There’s no shortage of icons in the foodservice industry. These include Colonel Sanders, Ronald McDonald and Canada’s own Tim Horton. Each of these names elicits a response from consumers — feelings of trust, respect, quality and many other emotions and behaviours — based on years of nurturing and promotion.
Within this crowded restaurant universe, packaged-goods brands struggle to make their names heard. Restaurants — particularly those with well-established brand identities — don’t necessarily need or want the support of outside brands to help them tell their food stories and attract customers. But, according to the latest Omnibus Study from The NPD Group, this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, according to the survey, Canadian consumers are interested in accessing their favourite retail-food brands while dining out at their favourite foodservice establishments.
Almost one quarter of all restaurant visitors are influenced to purchase items that are branded and offered as new or limited-time offers. The most common reasons for purchasing these branded items are perceptions of higher quality and good value. This is not at all surprising, since two of the fastest-growing influencers for choosing a restaurant are food quality and price. Per-capita restaurant visits are flat this year, which means Canadians aren’t going out any more frequently than in prior years. Consumers are eager to maximize their value-for-money on every restaurant visit and purchase and ordering branded items off a menu helps provide a degree of reassurance. Or, as one quarter of survey respondents say, branded items can be trusted. Men, in particular, are even more likely to be influenced by branded menu items.
Branded items aren’t new to the restaurant landscape — beverage brands in particular, such as soft drinks and alcohol, have always been displayed proudly by their host restaurants. And so, it’s not surprising respondents feel branded cold beverages are a suitable option when they dine out. Coffee is the only menu category that respondents say is even more suitable for a branding opportunity. Hot tea, condiments and salad dressings and cheese are the other menu categories where consumers can be expected to respond well to branded items.
Product branding can help build trust in an item in the eyes of the consumer. This can be especially true when a restaurant is selling an item not necessarily associated with its core offerings. A prime example of this is evident in the proliferation of branded plant-based protein items on Canadian menus over the past 18 to 24 months. And yet, survey respondents say they don’t expect to see branded plant-based items on menus. This could be a factor of the unfamiliarity with the brands appearing in this space or maybe that these items continue to appeal to a niche audience. Clearly, the plant-based brands have a lot of work to do to build brand awareness and achieve widespread acceptance. It also means restaurants introducing these items may be just as successful in promoting their own brands, rather than these unfamiliar entities.
From quick-serve coffee shops to casual-dining restaurants, as much as half of all respondents say they feel branded menu items would be appropriate. The only restaurants where branded items might be less expected are high-end concepts, since consumers will have a greater expectation that their food items are prepared fresh. And yet, it’s higher-income Canadians who show a greater likelihood of ordering branded items when dining out. While the study didn’t delve into pricing for branded items, this does suggest branding will bring the possibility of premium pricing, along with the perceptions of quality, trust and value.
Written by Vince Sgabellone