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That Was Then

Dec 9, 2015

Food Consumption , Foodservice

If you’re old enough (and you probably aren’t), you remember when chicken sandwiches were once new, innovative items on fast food menus. And then, when fried chicken took on a less-than-healthful patina, grilled chicken sandwiches were brought in to address issues of healthy preparation.  One wonders where the grill lines came from in restaurants that had no char broilers?

In the late ’80′s we were pretty limited in how we asked consumers what they ate.  Due to the space constraints in the CREST foodservice market research paper diary we used in those days, we could only present consumers with a (pretty short) list of possible items.  One drawback to this was that consumers might tell us they had a food item at a chain that we knew the chain didn’t sell.

This brings me back to chicken sandwiches.  We found that consumers were reporting a fair number of broiled chicken sandwiches at a chain that we knew did not offer broiled chicken sandwiches.  When we looked into this more carefully we found that lower income men were reporting fried chicken sandwiches, just as they should have.  Higher income women, exactly the people you’d think would be eating broiled chicken, were reporting broiled chicken sandwiches. That is, the people who wanted fried, reported fried. The people who aspired to broiled reported broiled.

That was then.

Nowadays in the US we ask a whole bunch more stuff about what people are eating in our CREST consumer foodservice research.  We ask toppings.  We ask bread type.  We ask salad dressing.  We even ask if the consumer used flavored cream in their coffee. For the largest chains we insert the chain’s menu into the questionnaire. We also present the respondents with a bunch of attributes (organic, low fat, gluten free, locally sourced and bunches more) and ask if any of these attributes apply to the foods they ate in the meal they are telling us about.

So, here’s the cool thing:  we can look at different demographic groups and see what kinds of attributes the foods they’re eating have.  And, because we’re analysts, we can compare them and jump to conclusions. Because of the chicken sandwich experience, I was sure that the Millennials would be all over the “organic” and whatever while Boomers would skew to “low sodium” and stuff like that.  Y’d think, wouldn’t ya?

But, and this is always a disappointment to an analyst, there isn’t much of a difference between young’ns and old’ns.  Yes, the young are more likely than the old to identify some sort of attribute. And, yes older consumers are more likely to say “healthy” and young ones “high protein,” but there isn’t much difference for things like “organic” or “vegetarian” or even “low sodium.” These attributes amount to and offer that which appeals to everyone. And people are taking restaurants (even chains) up on that offer more and more.

BUT…not all organic food has an equal chance of being Snapchatted.


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