For years, QSRs have reigned supreme at reflecting what consumers want out of a meal – fast and tasty. However, consumer tastes have continued to evolve and now they want more; “fast and tasty” has been replaced with “fast and fresh.”
And while QSRs scramble to accommodate this elevation in taste, convenience stores – traditionally viewed as a quick stop for just snacks and candy – are stepping up and offering fresh, made-to-order options in order to meet consumers’ growing demands.
C-stores may think they’re raising the bar…but what do actual consumers think?
According to a CivicScience poll*, 53% of consumers feel that made-to-order food from a convenience store is of equal or higher quality than that of a fast food restaurant. To reinforce that fact, both Sheetz and GetGo convenience stores (supermarket chain Giant Eagle) feature “fresh food prepared on-site (sandwiches, salads, etc.) that puts the pre-wrapped items of days past to shame.”
In addition to the advancement in food quality, c-stores are using technology to further consumer satisfaction. “Some stores even have touchscreen ordering kiosks, where you can punch in your customized food desires.”* These digital touchscreens allow customers to easily order fresh sandwiches, soups, and more.
In addition, c-stores are also installing self-checkout touchscreens, giving consumers a fast, easy checkout alongside a fast, fresh meal.
These advancements in ordering technology are not just about pleasing customers; they also allow c-stores to compete with fast food restaurants in terms of service time.
So while QSRs are upping the ante by advertising healthier meal options, c-stores are giving them a run for their money with both freshly-made options and time-saving technology, while quickly shedding the stigma that consumers have to sacrifice food quality for quick service.
The health food trend is steadily on the rise; and with health being a top concern, consumers want the food service industry to reflect those concerns in their menu offerings.
According to CSPnet.com* and data from Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics (CBM)**, “…a majority of consumers say it’s important for restaurants—even quick-service concepts—to ensure that they [offer] healthy options.”
So regardless of whether consumers choose healthy options every time, it is crucial for restaurants to at least give them a choice.
Unfortunately, consumers are finding that restaurants are doing only an “okay” job of offering healthy options.
In the LSR (Limited-Service Restaurant) category, Jamba Juice was given a 68% rating in regards to its availability of healthy options, followed by Jason’s Deli with 66%, and McAlister’s Deli with 63%.**
In the FSR (Full- Service Restaurant) category, The Cheesecake Factory was rated at 54%, following Bonefish Grill which was also rated at 54%, and Bahama Breeze with 51%.**
Colleen Rothman, Consumer Research Manager at Technomic Inc. says, “On average, less than half of consumers rate restaurant chains as very good on the availability of healthy options on their most recent visit.”
Rothman goes on to say that, “These ratings reinforce that there’s no single approach to health that universally resonates with consumers, giving each operator the freedom to explore healthier menu choices in a way that makes sense for its brand.”
Only time will tell if restaurants will continue to step up to the growing health food demands of their consumers.
NACS online recently posted an article entitled “Chipotle Cultivates ‘Thought’ on Packaging.”
Chipotle is doing just that. Their new restaurant packaging is part of an overall program which features original essays by influential thought-leaders, authors, actors and even comedians.
The program – created in partnership with author Jonathan Safran Foer (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Eating Animals, Everything is Illuminated) – is meant to be an extension of Chipotle’s overall company mission to tell its unique story by engaging customers with thought-provoking ideas and cultural issues.
Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing and development officer at Chipotle, says that, “Packaging in fast-food restaurants is typically sold to advertisers, or used to promote new limited-time menu items, but we have never used our packaging that way.
Instead, we have used it to entertain our customers using wit, humor and design. Following in that tradition, our new packaging allows customers to connect with a great selection of entertaining and thought-provoking authors they may not otherwise have encountered.”
Crumpacker goes on to say, “We live in a world in which there is shrinking space for literature and writing, and less time than ever for quiet reflection. The idea of expanding the space and time, of creating a small pocket of thoughtfulness right in the middle of the busy day, was inspiring to me – particularly given the size and diversity of the audience, which is America itself.”
In short, Chipotle is trying to inspire society, even in a small way, in the hopes of creating a better tomorrow for everyone. A noble and noteworthy effort indeed.
Years ago it was fairly typical for the American family to dine-out regularly – at least once a week.
But since 2008, restaurant visits by families with children under the age of 13 have steeply declined according to a foodservice market report recently released by The NPD Group entitled, “Parties with Kids: Motivating More Visits.”
It seems families made 1 billion fewer visits to U.S. restaurants over the past six years then compared to adults-only, who made 306 million fewer visits – a considerable difference. And, both lower and higher income households contribute to the sharp decline, not just one or the other.
The report reveals that total restaurant sales have dropped across all food segments and meal periods, though dinner time seems to have been hit the hardest. To put things in perspective, restaurant visits by families account for 20% of sales or $83.7 billion.
Bonnie Riggs, NPD foodservice industry analyst says, “In order to bring back parties with kids to the restaurant table, operators and manufacturers need to understand what influences and motivates them to visit. They need to keep in mind that kids are also an important audience since they have considerable influence on restaurant selections.”
While many restaurants have focused their marketing efforts on a more demanding, more sophisticated consumer with healthier meal alternatives, upscale beverages and innovative flavorings, they’ve lost sight of how influential children can be when mom and dad are considering dining-out.
While an unstable economy certainly plays a role in the decline, other factors include the overall value-per-dollar and how kid-friendly the environment appears. Parents need to feel comfortable bringing their children into a restaurant, without worrying their child is going to break something.
Many thought the gluten-free revolution would fizzle out as nothing more than a foodservice fad. But when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided official labeling standards for “gluten-free” this past August, restaurants from coast-to-coast began to realize how important, and culturally accepted, this dietary need has become.
Betsy Craig, founder/CEO of MenuTrinfo LLC and Kitchens with Confidence LLC, says, “For decades, the FDA has had definitions for sodium and heart-healthy, etc. There are 17 different designations based on nutritional content. Adding gluten-free as the 18th shows how important it is now to make sure if you’re serving something — and making money on something — gluten-free, that it’s verified all the way down to the sub-particles. People have been waiting a long time for that designation.”
Mintel Menu Insights recently reported a 200% increase in gluten-free menu instances since 2010. And Craig points out one example from Disney resorts, where special dietary requests in 2009 hovered around 300,000, and in 2012 they had more than doubled.
Mintel further discovered that it’s not just the gluten-intolerant who are adopting this dietary standard. It seems 65% of consumers are eating gluten-free foods as part of a healthier lifestyle and 27% do so to aid in weight loss programs.
Amanda Topper, a food analyst at Mintel Menu Insights, says, “It’s really interesting to see that consumers think gluten-free foods are healthier and can help them lose weight because there’s been no research affirming these beliefs. The view that these foods and beverages are healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts is a major driver for the market, as interest expands across both gluten-sensitive and health-conscious consumers.”
QSRs and fast casuals are now capitalizing on these recent findings – looking for their share of an increasing market trend. The gluten-free food and beverage market is estimated to reach $10.5 billion in 2013.
Craig says, “It’s a win/win situation — for restaurants and customers. The restaurant is offering more choices and the diners are choosing the restaurants that offer more choices.”