Foodservice research firm Technomic has identified five consumer trends that will drive consumer behavior in 2017. A confluence of healthy intentions, technology, community, and economic status will define how restaurants operate and meet consumer expectations this year.
Serving economically polarized consumers.
Pointing to an increase in income inequality affecting consumers, Technomic warns that instability will reach new levels. When asked if they expect the US economy to improve in 2017, less than half of respondents (38%) indicate they believe that will be the case. Operators should expect lower-class and middle-class consumers to curb their foodservice spending due to this increase in uncertainty, at least in the short term. Conversely, affluent consumers are not expected to cut back on their spending, save for a small percentage.
In order to succeed with both unsure and confident consumer types, Technomic says that operators will dial in value propositions while leveraging upscale food and dining experiences to cater to upper-class consumers.
Creating a sense of community.
Nearly half of consumers (49%) have indicated that they feel it’s important for restaurant operators to support the communities in which they operate. To meet this expectation, Technomic predicts that operators will position their venues as locations for community members to “gather, give back, recuperate, and foster diversity and inclusivity.”
Technomic provides the following examples of operators embracing their role in the community:
- Starbucks recognizes “ordinary people doing extraordinary things” to affect positive change in their communities through their Upstanders collection of short stories, films and podcasts.
- In Charleston, The Grocery describes itself as, “A neighborhood gathering place featuring ingredients from our favorite farmers, fishermen, foragers and artisans.”
Modern comfort food and experiences.
Operators should be careful to balance consumer desire for new foods and experiences with options that are familiar (and therefore comforting). The majority of consumers want to step outside of their comfort zones, but not too far.
Technomic says that operators will:
- highlight their food sourcing (particularly important for farm-to-table options);
- find new ways to use authentic ingredients;
- reinvent classic dishes through the use of modern and unique interpretations.
Food as more than just “fuel.”
Interestingly, 42% of consumers in the US have modified their definition of health. This change in definition occurred somewhat recently. According to Technomic’s 2016 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, consumers now define health in the following ways:
- Food rich in antioxidants.
- Healthy foods that help the immune system.
- Spiritual, physical and mental health.
Healthy intentions by consumers have already begun to drive healthier food orders. Technomic says that restaurant operators will “tout a balanced approach as the ‘best medicine’ to support an overall healthy lifestyle.” The research firm believes operators will embrace a holistic approach to wellbeing, support lifestyle benefits such as natural energy and stress relief, and utilize technology to increase transparency.
Drone and droid delivery.
When compared to data from 2013, Technomic has found that 44% of Millennial consumers order takeout more often. This discovery will lead to more operators implementing new technologies like delivery drones and robots, social media chatbots, and enhanced online and mobile ordering. Domino’s, for example, is experimenting with not only drones but autonomous delivery vehicles, while Chipotle Mexican Grill has announced that they will update their digital ordering through a new website.
“Overarching trends related to increased demand for high-quality, better-for-you fare and unique yet convenient foodservice experiences will not subside,” said Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights for Technomic.
“However,” Weikel continued, “the way that consumers define these important elements and their willingness and ability to pay more for them increasingly varies from one consumer to the next. This year it will be especially important for operators to understand niche consumer groups and meet expectations at a range of value tiers.”