THOUGHT YOU were just getting to know how your customers felt about sustainability? Then think again. In this issue we’ve pulled together three of the latest pieces of consumer research in the dining out market. The studies by Mintel, Horizons and the Sustainable Restaurant Association each make for fascinating reading, but taken together what do they tell us about today’s customer? Do they understand sustainability? How do they want you to communicate it? Where do their priorities lie? How does that compare to yours?
The result is a detailed – if complex – picture of sustainable dining in 2013. Your work on sustainability has moved on – but so have consumer understanding and perceptions. In fact, consumer attitudes towards environmental and social issues are in a constant state of flux, with everything from macro-economic trends (the recession) and world events (food shortages) to personal experience (diets) and media influence (horse meat) colouring – and confusing – the picture. The rise in popularity of “gourmet junk food” is a notable example, with chefs trying to reignite people’s passion for eating out (which has waned during the economic downturn) with a little excitement and indulgence. One in 10 British diners have tried gourmet junk food, while 46% would like to try foods such as hot dogs with better-quality ingredients. But high quality comes with a high price tag, so it’s no surprise to see chefs reducing portion sizes – most notably of meat – to maintain margins and keep menu prices low.
But that is not to say diners won’t spend. They’d prefer not to splash out, but because they are eating out less they are looking to treat themselves. This is good news for those with sustainable offerings, which consumers are prepared to pay more for. However, the big challenge is to communicate that USP. When all the consumer cared about was food miles and provenance, around 2009, that was easy. But today’s diner cares more about nutrition and food waste. These are harder concepts to market and will be covered in more detail in issues to come – hopefully as part of a new section covering sustainable marketing and communications.