For more than 40 years, The NPD Group has been tracking the foodservice and restaurant industry daily. We are the leading source for trends, performance indicators, and market sizing—with unique information and insight that spans the entire supply chain, from manufacturers to distributors to operators.
Our flagship information service for the foodservice industry, CREST®, along with SupplyTrack® and our other foodservice market research, can help you with strategic planning and positioning, product/menu development, customer targeting, competitive analysis, and product performance tracking.
We can also bring these robust data assets along with our industry expertise and combine it with your data or third-party data to address your unique business issues.
Since 1975 CREST®, NPD's flagship information
CREST Local Market
See CREST restaurant information broken out across the top media markets in the U.S. This view allows you to benchmark performance and analyze competitive strengths and weaknesses at the local market level. Ask us for a complete listing of the markets available.
Four times a year, CREST OnSite reports on consumer dining experiences in the vending, business and industry, secondary school, college and university, recreation, lodging, hospital, senior care, and military segments. Clients receive an in-depth view of what foods and beverages are purchased, where and when they are consumed, how much they cost, and how satisfied consumers were with their dining experiences.
Checkout Tracking℠ provides information on consumer buying behavior at the market basket level, based on receipts for brick-and-mortar retail purchases. You get precise, item-level purchase detail that is linked to buyers and their demographics. Data comes from large-scale longitudinal panels, making it possible to study the same consumers over time, analyze competitive market baskets, and identify purchase patterns.
NPD Sampler Package
The NPD Sampler Package incorporates highlights from many of NPD’s signature offerings, including CREST® and ReCount®, on a smaller scale and at a lower price point than a full data subscription. It provides an introduction to the power of deep data and expert insights to help manufacturers and distributors get the right products in the right places for the right people.
SupplyTrack® is the only monthly point-of-sale service that tracks every product shipped from a critical mass of leading foodservice distributors to each of their operators. It delivers in-depth insights for categories, brands, items, product attributes, and operator segments. Foodservice manufacturers and distributors use this information to view market trends, measure performance, size the market, and develop sales optimization strategies.
Know more with ReCount®, a census of commercial restaurant locations in the U.S. and Canada. It includes both chain and independent restaurant locations. Restaurants are categorized by service type and food specialty within the QSR and FSR segments, and by geography, from the national level down to specific unit address.
QSR Market Monitor
This continuous (daily), syndicated awareness, trial, and usage tracker for quick-service restaurant (QSR) operators captures information on what motivates consumers to visit restaurants, delivering in-depth insight into brand/advertising awareness, ad content recalled, ad ratings, cross-chain purchasing, recency of visit, and customer satisfaction.
Uncover answers with this market benchmarking service for participating chains in North America and Europe. It delivers monthly or weekly reports on total system sales, branded units, and same-store sales trends, based on actual sales data. The SalesTrack® suite also includes SalesTrack Weekly and SalesTrack Market.
Convenience Store Monitor
The Convenience Store Monitor helps manufacturers and retailers understand what is selling and who’s buying at convenience stores. Its exclusive detail includes the unique characteristics of convenience store shoppers, profiles of product categories, and insights into specific chains’ strengths and weaknesses – all of which can be analyzed by dayparts, regions, key channel and demographic metrics.
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?
- 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)?
- Which products are hot? How should we respond?
- What’s the sales potential and ROI for my new / revamped product idea?
- Is our online advertising set up for off-line sales success?
- How effectively will a new in-store display we’re developing boost point-of-sale transactions?
- Which of the new communications we’ve worked so hard on communicates the product’s value proposition most effectively?
See how clients have used our analytic solutions to solve their business challenges in our Analytic Solutions Case Study Library.
With new labeling laws on the horizon, it’s critical to understand and address consumers’ concerns. Most consumers now say they are aware of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and many of them tell us they aren’t comfortable buying and consuming foods that include them. Our new report, Navigating GMOs for Success, gives you new information and expert insight into this consumer mindset. It’s how to get the knowledge you need to improve product positioning and deliver effective marketing messages to respond to GMO-related concerns.
It's a "one-percent world," where growth is largely absent across foodservice segments. And now we're even seeing a slowdown in a former bright spot: quick service restaurants. But rather than simply accepting the status quo, smart companies are looking more deeply into what's actually behind the slow-to-no-growth problem. They want to identify their best opportunities to not just survive, but thrive. That's where The NPD Group's Losing Our Appetite for Restaurants report comes in.
Is Delivery the Right Choice for Your Business? Delivery is one of the most convenient options a restaurant operator can offer to address consumers’ need for a convenient meal solution. And now there are new possibilities available to you, if you’re looking to enter the delivery market. Explore consumers' habits, behaviors, and attitudes related to food delivery with NPD's new report.
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.
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.
The NPD Group, a global provider of information and advisory services, announced that Karyn Schoenbart has been named Chief Executive Officer, effective immediately. Tod Johnson will continue full time as Executive Chairman.
Total U.S. Restaurant Counts Dip by Two Percent; Restaurant Density Is At Its Lowest Level in Ten Years
The total number of U.S. restaurants decreased by two percent from a year ago to 620,807 units, according to a count of U.S. commercial restaurant locations compiled each spring and fall by The NPD Group, a leading global information company. With the decline in restaurant units, restaurant density (units per million population) is at its lowest level in the past ten years, dropping from 1,992 units per million in fall 2007 to 1,924 units per million in fall 2016, based on NPD’s Fall 2016 ReCount®, which includes restaurants open as of September 30, 2016.
As goes the U.S. quick service restaurant (QSR) segment, so goes the total foodservice industry. QSRs, which represent 80 percent of total commercial foodservice visits, realized no traffic growth in 2016 and total foodservice traffic dipped slightly, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Visits to full service restaurants, which combined represent 20 percent of total industry traffic, declined last year, according to NPD Group’s daily tracking of consumers’ use of restaurants and other foodservice outlets.
Getting customers who visit restaurants less to visit more may be overstating the obvious in terms of boosting sluggish U.S. foodservice traffic growth. It turns out that it’s not. If half of the light restaurant users made one more visit per year it would be an incremental increase in sales of $1.1 billion, finds a new report from The NPD Group, a leading global information company. The report, which is based on NPD’s receipt mining service, Checkout TrackingSM, and its ongoing foodservice market research, examines the reasons why consumers have cut back on foodservice visits and which type of users — heavy, medium, light, and super light —decreased their visits the most.
U.S. consumers will take a personal approach to their health and wellness in 2017, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Wearable devices that track footsteps and apps that track calories enable 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, according to NPD Group’s continual tracking of consumers’ eating attitudes and behaviors.
Total U.S. Restaurant Industry Visit Growth Will Remain Stalled in 2017 But Quick Service Restaurant Traffic Will See Uptick
U.S. restaurant industry traffic will remain stalled in 2017 in much the same manner it did in 2016, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. The new year will bring little to no traffic growth for the total U.S. foodservice market. Quick service restaurants (QSRs), however, will increase visits by an estimated 1 percent, faring better than the flat growth achieved in 2016. The modest gain for QSRs will offset the anticipated 2 percent decline for full service restaurants, resulting in no-growth traffic for the industry overall, according to NPD Group’s daily tracking of U.S. consumers’ use restaurants and other foodservice outlets.
In a world of uncertainty, one thing is certain in 2017: America will eat! But how and where people source meals and the attributes that will win share of wallet are ever-changing, and according to The NPD Group, a leading global information company, here are five overarching trends to watch in 2017.
The global foodservice industry held steady in the third quarter and performed better than the previous quarter in spite of strong headwinds — an earthquake in Italy, a terror attack in France, a potential recession in Canada, concerns over the impact of Brexit, and two years of a deep recession in Brazil, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Visits to European restaurants and other foodservice outlets were at least flat and sales were up. Australia, which has enjoyed nearly a generation of economic growth, out-performed all other global foodservice markets in terms of traffic growth. With its economy improving at a moderate rate, Japan’s foodservice consumers increased their visits. Canada, which had the largest decline in its GDP since the second quarter of 2009, realized a modest gain in traffic in the third quarter over last year.
U.S. consumers are now more informed about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the benefits of their use in producing food, but many still have concerns about them , finds The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Over half of consumers in 2013 had little to no awareness of GMOs and that percentage has shrunk to a little over a third. As awareness grows more consumers recognize that GMOs have benefits in producing better and more resilient crops, but for many of those aware the benefits don’t outweigh their worry, making GMOs the fastest growing food additive concern, according to new NPD Group research.
After Two Consecutive Quarters of Stalled Traffic Growth, Restaurant Visits Decline in Third Quarter
A confluence of squeezed consumer wallets, the rising cost of dining out, and changing needs and wants has brought the U.S. restaurant industry traffic growth to a halt in the first two quarters of 2016 and into the negative in the third quarter, reports The NPD Group, the leading global information company. Total foodservice visits declined by 1 percent in the third quarter compared to same quarter last year, and quick service restaurant traffic, which represents 80 percent of total industry visits, dropped for the first time in five years, according to NPD’s ongoing foodservice market research.
Foodservice manufacturers, operators and food retailers are looking for opportunities for growth. A key strategy is appealing to the desires of the consumer. Find out more about what is trending in food – it’s all in this video featuring David Portalatin, Senior Industry Analyst.
Convenience stores are one of the few growing segments in the U.S. foodservice industry. They’re food-forward, evolving, and rapidly creating opportunities for manufacturers and operators to gain new revenue.
Most consumers now say they are aware of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and many of them tell us they aren’t comfortable buying and consuming foods that include them. Our new report, Navigating GMOs for Success, gives you new information and expert insight into this consumer mindset. It’s how to get the knowledge you need to improve product positioning and deliver effective marketing messages to respond to GMO-related concerns.
Consumers are price-sensitive. But how sensitive are they at different full service restaurant operators, across different meal occasions? In our September 2016 brief, we take a deep dive on the midscale morning meal to understand the source of its decline, and do the same for casual dining dinner to examine the drop in consumer price point satisfaction.
Specifically, we use Value Composite Scores to explore:
- The strength of the midscale operator’s value proposition at the morning meal occasion
- How much the casual dining dinner’s value proposition has eroded due to higher price points
- Consumer tolerance for future menu price increases
Read on to find out the consumer “sweet spot” and how it’s moved over the past three years.
Our client, a major food manufacturer, was in a pickle: its product line was in decline, and it needed to know where it should focus its product development, selling, and marketing efforts. Should it push its kosher dills to restaurant operators or grocery retailers? Did out-of-home lunches or backyard barbeques lend themselves best to its sweet gherkins? Should it market its pickled vegetables as versatile sandwich trimmings or stand-alone menu items? The client turned to us for answers.
A major QSR chain’s analytics team had big questions: how did its dessert offerings stack up to its competitors’ dessert flavors, sizes, and pricing? And was there an item selling well for its competitors that it should add to the menu? Checkout Tracking delivered the answers, and did it faster than other analytics tools would have.
Craft coffee brewers are trending as a niche opportunity in the U.S. coffee market, with coffee consumers now using methods at home, like French press, pour over, and siphons. And that’s causing some confusion in the industry, since these craft-coffee consumers differ from traditional coffee drinkers in some important ways.
The behaviors of the Millennial generation have been highly analyzed and studied, so it shouldn’t be surprising to hear this group prefers fresh foods and beverages and favors healthy snack food choices. The unanswered question until now has been whether these behaviors are attributable to life stage or if they are generational shifts that will carry through the rest of their lives.
Americans have been told for the last 30 years they should consume more vegetables, with little movement from consumers on that initiative. Marketers have attempted to make vegetables more enticing with dips and other additions, but increasing vegetable consumption has been an elusive goal. What’s shifting is where people source vegetables in the grocery store. Our National Eating Trends® data shows nearly half of the vegetables eaten in the 1980s came from the fresh aisle of the store; that has grown to about 60 percent more recently. It’s apparently a zero-sum shift as consumers move away from frozen and canned forms of vegetables in favor of fresh – while keeping their total vegetable consumption levels steady.
We’ve observed that Millennials are a big reason why fresh consumption has been increasing overall, but can we attribute that increase to where they are in their lives? Our new report, A Generational Study: The Evolution of Eating, says Millennials’ shifts reflect a fundamental change in the way they prioritize fresh foods, emphasizing fresh over other forms. When looking at fresh consumption among individuals under the age of 40, it’s happening in greater numbers than it did among their predecessors 10 years ago. We see the opposite dynamic for those older than 40.
Millennials’ consumption of more fresh foods isn’t the whole explanation for their increased usage. Another key dynamic for fresh foods is that people tend to consume more of them as they age. We should expect this to continue for Millennials as well, who are already consuming more fresh foods than those at the equivalent life stage 10 years ago, but Boomers have hit a life stage when people typically consume the most fresh items in their lives. Despite the fact that Boomers aren’t consuming fresh foods in the same quantities as previous generations did at their age, the sheer size of their group is large enough to continue driving fresh consumption higher.
Source: The NPD Group/National Eating Trends® (NET®), Years Ending February
food defined as fresh fruit, vegetables, refrigerated meats, poultry, fish, and
End dish and additive/ingredient uses
Changing snack food consumption is another hot topic, but the drivers of change differ from what’s driving growth in fresh foods and beverages. Looking at snack foods consumed during snack occasions, Millennials do not appear to be outliers. The changes we’re observing there are mostly attributable to overall increases with each generation as well as the natural tendency to snack more often with age.
To learn more about generational versus life stage shifts in consumption contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every journalist and student in America knows the so-called five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. It turns out the same five Ws are also the most basic forms of consumer segmentation.
But relationships among the five Ws of shopping are a bit more complex than they are among the five Ws of writing. And the tales they tell are illuminating.
We shared online and brick-and-mortar, receipt-based data from our Checkout TrackingSM service with researchers from the Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania. The study revealed the what and the why of consumer purchases are linked to the when of consumers’ lifestyles. In other words, when people have babies, they buy baby things. But the how and where of purchases are tied to who a consumer is by generation.
Even when the other four Ws are the same, it’s who we are – Boomer, Gen X, or Millennial – that makes all the difference.
Consumers' beverage preferences have shifted. They are having fewer beverage occasions at home and ordering drinks less frequently at restaurants. Here are some of the latest beverage facts from our Eating Patterns in America report.
Insights and Opinions from our Analysts and Experts
Two blistering hot delivery stories in the news this week: Amazon Food in London and Chipotle/Alphabet delivering burritos at Virginia Tech via drone. I love drones. I love delivery because it accounts for less than 10% of traffic in every market we track but it seems to attract everyone's attention. It certainly gets a lot of press. I’m going with the drones.
Before I start, think about this: Have you actually been to a pizza restaurant to eat a pizza "on-premises" recently? The pizza is hot. Really hot. The cheese is like napalm. The whole experience adds up to an entirely different food from the thing we either pick up or have delivered. Yes, it's satisfying and convenient to have a restaurant-made pizza in the home. And, it has been so long for most us since we had one in a restaurant that we've forgotten what it's like. Eating at home or in the office or wherever is not the same as eating it in a restaurant is. Hold that thought.
One of the very thrilling aspects about living in the San Francisco Bay Area is that you get to be part of all the very cool things that online companies are trying to do. You can talk to Alexa and she'll have pizza or groceries or an Uber at your door in no time. You see Google and Amazon trucks running around delivering things in a jiffy. You see billboards advertising these magical services. Your Millennial kids talk about how great they are. It's like living in the future.
Unless you have a place near my wife’s office. Not South Bay. Not the Peninsula. Not exactly East Bay. Wannabee Silicon Valley. All equal distances from the three main airports. Frequently driving next to those massive private commuting buses. But not in a zip code that is cool enough for any of those cool things. To be fair, I once received an Amazon order a couple of hours after I placed it. I don't remember what it was but it made me feel very up on things all the same.
So, you'd think that if ANYONE is going to have burritos delivered by DRONE, it's going to be those people who drive past me in a giant bus on the 101. It's not going to be someone in Blacksburg, Virginia (a lovely town). Well, turns out you'd be wrong.
But let's think about the napalm cheese on a pizza. Everybody loves leftover pizza. It’s great for breakfast. It’s great as you’re putting it away after binging on Game of Thrones (although, everyone I know watched it week by week). That’s why it’s ok to have it delivered. It’s different, but it’s nearly as good in its tepid or cold states as it is when it is blistering hot out of the oven.
Not so much burritos. A quick survey of my Millennial focus group about the consumption of leftover burritos got some quick and serious feedback…as well as the hashtag #noburritoleftbehind. Some didn’t understand how a burrito could be left over. All agreed that a burrito could not be consumed later. There was some agreement that a burrito bowl, with the right ingredients, might be eaten later. You know why? Because burritos are only good when they are at their hottest and freshest.
All ate burritos last night.
All the action in delivery in recent years in the US market has been in the method of ordering. This has had the effect of sharply increasing the proportion of delivered goods that are NOT pizza. That was a problem waiting to be solved. Because of these cool new services, all the growth in delivery in the US has been non-pizza driven.
I feel old and cranky when I say this but, I’m not clear about the problem that is solved by delivering things with drones. Domino’s seems to have solved the “delivery problem” by having a bunch of people hanging around the stores. Uber Eats is roping bunches of people into piece-work labor. Amazon Restaurant is (if you live in a cool enough zip code) doing much the same thing as are other services all around the world with cars, scooters, bicycles, and feet.
However, looking at the traffic in Shanghai, Sao Paolo, or any number of cities around the world, I can see the motivation to find some other way of getting around. So, it’s bound to come no matter what I think. And, if you spent any time in Shanghai, you know that it won't be long before people are sending their kids to school hanging from a drone.
So, now I’m imagining a catering kitchen or even an old K Mart converted into bunches of micro-kitchens that prepare food to go that has been ordered through different apps. On the roof lives the drone operator who loads the devices, incanting “fly my pretties, fly” as he sends off wave after wave of self-guided flying robots.
I love looking at a bunch of people after an event standing at the curb, looking down at their smart phones and then looking left, right or center to see their Ubers arrive. This will now be complemented with a bunch of people standing outside their doors, smart phones in hand, scanning the sky for the arrival of their dinners.
O brave new world.
When my wife and I were new parents, tired and broke, we once vacationed in Minneapolis by staying in her brother's house while he and his wife were away. It was a small and lovely house near the lakes in the city and it proved to be a relaxing getaway.
Our sister-in-law was and remains a person adept at wielding the resources around her. One of those resources was an avid cook in the neighborhood. She had arranged to have this cook provide her and my brother-in-law with a couple of vegetarian (really, what else would it be?) dinners every week. They thoughtfully failed to cancel this service while they were away and we had the delightful surprise of a couple of fresh dinners that week. My sister-in- law long ago stopped that arrangement but now has a caterer living in her attic. The results are rewarding.
I thought of that vacation when I read about this Etsy-like app for home cooked meals the other day on an Australian web site. There are similar services in other countries. With this service, a home cook could announce through the app that they'd be preparing, say 20 chicken enchiladas with mole along with black beans and rice on the side. A buyer could, through the app, say "I'll take two" and then pick the order up at the cook's home, theoretically on their way home from work.
Having once been in the business of selling food to go, my thoughts immediately turned to the amount of space that the packaging takes up and the soggy disappointment when prep time and pickup weren't well-synced.
Practical considerations aside, it's hard to put a finger on what existing behavior this service would take advantage of. Our CREST® foodservice market research reveals what a varied target the at home eater is around the world. The Japanese and the Americans are the most likely to take their prepared meals home to eat. That particular behavior is not popular at all in Southern Europe. It's somewhat more popular in other former British colonies.
In the U.S. the restaurant category with the highest share of at home traffic is the hamburger category, followed by pizza. Both are pretty tough to compete with from the home. In Australia, pizza and burger top the list while retail fits in just in front of chicken places and fish & chip shops. In Japan, prepared foods from retail dominates the at home feeding market. The Germans and the English lean toward ethnic foods while the French buy from sandwich places (that was unexpected...the French data constantly surprises me).
The thing about most of the popular concepts is that they provide foods that just aren't the same when they are made at home. Yes, you can make a sandwich at home but does that really compare to the sandwich you can get from your local bakery-themed fast casual joint? And, yes, that caramelized onion, blue cheese, and grape pizza you made on a corn meal crust was delicious but is that really a way to feed yourself at the end of the work day? So, these cooks would need to work around well-defined existing solutions.
But, while it's hard to compete with traditional take home foods, no single home cook needs a mass market. They just need a couple of dozen people who will pick-up a meal from them from time to time. Just as aggregator ordering and delivery services put independent restaurants on the same footing as chains, this sort of app let's anyone be a pop-up restaurant. And, as this is a social app, more like Etsy than Uber, reviews on the app would weed out the weak performers.
So, I thought this seemed pretty cool and it made me feel really up on things. My familial Millennial focus group put me in my place, raising practical issues like food safety and generally giving the idea a pass. Maybe it's just my romantic side, imagining a world of artisans serving their local communities. It certainly addresses a well proven need with an enabling device that has proved to be effective for independent restaurants.
There's a lot going on in the U.S. these days that is drawing the attention of Americans and generally dumbing them down to world affairs. I mean, what could be more important than Ryan Lochte's future endorsement deals? So when you mention Brexit to a typical American you might get a confused look...maybe they'll say something like "wasn't that the Donald Trump thing in some foreign country?"...or they'll say "when was that?".
Any non-American would describe this response as being "very American," which is never a good thing.
Europeans (and Brits) know that there has been no Brexit. There was just a vote and there will be many months (kindly) of difficult negotiations to go through before there is an exit agreement. And before that there will be months of posturing.
That doesn't stop people from asking how Brexit is affecting the foodservice market in Great Britain.
It's not…or rather it hasn't yet.
According to our SalesTrack® Weekly report, which tracks same store sales for a group of the largest chains in the England, the market has held remarkably steady in the weeks following the vote.
The British market was the strongest global market in Q2 2016 tracked by NPD’s CREST® foodservice market research. Now, however, our NPD analyst in Great Britain tells us that consumer confidence is faltering. It is likely that we will see a negative impact once something actually happens. In the meantime, things have been pretty much OK.
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.
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.
Is there anything in the foodservice business that is more appealing than a Taco Truck? As a former restaurant guy, I have to say that the idea that all I need is a kitchen with wheels and no dining room, and that I can move that kitchen to where the people are, is an appealing idea. No servers. No reservations.
The beauty of food trucks is that they offer the independent restaurateur the opportunity to get a concept up and running at a much smaller investment and risk than signing a lease and staffing up a full service place. It’s no surprise that these have been emerging just at the time when the number of independent restaurants has been steadily dropping. Here’s a cute little video that articulates just that, so I like it a lot.
The NPD Group office is in a suburban office complex. As a result, we don’t see a lot of food trucks in our neighborhood. So, we were a little out of the loop when people began to ask us about the “trend” in food trucks. But, we saw the light and began to figure out how to capture this.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. For one thing, long before there were the food trucks that everyone talks about there were the famous “roach coaches” that ply construction sites, machine shops or other places where people have little time to go to lunch and no on-site services. We’re pretty sure that no one is any more interested in them than they have been for the past 35 years.
So, it’s a very fine slice of the market to find. As part of our regular CREST foodservice market research questionnaire update, we gave people the option to tell us that they had purchased the food from a food truck in addition to all the other possible answers. About 0.1% did so in the test. The pie chart depicting this is below.
Now, before you all get all r-squared on me and ask about sample biases and all those things that people do when their preconceptions aren’t supported by data, let’s think about it. There are nearly 600,000 restaurants in the U.S.
Richard Myrick of Mobile Cuisine Magazine guesses that there are between three and four thousand high-end food trucks and near 3 million traditional food trucks (I don’t have the data and I don’t want to get all r-squared on the guy but that would mean more than 13,000 per DMA, which seems like a lot).
So, let’s go back to the 4 thousand. Add those to the just-shy-of-600,000 restaurants and you get, more or less, roughly 600,000 outlets….high-end food trucks account for about 0.7% of available outlets. Given that the trucks have a smaller capacity than most restaurants, this relationship (.7% to .1%) makes sense.
Now, let’s think about how much business they might do…there are 300 million people in the U.S. About 46% of them buy a prepared meal or snack in a day. Those that do, do so between 1.1 and 1.3 times in that day. So…carry the three…that’s about 170 million visits of all sorts in a given day. And, the .1% of those visits would be…borrow a one…170,000 food truck visits, which would mean that every one of those 4,000 gourmet food truck owners would be serving about 50 people EACH AND EVERY DAY. RAIN OR SHINE. WINTER OR SUMMER. PORTLAND OR CHICAGO. Given that that would be the average. And, given that this doesn’t take into account the traditional trucks, and given the lack of regulatory support for them and the seasonal variation in many cities, this adds up to a niche market segment that has great appeal within its niche.
So, the truth is somewhere in between.
The march seems inexorable. Here’s a New York Times article about food trucks in Paris. And here’s an actual food truck that I came across in Mexico City called Frijolero. Note the greenery to the right of the door. Nice truck!