For business owners who have done their due diligence, franchises are a hot market. As 2014 progresses, the outlook for franchise growth remains strong, and employment and output forecasts are surpassing early estimations. So, as we gear up for the year’s biggest event in franchising, the International Franchise Expo (IFE), we’re taking a look at some of the drivers of market growth that we think will be creating buzz at the expo next week. Here’s what we found:

Healthy appetites. Among franchising’s most visible sectors, food franchises continue to attract investors and consumers nationwide. But with 71 percent of adults trying to eat healthier at restaurants, it seems that those with successful health-conscious marketing campaigns are in a strong position to rise to the top -- think of the froyo craze, which has led to a market expected to hit $816 million by 2016.

Furry friends. Growth in the pet care industry can be found everywhere from social media newsfeeds to pricey cat food commercials. And with 71.4 million households owning pets, the pet care industry seems poised for sustained growth in the coming years.

Tech integration. The instant connectivity provided by mobile technology allows franchisees to not only monitor business productivity, but connect with consumers in new ways. From smartphone apps to point of sale systems, the use of mobile technology in the industry will continue to grow throughout 2014.

We’re excited to see what else could emerge as hot trends in franchising during the IFE this year. We’re also looking forward to showcasing our own FastTrack Franchise program at the expo, which matches entrepreneurs to pre-approved franchise vacancies within our portfolio which comprises America’s largest portfolio of neighborhood and community shopping centers.

When we last wrote about our FastTrack program we had already matched more than 20 franchises with vacant retails spaces in locations throughout New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, and Virginia. Today, we have increased our number of franchises nearly 10 percent, and expanded their reach to 31 states and Puerto Rico. As one of the only retail owners and landlords attending the IFE show, Kimco will have a great opportunity to network and connect with future and current franchise owners. If you’ll be at the show, we’d love to connect with you, too -- email us at kcovino@kimcorealty.com, and we’ll be happy to set up a meeting.