Consumer Spending Has Significant Impacts on Foodservice

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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have been sheltering at home to stay safe. This has impacted the frequency and the way we consume restaurant meals. The summer of 2021 brought increased vaccination rates and easing of restrictions. The NPD Group took this opportunity to run a consumer-sentiment study of Canadians to understand their planned post-pandemic behaviours. Below is a snapshot of those behaviours and implications for the foodservice industry.

Shopping
Once the lockdowns are over, one-third of Canadians report they will return to visiting malls the same as they did before the pandemic. Unfortunately, another third plan to continue avoiding indoor malls and one-quarter report they will do more shopping online. These shopping habits will impact food courts, which were hit even harder by the pandemic than most restaurants. The NPD Group/CREST® foodservice tracker reports that in 2020, food courts accounted for about 200 million visits, just half of the 2019 level. With so many shoppers congregating online, an effective digital-marketing strategy has never been more important.

Travel and Leisure
Travel has been mainly off-limits since March 2020. With the easing of restrictions, Canadians are beginning to plan their next vacations. Operators who rely on travellers to fill seats should take note that 37 per cent of Canadians intend to wait at least six months before resuming their travel habits. Business travellers are a bit quicker to return. Closer to home, households with children will be quicker to resume leisure entertainment activities such as visiting theme parks, concerts, or other public spaces where crowds congregate. Catering to family needs is a necessity for businesses near these leisure-activity venues.

School
More than half of all parents with school-aged children expect their kids to be back in school full-time in the fall. That means the return to daily routines will impact meal occasions such as the morning coffee run, after-school snacks and meal options based on convenience. Post-secondary institutions are also planning to welcome back their student populations. While campus life will be different from past years, campus foodservice facilities can expect to see some return to normal beginning this fall. The same holds true for off-campus restaurants that rely on students for a steady flow of customers.

Work
Work-related occasions were the source of almost one-in-five foodservice visits in 2019, according to CREST. Operators who depend on these workers, you can expect a lingering disruption to your flow of customers. The NPD study reports that only one-third of workers expect to return to their offices in 2021. This means fewer people in need of a workday restaurant meal or snack. Instead, restaurateurs can attract home-office workers by providing convenient home- delivery options or a comfortable place to escape during the workday.

Restaurant Habits
A review of the consumer sentiment data reveals that consumers feel safe dining in restaurants. More than one-quarter of NPD’s survey respondents have already returned to their pre-pandemic level of restaurant visits. But the vast majority are still holding back and will continue to for some time. That’s why it remains important to know where your customers are right now and how you can reach them because you are going to need your pandemic pivot plans for many more months to come.

Vince Sgabellone is a foodservice industry analyst with The NPD Group. He can be reached at vince.sgabellone@npd.com.

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