Operations – The Quick Serve Consumer

A lot of attention of late has been focused on the consumption growth segments in our industry.  In terms of segment and format, the primary growth areas often identified are use of natural and upscale ingredients, quick serve processes, and ever popular traditional cooking (wood/coal).  But we think that these descriptor understate what is really going on.  The real challenge and opportunity is how to address the changing “Quick Serve Consumer”.

What is a quick serve consumer?  At the start, they are non-traditional and want to try new things.  They are more health conscious, and see a relationship between what they eat and how they live, to quality of life…and we are all connected now to a nonstop barrage of communication which we increasingly ignore because the sheer quantity is too much to absorb.

As a result, there are three key challenges.  Like it or not, one imperative is to use social media to reach quick serve consumers because that is where they increasingly get their information.  Successful use of social media is important.  A second challenge is to create menu and product options that will be perceived as “real”, “natural”, “fresh”, and/or “local”.  All suggest an upscale appeal that infers food quality and healthiness.  A new study released by Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) found that US consumers are increasingly weighing evolving drivers in food purchase decisions.  These drivers include health and wellness, food safety, social impact, and experience in addition to the traditional drivers of price, product and promotion.

Recent announcements and advertising by major quick serve chains that are removing certain additives for more natural ingredients like antibiotic free chicken appeal to the quick serve consumer’s belief in the relationship between what they eat and their quality of life.  For an increasing number of consumers, a perception of safe ingredients equals food safety and healthful product.  These evolving consumers tend to be younger and are more likely to use social media for news and information, and are more likely to make use of mobile ordering apps and see digital marketing.

But the “real” food concept goes beyond removing ingredients and local sourcing.  It also includes adding authentic foods such as ethnic, regional, and local ingredients to appeal to local tastes and preferences.  The trend offers real opportunities for independent restaurants to differentiate themselves from the chain competitors which by definition offer only wide appeal options.  We are often amazed at some of the creative differences in regions.  Usually it is a result of long-standing marketing strength by a cheese, meat or sauce supplier, but sometimes it results from transitioning consumers.  This is especially true in the “sunbelt” where New York style or Chicago style pizza ingredients are gaining strength.

Part of that is driven also by food ingredients that come from a particular local area.  Another driver is the ethnic population in a small geographic area which can significantly impact the popularity of jalapeno peppers, pineapple, Canadian bacon, provolone or gorgonzola.  Local cuisines and ethnic themed pizzas have really become a trend.

Another trend popular with chefs as well as diners is the creative use of vegetables like mushrooms, broccoli, peppers and kale which are viewed as healthy ingredients  and a way to reduce calories.  Vegetables can be the “hero” marketed for their natural healthy properties, sustainability, and local sourcing while typically having the added benefit of costing less than the meat they replace.  New bold flavors and spicy ingredients are one of the hot creative trends.

Format is important as well, demonstrated by the success of quick serve and full serve restaurants encouraging visual open kitchens and prep areas.  If you’re able to rearrange or use mirrors to enhance the visibility of your kitchen and prep areas, do it.  if not visually appealing now, you should consider ways to make the preparation or cooking areas part of the dining “experience”.

Embracing change is always one of the most difficult concepts, especially if the business is going pretty well already.  It is important to note, however, that embracing trends and new ideas is best an evolutionary process, not a revolutionary one.  Trying something new, even if it fails, can be a learning experience to make you and your business better.  At Delco Foods, they’re working to be better every day, and they hope to have an opportunity to further serve you.

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