Every month, I cover the latest consumer trends news in articles and blogs, bringing you a wealth of information to help you better understand and reach your customers. It’s a lot to take in and even more to put into practice while running a restaurant(s). As the year comes to a close, I’m breaking the data down into digestible bites and sharing my five must-know consumer trends findings from 2014.
1. Active participation in the dining experience
It’s been happening for some time, but this year The Hartman Group spelled it out with its “Digital Food Life report.” No longer content to be just diners who eat the good-tasting food served to them, today’s consumers are moving more toward being active participants in the restaurant experience. In this new, more participatory culture, consumers desire to co-create products and be involved in the feedback loop. To remain relevant in 2015 and beyond, restaurants will have find ways to include their customers in the eating out experience.
2. Craving something unique
Many operators continue to seek the secret to attracting this often-elusive consumer group, and The NPD Group’s recent deep dive into Millennial behavior offered some clues about how to do it. The answer, NPD found, rests in restaurants’ ability to appeal to the group’s unique sensibilities. Above all, Millennials crave a unique experience, fresh ingredients and quality service. Operators that want to grow visits from Millennials, as the fast-casual segment did last year, will have to deliver on these needs.
3. Middle-class cutbacks
Like Millennials, the middle class is an important consumer group with distinct needs. However, according to recent data from Pew Research and The NPD Group, America’s middle class continues to shrink, which is having a notable impact on restaurant visits. Fewer Americans are identifying as middle class, and those that do are going out less because they can’t afford it, NPD found. To remain relevant to and retain this endangered consumer group, operators will need to find strategies to meet the specific needs of their middle class customers.
4. A penchant for pork
Chefs explored ways to use more parts of the pig, offering more menu options featuring various cuts and preparations, and consumers ate it up. In fact, pork was the main driver of the growing sandwich category in 2014, according to Datassential MenuTrends. So, if it makes sense to the brand, this year might be a good time put some pork on the menu.
5. Food quality reigns
Trends come and go, but the one thing that remains constant, that continues to matter most to consumers, is good food. According to an NPD study on loyalty and repeat visits, what keeps consumers willingly coming back (besides a convenient location) is satisfaction with the food. To get consumers to make more than one visit — to become loyal — the food has to be good. Period.