JACKSONVILLE, FLA. — Thirty years ago, only about 40% of food industry sales occurred in food service outlets. Today, food service accounts for more than half of food industry sales, surpassing grocery retail by 1.2 percentage points, according to a new report from Acosta, Inc., Jacksonville, and Technomic, Inc., Chicago.
“There have been a variety of factors affecting the food landscape over the past 30 years,” said Colin Stewart, senior vice-president at Acosta. “Consumers’ desire for more convenient options in today’s fast-paced world is driving new technologies like mobile apps that can be used to track nutrition, find restaurant and retailer promotions and offers, or order food service and groceries for home delivery. Coupled with the local ingredient food movement gaining momentum, food service operators must continue to adapt within the evolving food consumption space by embracing digital and mobile tools, and being transparent about ingredients.”
The second edition of The Why? Behind the Dine report, published by Acosta and Technomic, analyzes the findings from a survey of 1,500 U.S. consumers to explore how dining behaviors and preferences have evolved.
“Consumers’ choices are no longer limited to preparing a meal at home or going out to eat,” the report said. “Today, consumers can leverage more than a dozen approaches to purchasing, preparing and consuming a meal. As meal solutions continue to expand, food service and retail operators need to deliver innovative choices that address consumers’ needs.”
The number of food service and retail grocery outlets has nearly tripled to 1.4 million total outlets from about 500,000 in 1985, and total food sales have grown to almost $1.4 trillion from $434 billion in that period. To remain competitive in this increasingly complex landscape, food service operators, distributors and manufacturers must find innovative ways to deliver convenience, adapt menus to meet the growing demand for ingredient transparency, and engage with consumers through digital tools and social media.
“We can expect to see a proliferation of chains in 2016, limited- and full-service alike, making sweeping menu changes to accommodate consumers’ concerns, from additive-free to animal-welfare claims,” said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic. “To maximize operators’ business and meet these shifting consumer demands, suppliers should invest in modernizing their manufacturing and distribution systems.”
Deliver on convenience
Consumers have more options for meal solutions than ever before, some of which didn’t exist 5 or 10 years ago.
“When asked about their behaviors during the three months prior to the survey, diners reported purchasing food across a wide range of options,” the report noted.
Sales of prepared foods in grocery stores have more than doubled since 2006 to $27.5 billion, outpacing overall grocery and food service growth and underscoring consumer demand for convenient options. What’s more, 62% of supermarkets now offer made-to-order stations along the store perimeter, and some even have limited- or full-service restaurants on site. Younger diners, families with children and those with a household income of $45,000 or more are more likely to opt for convenient meal solutions, such as buying prepared foods from a grocery store, ordering restaurant delivery or subscribing to a meal kit service, according to the report.
Nearly two-thirds of diners agree it’s important to feel good about the food they eat, and about half say they seek out nutritious foods. About 90% of consumers say they would like restaurants to be more transparent.
Among top menu trends cited in a National Restaurant Association survey of 1,600 professional chefs are locally sourced meat and seafood (80%), locally grown produce (77%), and natural ingredients or minimally processed food (76%).
“Based on our research, more diners indicated buying healthy foods at the grocery store compared to those ordering them in a restaurant,” the report said. “In this rapidly changing food landscape, food service operators need to help diners solve the healthy eating dilemma by delivering great tasting meals made with nutritious ingredients.”
Time to get digital
Consumers increasingly are using digital tools to decide where, when and what to eat. Four in 10 diners check the web for restaurant deals, and 60% of millennials and 40% of Generation X consumers frequently read restaurant menus on-line prior to dining out.“Gone are the simpler days of making dining decisions based on location and budget,” the report said. “Say hello to leveraging digital and social tools, and loyalty cards when making decisions on how, what, where and when to eat.”