biggest growth market is the casual-dining segment, most notably eating out in pubs. “This is largely because UK consumers have developed a stronger eating-out culture over the past few decades and have access to a wealth of pre-prepared food for eating at home, such as supermarket ready meals and home delivery. The UK market also has a strong pub culture that has shifted from drinking in pubs to eating out in pubs.” The argument placing the UK at the forefront of the eating-out world comes as one of the US’s leading operators over the past 20 years, Brad Blum, the former chief executive of Burger King and Olive Garden, has joined Leon, the London-based healthy fast-food chain, as an adviser, investor and board member, with the long-term view of launching the concept in the States. Blum said: “There is a great deal of respect in the wider world for what is happening in the UK, especially in London, in terms of food offer. The concept innovation and the food being served is making people sit up and take notice.”