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What Consumers Want: COVID-19 Webinar #7

COVID-19, Food Trends, Foodservice

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Over the past 65 days, we’ve explored fascinating insights shared by over 42,000 consumers. From what safety precautions are necessary to return to buffets to why your family meals should include an appetizer, this data will help you understand where to pivot to best serve your customers.

Suppliers, consider how this consumer behavior will impact your customers’ needs. Be proactive in reaching out to operators and exploring how you can be the peanut butter to their jelly. Working together is the way forward.


What drives restaurant closures?

It’s difficult to evaluate closure data from a national level as closures really happen at a localized level. Even looking at New York City alone, closures are not evenly distributed. There is a far greater number of restaurant closures in Manhattan than anywhere else. Similarly, in Chicago, the loop also has far more restaurant closures than the rest of the city.


consumer interest post-coronavirus


What we can understand from this information is that infection rates do not drive restaurant closures. Instead, we’ve found that cities with higher variable populations have more restaurant closures. In other words, cities that have higher working populations than resident populations are risky for restaurants today. 

This actually makes a ton of sense. Restaurants in areas with a high commuter population had their customers evaporate when employees’ homes became their offices. People aren’t coming into the area for work, customers are gone, and companies struggle to survive.

Even with regulations lifting in various regions, restaurants in areas with a high variable population rate won’t start to recover until companies begin returning to working in-office. Operators with stores in these areas should know that they may experience a more difficult recovery. As a supplier serving operators in the area, it’s important to recognize that they may struggle more. Explore opportunities to support the partnership.


Reading into restaurant resilience

The variable population ratio of a restaurant’s location isn’t the only factor that determines its resilience. In fact, we’re working to develop a chain resiliency model incorporating over 30 pandemic factors across 8 key areas.

Location is just one area and is impacted by the ratio of urban to suburban to rural units, standalone vs. hosted stores (like malls and airports), state opening status, and resident population. 

We’re exploring the impacts of additional factors that fall under the following categories:

  • Brand enthusiasm
  • Value
  • Service
  • Menu
  • Formats
  • Agility 
  • Trust

Keep an eye on our coronavirus resources page for daily updates on our consumer surveys and what this data means for your business.

consumer interest post-coronavirus


Bothered by buffets

Right now, people see buffets as the highest risk restaurant environment. Can you blame them? Just picturing a kid at a buffet bothers most consumers right now… Touching food with their hands, breathing on trays, even licking serving utensils. No thanks.

One of our attendees, however, is VERY interested in hearing about buffets. And we mean very. From our surveys, we’ve found that the bare minimum protection consumers want from buffet restaurants include:

  • Sneeze guards
  • Limiting the number of guests allowed inside at once
  • Food rotated more often
  • Staff monitoring guests’ behavior
  • Single-serve condiments

Right now, the customers want maximum precautions taken even to consider returning to buffets. However, if reopening other restaurant segments goes well, buffets may see consumers less concerned with strict safety regulations. 


Health becomes a priority amidst Netflix binges

Since the pandemic began, leading a healthy lifestyle has become more important for 35% of consumers we surveyed. The majority, 56%, said the pandemic brought no change in the importance of a healthy lifestyle and a mere 9% said it’s less important. Compared to before, consumers are less concerned with increasing their energy, and more concerned with building immunity and avoiding cancer.

Consumers believe these foods boost their immunity: 

  • Citrus fruit
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Superfruits
  • Broccoli
  • Tea

Operators and suppliers should explore opportunities to highlight health-focused options that cater to consumers’ desires right now.

consumer interest post-coronavirus


How will coronavirus impact trends?

Before the coronavirus crisis hit the United States, there were a number of trends happening in the food industry. A big question on innovators’ minds as restaurants begin to re-open: will trends die on the vine or will they pick up where they left off? Based on everything we know, we expect pre-coronavirus trends to continue even after the crisis.

In the post-pandemic mindset, many consumers will be rethinking food. As health continues to be a priority, consumers will look to foods with functional properties, such as those that improve immunity, fight inflammation, and help gut health. Anything is possible and it’s time to start asking what food can do for us.

One area we see enormous opportunity in is beverages. Similar to what we saw leading into the pandemic, our experts believe we’ll continue to see lots of inventiveness around drinks. In the post-pandemic mindset, options will have to compete with what’s in the fridge. Easy customization will be key for operators as you won’t want to bog the kitchen down. Seasonal flavors are great for this. For example, watermelon is refreshing for summer and does well in teas and lemonades.

Additionally, beverages make the perfect launchpad for functional ingredients. Consider the success health flavors like turmeric and matcha has had in teas, juices, and smoothies in recent years. Kombucha and other health-oriented beverages will certainly see increased attention post-coronavirus.


Where will post-coronavirus take you?

What we’ve learned from over two months of industry research is that coronavirus doesn’t mean the end for operators or suppliers, it means an opportunity to pivot. We’re going to continue gathering consumer data and sharing insights with the industry because we know sharing information is the best way forward, together.

Keep an eye on our coronavirus resources page for new reports, recordings, and interviews every day and don’t forget to join us every Friday to hear updates from our team of experts.