No one knows more about how people eat than The NPD Group. For decades now, we’ve been the definitive source of information on food and beverage consumption, whether at home or away-from-home. Snacks-on-the-go? Lunch at the drive-thru? Dinner with the family? We track them all.
We monitor a wide range of critical food industry trends and track consumer behavior, attitudes, and usage motivators – from diet and nutrition to food safety and brand awareness.
The smartest companies in the food and beverage industry depend on our information, insights, and expertise to understand what consumers are actually eating and drinking. In addition to providing this unique information, we can combine our data with your information or third-party data to help you solve specific, difficult business issues.
National Eating Trends
National Eating Trends® (NET®) monitors thousands of individuals’ eating habits each year to provide a complete view of food and beverage consumption in the U.S. This information goes far beyond supermarket scanner and purchase panel data to focus on consumers’ actual eating situations. For nearly 30 years, NET has captured preparation and consumption situations for foods and beverages, reporting on who consumes particular food and beverage products, when and where they consume them, and how they are consumed. This information can be used in research and new product development as well as in marketing mature brands.
SnackTrack® is the go-to source for U.S. snack food consumption information. SnackTrack’s ongoing consumer data collection presents a complete picture of snack and convenience foods to help you understand critical trends in behavior, attitudes, and usage. It captures who, when, where, why, and how specific snack-oriented foods and brands are consumed, and examines situational and motivational dynamics that affect snack food consumption. Leading snack and convenience food manufacturers rely on SnackTrack to provide insight beyond conventional purchase databases.
Examine the top-of-mind dieting and health issues facing consumers today. Dieting Monitor helps companies understand dieting patterns, perceptions of dieting and health, and the influence these factors have on consumers. It also reports on awareness of and participation in specific diets, including all of the programs consumers and the media talk about most.
Food Safety Monitor
Understand the strong influence consumers’ food safety concerns can have on your business and your industry. Equipping your company with a clear view of consumers’ food safety worries, this tracking tool provides unprecedented insight into consumers’ food safety concerns, food safety knowledge, and future eating intentions, allowing for strong and strategic decision making.
International Food & Beverage Habits
Get a complete view of consumers’ food and beverage habits, both in-home and away, in Brazil, Russia, India, Mexico, and China (“BRIMC” countries). This report reveals the structure of eating and drinking occasions throughout the day and how food and beverage categories fit into those occasions. Based on a consistent survey methodology across these emerging markets and the U.S., this study delivers the insight needed to uncover the most promising opportunities for food and beverage marketers.
This inventory of American kitchens represents a key “ingredient” in recipe development. Since its inception in 1993, The NPD Group’s Kitchen Audit study has offered food and housewares manufacturers a comprehensive profile of the foods, beverages, appliances, cookware, utensils, and other cooking materials kept on hand in American home kitchens. It also identifies who uses recipes and where they source them from.
NET Hispanic Study
Explore eating habits of Hispanic consumers, both at home and away from home. The study reveals new details about the cooking, eating, and dining behaviors of Hispanics in the U.S. It also explores the many segments of the U.S. Hispanic population and their unique characteristics and needs that influence food behaviors, including detail on U.S. Hispanics by country of origin, acculturation, language, and first/second/third generations.
You have opportunities. You face threats. What you need are smart, quantifiable methods of distinguishing one from the other and maximizing your chances of success. NPD’s Analytic Solutions Group includes a team of senior leaders with extensive experience developing and delivering analytic solutions that address strategic marketing, sales, and planning issues.
We combine NPD POS and consumer information, industry expertise, and custom survey research – then add state-of-the-discipline research techniques and methodologies to explain the "why behind the buy.” Through advanced modeling and analytic services, we offer insight into what will happen in the future, not just what has happened in the past, answering your most pressing business questions:
- What consumer segments should we target and why? How do we know if we’re successful over time?
- Which products are hot? How should we respond?
- What’s the sales potential and ROI for my new / revamped product idea?
- What is the optimal feature combination for my product?
- How do I monitor my performance in my sales territories, distribution areas, etc.?
- Is your promotion strategy attracting new buyers or just moving forward sales you would have gotten anyway?
- How will a competitor’s price drop impact your sales next quarter, and how should you respond?
- Will my product category grow or decline? Why? What does this mean for my market share?
- What’s the competitive landscape and where are my best opportunities (Food)?
- What levers should we pull to increase sales and market share?
- Why are some of our stores performing better than others?
- Why do consumers choose our brand? Our competitors’ brands?
- How effective is our advertising? How can we improve it?
- What products should we develop?
- What products should we sell?
- How can we optimize assortment based on local market dynamics?
- Which people should we target? Why?
- How do we know if we are successful over time?
See how clients have used our analytic solutions to solve their business challenges in our Analytic Solutions Case Study Library.
Grocery e-commerce is a game changer for both manufacturers and retailers. Now there's a resource that explains how it works for shoppers and sets the stage for the approaching tipping point.
With new labeling laws on the horizon, it’s critical to understand and address consumers’ concerns.
In the food and beverage industry, foresight about the future of how people will eat and drink and deep insight about what they’re doing right now can make all the difference to your growth trajectory. This year we’ve dug deeper than ever before into our unique data assets and industry expertise. The result? An unparalleled look at actual consumption behavior and how it’s changing, both at home and away from home. You can use the Annual Report on Eating Patterns in America to determine which emerging behavior patterns will help drive your business and identify new market opportunities.
Meal kit delivery services like Blue Apron and Plated have garnered a small, but seemingly dedicated, segment of enthusiasts in the U.S. Are these kits a passing fad, or is this a trend worth watching? Our new report, Thinking Inside the Box: A Fresh Look at Meal Kit Delivery Services, combines findings of our own custom study with ongoing NET® consumer tracking research, insights from our Checkout Tracking solution, and industry expertise. It uncovers answers to your pressing questions about this new player in your market.
Find out how the food and beverage consumption of key generations – Gen Z, Millennials, and Boomers – is set to change as these groups move through life stages. Our new report, A Generational Study: The Evolution of Eating, reveals whether their patterns will be similar to, or different from, those of previous generations. It’s how to develop marketing strategies and make long-range plans that position your business for growth.
The boundary between foods eaten between and during meals continues to blur, but now you can get clear answers to your most pressing questions about snack foods and between-meal consumption. Our Snacking in America report provides deep insight into consumer behavior to help you answer the question, “What’s the future of snacking?”. Partnering with CultureWaves, the Snacking in America report now has an added layer of qualitative behavioral insights, giving perspective and real time evidence about the evolution of snacking in America.
Guess Who’s Eating Their Vegetables Now? Younger Consumers Drive Growth of Fresh and Frozen Vegetable Consumption; Boomers Not So MuchThe continual parental reminder to “eat your vegetables” stuck with Millennials and Gen Zs because they are driving the growth in fresh and frozen vegetable consumption, but many of the parents who offered the reminder are not eating theirs, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Younger consumers, those under age 40, have increased the annual eatings per capita of fresh vegetables by 52 percent and frozen vegetables by 59 percent over the last decade. Boomers, ages 60 and up, on the other hand, decreased their consumption of fresh vegetables by 30 percent and frozen vegetables by 4 percent over the same period.
U.S. Consumers Drink Fewer Purchased Beverages But Prefer Coffee, Soft Drinks, Milk, Iced Tea, and Bottled Water When They DoU.S. consumers have been drinking fewer purchased beverages for the last decade, but they turn to the beverage standards of coffee, soft drinks, milk, iced tea, or bottled water when they do, finds The NPD Group, a leading global information company. There are 72 fewer in- and away from home occasions per person annually when a purchased beverage is consumed today than there was a decade ago. It’s not that consumers are only drinking tap water; there are still about 1100 beverage occasions per person a year, which equates to about 3 non-tap water drinks a day, according to NPD Group’s continual tracking of U.S. consumer’s eating and drinking behaviors.
Increasing Popularity of Supermarket Restaurant-Style Foods Translates to Growing Food Safety ConcernsWith the rise of the grocerant — supermarkets that offer prepared, restaurant-style foods — comes consumer concerns regarding food safety. Although the majority of U.S. consumers feel that foods in supermarkets are safe, the percentage who feels this way has decreased over the last ten years as grocery stores have increased prepared food offerings, according to The NPD Group, a leading global information company. NPD Group, which has tracked food safety concerns in the U.S. since 2001, indicates that in 2006, 66 percent agreed with the statement that foods sold in supermarkets are safe, and in 2016 (thru August) only 58 percent of adults agree with the statement.
Nutrition Facts Label Overhaul Plan Comes at a Time When Fewer U.S. Consumers Are Looking at the LabelWith a vote of support from First Lady Michele Obama, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced its plans to overhaul the Nutrition Facts label on the back of packaged foods. The announcement comes at a time when the percent of U.S. consumers who actually read the Nutrition Facts label is declining, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. A decade ago 15 percent of consumers said that they do not look at the label and now 24 percent don’t, according to NPD’s ongoing food consumption research.
Food and beverage consumption patterns are among the most stable consumer behaviors, but changes are happening that will alter, and even disrupt, what we consider to be the fundamentals for this industry. These trends are gathering steam. We will closely monitor them in the coming year and beyond.
Sweating the small stuff
It's the little things grabbing consumers’ attention these days; they can be small but influential ways to garner loyalty among consumers. Increasingly consumers are looking to support brands and companies that do more than manufacture a product —they want to support causes and actions aligned with their values. People feel they’re doing right when they support companies that are connected to locally sourced ingredients, donations to charities, sustainable environmental practices, and animal welfare practices. The constant flow of Internet-based information will continue growing, so expect younger consumers especially to research brands and pinpoint those with the qualities they value.
Healthful eating gets personal
It’s not about what works on average but what works for the individual. Just as consumers want personal touches in the foods they eat, health is getting personal as well. Wearable devices that track footsteps and apps that track calories allow consumers to develop their own personal plans to meet their needs, rather than relying on health plans based on averages. Even though dieting is on the decline, “my own diet” is still rising as the most common way consumers take control of their intake. They’re looking for personal plans that meet their own specific interests, and more importantly, their lifestyles.
The future is now
Technology is quickly making its way into how we acquire our foods and beverages. It represents a small portion of food acquisition but has the potential to grow if consumers are convinced the extra cost of technology saves time in other areas of their lives. Technology is also helping consumers avoid the grocery store entirely by enabling them to purchase their groceries online and have them delivered to their homes. Based on growth patterns for this behavior we expect to see more people in the coming years use retailers’ websites or third-party sites like InstaCart to acquire foods and beverages.
Meal kits, still in their infancy, are another time-saver and solve the age-old problem of figuring out what to have for dinner. The kits also prevent fresh foods from spoiling by providing the exact amount of ingredients called for by a particular recipe.
Home is where the meal is
It’s becoming more common to make meals at home while also using dishes sourced from restaurants. Those purchased components are more likely to be appetizers or side dishes, indicating consumers use these dishes as quick ways to round out or complete their meals. It’s yet another sign people want freshly prepared items in the home without having to spend a great deal of time in the kitchen. This is a true generational shift; younger consumers already consume fresh foods at rates higher than older adults did when they were the same age. As these younger consumers age, our forecast shows their demand for freshness in a hurry will only increase.
The NPD Group is constantly monitoring these trends and so should you. These are exciting times in the food and beverage industry as there many changes occurring at rates we haven’t seen in quite a while. Don’t risk falling behind your competition and plan now for these shifts before they get bigger.
Eating habits are evolving in the U.S., and that includes blurring of the lines between traditional meal components and snack food items to create simpler meals. This has many food manufacturers struggling to find ways to jump-start growth. Winning share of stomach requires a deep understanding of what’s happening at home and at foodservice, so you remain in consumers’ line of sight as they make consumption choices.
Source: The NPD Group/National Eating Trends® (NET®), two years ending Feb. 2016
While more than 80 percent of our meals are sourced from the home, not all food categories follow that same proportion. In fact, several categories are almost exclusively consumed away from home. Hamburgers, for example, are consumed at restaurants nearly three-quarters of the time, yet fruit is consumed in the home 95 percent of the time.
That might be where these categories stand today, but marketers should be aware of gradual shifts over time. For example, sandwiches have started to shift back toward the home. In 2006, 55 percent of sandwiches were consumed in the home, but as of 2016, that has risen to nearly 60 percent. Given how important sandwiches are at lunch and dinner, this can have great implications on surrounding categories such as cold cuts, peanut butter, jelly, breads, and condiments. We’re seeing a similar shift in carbonated soft drinks, which are seeing a decline in consumption from restaurants, but the change for in-home consumption has been flat.
Changing demographics are playing a role in the shifts in consumption locations. Millennials have been a key driver of the movement toward home-prepared meals ever since the recession of 2008 gripped us. Millennials were the first to pull back from restaurants, but even as the economy improved they continued to prepare more meals at home than previous generations did at the same age, signaling a generational shift.
Understanding the dynamics behind each category is essential, because the motivations driving consumption at home versus away can vary greatly. Marketers should rethink the roles certain items play in eating occasions, in order to keep pace with some of these faster-moving shifts influenced by generational and multicultural attitudes.
Craving pizza? Just Tweet a pizza emoji. Want that area rug? Just click the Buyable Pin for it to adorn your own home. Wish the watch in your Instagram feed were on your wrist? Just click on the brand’s profile link to buy it.
Since 2012, social media platforms have integrated click-to-buy features that allow retailers and manufacturers to sell directly to consumers within social platforms. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Snapchat have all gotten in on the trend.
But even though online sales are growing and consumers are spending more time on social media, the jury’s still out: do these social buy buttons actually encourage people to buy, or have we seen the last of them?
Get our latest Insights – The Future of Social Commerce: How “Buy Buttons” Are Disrupting the Retail World
Insights and Opinions from our Analysts and Experts
Driving with my family recently after a long trip away, we pondered what we would do for dinner. We spent the last several days eating restaurant meals and were craving a home cooked dinner. The problem was we were still hours away from home and too tired to stop and grocery shop. My wife suggested using online delivery from our local grocery store. I was skeptical. Would the fresh food sit out on our porch spoiling in the unseasonable Houston heat? She assured me that our retailer promised we could specify the delivery time. And so we placed the order while driving home.
An hour down the road we received a text from Kate, our personal shopper, who told us she was starting our order and asked for permission to text or call with any questions. This communication was followed with a text photo of apples to ensure they met our standards. The order delivered right after we arrived home. We were satisfied with the service and now about half of our grocery shopping has shifted online.
We are among the 52 million consumers who currently shop online and there will be many more of us in the coming months based on our recent The Virtual Grocery Store study. Like us, the majority of online grocery shoppers is satisfied with the experience and become repeat users.
Happy customers, the never-ending search for convenience, more delivery options, shipping deals, like Amazon Prime, the infinite assortment, and more aggressive online strategies being launched by major grocery retailers will drive the quick adoption of virtual grocery shopping. The tipping point will be here before you know it.
Watch, listen, and learn. Food and beverage manufacturers should monitor to ensure their products are part of the assortment where it matters. Grocery retailers should start developing e-commerce programs or to expand current services. Now is the time to act, while shoppers, like my family, are still experimenting and before virtual grocery shopping becomes an everyday reality.
I don’t mean to harp on meal delivery kits in my posts but I keep finding new areas of discussion as I continue to use them!
In my last post, I updated you on my experiences with a few of these services and how I think I will continue using them. I made a small comment that my monthly groceries spend, which includes the meal kits, seems to have dipped. And for those of you who don’t know me, I’m talking about real numbers since I track everything I spend in a financial software on my computer ( yes I’m one of those people).
Shortly after that post went live a colleague forwarded an article that said, “Subscribers to meal kit services are spending 6 percent less at supermarkets than they did before using the service, according to a new study by Atlanta-based credit and debit card spending analysis firm Cardlytics.”
I too am spending less at grocery stores simply because I’m not in them as often, but how am I overall spending less on groceries when the average meal cost per person from a kit is about $10 while getting the groceries yourself is less than half that much? A few things seem to be in play and it hit me when I set foot in a grocery store for the first time in a while. I needed some basil for a recipe I was making but of course I couldn’t simply purchase a few leaves. I could only buy an entire bunch most of which will likely go bad before I will have a chance to use it. Essentially half of that spend will be wasted. Also while I was in the store, I figured I might as well get a few other items like eggs, yogurt, bananas, hummus and other spreads. Remember, I only went to the store for one item but I walked out with about seven so just by being in the store I’m very likely to spend more than what I actually need. Since I subscribe to a meal kit I’m making those impulse purchases far less frequently.
A few retailers have taken note of these services as threats and for good reason. Two thirds of adults in a recent NPD study said had they not made a meal from one of these kits they would have made something else in their home. In other words, meal kits are replacing meals where the ingredients would have been sourced from a grocery store.
It’s still not time to hit the panic button if you’re a retailer since only 3 percent of adults have tried a meal kit in the past year, but they are gearing up to be a formidable disruptor in the food industry. As more consumers are seeking fresh solutions that save time in the kitchen or grocery store, these services are becoming attractive to a greater base of consumers.
I’ve often wondered if I could convince Grubhub Seamless to give me equity in the company given the number of times I use their service. I probably order food for delivery from the internet too often so I decided to take a different path. I’m still using the internet but this time I’m using a meal delivery kit.
A friend already uses Plated so she sent me a link to get my first complimentary box. Just like at meetings in the office, free food is a great motivator! The selection process was fairly easy and I was even able to make slight recipe adjustments that fit my tastes. Everything arrived as planned and I was even impressed with how little packaging was required. All the ingredients were separated by the appropriate recipe and everything still looked fresh despite having been on a delivery truck.
Now the real test – how easy was it to prepare and how did it taste? Well, I still had to do a fair amount of chopping, slicing, and preparation, but the key convenience of the service is that I didn’t have to make a trip to the grocery store. In some areas of the country, going to the grocery store is merely a chore, but in New York City it’s a nightmare with long checkout lines (and sometimes lines to enter the store), crowded aisles, frequent out-of-stock items, all on top of having to take the Subway to get your items home. A little chopping and preparation is a small price to pay here for avoiding the shopping experience. The recipe was easy to follow with pictures to show me exactly how it should look when I’m done with each step. In about an hour, my zucchini lasagna was finished and, I have to say, quite tasty.
The plan I used for Plated costs $72 per week, and each box has three meals that feed two people. If you do the math that comes out to $12 per person per meal and for me that’s a bargain! It costs much less than going out to dinner, ordering for delivery and is probably only slightly more than going to the grocery store to get the ingredients. I fully understand, however, that prices where I live are higher than the rest of the country (and don’t get me started on Hamilton tickets).
At NPD we recently conducted a study on consumers using these services and one of the most interesting findings was that the majority of users said had they not prepared a meal from the kit they would have made another meal from their homes. In other words, meal kits are mostly replacing meals from the home but at higher prices. I’m often asked about the long-term viability of these services and my answer is always that meal delivery kit companies need to convince consumers they are worth the extra spend for the convenience and time savings they provide. Consumers also tell us a key challenge at dinner time is finding new and different recipes to make, which meal kits inherently provide and can be a key marketing message as well.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on May 20, 2016, changes to the 20-year-old Nutrition Facts label, which include font size change as well as new pieces of information required by food manufacturers in 2018. Among the changes are making "Calories" a much larger font than the rest of the label as well as now requiring an "Added Sugars" line to call out sugars that were placed in the product through the manufacturing process. The FDA probably had the best of intentions with these changes but the question is whether or not consumers will even take note of these changes.
For each of the last 10 years, more adults told us through our Dieting Monitor that they don't even look at the Nutrition Facts label; about a quarter of adults now claim they never to look at the panel. This increase could in part be attributed to the lack of news on the panel for the last two decades. It's almost like living in a big city for a long time with noise at all hours - you know it's there but you just don't pay attention to it anymore! So perhaps the label is more than ripe for change, but is making calories larger going to do it?
Over the last decade it was the top item adults looked at on the label, and since we've been told "calories in, calories out" during that time, why shouldn't consumers have done that? However, I've always had the sense that consumers aren't sure of the total calorie count they should consume on a daily basis. When restaurants began placing calorie counts on their menus, we saw little to no changes in behaviors. I believe it's because consumers don't have a relative yard stick against which they can apply the calorie number to know if it's too high. Think of it like this, the rest of the world uses the metric system, so if someone from a foreign country were to land in the U.S. and were told by the captain it's 30 degrees Fahrenheit, their first question might be, "is that hot or cold?" In case you're wondering, 30F = -1C and that's cold in my book!
Where we might see interest among consumers is with the Added Sugars line. Already we've seen consumers say that sugars are now the number one item they want to cut out of their diets replacing fats. This intention has also been followed by behaviors - over the last decade consumers are eating fewer sugary drinks and ice cream, and more bottled water, savory snacks, and "better-for-you" snacks like fruit and yogurt. But the other reason I think this number might be eye-opening for consumers is that they don't need to understand if the total number is high or low but they can see it in relation to the naturally occurring sugars. For example, if the Total Sugars line is 15g and the added sugars line as 12g, they can see the product naturally has very few grams of sugar and that nearly all the sugar in the product was added by the manufacturer.
As with most things, time will tell if the new label will have a result on our behaviors. As I always say in my talks, our consumption patterns move but very slowly so when these changes take effect in 2018 we should monitor behaviors for several years before we can say for sure if consumers are changing their ways.
Twice this year I’ve had the fortune of a business trip near where my parents live, thus saving me the personal expense of the visit! Since I study food trends, however, I guess I’m never really away from work since eating is something we all do at least a few times a day. I always find it interesting to compare my eating habits with my parents to see if we’re like most other Americans, particularly when it comes to generational differences.
On both these trips I stayed at their house and made my breakfast each morning so as not to burden them – anything to win the title of favorite child. One day I made eggs with spinach and feta cheese, on another day I had Greek yogurt, and when I was pressed for time I had a bar. To me it’s nice to change things up a little to ensure I don’t get bored and fall hopelessly into a rut.
My father joined in on the eggs one day, but on the others he stuck to his fruit while my mother had some toast with cottage cheese. I always thought variety was the spice of life but it seems that message didn’t get to my folks until I probed a little further to understand the motivations behind their morning meal decisions.
Dad’s been doing a great job of getting into shape to the point where he’s putting me to shame. His breakfasts are motivated by sticking to what he knows will help him maintain his healthy lifestyle. Mom’s motivations are a little different in that she’s looking for foods that won’t upset her stomach or give her heartburn. Overall my parents stick to their routines in the morning because they know the foods they choose are helping them achieve their health goals while avoiding unwanted consequences.
NPD’s continual tracking of eating patterns reveals a similar dynamic between Baby Boomers and Millennials. For the record, I’m a Gen Xer, but I appear to emulate their want for variety in the morning as I’m not as concerned the foods I eat will negatively impact me. Like Boomers, I like to start my day right, but I’m willing to reach for different items in my kitchen as I start my day. When we look at Boomers’, however, they stress motivations that center around favorites and routine because they have more reasons to narrow the available options.
Universally consumers’ breakfasts are motivated by a certain degree of healthfulness, but it’s important for marketers to dig deeper into the subtle nuances to most effectively communicate how your products satisfy all the motivations in play.
Now if only business trips near my family occurred regularly I could easily settle into that routine!
I just returned from the National Confectioners Association’s State of the Industry conference where the phrase, “There’s a war on sugar – not candy,” seemed to be a recurring theme. In today’s age of sugar avoidance, it might seem like a Hail Mary pass from an industry trying to navigate through tough headwinds, but when you look at consumers’ actual wants and needs it makes sense.
For full disclosure, I am one of the many people who want to avoid sugar in their diets and I actively try to avoid sweets whenever possible. I make eggs in the morning to avoid the simple carbs in many cold cereals, at lunch I opt for whole wheat bread for my sandwiches, and at dinner I try to use vegetables as side dishes and avoid rice and bread.
Every once in a while, however, I’ll get a craving for some nice chocolate and when I sink my teeth into it, I feel a rush of satisfaction and forget all the thoughts about avoiding sugar because my mouth AND mind are experiencing such a degree of bliss.
NPD’s ongoing snacking research reflects similar sentiments among consumers when it comes to their sweets. They try to avoid them, but they love them nonetheless. When you look at what we snack on over the course of the day, better-for-you items like fruit, yogurt, and savory snacks are the snacks of choice earlier in the day. It’s not until around 8 pm that we allow ourselves sweet indulgences. Maybe we want to reward ourselves for being good up to that point or are so tired our discipline is depleted.
This is why I’ve said during my snacking presentations that it’s not a matter of altering candy products to appeal to those who are watching their sugar intake, it’s a matter of appealing to the wants and emotions of consumers at the time of day when they are most likely to indulge in sweets. Point being that there is no war on candy…at least not in the evening.
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.
Everyone is on the qui vive for the next wildly inventive food fad. Who knows, maybe for the next fad even people living here around the global food blog’s mountain redoubt will get a chance to eat/see the exciting new thing. We can all hope.
Remember when there was no Cajun food outside of Louisiana? Probably not. You have to be kind of old to remember when Paul Prudhomme published his first cookbook and the country went crazy for all things Cajun. There was a surfeit of new Cajun restaurants in Chicago and non-Cajun restaurants all had “blackened something” on their menus.
No sooner had the excitement settled into a dull roar than the food press began talking about the “next Cajun.” Would it be Jamaican? Maybe Indian (still waiting). Could it be Middle Eastern? These days we’re thinking that maybe Peruvian could be it. The truth is that nothing has hit the food world quite like Cajun did in 1983 and 84. And don’t tell me Mexican; that just means you’re from the Northeast. And don’t tell me Thai; that predates Cajun in my food timeline.
Then the Cronut came along and, in its own way, became the next Cajun. Sorta. I’m pretty sure the words written about the Cronut out number the count of the people who ate the real thing by a factor of about 10. It spawned the phrase “the next Cronut.”
Speaking of the next Cronut, we’re getting ready to launch CREST Korea, our ongoing foodservice market research. We’ve already done a pilot to prepare for the launch and found that:
1. Koreans (like everyone) like their own food and their own brands. The fast food landscape is dominated by Korean chains.
2. Coffee and Cafes play a larger role in the Korean foodservice market than you might expect.
3. Bakeries? Who knew?…including Paris Baguette, which was recently identified by a US trade mag as being “French.” One look at the place, with the self service, the trays, and the tongs tells you this is Asian, not European.
4. Bulgogi is delightful. OK, that’s not the data talking. That’s me. But it is, 100%, a fact.
So now we and our CREST Korea clients are ready. Data collection will kick off on 1 January and will continue (as I tell everyone) until the end of time; just as is the case in any of the 12 countries where we have a CREST service. This spell of time before launch, no matter how far in advance we start, is always kind of frantic as we review build-after-build of the questionnaire until it’s just right…then we will translate it to Korean and start all over again.
Part of that process is to actually take the questionnaire over and over again to see if it breaks during any sequence of answers. It’s good to have an actual visit to a restaurant in mind when taking the questionnaire or a person can get lost. For the big chains, we present respondents with the chain’s actual menu to tell us what they had to eat or drink.
And, there on Burger King Korea’s menu, as I was testing the questionnaire, were the words “chicken doughnut.” Those two words, chicken and doughnut, together for the first time. You don’t need a good reason to go to Seoul. It’s lovely. And the Koreans do things with chicken that will make you smack your lips.
But if you want a shot at the next big thing? Chicken Doughnuts. ’Nuff said.
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