In Fast Casual and Beyond, Time for More Targeted Marketing

Generational differences absolutely influence consumers’ foodservice behaviors and expectations: Technomic’s research over the years has regularly confirmed this, and we’ll see it again in our soon-to-be-released 2014 Generations Consumer Trend Report. Millennials are more inclined to use mobile apps and payment at restaurants; matures are more likely to seek out lower-sodium and low-cholesterol menu choices; and so on and so forth.

But as was pointed out at Technomic’s Restaurants Trends & Directions Conference on Wednesday, it’s shortsighted for restaurants to target menu initiatives or marketing messages exclusively at the whole cohort of a given age group. Sara Monnette, our senior editor of consumer insights and innovation, noted that it’s common to hear brands say they want to better connect with Millennials. But we’re different people at age 22 than we are at 34, Sara observed, and therefore it’s vital for restaurants to consider whom, exactly, they hope to reach.

To help foodservice industry professionals better understand their customers and address specific audiences, Technomic has identified seven consumer segments characterized by lifestyle attributes and attitudes rather than strictly by age. Following, an overview of some of these groups. (We’ll be talking a lot more about them in our upcoming Consumer Trend Reports research.)

Busy balancers: Typically female, Millennial and mid-upper income. They’re busy but they embrace stress, and they’re willing to spend at restaurants (in particular, those that offer convenience-focused technology). As one of foodservice’s most avid user groups, busy balancers seek healthful menu options and are driving growth in away-from-home breakfast purchases.

Functional eaters: Typically male, younger Millennial and lower-income. They view food as fuel and tend to prefer familiar food and restaurants. Nutrition is not a top concern, as they’re more focused on getting through the day. When offered a consistent product and an appealing value, they’ll develop brand loyalty.

Affluent socializers: More likely to be male and 35 or older, and much more likely to have an income of more than $100,000. They view dining out as a form of entertainment and social interaction and value interaction with wait staff. Dining-out occasions are about sitting down and relaxing rather than getting in and out of the restaurant as quickly as possible. Affluent socializers frequent a variety of restaurants and are keen on getting a good value, though they’re less likely to use discounts or participate in loyalty programs.

Foodservice hobbyists: More likely to be female; primary age groups are 18 to 24  and 35 to 44. They view foodservice occasions as a chance to connect with friends and highly value the entirety of the dining-out experience (ambiance and atmosphere, in addition to food and beverage quality, help shape value perceptions). Their restaurant choices vary: Sometimes they opt for an old favorite; sometimes they look for a new hot spot. To control dining-out costs, they often seek promotional deals and the opportunity to share meals or order smaller portions.

The fast-casual segment overall has done a good job addressing the needs of such groups as the busy balancers, with offerings such as the family-style takeout pasta bowls from Noodles & Company and themed catering packages (Guilt-Free Girls Night, Kid’s Party Pack) from Zoes Kitchen. And the proof of fast casual’s resonance with consumers is in the proverbial pudding: Sales for fast-casual chains that made Technomic’s Top 500 list last year rose 11% on the whole. In comparison, the quick-service segment saw gains of 2.8%, and even the rising polished-casual segment posted a relatively modest sales increase of 4%.

But there’s room for improvement in fast casual as there is elsewhere: more widespread availability of mobile ordering and payment options, more menu customization choices and a better breadth of more-healthful (including smaller-size) food and beverage options for adults and kids alike.

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Darren Tristano

Darren Tristano is President of Technomic Inc. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations.

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