Social Media to Sustainability: Preferences and Priorities of Canadian Restaurant Users

How likely are Canadian consumers to engage with restaurants via Facebook? How important to restaurant-goers are issues such as recycling and food composting? Do Canadians really want to see nutrition info on menus nationwide? The latest trend report from Technomic’s Canadian Consumer Brand Metrics research program tackles these questions and more.

For restaurant operators, the Q1 2014 CBM trend report offers a powerful look at Canadian restaurant patrons’ attitudes on some of the foodservice industry’s most salient issues, including sustainability, personal financial expectations, and health and wellness. Technomic asked 1,000 Canadian consumers in February to sound off about these issues. Some of their responses could be expected—while seven in 10 consumers say they’re concerned about restaurants’ food waste, fewer than half expressed concern about their own personal food waste—and some responses may register as something of a surprise. For example, nearly one-third of Canadian consumers said their personal financial situation worsened in the past two years, versus only 24% who said it had improved. Following are five key findings from the report.

  1. Consumers paint a mixed picture of their personal economic situation. While a plurality of Canadian consumers (44%) said their personal financial situation had stayed the same in the past two years, 32% said it had worsened (leaving around one-quarter who said it had improved). Consumers’ outlook for the coming year is brighter: When asked about their financial outlook for the next year, 36% said they expected their finances to improve—double the share of those who predict their situation will worsen (18%). Younger consumers—restaurants’ most avid user group—are the most optimistic. About half of those ages 18 to 34 expect their personal financial situation will improve in the coming year.
  2. Consumers’ engagement with restaurants via Facebook has stalled. In 2012, 26% of Canadian consumers reported that they used Facebook to engage with restaurants (through likes, comments, etc.). Only 21% said they did so last year. Facebook remains, by far, the most popular social-media platform; 86% of consumers who use social media say they visit the site at least weekly. But consumers ages 24 and younger are gravitating also to platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr, and are doing so in significantly higher numbers than are older social-media users.
  3. Consumers favour menu labelling for restaurants of all sizes, not just chains. Fifty-seven percent of Canadians said they believe nutrition-related menu labelling should be mandatory for all restaurants—versus only 37% who said it should be mandatory just for chains with 10 or more locations. In addition, there is strong support for mandatory disclosure of sodium information at restaurants. More than seven in 10 Canadian consumers (72%) said they agree or strongly agree that restaurants should be required to disclose information pertaining to sodium counts.
  4. While consumers express strong support for restaurants’ social-responsibility initiatives, they’re less inclined to be willing to pay more to support these. More than half of consumers said they would be somewhat or much more likely to visit a restaurant that offers charitable food donations, with support for these efforts significantly stronger among women, and when the restaurant in question is a limited-service concept. Around half of consumers indicated a similar preference for restaurants that have a recycling program. However, only about 46% of consumers would pay at least a little more for food at restaurants that donate their surpluses to charity, and only around three in 10 said they would pay more at a restaurant that offers recycling.
  5. Two in five consumers follow full-service restaurants on social media to learn about other guests’ experience at the restaurant. That compares with about half who say they follow FSRs to find out about limited-time offers and promotional deals/specials.

As Technomic’s Canadian Consumer Brand Metrics research shows, Canadian consumers’ foodservice attitudes and behaviours are continually evolving. Restaurant operators looking to ensure that all elements of their branding, from social-responsibility initiatives to social-media efforts, resonate with their target audiences need to ensure that they’re considering timely data in doing so.

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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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