Foodservice Market Research & Business Solutions

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 service, has been monitoring all aspects of how consumers use restaurants and foodservice. Over 400,000 consumer visits to commercial and non-commercial foodservice establishments are continually and rigorously tracked. CREST arms manufacturers and operators with market dynamics from the consumer perspective and allows them to monitor the total foodservice industry or examine specific segments, categories, chains, or food items. CREST tracks consumer foodservice usage in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.  One time reports are available for the Netherlands, Poland, New Zealand and South Korea. Category and data availability varies by country.

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

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.


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:

See how clients have used our analytic solutions to solve their business challenges in our Analytic Solutions Case Study Library.


Is Delivery the Right Choice for Your Business?

Explore consumers' habits, behaviors, and attitudes related to food delivery with NPD's new report: Delivery – A Growth Opportunity On The Horizon

Eating Patterns in America – Annual 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.

Snacking in America with CultureWaves

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.

How Consumers Define Clean Eating

Now you can determine whether targeting clean eaters is the right move for your business. Our new report, How Consumers Define Clean Eating, sizes the clean eating market, profiles the consumers engaged in clean eating, and reveals how primary grocery shoppers shop for foods that fit into this emerging lifestyle. You can use the report’s deep data and expert insights to understand consumer awareness of this trend and consumers’ ideas of what clean eating means.

Prepare For the Future of Eating

Get a comprehensive forecast of the future of U.S. in-home consumption behavior

Food For Thought

Fresh – It’s Among the Factors of Growing Importance To Consumers

Press Releases

August 16, 2016

Turns Out Each Generation Approaches The “What’s for Dinner?” Question Differently

If there is one meal that exemplifies the differences among generations, it’s dinner, finds The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Each group’s motivations, needs, and wants when it comes to dinner are as varied as their taste in music, according to a recently released generational study published by The NPD Group.

July 21, 2016

Foodservice Delivery Grows at the Expense of Restaurant Drive Thru

Foodservice delivery is the ultimate in dining convenience and is winning visits at the expense of restaurant drive thru, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Over the past four years, delivery has grown by 69 million visits (orders), while drive thru traffic fell by 128 million visits from May 2012 through May 2016, according to a recently released NPD report on foodservice delivery.

July 20, 2016

Buzz About Meal Kit Delivery Services May Be Greater Than Adoption At This Point, Reports NPD Group

There is a lot of buzz around meal kit delivery services, like Blue Apron and HelloFresh, but the buzz may be greater than those who currently use the kits, finds The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Trial of meal kits is still relatively low with 3 percent of the U.S. adult population (18 and older) trying a meal kit delivery service within the last year. There are, however, opportunities for growth, according to a new NPD Group study.

July 11, 2016

Big Five European Countries, Australia, Canada, China, and Japan Post Foodservice Traffic Gains in First Quarter, Reports NPD Group

Most of the global foodservice markets, with the exception of Russia, ended the first calendar quarter of 2016 with traffic gains or no visit losses and consumer spending up, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. After years of uneven growth around the world, foodservice performance improved throughout 2015 and now into the first quarter of this year, according to NPD Group’s CREST®, which continually tracks consumer use of foodservice outlets in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain, the United States, and now Brazil and Korea*.

June 28, 2016

Mayo Is Finally a Member of the Restaurant Table Top Condiment Clique

Ketchup and mustard along with other assorted seasonings have historically been the condiment grouping on restaurant tables, but mayonnaise, a condiment mainstay for oh-so-many years, was never part of the table top clique until now. New packaging and debunking the myth that commercially-produced mayo needs to be refrigerated have helped to push it to the top…of the table that is, according to The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Enterprising manufacturers found a way to package mayonnaise to fit in with the table top crowd and as a result, case shipments of table top mayo from broadline foodservice distributors to commercial and non-commercial foodservice outlets have had year-over-year gains, reports NPD Group.

June 27, 2016

College and University Foodservice Reinvention Attracts Student Customers but Poses Competitive Challenge to Broadline Distributors

Gone are the days of mystery meat and long cafeteria lines at college campus foodservice outlets, instead college students today have a variety of foodservice options available to them including access to on-campus restaurant chains, finds The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Campus foodservice operations today are not unlike commercial restaurants in filling the interests and needs of their customers and their customers are responding. Traffic to college and university (C&U) foodservice outlets, excluding on-campus chain restaurants, increased in the year ending March 2016 to 1.6 billion visits.

June 14, 2016

Millennials Are Driving the Rise of the Grocerant

Supermarkets are raising the bar on their foodservice offerings and by doing so are attracting the attention of the coveted Millennials, finds The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Restaurant-quality and fresh food, chef-driven menus, in-store experiences have given rise to the Grocerant and inspiration to Millennials to visit and spend, finds a recently released NPD report, A Generational Study: The Evolution of Eating

June 7, 2016

U.S. Restaurant Industry Continues To Grow at Slow Pace but There Are Pockets of Stronger Growth

Addressing the state of the restaurant industry for the last several years sounds like a broken record. Visits to restaurants will increase minimally quarter-after-quarter, resulting in an average lift in traffic of one percent annually, says The NPD Group, a leading global information company. All in all, the restaurant industry has been conducting business in a one percent world since 2010, and will continue at the same pace for several more years, based on NPD’s ongoing foodservice market research.

May 23, 2016

Big Three Quick Service Burger Chains Vie for the Value Meal Throne As Others Enter the Battle

Since last fall it has been a game of thrones among the top three quick service burger chains, Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s, as one after another launched their version of a combo value meal and battled for visitors and quick service dollars, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Though the value wars still rage on as other restaurant chains enter the battle, it turns out that each burger chain’s value-oriented combo meal is victorious in its own right, whether driving visit frequency, incenting more foot traffic, or increasing check size, according to NPD’s receipt mining service, Checkout Trackingsm.

May 18, 2016

Although Their Numbers are Down, Independent Restaurants Increased Spending with Broadline Distributors the Last Two Years, Reports NPD’s SupplyTrack

If restaurant chains are the backbone of the restaurant industry, then independent restaurants are the heart. Despite declining unit counts for the last two years, independent restaurant operators represent a third of broadline foodservice distribution dollars, and their spending has increased year-over-year for the past two years, finds The NPD Group, a leading global information company.


August 22, 2016

Food For Thought

Disruptors happen in all industries, causing shifts in the way consumers use or access products. These disruptors force marketers to adjust their ways of doing business to ensure they remain relevant with consumers’ needs. Food and beverage works this way as well – and there is evidence that new disruptors are on their way.

Before discussing any detail behind disruptors in food and beverage it’s important to understand the pace at which these changes are likely to move. Our consumption behaviors are deeply rooted in culture and are very habitual. Historically these behaviors change at a very slow pace compared to, for example, behaviors in the technology industry. The phones we carry in our pockets today probably look very different from those five years ago and include far more functions, but by comparison, what we have eaten over that same period of time probably looks similar. Disruptors in food and beverage may take 10 to 20 years to take their full grip, but it’s important to plan for them before you have to start playing a game of catch-up.

The grocerant is a good example of a disruptor we see unfolding. As the name implies, it’s a grocery store-restaurant hybrid that provides restaurant-quality, fresh-prepared foods, with in-store enjoyment options from café seating to table service. Our research shows these store formats are competing most closely with fast casual restaurants based on motivations for visiting the establishment. For both sectors, price, quality and variety of the food, and the ability to get a healthy meal drive consumers to dine there. And while both fast casual restaurants and grocerants attract Millennials, the grocerant provides its services at lower prices, helping these cost-conscious consumers dine within their budgets.

Fresh foods are a key component of grocerant offerings, and the desire for fresh carries into the home as well. The problem consumers have is that fresh doesn’t stay fresh if it lingers too long. And since many fresh items have to be purchased in larger sizes, a decent amount may spoil before all of it can be consumed. With food waste in mind, many consumers have begun experimenting with fresh meal delivery kits, which provide just the right amount of fresh food and effortlessly answer the question, “What’s for dinner?”

There are other disruptors on the horizon, and in each case there is a common theme – the disruptor saves the consumer time or money, or both. In the grocerant case, consumers save time by being able to remain in the store to get a fresh meal after shopping is done, and the prices save them money compared to other outlets. Meal delivery kits save consumers time by eliminating trips to the grocery store and by cutting out the need to research recipe ideas. Both of these concepts represent a small part of their respective segments – grocerants account for about 4 percent of the QSR retail sector, while 3 percent of individuals in the U.S. tried a meal delivery kit last year.

There’s great growth potential. It won’t happen from just one year to the next, and we need only look to history as evidence of this pace. Consider the microwave oven, which is now a fixture in about 90 percent of U.S. households. It began its residential use around the late 1970s, when advances in technology allowed for lower price tags. Despite that, it still took the better part of a decade for a majority of homes to have one. Given the way the microwave oven saves time with cooking and the vast amount of products that were developed as a result of its invention, it was clearly a disruptor. Those who prepared in the early 1980s for its expansion reaped the benefits of their preparedness.

Marketers would be wise to find ways to associate their products with current and emerging disruptors. For example, getting your products inside the fresh meal delivery kit shows consumers new ways to use your products. And while the consumer is in the grocery store, make your products available at the grocerant as either the main feature or the side component.

August 15, 2016

Case Study: One QSR Chain’s Analytic Go-To

A major QSR chain’s analytics team had big questions and little time to answer them. Checkout Tracking delivered the answers. And it did it faster than other analytics tools would have.

August 11, 2016

Spilling the Beans About Craft Coffee Consumers

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.

July 18, 2016

Food For Thought

The United States Congress voted to set a national standard for labeling the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and beverage products. The language of the bill, however, allows manufacturers to disclose this information using scan codes, providing a chance to talk about more than just GMOs.

Vermont has a GMO labeling law that recently took effect. It caused a stir in the industry, creating calls for a national standard. The federal bill, which would supersede Vermont’s regulations should it become law, appears to be the result of compromise – on one hand, it would require manufacturers to make their GMO content information available to consumers, but on the other hand, they wouldn’t be required to do that on product packaging. Consumers would scan a special code on a package with a smartphone and be taken to a website showing the GMO content for that product.

GMOs have become an interesting topic in the food industry since most consumers know very little about the issue. Our report on the topic, Gauging GMO Awareness and Impact, revealed more than half of U.S. consumers say they know little to nothing about GMOs, yet at the same time about 70 percent have concerns about GMOs in food products. While consumers aren’t sure precisely what happens when a food is genetically altered, it’s clear that just mentioning “GMO” or “genetically modified” conjures thoughts of danger; many consumers think twice about using a product that might include genetically modified ingredients.

Should this bill become law in its current form, marketers might be able to talk about more than just GMOs when consumers scan the code. This could be an opportunity to talk about why GMO products were used to help calm consumers’ fears. For example, our report noted that among those who say GMOs have benefits, most talked about stronger and more disease-resistant crops.

The conversation could go beyond GMOs as well. While consumers are on your site talking about GMOs, you might also mention other health benefits of your products to help balance the GMO concerns. For instance, while a product might contain GMOs, it’s could also be a good source of protein, or perhaps your plant uses sustainable energy sources.

The key to winning with consumers on GMOs is communication. Being open and honest with consumers will go a long way in proving that what they see is what they get and you’re not trying to hide anything. In fact, a greater number of primary grocery shoppers are telling us they want labels to state if the items contains genetically modified organisms than those who want GMOs removed altogether from products.

June 17, 2016

Food For Thought

Meal kit delivery services are a growing sector in the food industry. They’re helping consumers satisfy the need for fresh foods without spending time gathering the food, but should grocers or restaurants be more fearful of the potential impact on their business?

On a per-person basis, food consumption is a zero-sum game, meaning an increase in one behavior is often at the expense of another. For example, we’ve mentioned over the last decade more consumers are having eggs, yogurt, bars, and a few other foods more often at breakfast, but these increases are largely coming at the expense of cold cereal consumption.

Our new report, Thinking Inside the Box: A Fresh Look at Meal Kit Delivery Services, sheds new light on the growth dynamics of these services as well as several of the potential pitfalls these fledgling businesses could face. Among them is the finding that two-thirds of meal kit users say the meal they prepared from the box replaced a home-cooked meal; less than 25 percent say it replaced a restaurant meal.

It seems the most direct competitor to the meal kit is the grocery store, on the surface at least, since that would have been the source of the meal that otherwise would have been prepared. The question is whether or not meal kit users see the value in replacing their home meals with a more expensive meal where everything is premeasured and delivered to their doors. On average, the cost of an in-home dinner where the consumer sources the food from a grocer is about $4 per person. Meal kits are about $10 per person for the same meal. For those who live in a high cost of living market such as New York or San Francisco, $10 per person for dinner might sound like a bargain, but elsewhere it represents a higher cost in need of justification

Companies such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh will have to convince consumers that the extra spend at dinnertime is outweighed by the time saved at the grocery store and the time spent searching for recipes. In the meantime, manufacturers should consider how they can get “in the box.” This would be a new way to show consumers additional ways to use your products as they prepare meals. For restaurants, take advantage of your flexibility – allow customers to order on demand and aim to satisfy everyone's personal tastes with different meals. To avoid lost trips, retailers can leverage prepared food sections and further the Grocerant concept by providing fresh food customized to consumers’ tastes.

June 2, 2016

Eat In or Eat Out – What Drives Dinner Choices?

“What’s for dinner?” is a decision consumers grapple with daily. With so many options, it’s a constant question – make, or buy? Are they in the mood to check out that new neighborhood taco joint, or would they fare better with a lazy, Seamless night in?

In our latest Foodservice Brief, learn how, when, and why consumers make dinnertime decisions. See the drivers behind meal choices, and how restaurant operators can influence these decisions to grow business in the dinner occasion.

May 23, 2016

Generation, Life Stage, or Both: What’s Behind the Shifts?

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

*Fresh food defined as fresh fruit, vegetables, refrigerated meats, poultry, fish, and eggs
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


March 3, 2016

Winning Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers With the Five Ws

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.

February 25, 2016

Marketing To Visit Situations

The restaurant industry is not just a single business

Within any industry, purchase decisions are influenced by a variety of consumer needs. With restaurants, the decision is not simply whether to have lunch at a restaurant. Other factors come into play: to have it alone or with others, to dine in the restaurant, or to take the food away to eat it somewhere else. 

After deciding to eat food from a restaurant, then it’s time to decide where to source the food. An operator might be in the breakfast, lunch, supper, or snack business. On-premises service, carry-out, drive-thru, and delivery options may be available. Beyond that, does the operator focus on weekend or weekday business? Does the operator appeal to families with kids or only to adults? Needless to say, many factors go into the process of deciding where to get food and beverages.

Visit situations defined

When creating the visit situations associated with the CREST® database, we segmented the purchase occasions being reported against all of the component factors our panelists are asked to record (daypart, weekpart, where purchased, where eaten, prior activity, and party composition). The end result was 18 unique visit situations. Shown below are the unique situations in rank order of those garnering the greatest share of traffic.

These unique visit situations were created to help define the consumer needs restaurant operators and their supplier partners must consider as they develop marketing strategies and product offerings. The needs to be satisfied and the visit situation that leverages the most significant traffic volume for that concept will vary depending on restaurant type.  

Ranking visit situations

QSR clearly has been the segment driving overall industry performance – CREST shows 76 percent of commercial restaurant traffic moves through QSR channels. Presented below are the visit situation rankings for QSR visits. They closely reflect the visit situation rankings for the total restaurant industry.

QSRs have grown for several years at the morning meal. This growth is shown in the growth of the fast breakfast visit situation. A number of the growing QSR visit situations are those recently noted in our CREST Executive Topline: weekday occasions that satisfy the need for a quick, convenient meal. This is a growing need in the marketplace.  

Ranking visit situations for full service restaurants

Not too surprisingly, there was little to no growth among the unique visit situations applied to visits made to full service restaurants. It has been a very challenging environment for many of these concepts – particularly for independents, as they are a dominant force in this segment. Within the midscale segment, the importance of “full breakfast” is well known. However, the “out to lunch” visit situation also contributes considerable volume to midscale concepts and warrants attention, as visits have declined in recent years.

Casual dining concepts didn’t fare much better than midscale outlets when we evaluated top visit situations. Nearly all of the situations that account for sizeable traffic contribution are declining. The exception is “a bite at night,” where visits have increased by 2 percent over the past year.

Importance of understanding visit situation marketing

While we have provided a snapshot of the consumer needs satisfied for each segment by visit situation, more insight that can be gleaned by viewing an operator’s business in this manner. The visit situation analysis identifies:

  • The size of opportunity offered by each consumer need (situation)
  • The relative position the chain holds within each situation, where the chain is well developed and/or under-developed (its strengths and weaknesses)
  • The competitors of importance within each situation
  • The customers to target with advertising/promotions in order to strengthen a chain’s position in selected situations

By evaluating these unique visit situations for a chain or a restaurant category, we can find pockets of growth where needs are being satisfied, regardless of overall chain/category performance. This lets restaurant operators and their suppliers focus on key situations that are growing and develop tactics and strategies for continued growth. Analysis of visit situations allows companies to identify the situations that leverage a sizeable amount of traffic, and those that need attention to in order to increase consumer visits. Developing marketing strategies based on the unique needs being satisfied or not satisfied could go a long way in helping an operator appeal to consumers and attracting more visits.

February 4, 2016

Quenching Their Thirst For Beverages

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

June 16, 2016

To The Internet I Eat!

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.

March 4, 2016

“There’s a war on sugar – not candy”

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.

December 9, 2015

That Was Then

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.

December 1, 2015

It’s A Chicken! It’s A Doughnut! It’s A Chicken Doughnut!

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.

December 13, 2012

Food TruckinˈAlong

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!

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