NPD Seminar Highlights Importance of Engaging Diners to Drive Traffic


TORONTO — Foodservice insiders have been hearing about it and seeing it play out in their restaurants for months, but news that commercial foodservice sales are flat, doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to engage today’s savvy customers and encourage repeat visits. That was the message of yesterday’s Get Growing Again breakfast seminar hosted by the NPD Group at Sandman Signature Toronto Airport Hotel in Toronto.

Canadians want to engage. Look no further than Google for proof of their investment in foodservice. In fact, food is searched with higher frequency than banking and air travel, pointed out Chantal Rossi Badia, head of Industry, Food, Beverage and Restaurants at Toronto-based Google Canada, kicking off the morning of insight. Google search results show the evolution of dining in Canada, with one in three food queries originating from a mobile device and a clear indication that the Canadian millennial is key to driving business. In terms of food trends, yogurt, coconut, quinoa and kale are examples of customers’ evolving palate. “The evolution of taste is driven by increasing interest in dietary lifestyle,” summed up Badia.

Unfortunately, consumer interest in food isn’t necessarily driving them to restaurants. “[They] have more choice than they’ve ever had, but traffic is flat,” said Robert Carter, executive director, Foodservice for The NPD Group in Toronto, explaining commercial foodservice is expected to grow by only one per cent up until 2020. This comes as foodservice lines blur with the growth of fast-casual and HMR, customers learn more and technology creates new expectations. Each challenge and solution feeds into the next. “Consumers are asking for more flavour, more technology, so we have an opportunity to step that up,” said Joanne Forrester, VP, Marketing for Mississauga, Ont.-based Boston Pizza, as part of a panel discussion. “It’s finding out what they want and intercepting,” added Greg Ambrose, director of Consumer Insight & Strategy at Oakville, Ont.-based Tim Hortons. “It’s making sure we’re creating that reason to come back,” he added.

Increasingly, limited-time offers (LTOs) are the ticket, giving operators the change to generate news and interest. “It becomes more important for us to have an opportunity to get out there and have a conversation,” explains Ambrose, adding there is one drawback to LTOs. “You run the risk of creating behaviour you’re going to take away, so make sure the product ties back to the brand.” This way the company can still fill that need when the product is gone.

Clearly the customer expects more. “It’s all about taking guests on that journey,” said Alex Rechichi, president and CEO of Mississauga, Ont.-based Crave It Restaurant Group, explaining he may soon be doing that by showing the beef-grinding process at one of his Burger’s Priest units.

To win, build trust among a community of guests. Irene Stathakos, director of Market Insights for Toronto-based McCain Foods, summed it up: “Be transparent, open and authentic,” she said.

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