I visited my favourite local sandwich shop recently to order my go-to chicken sandwich. But instead of my usual order, I opted for the Korean Fried Chicken with Gochujang Glaze. Thus, I checked off three big trends all at once: fried-chicken sandwiches, global-inspired flavours and dining local. Following the latest food-industry trends is something I’ve always loved to do. Not only is it a big part of my day job, but it lets me nurture my passion for food. Besides, the ‘T’ in CREST, The NPD Group’s foodservice-industry tracker, stands for Trends, so I follow them closely and take part whenever I can.
I always encourage restaurant businesses to follow the latest trends wherever applicable. This is a good way to stay engaged with existing customers, attract new customers, remain relevant in a shifting market and generate revenue. Discovering which trends are right for you and understanding the difference between a trend and a fad can be the biggest challenges. Throughout this issue of F&H, you’ll find plenty of good advice to help you figure out which trends to follow and which to avoid.
It’s also critical to keep your eye on the fundamentals of building a successful business. We can refer to them as “the anti-trends,” because they’re always present and everybody needs to follow them. They’re foundational building blocks and never go out of style: good food, convenience and value. Let’s take a closer look.
Choosing a restaurant meal isn’t just about the food, but it’s the most important factor when people decide which restaurant to visit. The only way to succeed in pleasing your customers — whether it’s with the latest trendy offering or a legacy menu item — is by serving high-quality, craveable food. This visit driver, as we refer to it in CREST, has always been top-of-mind for consumers and is the only driver that has grown since 2019. As people visit restaurants less frequently, they’re looking to elevate their experience with each visit. The importance of food in the visit-driver equation has risen to more than 60 per cent of occasions — so don’t lose sight of this, no matter what direction the latest trends may draw you.
With consumers leaving their homes less often, demand for functional restaurant visits has declined (imagine the morning coffee run, for example). As such, the physical location of a restaurant has lost some importance in the visit-driver equation. Instead, the rise in on-demand delivery services has created a new form of virtual convenience that restaurants must fulfil. Overall, convenience is a key driver in about 40 per cent of all visits, and it has been in slow decline.
As mentioned, good value never goes out of style. This visit driver has remained steady over the past five years, even while macro-economic conditions drove up dealing rates. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it relates to the movement of visits from functional to emotional, which shifts our perception of a restaurant meal’s value. As a result, value as a visit driver holds steady at about 25 per cent of all restaurant occasions in Canada.
If you’ve studied marketing at all, you may recognize the visit drivers above as related to three of the five marketing Ps: product, place and price. Riding the wave of the latest trends can help you achieve some short-term goals. But concentrating on these fundamental visit drivers will help your business endure longer than any chicken-sandwich craze could hope to.
By Vince Sgabellone, foodservice industry analyst with The NPD Group. He can be reached at [email protected]