CGA’s BrandTrack data suggests that frequency levels in out-of-home eating are broadly flat, while the Market Growth Monitor with AlixPartners has revealed a fall in the number of group-owned restaurants, following a decade of remarkable growth that means there are now nearly 5,000 more food-led outlets than in 2009.
And this is just the licensed landscape—traditional full-service and casual dining restaurants, pub restaurants and the like. There is also the burgeoning food-to-go market, driven by counter-service sandwich bars, branded coffee shops and cafes and non-traditional access points to the market like street food stalls, market halls, pop-ups, dine-in sushi counters in supermarkets and cafés in high-street retailers.
Everywhere the consumer looks there is access to food of differing cuisine, style, quality, price point and speed of service, suiting any preference, occasion or budget.
Staying ahead in this fiercely competitive market means understanding what consumers want—now and in the future. What are the next big things, and how should your brand respond? Where should manufacturers and suppliers target new product development budgets to get the best return on investment and appeal to the widest customer base?
The rise of vegan or plant-based diets is a case in point. Driven by growing environmentalism, awareness of the harmful effects of meat production and rising ethicalism among younger consumers, these have soared in prominence. CGA’s Food Insights19 report shows that 4% of the British population now follow a vegan diet, with another 4% adopting a flexitarian diet, increasing their consumption of plant-based meals without completely removing meat. Of the remainder, 20% say they are likely to choose a vegan meal when eating out-of-home, rising to nearly half (48%) of 18 to 34 year olds.
But vegans don’t think they are well catered for at the moment. A lack of choice, lack of imagination and the recurrence of the same dishes are all frequently cited in BrandTrack surveys as frustrations for those seeking plant-based food out-of-home.
The industry needs to act fast to address these concerns. Operators, manufacturers and suppliers that fail to adapt their ranges risk losing customers, and may see existing or new brands meet the latent need instead—but those that can show they understand and care about big consumer trends are well-placed to capitalise.