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.
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 Solutions Group includes a team of senior leaders with extensive experience developing and delivering analytic solutions that address strategic marketing, sales, and planning issues.
We combine NPD POS and consumer information, industry expertise, and custom survey research… then add state of the discipline research techniques and methodologies to explain the “why behind the buy”. Through advanced modeling and analytic services, we offer insight into what will happen in the future, not just what has happened in the past, answering your most pressing business questions:
- What consumer segments should we target and why? How do we know if we’re successful over time?
- Which products are hot? How should we respond?
- What’s the sales potential and ROI for my new / revamped product idea?
- What is the optimal feature combination for my product?
- What’s the competitive landscape and where are my best opportunities (Food)?
- How do I monitor my performance in my sales territories, distribution areas, etc.?
- Should we raise or lower prices? By how much? To what end?
- Will our market share grow or do we risk decline? Why?
- What levers should we pull to increase sales and market share?
- Why are some of our stores performing better than others?
- Why do consumers choose our brand? Our competitors’ brands?
- How effective is our advertising? How can we improve it?
- What products should we develop?
- What products should we sell?
- How can we optimize assortment based on local market dynamics?
- What people should we target? Why?
- How do we know if we are successful over time?
See how clients have used our solutions to solve their business challenges in our Solutions Case Study Library.
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.
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.
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.
Get a comprehensive forecast of the future of U.S. in-home consumption behavior
Fresh – It’s Among the Factors of Growing Importance To Consumers
There was a time when snacking occasions were considered times in the day when we consumed extraneous calories for the sake of treating or rewarding ourselves. As we’ve seen throughout food and beverage consumptions trends, however, this perception slowly changed over the last two decades and is expected to continue evolving
Big Five European Countries, Australia, Canada, China, and Japan Post Foodservice Traffic Gains in First Quarter, Reports NPD GroupChicago, July 11, 2016 — 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 aroun 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*.
College and University Foodservice Reinvention Attracts Student Customers but Poses Competitive Challenge to Broadline DistributorsChicago, June 27, 2016 — 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 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.
Although Their Numbers are Down, Independent Restaurants Increased Spending with Broadline Distributors the Last Two Years, Reports NPD’s SupplyTrackStreet operators face challenges but remain the heart of the foodservice industry Chicago, May 18, 2016 —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 operato 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.
“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.
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.
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.
The QSR segment has been known for offering consumers combo meal deals and lower-priced value menu options. The focus on lower-priced options has been relatively quiet for a number of years, particularly following the recent recession. In an attempt to move consumers away from expecting ongoing steep discounts and to compete more effectively with fast casual operators, many large quick service chains had focused their marketing strategies on quality and more premium product offerings.
It was back in the early to mid ‘90s that combo meal deals were launched by the major quick service hamburger chains. The offer encouraged consumers to buy three items for a bundled price that was less than the sum of the three items purchased individually. Consumer acceptance of combo meals was immediate; the deals increased movement of especially profitable menu items and increased order size. However, more recently combo meals lost their appeal and have been declining in popularity for several years. This was disconcerting to QSR hamburger operators as they had become heavily dependent on purchases of combo meals, particularly at main meal occasions.
As a result of the ongoing combo meal sales decline, we conducted a study in 2012 to gain a better understanding of this trend. The topline findings from that study revealed the following:
Putting a new twist on combo meals has a way of making them new again
The importance of combo meals to the industry pointed to the need to find a way to address this declining servings trend in order to rebuild consumer demand. To that end, a number of chains across the U.S. are returning to their value-driven ways, particularly the major hamburger chains. Over the past six months, one chain after another has introduced value-oriented combo meal choices. In October 2015, Wendy’s introduced a 4 for $4 Meal. At the beginning of 2016, McDonald’s contributed to the value menu war by launching the McPick 2 for $2 offering. Soon thereafter, McDonald’s changed the offer to 2 for $5, with a different product offering. Following the launch of McPick 2 for $2, Burger King followed suit with a 5 for $4 deal. A number of other QSR chains have added a value proposition of one kind or another to their menu, and there are still many others trying to determine if they need to enter the fray to stay competitive.
Obviously, it’s working for some
These new combo meal deals seem to be resonating with consumers. For the first time in a long while, combo meals ordered at QSR hamburger outlets for lunch/dinner are on the rise. Combo meal visits at the hamburger category for these main meal occasions rose 3 percent for the year ending January 2016 compared to the same period a year ago. Simultaneously, visits to the QSR hamburger category for lunch/dinner are down 3 percent.
Combo meal deals drive traffic
The lift in combo meal visits at QSR burger outlets is being driven by consumers indicating that their combo meal purchase was a deal offer. Combo meals purchased on a deal rose from 6 percent for the year ending January 2015 to 7 percent during the same timeframe in the most recent year. While this may seem like a rather small increase, when we consider the size of the hamburger category, this increase translates into a substantial number of combo meal purchases on deal. Specifically, 567 million combo meal visits were reported on deal for the year ending January 2015. For the year ending January 2016 that number rose to 670 million servings – an 18 percent increase. This once again suggests that given the right promotional offer at the right time, dealing can generate positive traffic growth. Further, combo meal visits that were not reported as part of a deal held fairly steady at 2.8 billion for the year ending January 2016 time period vs. 2015. While not increasing in overall volume, this trend was an improvement from prior years.
Impact of recent value wars
A number of questions have been raised by foodservice operators with regard to the impact that these recent value offers are having on the chains that are offering this new value proposition. To better understand the impact of these new “value wars,” we have designed a study to answer questions specific to these new combo meal offers, including:
- Did the offers attract new buyers?
- Did the offers increase loyalty at the chains?
- How broad was the appeal of each offer?
- What are the purchase dynamics for each operator?
- Purchase frequency
- Spend per visit
- Average spend per buyer
- Do these offers appeal to value-seekers who are not chain loyal – what is the buyer overlap?
We’ll use our Checkout TrackingSM solution to help answer these questions. This solution provides longitudinal transaction information straight from consumers’ purchase receipts. The analysis will include information on McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s. The report is scheduled to launch mid-April 2016.
Grocery stores have it all. They compete in every food category and have a great reputation for variety and freshness. The marketing of prepared foods by grocers has expanded with increased participation, because prepared foods add meaningful sales for top grocers.
Our data shows in-store dining and take-out of prepared foods from grocers has grown nearly 30 percent since 2008. Estimates of the market size for grocery prepared foods are now nearly $29 billion*. The success of prepared food offerings at grocery has contributed to traditional QSRs’ traffic losses.
Grocery attracts key restaurant consumers
Over 40 percent of the U.S. population purchases prepared foods from grocery stores. From a potential purchaser perspective, grocery is more than half the size of QSR reach. The purchase rate at grocery lags QSR’s frequency by nearly ten visits in a four-week period. Yet, the purchase rate is impressive given that grocery has far fewer units than QSRs.
What’s for dinner?
Grocery prepared foods peak at dinner. This meal occasion is tied to the types of prepared foods offered by grocers and the convenience of doing other (stock up) shopping at the same time. The greatest vulnerability for QSR in competing with grocery stores is the evening meal and to a lesser extent, lunch. As prepared foods gain acceptance and more grocers offer more alternatives to fast food, grocers’ competitive edge will improve.
Loyalty – the next step for grocery stores
Prepared foods purchased at grocery stores are purchased less frequently than foods ordered from a QSR. The majority of buyers who make a prepared foods purchase do so only once or twice in a month. However, watch out for that solid core of heavy QSR buyers who visit grocery stores more than seven times a month. While only 9 percent of overall buyers, they account for 30 percent of the grocery visits for a ready-to-eat meal.
Grocery – a Trojan horse
Those who buy prepared foods at grocery are also above-average users of QSRs. In all cases, grocery prepared food buyers are among the heaviest QSR users. Grocery outlets are building their business on the most important and valuable QSR customer.
Drivers of demand: variety and healthy options
Visits when prepared foods are purchased from grocery stores are rated higher than QSRs on variety and healthy options. These attributes are among the most important motivators of purchase and customer satisfaction. Grocery prepared foods are also rated higher on freshness and quality. Restaurant operators have to meet their customers’ expectations of the food they offer in order to compete effectively. The QSR advantages tend to be operational or price-oriented, with consumers citing speed of service, value/affordability, and convenient location.
Many grocers now offer food in specialty categories like Asian, seafood, Italian, Mexican, and barbeque, and some offer comfort foods like meat loaf, pastas, pot roast, and more. Grocers are aiming to cater to all dining needs, including hot, custom-prepared grilled meat, food bars, soups, and sushi. A growing number of grocery stores provide comfortable, casual seating for in-store dining.
Once again, QSRs are in a battle for market share. This time, grocery stores have taken on the foodservice industry. Increasingly, QSRs need to include grocers as competition and monitor these competitors locally in order to track inroads and market against the features that appeal to their customers.
Learn more about how the grocery channel is changing the foodservice landscape at the NPD Foodservice Summit, April 6-7, 2016. The breakout session The Grocerant: Supermarkets Raise the Bar in Foodservice, will provide new data and fresh insights on this topic.
Historically, consumers had very few meal choices in terms of what could be delivered to them. Pizza and Asian foods were about it. Carry-out/take-out/drive-thru have been the primary options fulfilling consumers’ need for speed and convenience. Recently, restaurant operators have offered convenience by making it easier for customers to obtain a prepared meal through delivery options, particularly in large metropolitan areas. It is obvious consumers find appealing the availability of delivery options beyond traditional pizza and Asian.
Restaurant delivery – beyond traditional pizza delivery – is a growing business
Delivery traffic outside of pizza is growing strongly, up by double-digit rates since 2012, while traditional QSR pizza delivery is on the decline. It must be noted, however, that the decrease in delivery for QSR pizza is primarily attributable to small chains/independents. Delivery options outside of pizza are still relatively small, with roughly six million delivery-related visits in the past year. But there is little doubt that the growth rate for categories outside of QSR pizza will continue on a strong growth path. All types of restaurants are increasingly partnering with delivery services, such as Eat24, GrubHub, and Door Dash, because of the availability of online ordering, particularly through mobile apps.
Eating in is the new eating out
Consumers want the “eat out” experience of quality food, but they’re saving money by having food delivered to their homes. The increase in consumers eating more of their meals at home has been growing for several years. What’s behind the increased demand for restaurant meals that can be eaten at home? It varies. For some, it’s about time constraints and working from home. Others want to spend more time at home with the family and they’ve increased at-home leisure activities.
Our 2013 report, A Look into the Future of Foodservice, revealed restaurant meals purchased for off-premise consumption were expected to outpace overall industry traffic growth over the next decade. How has that played out? While the market has largely been dominated by pizza concepts, there is increasing demand for other types of meals for home delivery. Looking at share of delivery by restaurant category in the period since we produced that report, we see growth in share of delivery for concepts outside of pizza. The share loss for pizza is largely the result of new options becoming more available and consumers wanting something new and different in terms of delivered meals – sandwich, burger and fast casual options in particular.
New delivery options are being used at all meal occasions
Among the concepts making inroads into the delivery market, delivery usage by meal occasion is vastly different from that for pizza. This suggests the opportunity for growth of delivery is widespread, and not just limited to the dinner meal occasion, as is the case for pizza. CREST® data shows where consumers are prior to ordering delivery – they are typically at home when they decide to use delivery, especially for pizza (73 percent). When they utilize other concepts for delivery, only 44 percent indicate they are at home, while around 25% are at work when choosing delivery. This provides a great targeting opportunity for all restaurants that offer delivery: Target potential and prior users earlier in the day, when adults tend to be at work.
Delivery is convenient and more lucrative for restaurant operators
Delivery is one of the most convenient options a restaurant operator can offer to address consumers’ needs for a convenient meal solution. And restaurant operators have new options available to them when it comes to entering the delivery market. Restaurants no longer need drivers, vehicles, and insurance in order to offer their customers a delivery option. Multiple menu aggregators provide this service. Some work with select restaurants only, some charge restaurants a fee to offer their services and others do a mix of both, charging the customer and restaurant. There’s another delivery option for customers, too. Uber, the taxi app that everyone loves to hate, may have just gotten a little more likable – it’s entering the food-delivery market with the guarantee of lunch and dinner meals delivered in 10 minutes.
If delivery fits a restaurant operator’s business model and is operationally feasible, now’s the time to consider adding it as an option for customers. It’s one way to stay competitive in a changing foodservice market.
Insights and Opinions from our Analysts and Experts
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!