For the past few years, the trendy, quick meal of choice has been wraps--exotic ingredients wrapped inside brightly colored tortillas. Wraps were touted as the gourmet meal for health-conscious consumers on-the-go--how else could you stuff the four major food groups into an edible wrapper and eat it in the car?
But now the hype has passed into a barely audible murmur. Will wraps stick around? "The wrap concept was successful and still is," contends Julie Malveaux of the National Restaurant Association. "What we're seeing is a [redefining] of the category instead of a plethora of wrap restaurants out there." Which means wrap restaurants are now adding complementary items like smoothies, traditional sandwiches or ethnic foods to their menus, and nonwrap eateries are deciding whether wraps would be a profitable addition to their traditional offerings.
Other experts say time's up for the wrap's 15 minutes of fame. "It's not unusual in the restaurant business for people to get highly interested in a food item," says Raymond Coen, a restaurant marketing consultant in Pacific Palisades, California. "During the trial or novelty period, it generates high sales, then levels out and starts dying." Coen believes some wrap concepts may have staying power but only because so much of the competition is shutting down.
Other theories as to why wraps may turn out to be a hyped fad rather than a lasting trend lie in consumer confusion about the concept. "Wraps are so easy to replicate," says Greg Schulson, founder of Chicago-based Burrito Beach LLC, a five-unit wrap and health-Mex chain. "It was easy for people in many different segments of the restaurant business to put wraps on their menu. [Also,] it's hard to have a concept based around a vehicle of serving as opposed to the food itself."
Further confusion stems from the frequent comparison to burritos. The difference is, wraps combine exotic, multiethnic ingredients served hot or cold--a more versatile offering than the Mexican burrito. Schulson used the confusion to his advantage by naming his wraps after burritos to help his customers understand the concept. "It gives people who are unfamiliar with wraps an easy reference point for understanding [our menu.]"
So what's the fate of the wrap? "It has its place," says Coen. But where is that place? For most restaurants, wraps provide a healthy menu option that's easy to adapt seasonally to customers' tastes. As for restaurants solely relying on the wrap concept, they'll have to extend their menus to entice enough customers through their doors.