Posts in Food service

Nation’s Restaurant Chains Stumble Onto Goldmine

May 15th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, Culinary inspiration, Digital ordering, Food service, Healthier habits, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Navigation, Restaurant trends, Retail brand building 0 comments on “Nation’s Restaurant Chains Stumble Onto Goldmine”

Can regulation make it rain?

On Monday, May 7 Federal regulations went into effect requiring any foodservice retail business with 20 or more locations to begin posting nutritional details for food and beverage items on their menus. For most foodservice operators this means a revamp of menu descriptions and the addition of nutrition data sections at their web site and point of order. Typically this features spreadsheet-type lists spraying a blurry, eye chart-worthy inventory of calorie, fat, sugar, cholesterol and sodium stats.

But hidden within the clarion call for more what-you’re-eating disclosure is a potential restaurant business goldmine. At stake is an important regulatory-inspired opportunity for change. Important given foodservice businesses already face increased dining dollar competition from the significant resurgence of home cooked meal popularity. Yes, a home kitchen renaissance is underway, spurred by pervasive consumer interest in healthier foods and a desire to exercise more control over meal preparations, portions, costs and ingredients choices.

  • Studies show consumers believe dining out means agreement to compromise on their healthy eating interests while they navigate a trip down the boulevard of indulgence. A recent report by food industry trends watcher The Hartman Group, revealed consumers increasingly blame restaurants for a stunningly short list of healthier choices and absence of transparency around food – thus why they feel obligated to stow their healthy lifestyle interests at the vestibule of their favorite restaurant.

According to Hartman’s work, when the majority of consumers who already claim eating out is less healthy answer why this is true for them, the top scoring reason ̶ at 41 percent of those surveyed ̶ was a focus on ‘other things’ rather than health and wellness. But maybe it doesn’t have to be this way.

If prevailing food culture shifts point to home-cooked meals as the best and healthiest option for the vast majority of consumers, where does that leave restaurants on the better-for-you lifestyle bandwagon?

Could regulation make it rain?

The regulatory requirements may have issued a super-sized opportunity to reframe the restaurant menu story around a greater variety of healthier menu options. Then advanced with new technology that allows patrons to configure their own more informed, personalized menu choices ahead of arrival or on site with mobile friendly apps.

Reformulation through culinary innovation

But first, is the product itself. Restaurant meals can be made healthier without sacrificing taste by applying some of the more enlightened thinking now fueling the growth of new, emerging packaged food brands that are mounting a supermarket shelf takedown. Novel ingredients, cooking techniques, new forms of sweetening using natural sugars or sauces made with vegetable broths; meat alternatives formulated from nuts or pea protein – a cornucopia of new innovation is circling the food industry with an offer of improved nutritionals while delivering the indulgent flavors and textures of chef-inspired food.

There’s simply no longer any reason why menu items can’t be made healthier while retaining taste. It may add cost per serving but then we’ve also have seen repeatedly seen that consumers are willing to pay more for healthier fare if it can be verified as such – assuming taste is not sacrificed on the alter of improved nutrition numbers.

California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) and MyMenu Tech

San Diego-based digital foodservice player HealthyDiningFinder.com, originally stepped into the restaurant marketplace to curate a search-able database of restaurants offering healthy menu items. More recently, they’ve rolled out their new MyMenu platform at CPK and Mexican cuisine specialist Rubio’s Coastal Grill, an algorithm driven business that offers restaurants a plug-and-play solution to their regulatory obligations, but served in a more user-friendly experience. It also brings a compelling add-on benefit: personal menu customization.

California Pizza Kitchen’s MyMenu pages open the door to new reasons to visit: With a few short clicks using a sliding bar selection tool on desired nutritional limits, the platform automatically sorts menu choices according to these preferences while calling up attractive photos and detailed descriptions of each dish or beverage. It reveals what’s in them and what they impart in terms of nutrition impact (calories, fat, sugar, etc.).

The Rubio’s MyMenu page also offers a pre-set list of menu alternatives created by Healthy Dining’s dietitian experts around lifestyle preferences such as Energy, Fit Lifestyle and Weight Control. Each choice rolls up special menus based on these specific interests.

The tool’s flexibility creates the option to customize a dish with ingredient swap-outs or to build a full meal while each dish and drink selection repopulates the overall impact on nutrition outcomes, so you know immediately how many calories and fat grams are involved.

  • In a soon-to-arrive platform enhancement, Healthy Dining says guests will be able to save selections for future use, and there will be options for purchase on-site, for pick-up or delivery. Then patrons will be able to build and retain their own personal menu for a variety of their favorite eateries using the tool  ̶  all based on individual dietary preferences and healthy dining interests.

Of course, the key here is to actually have healthier choices available, and in doing so, solve the dilemma of perceived nutritional sacrifice that restaurant eating might entail. The goldmine is simple: remove the friction from healthier choice at out-of-home eating by offering more healthy choices.

Then look to software platforms like MyMenu to allow patrons to examine, sort and retain their healthy meal preferences ̶ and with it creating an opportunity to forge foodservice brand preference.

For those restaurants that get this right, it could be an equally compelling do-it-for-me dining offer that rivals the siren song of home cooked healthier meals.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

 

Millennials and Meal Kits: Will Dynamic Duo Shine in Supermarkets?

March 15th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, CMO, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food service, Food Trend, shopper behavior, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Millennials and Meal Kits: Will Dynamic Duo Shine in Supermarkets?”

Retail kit growth could impact restaurant business…

Recently we learned that Walmart is planning to introduce prepared foods and meal kits to their stores nationally. This action is in response to an increased interest among Millennial shoppers for more convenient and higher quality, fresh ingredient meal solutions.

Given Walmart’s massive size, the impact of this move could create more challenges for an already stressed restaurant marketplace and help trigger other supermarket companies to upgrade their own meal kit strategies, compounding the impact. Technomic reports business has slowed for the last two years at the nation’s top 500 restaurants. At casual chains like Olive Garden and Chili’s, growth went from an average 4.7 percent in 2015 to flat in 2017.

Millennial preference for home cooked meals

According to Port Washington, NY-based NPD Group, 83 percent of Millennial consumers report more cooking at home and fewer restaurant visits, while 63 percent of Millennials say they want to cook more.

Concurrently the supermarket business is in the midst of transformation as Millennial shoppers flipped the script, causing a move away from traditional center store packaged foods, to shopping the perimeter departments for fresh, real food options. The fresh trend is seen as evidence of their preference for home prepared meals. Thus, also helping explain why legacy “big food” brands have seen their market shares decline in key packaged food categories over the last 10 years.

  • At the core of this behavior is a central theme: virtually all generation cohorts – from Boomers to Gen Z – have connected the dots between higher quality, real food experiences and desire for a healthier lifestyle.

The interest in cooking at home is an outgrowth of efforts to assert greater control over ingredient quality, preparations and portion sizes along with the ability to better manage household food spending. At Emergent we see another explanation: the consumer’s love affair with food and culinary inspiration continues. The desire to exercise that creative calling in the kitchen is strong as it fulfills the number one driver for food purchase and consumption: healthy lifestyle. Consumers tacitly believe that home cooked food is healthier.

Boxed food adventures

Perhaps one of the most important, embedded features of meal kits is the ability to experiment with new cuisines and flavors at low risk and with ingredients already portioned and in some cases prepped.

When dinner is now often decided at 5 pm the day of consumption, kits are an enticing just-in–time option to solve the meal need, without having to shop a 50,000 square foot store for five to seven items. It’s a form of high quality culinary convenience that meal kit companies like Albertson’s Plated brand often deliver with a backstory and ethos sitting underneath.

Millennials passed Boomers in 2016 to become the largest domestic audience of shoppers, numbering some 75.4 million topping the Boomer generation’s previous lead of 74.9 million mouths. This generation has grown up with global cuisine; the rise of specialty food markets, locally-sourced ingredients, unique restaurant concepts, and even chef-driven bar food.

It’s telling to note that fully 24 percent of the entire Millennial cohort shopped Whole Foods last year even though the chain has only 430 stores – a remarkable statement about their interest in higher quality food options.

As e-commerce gobbles up more transactions for pantry stock-ups, the food retail business will depend increasingly on its ability to curate unique food experiences and fresh ingredient solutions – and that plays right into the hands of grab-and-go kits. What’s not to like, as kits deliver:

  • Curated don’t-have-to-think-about-it menus
  • More convenient scratch cooking solutions
  • Wholesome, higher quality ingredients
  • Easier and quicker prep time
  • Experimentation vehicle for new cuisines, new techniques and personal customization

Food-enthusiastic supermarket?

The meal kit business is symptomatic of larger changes looming ahead in food retail as e-commerce disintermediates the packaged foods category. As a result, supermarkets will be forced to redefine their models once built around selling those packaged products at volume to fuel the balance sheet.

Emergent believes the future of food retail lies in mining culinary inspiration and food experience. Creating the Disneyland effect of “magic” around food adventure and the consumer’s interests in more innovative and interesting food solutions.

Can the food enthusiastic grocery be far behind? The growth of groceraunt concepts will continue to gain ground as food retailers look to leverage their expanding commissary investments for meals to be consumed on site – yet another customer relationship building opportunity! We anticipate more supermarket jobs for classically-trained chefs as a result.

What’s next for foodservice?

Restaurants are entering a new era of innovation competition to more rapidly evolve menu boards and offerings that reflect the cutting edge shifts in tastes, new ingredients and food culture. Restaurants have always been the tip of the spear in new food trends that then trickle down into other channels in the food industry.

Now more than ever the call to action gains momentum for restaurant companies to explore tastes, preparations and ideas to stay ahead as supermarkets improve their fresh food quality, ingredient standards and Deli menus.

It seems to us that restaurant companies also need to explore further the equity in their own brands to potentially create new signature food products that compete in other channels – much as Dunkin Donuts has done with their superb coffee line and Panera with their soups.

  • Millennials’ enthusiasm for food and healthy lifestyle will continue to push grocers to earn their business by providing the quality, selection, and preparation options they want. Restaurants, while innovating on flavor and cuisine, may need to consider expanded channels as enhanced, food-enthusiastic food retailers vie for share of meal occasions.

This may be the most exciting time ever to be in the food business!

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

 

 

 

 

WILL SOCIAL CHANNEL SHIFTS DRIVE BRANDS TO GO DIRECT?

February 23rd, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, CMO, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, digital tools, food retail strategy, Food service, Social community, Social media, social media marketing 0 comments on “WILL SOCIAL CHANNEL SHIFTS DRIVE BRANDS TO GO DIRECT?”

Brands look to better manage their own destiny

As we’ve stated many times here at Emergent, the brand that gets closest to the customer wins. Yet a form of strategic separation now descending on the food marketing universe has made it more challenging for brands to manage how that consumer closeness is achieved. These same conditions help contribute to the collapse of traditional media marketing models (about scale and control) often deployed by legacy brands to build and maintain consumer relationships.

As a result, we believe what’s ahead for CPG food may well include a large helping of direct-to-consumer outreach efforts. E-commerce growth has already redefined the business landscape, giving consumers a comfort level with buying products from home.

Retail isn’t going away, online or off, but we think a measurable percentage of the business overall may indeed move to direct-to-consumer platforms.

Meantime escalating brand participation in the “walled garden” of rented audiences in major social channels, such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, has also conveyed relationship control to these platform intermediaries. On any given day, the decisions made by these social media giants can be a good thing or bad as their policy changes impact what brands can and cannot do on their platforms.

  • Brands, now forced to reckon with the shift of business to e-commerce, are finding the complexity of cross channel marketing and online engagement has already worked to snuff out the last embers of mass media’s flame. Disappearing with mass media’s grip is the brand’s ability to efficiently leapfrog various forms of retail or other digital gatekeepers to capture consumer brand equity and preference.

Algorithm alarm bell – now what?

Food and beverage companies working to implement their brand-building strategies in social channels find themselves challenged once again, as the behemoth community aggregators like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube adjust algorithms and feed policies making it harder to organically scale audience attention and reach.

In January, the tide turned (the second time since 2016) as Facebook announced yet another round of changes that favor posts from friends and family while diminishing organic post distribution from brands and publishers. Larger, mega-influencers – who must use Pages rather than personal Facebook accounts – will face a similar audience squeeze.

More regulated content policies put greater pressure on brands in social channels to up their shareable post quality game. We believe though, these restrictive conditions will add more value to building direct consumer relationships. This means, thoughtfully reconsidering how best to connect with consumers and deploy tools that sit outside the control of social channel policy moves, through owned channels like Blogs and email (e-newsletter).

Consequently, we believe the model for food and beverage brand building may change in the next three to five years. Pepsico currently projects their annual e-commerce sales to be north of a $1 billion across direct, retailer-owned and pure play (Amazon) e-commerce channels.

Of note, many of the new and emerging brands now grabbing the marketing spotlight in food, got their start in the direct-to-consumer space, where they built a loyal fan following before venturing into retail channel distribution.

  • A classic example: in the personal care category, online brand Harry’s disrupted the legacy razor blade industry by answering consumer frustration over runaway price increases. They successfully constructed a direct-to-consumer subscription model that helped Harry’s deliver a more affordable, high-quality alternative. The new Harry’s brand story, alongside rival Dollar Shave Club, helped end Gillette’s dominance.

As consumer contentment with buying online continues to expand in adjacent businesses, Harry’s recently secured added equity investment to fund another bellwether expansion. This time into other personal care, household and baby products categories that may naturally fit into a subscription model.

Bottom line: selling directly allows the brand unfiltered and unfettered access to consumers. As such it enables a direct flow of conversation without the unexpected shifts that are occurring in third party social channels due to conflicting business interests and priorities.

Behavior changes occurring behind the curtain

We see the shift to e-commerce as an outcome of evolutionary progress – meaning anything that adds measurably to consumer convenience and satisfaction is going to get its day in the sun.

During the last decade consumers spent 12 percent less time shopping, according to Jared Koerten, senior food analyst with Euromonitor International. “Consumers are spending less time shopping (while) looking for efficiencies and ways to save time,” he said. The result is fewer conventional shopping trips while online ordering continues to accelerate.

E-commerce and the digital communications environment will continue to be a major focus of brand marketing strategies. Consumers see the value in reallocating their spare time from shopping trip to other passions and pursuits. Be that as it may, other changes are occurring in the digital universe that impact how closer consumer relationships are incubated.

Emergent’s guidance on optimizing social channel strategy:

  1. Social algorithm changes enhance the valuable role of smaller (nano) influencers and the content they create, while amplifying the need to ensure that influencer relationships are truly founded on aligned interests and subject matter relevance.
  2. Social channel policy changes that depress organic distribution and engagement will necessitate yet again, more pay-to-play activity to boost posts.
  3. There will be diversification of outreach strategies to include more investment in direct paths of communication through Blogs and email.
  4. Rise of User Generated Content as a key component of social media marketing strategy. This tactic helps sidestep the policy changes and hits the right notes on authenticity and value to brand community participants.
  5. In case you’re wondering what form of content ranks highest in shares on social channels: Infographics.

Social channel policy changes and the dynamics of e-commerce may favor a new look for brand marketing that leans in on going direct. With it comes great responsibility in how these interactions are managed – so it doesn’t appear to be just a transactional proposition.

Help over hype – always.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

 

 

Elevated food experiences

Emergence of The New Wholesome Life

September 11th, 2017 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, consumer behavior, Culinary inspiration, Food service, Food Trend, Healthy Living, Retail brand building, Transformation 0 comments on “Emergence of The New Wholesome Life”

Food consumption is going home.

The latest consumer survey report from Benenson Strategy Group (BSG) nailed the shift we’ve seen emerge recently: Seventy-seven percent of consumers “almost always” prefer a home-cooked meal rather than a restaurant option. According to the survey, twice as many consumers routinely eat home cooked rather than restaurant food.

It’s a significant change to be sure. We’ve watched the annual creep of food service spending for years as home food consumption lost ground. Consumers seemed content to abandon the kitchen in favor of outsourced meals. All those pots and pans sitting in the cabinet gathering dust as people often favored ‘do it for me’ —especially in the growing fast casual sector.

Well, not anymore.

A kitchen renaissance is in full swing as mealtime moves home and consumers increasingly look for food preparation ideas and menus they can do themselves. From scratch cooking to meal kits and supermarket prepared foods, it’s a mélange of everything. From full-on culinary exploration to time-sensitive partial prep solutions featuring fresh, often farm sourced meal kit menus — all are unfolding in the home kitchen.

So what happened?

We call it emergence of The Wholesome Life — an overwhelming desire for control and authorship over higher quality food experiences. At the crux of this change is a realization that consumers care deeply about managing freshness, ingredient decisions and using foods they believe are simple, clean and less processed.

Consumers, by the way, defined clean eating in the study as:

  • Free from pesticides – 63%
  • Free from added hormones – 49%
  • Food that is all natural – 47%
  • With no added sugars – 38%

Food Navigator’s coverage of BSG’s study outcomes described this in cultural terms as “a desire to eat fresh, wholesome and ingredients they (consumers) can both pronounce and customize to fit their unique dietary needs.” BSG Partner and survey author Danny Franklin reports a rapid climb in interest for “greater control, greater transparency and a greater perception of authenticity.”

Also at work here: realizing and preserving the emotionally-satisfying experiences of serving loved ones and maintaining (and honoring) family time. Right along side the relationship-burnishing benefits runs the passion for a healthier lifestyle, aided to a great extent by higher quality, real food options now prepared at home.

Home is indeed where the heart (and palate) is…

This shift home offers an extraordinary opportunity for food brands and retailers to build more meaningful and relevant relationships with consumers. Whether the motivation is better-for-you eating, satisfying a creative passion to experiment with new cuisines, or facilitate social experiences with friends and family, brands and retailers can become partners and enablers on this journey by offering useful, helpful guidance on:

  • Menus
  • Healthier preparations
  • Snacking ideas
  • Shopping lists
  • Cooking techniques
  • Kitchen hacks
  • Kitchen tool advice
  • Flavor enhancements
  • Special occasion planning
  • Global cuisines
  • Food and beverage pairings

There’s virtually an endless array of opportunities to help feed this preference and behavior, and in so doing, brands can earn a place at the table alongside consumers and their passions around food.

Especially exciting, we think, is the chance to build video content that satisfies the need to know more — served with a big helping of emotional impact because food is such a visual feast. You can almost taste it, right?

So, when are you coming over for dinner?­­­­

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

 

 

 

Archives

Categories