Technomic: Consumers’ palates are expanding

Published on
October 6, 2010

American consumers are getting their food from a broader range of retail and foodservice outlets, but they seem to be more brand loyal to restaurant chains than to supermarket chains, according to a new Technomic report.

According to Technomic’s “2010 Restaurants & Retail Report: Segmenting the Food & Beverage Consumer,” consumers typically visit supermarkets about once a week. In its survey of 2,000 consumers, Technomic also found that most consumers do not prefer a particular supermarket. Kroger is the traditional supermarket chain that shoppers visit most but was the primary supermarket brand for only 15 percent of survey respondents.

Sam’s Club was selected as the warehouse club that consumers visit most, and Trader Joe’s was picked as the natural food supermarket they frequent most.

“In the down economy, retailers gained a larger share of the foodservice market, but in order to keep that as the economic picture improves, they need to respond to consumers as effectively as restaurants have,” said Darren Tristano, executive VP of Technomic in Chicago. Restaurants have responded to consumers’ wants by offering organic, local, additive-free and humanely-sourced foods, he added. 

Fast-casual restaurants are the fastest growing restaurant segment, and consumers prefer Panera Bread, Boston Market and Panda Express. Those who frequent these higher-end fast-food restaurants shop at a variety of food stores, but primarily traditional supermarkets, convenience stores and mass merchandisers.

“With such a diverse group of innovative operators leading the segment, growth of fast-casual restaurants has helped diversify consumers’ palettes and increase their awareness of new flavor profiles and food types,” said Erik Thoresen, director of research and consulting for Technomic. “Retailers can share in this trend by offering a complimentary assortment of items, particularly food and beverages that align with specific cuisine types and ethnic flavor profiles.”

For example, retailers can offer more seafood items such as fish tacos, which “combine an emerging ethnic positioning with a seafood item,” said Thoresen. “Trial of these types of items at restaurants helps seafood items [for] retailers, because it reduces some of the barriers that consumers might foresee when experimenting with a new seafood item at home.”

Although no particular upscale restaurant chain stood out in the survey results, McCormick & Schmick’s was a popular brand with consumers. Survey respondents also said they like to eat at Ruth’s Chris, Benihana and Morton’s.

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