From the July 1996 issue of Entrepreneur

There's no question Americans love beer. But now, it seems, they've taken a shine to a spirited newcomer, alcoholic cider. Call us stir crazy, if you must. But judging by the current demand for "hard cider"-which typically packs an alcohol content of 4 percent to 6 percent-we expect more pubs and supermarkets to jump on the cider bandwagon.

"We're kind of tagging onto the microbrewery scene," says Kevin Settles, 37, president and founder of Selkirk Cider Co., a Sandpoint, Idaho, company that sells apple, pear and raspberry cider under the Seven Sisters label. "There's not a whole lot of radically new items that can come out on the beer scene, and people don't want to drink the same thing for very long. They're always looking for something new, and we really fit that category."

Settles, who launched Selkirk Cider nine years ago, took the beverage road less traveled after learning of the tremendous popularity of hard cider in Europe. The risk paid off: Selkirk Cider is projected to ship 40,000 cases of cider in 1996-triple last year's production.

Generation Xers, according to Settles, form the core market for hard cider. We'd be willing to bet this same group will also be the ones downing the next up-and-coming drink: alcoholic lemonade.

To Die For

In an effort to leave no tombstone-er, stone-unturned in the pursuit of trends, we feel compelled to report on the increasing popularity of "vanity tombstones."

"We [take inspiration] from a hobby or maybe an occupation," explains Leland B. Longstreth of trade association American Institute of Commemorative Art. "For instance, for an attorney, we might use the scales of justice. If we're doing something for a fisherman, we may [depict] a man standing in a trout stream with a flyrod. When families look at these monuments, they remember the things the person loved in life."

Although some folks have grave reservations about such tributes, many others are far from dead-set against showcasing, say, fishing streams or golf courses. "People see [vanity tombstones] and go, 'Maybe I want something like this also,' " says Donna Jones of trade association Monument Builders of North America.

According to Jones, more advanced technology is the force driving this trend. "As technology has made available more intricate means of carving, the public has taken advantage of it," she says.

Then again, technology is no substitute for creativity. To wit: One enterprising individual purchased two parking meters for his tombstone. Upon his demise, the meters were placed in their designated spot, and-you guessed it-they read "expired." Who says dead men tell no tales?

Wrap It Up

They came, they saw, they wrapped. Burned out on the usual greasy fare of hamburgers, tacos and the like, an increasing number of fast-food patrons are opting instead for the latest creation: wrap food.

Essentially, "wraps"-probably most easily thought of as a variation on the classic burrito-are flavored tortillas or pitalike flatbreads wrapped around ingredients as varied as Thai chicken, Peking duck, steak and vegetables.

"We've taken the burrito and made it into a world traveler," says Will Weisman, 27, one of the four founding partners of San Francisco-based World Wrapps. "It's probably the hottest thing happening right now in quick-service food."

Of course, World Wrapps isn't the only wrap act in the industry. In addition to forays by such restaurant giants as KFC and Chevys, the Atlanta-based Great Wraps! chain offers its own version of wrap food-crepelike pita bread wrapped around meat and vegetable fillings. With 50 units, Great Wraps! claims to be the largest chain of its kind in the nation.

"Probably everyone thinks their product or service is going to be around forever," muses Weisman. "But I believe [wrap food] has a lot of staying power."

Just For Kicks

This time it's for real . . . we think. Although soccer has already captured the hearts and feet of the nation's athletic youth (it's the number-one supervised team sports activity for players under age 18), it's long been a question mark as to when professional soccer would enjoy the mainstream popularity that-until recently, at least-has seemed so elusive. Oh, sure, the World Cup competition of two years ago generated headlines and increased awareness of the sport. But that particular strain of soccer fever cooled once the fields were emptied.

Enter Major League Soccer (MLS). The 10-team professional league, which debuted in April and concludes its season in October, hopes to take soccer's popularity to a whole new level in the United States. And with its first few games drawing larger-than-expected crowds, MLS definitely seems to be a kick in the right direction.

"It's a tough row to hoe for a new sport coming on like soccer is," says Sandy Briggs of the Soccer Industry Council of America. "But certainly, the initial results [from the league] are quite encouraging."

Our advice to retailers and manufacturers: Keep your eye on the ball. In a recent survey conducted by Sporting Goods Business magazine, more than half the sporting goods and soccer specialty retailers polled predicted at least a 10 percent jump in sales for soccer products this year. Really.

Catered Affair

An open invitation to caterers: Your services are cordially requested by dinner party hosts throughout the nation. Menu selections vary, but your clientele will generally be upscale consumers. No RSVP required.

Hungry for more information? We're happy to dish it out: Small dinner parties are enjoying increasing popularity of late, and caterers are enthusiastically satisfying the demand. Indeed, the National Restaurant Association is projecting a sizzling 5.3 percent increase in such catering this year.

What's cooking? Michael Roman of the Chicago food-service consulting firm CaterSource points to rampant anti-smoking regulations in restaurants as a key ingredient in the dinner party's resurgence. Rather than sit through yet another meal with the lights out, plenty of puffers-and their friends-are opting instead to host their own catered affairs.

"People are taking the easy way out and bringing [the party] back into their homes, yachts or whatever," Roman observes.

No-nicotine policies aren't the only reason for the popularity of small dinner parties, however. Roman also cites pricey restaurant-mandated gratuities and the desire for conversation-friendly atmospheres as other factors.

"It's very hard to converse in a restaurant in some cases-it's just too noisy," he notes. "The idea [now] is, Let's eat and let's talk."

Just don't do both at the same time.

Animal Magnetism

Animal Magnetismoes it surprise you to learn cats outnumber dogs in the nation's pet population? Maybe not. But even if you had an inkling that felines had clawed their way to the top of the pet parade, you probably wouldn't guess that devoted pet owners shell out more than $7 billion a year to feed their furry friends. And we're not talking about the animal kingdom's equivalent of meatloaf, either: According to research by Bates USA in New York City, the trend is toward premium and superpremium pet foods. Now, that's more than enough reason for tail-wagging, wouldn't you say?

Bingo

Bingo! If you were to venture inside a nightclub or bar catering to twentysomethings these days, you might be surprised to witness not drunken debauchery but a spirited round of-how wholesome can you get?-bingo.

"It's unlike any other gambling game," says Roger Snowden of the Vashom, Washington-based Bingo Bugle Newspaper Group, speaking of bingo's appeal. "The social aspects of bingo are what lead people to play it. The camaraderie [is key]."

And camaraderie, without question, is a goal of savvy bar owners attempting to lure in a contemporary crowd with too many entertainment options and too little appetite for the hard-drinking days of old.

"There's just so much competing for the customers' attention now," says Rick Hynum, editor of Nightclub & Bar magazine, citing video games, home satellite dishes and cyberspace as distractions du jour. "There's not necessarily as much reason to go out. Plus, people aren't drinking as much as they used to."

Which explains why bingo is taking off in a select number of Generation X clubs. It also explains other crowd-pleasing promotions such as Brady Bunch lookalike nights, marshmallow stacking games, performances by KISS tribute bands and baby-food-eating contests.

Baby-food-eating contests? Well, nobody said entertainment was pretty.