Fast food (quick service restaurants [QSR]) registered $142 billion in sales in the U.S. in 2006, a 5% increase. Snack foods, meanwhile, remained somewhat stagnant, growing only 1% to hit $61 billion. Ready meals, however, show strong potential. Already accounting for $14 billion in sales in 2006, this area is expected to grow 3-4% overall, and some experts are predicting 15-20% growth in the category in Europe in the next five years.
Kimbell finds on-the-go consumers do not necessarily fit one mold: they are men and women, married and single, working and stay-at-home moms, raising children and childless, but his observations and prior studies do point to some of the reasons these consumers opt to eat on-the-go, which he defines as food not eaten at home or at a white tablecloth restaurant. The first two reasons relate to the food itself: the taste experience and the variety of “fun and interesting” foods. The other two key reasons, however, relate more to a state of mind. Consumers note that on-the-go foods can actually relieve stress, as they feel they are given more time.
Kimbell narrows on-the-go meals to two categories. “Foods to take along” include granola, sports and nutrition bars, fruit, chips, pretzels and sandwiches, while “foods to pick up” range from sandwiches to burgers to salads, pizza, burritos and “all sorts of ethnic foods.”
While on the go, consumers are dining at a variety of locations: the car dashboard; the desktop; as a fast lunch outside, in a cafeteria, convenience store or QSR; or even outside while walking, biking or hiking, during or while in transit to other activities. Hectic schedules are the first reason Kimbell cites for on-the-go consumption; however, other reasons exist.
Some consumers are eating defensively, refueling while they “have the chance.” Some view it as a sanctuary, a break in the day. Somewhat in accord with this line of thinking, Starbucks has described itself as the “third place,” Kimbell relates, and by that, the company is referring to the home (first place), the workplace (second place) and that third place, which he notes used to be the corner pub.
Ideally, on-the-go foods would have convenient packaging and controlled portions. For an ideal QSR experience, consumers want a convenient location, with fast service, a predictable and consistent product with healthy options. Further, Kimbell advises companies to involve the consumer with the food, leverage their emotions and give them a break in the day, something to anticipate. They want a complete, ideally shelf-stable meal: that means an entrée, a side, dessert, etc., something akin to a non-Japanesebentobox. Are there possibilities in pastry sticks (likechurros, Hispanic bakery sticks, possibly with a pie filling), with sweet and indulgent snack chips, dripless and spoonless pudding or yogurt, or meal-replacement beverages in the form of essentially a liquid nutrition bar? For on-the-go consumers, this kind of thinking will win over their stomachs.
For more information:Virginia Dare • Brooklyn, N.Y.
Paulette Kerner • 410-569-9766