Sarah Lockyer, director of digital content for the Penton Restaurant Group, recently joined a group of beef checkoff representatives to share information that can potentially help identify market challenges and opportunities in today's foodservice economy. She says there is good news heading into the foreseeable future.
"Foodservice trends for this year and pretty much the foreseeable future are actually very positive," Lockyer said. "Sales are expected to increase, growth is expected to return. There are obvious headwinds which no one can ignore: there's the unstable economy, there's high unemployment and there's rising commodity costs. But most of the larger demographic trends still point to a growing foodservice and restaurant industry. You have increased population, you have a continued need for many families to have dual-income homes, and you have now which is different from a few years ago, is a pent-up demand for dining out."
Lockyer says that after three plus years of this pent-up demand for dining out, consumers are returning to restaurants. But she says consumers aren't just concerned with price – they want the complete eating experience.
"What restaurants have to do today that they didn't have to do in the past was really create almost a perfect value equation to lure that diner in," Lockyer said. "That equation includes price, of course, but it also includes food quality and service and experience. Consumers are looking for where they can put their money, so of course they'll look at price, but they'll also look for some of the other perks. Will I get buy one get one free? Will I spend a little bit more than maybe I want to spend but will it be a really nice experience? Will I get a good table; will the server be good; will it be fast for me; can I get this through the drive-thru if I'm in a rush? There are a lot of aspects to the consumer's choice today that do go beyond price."
Lockyer says beef consumption isn't going anywhere; people love a good hamburger and steak. And, according to a Penton Foodservice Operator survey conducted earlier this year, half of the respondents focused on two areas of their menu: the use of local and seasonal items and the importance of improved food quality. She says this matches up to what a consumer today is looking for. Lockyer shares some of her recommendations for the beef industry moving forward.
"So the consumer now is looking for the story behind the food. Where does this food come from; what will it do to my body; where did the chain or restaurant purchase it from; how is it prepared?" Lockyer said. "And the beef industry can tell that story – they can actually tell that story better than anyone else. So I think what the industry can do is help operators meet those two goals with continued education whether it's on the various cuts of beef, preparation techniques, purchasing options. Food as a story is so important today for both operators and consumers – those types of insights are really top-of-mind and can help the restaurant operator construct their menu and speak better to their consumer, which obviously you hope would drive sales."
The Penton Restaurant Group is made up of the industry's leading publications, including Nation's Restaurant News, Restaurant Hospitality and Food Management magazines.
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