The world is more fast-paced than ever, and as a result, a greater number of consumers are looking for expanded options when it comes to quick and easy meals. New food-on-the-go trends are impacting how consumers shop and eat in a big way.
While quick service restaurant (QSR) sales have long made up the majority of market spend, grocery retailers are quickly closing the gap with their ready-to-eat meal options. The trend of “grocerants,” led by major grocery chains, is taking a bite out of QSRs’ customer base.
Whether you’re operating a grocery store or quick service food restaurant, you need to understand not only what’s happening right now, but what food trends are on the horizon and continue to be prevalent in today’s world. Dialing into these trends is a critical component of staying competitive in a changing market.
Here’s an overview of what grocerants and QSR restaurants should consider when it comes to creating a strategy to address quick service food trends.
QSRs are evolving rapidly as more technology is changing the landscape. Solutions such as delivery, online ordering and drive-thru lanes give customers different ordering choices. They don’t need to go into a physical store to get their food if they don’t want to do so.
Plus, the popularity in third-party delivery services, like Uber Eats and DoorDash, are making QSR restaurants even more accessible. Consumers love that they don’t need to leave the house to get their favorite meal and can order and receive their food from the comfort of their own home.
To keep pace with other food trends for QSRs, many brands are offering ready-to-serve options that can be purchased with a meal and taken to eat later. These ready-to-serve options include menu items like pre-made sandwiches and salads.
Also, meal kits gained traction during the pandemic, giving fast service restaurants an opportunity to tap into this added revenue stream. For example, if you operate a Mexican QSR, you could offer a meal kit for customers to make their own tacos or burritos at home.
A significant edge that QSR restaurants have over grocery stores is the restaurant environment, along with consistency in meal options and customer experience. Consumers are loyal to QSRs as they know exactly what to expect each time they visit.
To stay competitive and leverage the current food trends with QSRs, a growing number of grocery chains are adding ready-to-eat or quick make-at-home options to their shelves.
In fact, when consumers are looking to replace home-cooked meals with a quick, pickup option, grocery deli-prepared meals are the replacement option 42% of the time, while restaurant meals only account for 17% of at-home alternatives. Respondents from the same survey indicated the ability to order ahead—from a mobile app or online—and have an inside pickup station for pre-ordered food would drive more purchases of deli-prepared items.
With that being said, grocerants are hoping to increase sales by getting people in the door for the quick-serve options and then hoping they’ll do additional shopping while in the store. They’re adding convenient technology, such as self-serve grocery store kiosks, so consumers can checkout quickly and easily. Consumers want to be in and out of the store quickly, much like they would be at a QSR.
Grocery stores are gaining market share in the food-on-the-go segment because they’re able to provide a vast number of options.
Instead of having to settle on one restaurant that suits everyone, grocery food retailers have a broad selection of different food types. Everyone can get exactly what they want, all in one place.
Plus, grocery chains are capitalizing on the food trend of consumers wanting to eat fresh and healthy meals by offering options such as salad and sushi bars, sandwiches, and soups.
A significant advantage for grocery retailers is that their options are priced competitively. Grocery food retailers have the ability to be more agile with price changes due to their access to an extensive network of distributors.
Grocerants can offer comparable food at potentially lower price points. They can also quickly change menu items if the cost of ingredients is no longer reasonable. With the prevalence of food and grocery inflation impacting peoples’ day-to-day lives, it is important for food retailers to be able to pivot based on the market.
As an additional step to break into the quick service market, some grocery retailers are partnering with existing QSRs. In these cases, they are having the brand set up shop in the ready-to-eat section. These retailers benefit from the brand recognition. Consumers who are already in the store may be more inclined to purchase ready-made food from a QSR that’s familiar.
Both QSR and grocery retailers stand out in the food-on-the-go market for different reasons. QSRs offer a restaurant experience and consistency. Grocers, on the other hand, offer more variety and healthy options, typically at a lower price.
We expect the following trends continue to impact both QSR restaurants and grocery food retailers:
Both the grocery and QSR options have one key thing in common — speed. No matter where they’re shopping, consumers place great value on a customer experience that’s fast and painless.
The use of mobile order takers and mobile ordering will continue to increase in volume. At the same time other technologies, like voice-activated ordering and artificial intelligence are also starting to gain traction.
For example, Another Broken Egg Cafe, introduced mobile order takers and saved restaurants an average of 3.6 minutes per order, a result their team was able to capture through a third-party time and motion study. They were able to get orders to the kitchen faster and more accurately, and tables started turning faster with fewer order errors, resulting in higher profits and guest satisfaction.
In addition to mobility, new options for automation are making major waves for today’s to-go food trends. Everything from inventory control, labor costs and product orders to kitchen management can now sync with smartphones and POS systems for an automated, cloud-connected system. When implemented correctly, automation and wireless connection saves operators time and money.
For QSR restaurants in particular, these advances can help streamline workflows and deliver a consistent customer experience for a competitive edge.
More QSRs will begin looking towards flexible footprint options which are centered on less in-room dining and greater options for express service and mobile pick up lines.
With flexible footprints, the goal is to serve more people in less time while operating in a smaller space. It's a departure from the traditional restaurant or grocery store. This may help QSRs compete with grocery stores by being in new locations. It's then easier for customers to get in and out quickly.
To meet the needs of customers who are looking to save even more time, grocery store kiosks are gaining popularity. While the concept of “click and collect” has been around for several years, these kiosks aim to improve the overall experience.
For example, QuickCollect uses an automated merchandise retrieval system that’s built into a drive-up station. Customers scan a QR code and their order is delivered as quickly as within 45 seconds.
This speed and convenience rivals drive-thrus at QSRs. Grocery retail kiosk customers have confidence that they can pick up their order in a matter of minutes without leaving their car.
Today’s consumers are increasingly seeking out experiences over transactions. As a way to compete with bars and restaurants that can offer an experience like watching a sports event or enjoying a live performance, grocery chains are beginning to investigate how they too can integrate an experiential element for customers in their stores.
Offerings like live cooking demonstrations and free sample stations add value and intrigue for customers filling their grocery carts.
QSRs should take note of these integrated experiences and consider opportunities to be featured in locations where they can be part of an overall shopping experience.
A rapidly-changing landscape gives operators a chance to look at new strategies and watch the food trends that will grow their customer base. By leveraging current food-on-the-go trends for inspiration, food retailers—both grocery stores and quick service food restaurants—can position themselves to stay relevant and meet the needs of the marketplace.
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