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Why consumers go to restaurants instead of supermarkets

Convenience, cravings, atmosphere drive diners to QSRs, study finds

Cravings and fun atmospheres drive consumers to restaurants rather than the local supermarket when time-starved families need a solution to the age-old question, “What’s for dinner?” according to a new report from The NPD Group.

The market research firm found that nearly two-thirds of prepared foods sold at retail come from traditional supermarkets, but there are advantages that restaurants can leverage to prevent further erosion in their takeout-meal market share from what NPD calls food stores.

First, consumers surveyed cited convenient locations most often as a reason for visiting a quick-service restaurant at 40 percent, compared with 43 percent for supermarkets. Other reasons that drove customers to quick-service restaurants included simply liking it there, good prices or a special craving, NPD found.

Restaurants lagged behind supermarkets slightly when consumers cited reasons like good prices or always going to one favorite place. The gap widened further in favor of supermarkets when guests gave reasons like “I’m in a hurry” or that they were seeking more variety or more healthful food choices.

Other reasons consumers cited for visiting restaurants and supermarkets:

Source: The NPD Group/DeliTrack

Restaurants benefited greatly in the ’80s and ’90s from the spike in demand for takeout meals, as more women entered the workforce and dual-income households found themselves with less time to prepare a home-cooked dinner, said Ann Hanson, NPD’s executive director of product.

“However, the number of women entering the labor force is no longer growing, and supper meals eaten at home have been increasing,” Hanson said. “As a result, visits to restaurants for supper have not grown in this decade, with demand particularly weak over the past three years. We’re also seeing stronger demand for prepared foods from retail outlets.”

Even though restaurants have lost some ground to supermarkets lately, she added, there still is plenty of potential for growing takeout sales, either by satisfying consumer cravings for items not easily made at home or by entering the retail game with packaged goods on supermarket shelves as California Pizza Kitchen, T.G.I. Friday’s, Starbucks and P.F. Chang’s, among many others, currently do.

“There is a huge opportunity in take-out meals and prepared foods for both supermarkets and restaurants,” Hanson said. “Consumers are not going to wake up tomorrow with more time on their hands and the urge to cook. In the end, it will be about meeting the consumer’s need for convenience, whether it’s a restaurant or a supermarket.”

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].

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