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Consumers’ comfort food preferences, by region

For operators that want to offer the best and most profitable comfort foods on their menus, taking regional preferences into account is key.

When consumers order comfort foods, they’re doing so to satisfy a craving, but depending on where they live, those cravings are for different dishes, according to Technomic’s 2017 Comfort Foods Consumer Study on Breaded Protein, conducted exclusively for AdvancePierre. For instance, diners in the Midwest and South prefer traditional-style breaded protein dishes, while consumers in the West and Northeast prefer breaded protein dishes to feature healthier preparations and creative sauces.

What do diners think about comfort food?

When asked what makes something a comfort food, consumers largely pointed to nostalgia—foods that provide the “feeling of warmth and relaxation,” foods that “take me back to my childhood,” and recipes that “have been around for a long time,” according to the Technomic study. Operators can appeal to this nostalgia by using menu descriptors that evoke these feelings, such as “classic,” “homemade,” “scratch-made” or “hearty.”

Regional preferences explained

When describing their ideal breaded protein comfort foods, consumer preferences that differ regionally include the cooking method, the coating preference and the preferred sauces and gravies. For instance, the preferred sauces for different regions are:

  • Northeast: BBQ sauce.
  • Midwest: White gravy, brown gravy (tie).
  • South: White gravy.
  • West: BBQ sauce.

Operators can use these regional preferences to tweak menu items for local markets, for example, or when testing new items or LTOs.

How consumer preferences vary by region

Here’s a peek at the comfort classics consumers clamor for in each area of the country.

Northeasterners:

New Englanders prefer modern takes on breaded protein dishes, and healthier breading would encourage more of them to order breaded beef dishes. If operators want to attract more comfort food purchases in the Northeast, using baked breaded proteins, such as those with panko bread crumbs, can help.

Midwesterners:

Midwesterners prefer traditional styles of breaded beef, pork and veal dishes, such as country fried steak and breaded pork tenderloin. To get more Midwesterners on the comfort food tip, use menu descriptions such as “crispy” and “golden,” and offer healthier preparations of breaded chicken dishes and unique flavor profiles overall.

Southerners:

The core comfort foods consumer resides in the South, so naturally, this region has the largest concentration of heavy comfort foods users. These consumers prefer traditional-style breaded protein dishes, but those who don’t eat comfort foods prefer lighter takes on classic dishes.

For instance, menu descriptions such as “lightly coated” can help attract those who want healthier cooking options. To expand customer base, operators should also consider unique breadings such as crackers.

Westerners:

Comfort foods consumers in the West are mostly Gen Zers and millennials, and they also eat alternative proteins such as soy and tofu. Like other regions, healthier preparations are ideal for attracting more customers, and nonusers reported that grilled or baked breaded proteins would encourage them to try comfort food items.

Finally, operators should consider implementing modern takes on comfort foods to pique interest, like using breaded proteins in a BBQ dish.

This post is sponsored by AdvancePierre® Foods

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