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6 takeaways from a different sort of conference

fare conference culinary competition

One of the foodservice business’s most unusual conferences is FARE, an event based on the premise that the challenges and opportunities for any place selling ready-to-eat food, be it a restaurant or a college c-store, are not unique to that venue. Looking across channels can provide insights and exposure to new ways of handling even routine functions.

Because research from a variety of sources is presented at the meeting, attendees also learn what consumers are thinking and how feeders of all types are responding.

Here’s a sampling of what you missed if you weren’t there.

1. A key shift in consumers’ non-negotiables

Not long ago, consumers were stamping their feet and demanding to be served food whenever they wanted it, a non-negotiable preference that translated into the spread of all-day breakfast and late-night snacks.

That sense of entitlement has morphed into an insistence they be served wherever they want it, noted Abbie Westra, deputy group editor for the covenience store media of Winsight Media, the presenter of FARE (and the parent of Restaurant Business). She cited that new must-have as the reason for the boom in delivery and catering.

2. The new top opportunity?

A broadly based survey of foodservice operators revealed a consensus on the feeding business’s biggest sales opportunity: catering. The research, conducted by Winsight’s research arm Technomic, found high hopes for exploiting that opportunity across virtually all types of foodservice operations.

3. The biggest bummer?

For full-service operations, the main drag on sales is something too large for them to right on their own. The issue is an erosion of the spending power of high-income families, whose spending disproportionately fuels that segment, according to Hudson Riehle, SVP of the National Restaurant Association’s research and knowledge group.

4. Challenging full service’s lock on alcohol sales

Meanwhile, the limited-service sector is poised to seal one of sit-down restaurants’ major distinctions: the availability of beer, wine and spirits. In the fast-casual sector, “Alcohol is about to go mainstream in a big way,” predicted Riehle.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Westra cited Technomic research that shows 29% of fast casuals see the sale of canned and bottled beverages as an opportunity.

5. Where lactose intolerance spikes

Not all of the insights served up at FARE were aired onstage. During a casual conversation, a supplier offered the gem that Hispanics have the highest incidence of lactose intolerance, a demographic quirk that can turn the offer of a non-dairy creamer into a key distinction for any place selling coffee in the Southwest.

6. Mining millennials

FARE wouldn’t be a foodservice conference if it didn’t devote considerable time to millennials. Indeed, the conference provided a number of insights on members of that demographic group, probing their distinctions as employees as well as consumers.

Kat Cole, a president of the multi-concept franchisor Focus Brands, suggested that operators might, from time to time, want to erase the distinctions of millennial employees and millennial customers. She recounted how she peppers her millennial coworkers with questions about where they eat, what they do, and how they perceive various brands in and out of the industry.

She suggested the feedback is as insightful as what she’d get from a formal focus group.

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