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3 ways to identify innovation opportunities in restaurant retail

Jeff Fromm | Mar 31, 2017 Jeff Fromm 03/31/17

Millennials have quickly taken on an influential role in our consumer market. More than any other consumer group, Millennials are influencing the perceptions, expectations and purchasing behaviors of surrounding generations. It is evident across the market, from consumer attitudes in-store or online, to lifestyle choices.

For example, a 50-year-old woman may not be defined as a Millennial at her age, but she is just as dedicated to tracking her steps and daily yoga workout on her Apple Watch as is her 25-year-old daughter. This influence is what we call the Millennial Mindset®—and its effects are impacting the market across business verticals in major ways. Not to be overlooked, is how these millennial behaviors are influencing the way consumers think about food and innovation as a whole.

In order for a brand in the restaurant space to maintain momentum, innovation is key. But innovation is also pretty difficult—especially in a consumer landscape that’s changing at unprecedented rates. Customer expectations and food trends are shifting every year—from fast and convenient to natural and organic, consumers want it all. And with many new brands delivering on both of those promises, it’s critical for restaurant retailers to know what’s coming next. In a widely saturated market, it can be difficult to stand out from the competition. The bottom line? If innovation is not the primary goal for a brand, they will undoubtedly be left in the dust. 

Here are 3 ways to jump-start your innovation strategy:

Step 1: Understand your consumers’ reasons for eating

Occasions are not simply defined as whatever time of day a consumer eats. Rather, they identify a more emotional and participative need that your category satisfies. Occasions to consider include:

  • Location: where is the consumer eating?
  • Activity: what else is the consumer doing while eating?
  • Personal interaction: with whom is your consumer eating?
  • Time of day: when is your consumer eating?
  • Need: what need is your consumer fulfilling by eating?

Ask yourself—do you really understand the emotional reasons consumers are dining out? If not, consider a study on occasion. Not only can this study identify the larger emotional territories for consumption in the category, but can also help determine which restaurant experience best fulfill each eating occasion. Consumers tend to migrate to different restaurant segments in a category depending on their needs.

Step 2: Identify the best opportunities to innovate for your brand

There are many aspects in the restaurant experience today that were totally unthinkable even five years ago. Many changes are focused on speed and convenience, but also on quality of ingredients and nutrition value. Organic juices are available via drive thru. Mobile pre-ordering has grown to be absolutely commonplace.

Brands should start striving for more breakthrough innovation opportunities in the restaurant environment. This means looking at consumer and cultural trends that your category could capitalize on should be at the forefront of your strategy. Think about where your restaurant category could be in three years based on where it’s moving today. These up-and-coming trends should fuel your new product development strategy.

Step 3: Test products that appeal to all customers

Luckily for restaurants, cooking at home is becoming less-common than ever before. Home cooking can be frustrating for consumers since more of them are living busier, faster-paced lifestyles. And that shift means they’re demanding even more from restaurants, too. When families are involved, it’s important to offer a wide variety of products to appeal to multiple preferences. Families with picky eaters, and even groups of friends, want a one-stop-shop that will satisfy everyone’s cravings in their party—no matter their personal tastes.

That means customers want brands to offer more opportunities to customize, recognize dietary restrictions, and offer exciting new flavors—just to name a few. The traditional notion of a target market is no longer relevant. Brands who can appeal to many different demographics, backgrounds, and lifestyles will win big.

Check, please!

Millennials are not only changing the restaurant space, but influencing other generations of diners as well. For restaurants to successfully navigate such a volatile industry, it’s absolutely critical to seek opportunities for change and growth. Staying ahead of consumer trends, re-thinking even the most common aspects of the dining experience, and creating out-of-the-box products to satisfy every taste are key strategies for innovation in the restaurant space. To hear more about millennials and our Innovation Forum at the Restaurant Leadership Conference, click here.

Jeff Fromm
President at Futurecast