Mintel analyst discusses implications of changing restaurant landscape.
Consumers today have unprecedented access to restaurant-quality food whenever and wherever they desire it.
“One of the ways we’re seeing this manifest itself is through a lot of blurring of lines between restaurant segments,” said Paul Pendola, director of Foodservice at Mintel, citing the emergence of such segments as “fast-casual 2.0” and “upmarket casual.” Additionally, convenience stores, grocery stores, meal subscription services and meal delivery businesses threaten to steal stomach share from the restaurant industry.
“The implication for restaurant operators is that they really do need to do a comprehensive audit of their competitive set and start to think more seriously about who else is speaking to their consumer, when they’re speaking to that consumer and what they’re saying, and whether that message is resonating with the consumer,” Mr. Pendola said. “Because it’s very likely right now the competitor is not necessarily a like brand in the same segment.”
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Consumers are alternately indulging and abstaining, splurging and saving. Restaurant brands are responding to this “balance or bust” lifestyle by offering more portion control and personalization. An example is Carl’s Jr., the fast-food chain, which in the same year introduced an “all-natural” burger, positioned as a healthier option and an indulgent burger topped with a hot dog and potato chips.
“This trend does tend to speak to why we continue to see products introduced in the restaurant space that are ultra-indulgent, even when there is so much focus on health and wellness and calories,” Mr. Pendola said. “We are very nuanced consumers. We behave differently depending on day of week, week of month, month of year, and we want to be able to be indulgent when we want to be indulgent and to compensate for that and adjust when we need to balance out that behavior.”
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Approximately 70% of menu claims may be categorized as generic or textural — think “homestyle,” “crispy and “creamy.” However, descriptors showing the biggest growth are nutritional, geographical or ethical in nature. These types of menu claims resonate in particular with millennials, 30% of whom say they wish restaurants provided more information to serve their specific diet plans, Mintel said.
“Consumers really want to know where the product comes from, how it’s going to make them feel and what it’s going to do for them,” Mr. Pendola said. “I would strongly encourage operators to move towards more nutritional, geographical and ethical claims because this is what consumers want, and it also is more effective at differentiating the product and adding value. It can drive higher price points in some cases. It’s a trend we have been watching for some time and decide to formalize it and make it one of our 2016 trends.”
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Protein remains all the rage among U.S. consumers, but while alternative sources such as quinoa are on the rise, Americans still covet the classic beef burger.
Meanwhile, meat has moved from the main feature of a meal to a supporting ingredient in salads, tacos and similar dishes, Mr. Pendola said.
Restaurant operators may consider offering a broader variety of protein sources on menus, as well as creative blends of alternative and traditional proteins, and protein in snack-size portions.
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Bartenders and baristas have become the new celebrity chefs, crafting creative concoctions with seasonal flair, novel ingredients or artistic touches, Mr. Pendola said. More than one in five consumers have ordered a specialty non-alcoholic beverage, according to Mintel research, and 60% of Americans said they would try a new restaurant if it offered an interesting food or drink special.
“There’s a lot going on around the beverage category, and operators are going to need to remain current and find what types of products fit well with their menus and continue to innovate and offer more and better beverage options for consumers,” Mr. Pendola said.
Also gaining steam on beverage menus are kombucha, green tea or matcha, and cold brew or nitro coffee.
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