Restaurant consumer needs are changing

This is an American report by Rita Jane Gabbett, carried in a recent meatingplace.com newsletter, but it has many of the same implications for Canadian restaurants and their suppliers – like anticipating what products might be important to offer as these new demands kick in.

U.S. restaurant traffic is expected to grow by 1 percent in 2015, but how consumers define such competitive edges as convenience, value, quality and variety are changing, research firm The NPD Group reported.

Convenience, value, unique menu items, and service remain high on the list of foodservice consumers’ must-haves and wants and that won’t change in 2015, but how consumers define these are continually changing, said NPD restaurant analyst Bonnie Riggs. For example, convenience is generally about portability, time-savings, and order accuracy, but technology has raised the bar in all these areas, making online marketing no longer a nice-to-have for operators, but a necessity.

The New Year will bring an increased proliferation of mobile apps for ordering and payment, and other technologies that enable greater convenience for restaurant customers.

Value is another area that has been redefined by consumers. Food quality remains the most important value driver when choosing restaurants and should be viewed as a cost of entry. Riggs explained that in 2015 operators must go further and offer more choices, like portion size, right price; deliver on customization and fresh ingredients; different preparation styles, and there should be more focus on quality.

Flavor profiles

Other areas Riggs suggests restaurant operators focus on in 2015 are unique menu offerings and flavor profiles, including:

• Spice it up with different flavor profiles
• Use bolder flavors
• Introduce multi-cultural influences
• Try new twists on comfort foods
• Increase focus on protein offerings beyond traditional menu items
• Offer vegetarian options
• Emphasize natural and fresh
• Increase availability of portions for sharing
• Provide greater variety

Service

Riggs said consumers expect restaurant operators to deliver added value by focusing on their specific needs. Restaurant operators must address the needs of multiple consumer groups, including:

• Single diners – With more people choosing to dine out alone, understand what they are looking for: a table out of the way, a seat at the bar, social experience (conversation or left alone), and Wi-Fi.
• Families with kids – It’s key to increase appropriately-priced menu offerings, offer a kid-friendly environment, and broaden your kids’ menu offerings. This may require seating and menu changes.
• Millennials – These young consumers have different needs and higher expectations than their older counterparts. To remain relevant, marketers will need to invest money and resources in connection technologies that appeal to this group.
• Baby Boomers and seniors – These diners desire a welcoming environment, more lighting, less noise, easy-to-read menus, comfortable seating, and personal attention. QSR operators need to pay attention to their in-store environment, since this group tends to eat more often in the restaurant rather than using take-out or drive- through, compared to other generational groups.

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