Based on more than 4,500 consumer interviews and analysis of the menus of the Top 250 chain restaurants, emerging chains and independent restaurants, the reports examine consumer attitudes, purchase behavior and price sensitivity, plus emerging trends in flavor, preparation and presentation. The studies underscore how dramatic sales declines have been in key starter categories. For example, roughly half (51 percent) of consumers were considered to be heavy purchasers of salads in 2007; in 2009, that number was 33 percent. Heavy consumer numbers have slid from 40 percent to 24 percent for appetizers, and from 25 to 15 percent for soup.
Other key findings point to specific strategies that consultative DSRs should bring to the table:
• Improve Variety. Fifty-eight percent of consumers overall, and 64 percent of consumers aged 18 to 34, are not fully satisfied with the variety of appetizers menued at full-service restaurants. More than two-thirds (70 percent) said that salad variety could be improved as well. Though most consumers (68 percent) expect restaurants to menu just three or four soups, 40 percent would like to see more ethnic soups offered.
• Expand Shareability. For shareability and for making a starter the main course, size is important in appetizer purchases. Four out of five (82 percent) consumers felt that appetizers should be shared, and 61 percent said that portions should be large enough to do so. Three quarters would consider ordering a combination platter.
• Showcase Ethnic Soups. For soups, global flavor profiles are in vogue, especially those derived from the cuisines of Asia and Mexico. Mexican flavors tend to dominate at the Top 250 chains, while Asian-inspired soups are widely menued by emerging chains and large independents.
• Keep Salad Options Healthful. Health drives the decision to order a salad as an entree for 66 percent of consumers at lunch and 63 percent at dinner.
“Consumers are trying to cut their dining budgets, in many cases by eliminating starters," notes Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc. "To drive cravings and create interest in appetizers, salads and soups, operators must innovate with exciting dressings and dips, unusual ingredients, and preparation techniques that can’t easily be duplicated at home. These encourage consumers to feel the experience is worth the extra cost.”
For more information on the Technomic reports, visit www.foodpubs.com.