Technomic principal Melissa Wilson sees steady gains

BOSTON – Speaking at the 24th Annual Boston Restaurant Trends seminar at the Revere Hotel sponsored by Boston Restaurant Group, CAFCO and Ruberto, Israel and Weiner recently, Melissa Wilson, principal, Technomic, Inc. points to slow Gross Domestic Product growth and advances in disposable income, although the “wealth gap” remains at record levels.

Today, she observes, younger consumers are the “driving force” for foodservice as millennials make themselves known, always eager to explore. The casual dining sector is up slightly at 2.5 percent this year , but Technomic is seeing some softening, she adds. Studies are showing 64 percent of consumers expect to make the same expenditures at restaurants this year as last, while 16 percent plan to spend more. Nationwide, Wilson adds, 93 percent of consumers in a recent study visit restaurants at least once a month, and the Northeast numbers are slightly higher at 94 percent. Additionally, 69 percent of Northeast diners go out once a week at least, compared to 66 percent nationally.

Technomic sees “opportunities and challenges” facing the industry this year. Many consumers are gravitating to “better” fast food, choosing fast casual versus fast food and full service. Wilson describes the shift as “segment blur.” She points to McDonald’s customizing its burger offerings on the West Coast in California and Panera’s 2.0 new technology. “We’re seeing daypart and menu expansion. Starbucks is adding beer, wine and small plates to its evening platform, McDonald’s and White Castle are extending breakfast to all day, while Taco Bell is evolving and testing beer, wine, and boozy Mountain Dew drinks,”

Another issue this year is the “$15 an hour minimum wage challenge,” Wilson points out. Both California and New York have that issue now and Technomic sees it as the tip of the iceberg. On demand delivery is another trend this year, she observes, pointing to Grub Hub, Door Dash, Uber Eats, Amazon Fresh and Munchery. “These are transformational concepts. At Munchery, owned by several chefs, no storefront exists, with delivery coming from a commissary. Both millennials and Gen X diners expect to use such services on cell phone apps, Wilson notes. The ordering programs open the question of who’s to blame if an order is not correct, she points out. Half of customers blame the operator and expect them to ‘fix it.’

A new competitor for foodservice is the growing number of home meal replacement options such as Blue Apron, C stores, Hello Fresh and meal kits. “We’re seeing strong growth in these concepts.” Today’s consumers, Wilson declares, demands competitive options to the dining out experience. “Watch what’s happening nationally,” she declares, noting that the trends will be spreading as time goes by. Restaurant dining frequency is a concern and while solid growth is expected by Technomic, the environment, Wilson declares, remains “highly competitive.”

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