catering to new demographics

Helping your business stand out in a crowded marketplace

By Mark Dempsey

Welcome to today’s reality. Consumers are reluctant to visit foodservice. Operators are struggling to differentiate and drive traffic. Tough economic times – such as the rise of the national unemployment rate (up to 7.1 per cent) — ensure that Canadians continue to spend cautiously. Traffic, which is already challenged, will continue to be so.

Operators try to establish growth by winning with higher average eater cheques to help drive dollars, but neither eater cheques nor dollars are keeping ahead of menu inflation, which sees a rise of 2.8 per cent on the year.

Operators need to find a way to bring customers through their doors, whether by growing “Trial” customers or by increasing “Repeat” customers (or, ideally, both). Fierce competition in the marketplace is seen amongst competitive sets, and operators must differentiate to attract visitors. Differentiation to make your brand top-of-mind requires strategic messaging with the right communication to the right consumers. This is today’s cost of entry to gaining traction within the foodservice industry. When considering what the right messaging is, one must consider what it is that consumers demand.

Create awareness, drive growth

Consumers are paying more attention to the quality of foods they are consuming, and are starting to make food choices based on the ingredients. Consumers want ingredients they can feel good about eating. This means two things. First, operators must put these offerings on the menu. Operators need new and innovative ways to stay top-of-mind with customers, and one way is through unique and creative menu items that shout “healthy.” Second, marketing communications should reflect these efforts clearly and with absolute transparency.

“Healthy” is now way past something consumers say they want and has become a mainstream must-have on your menus for everything your consumer eats from their breakfast entrée, to their burger, to their salad. This growing expectation has become today’s reality. Fifty-four per cent of Canadians want more foods that are all natural. Operators must consider how to evolve their brand and communicate their promise to act on these quality needs while offering their point of differentiation in the marketplace.

Demand for healthy alternatives, quality, and locally sourced ingredients is enough to move the needle and drive appeal and intent to switch brands. Fifty-five per cent of Canadians want more food that is sourced from Canada available on your menus. The foodservice industry is seeing the emergence of marketing messages that rightly capitalize upon a “Better for You” and “Quality” positioning. Compared to the previous year, we see total commercial foodservice customer satisfaction scores have risen on metrics related to quality and health. Quality scores move by +1.2 points; value by +1.4 points; health scores are rising by +1.1 points.  Let’s take a look at perhaps the most famous operator to really move the needle….

Learning from other operators

Take a second to consider the latest A&W commercial or advertisement that you have seen. What immediately comes to mind? Is it Allen, A&W’s Manager, walking around various locations asking the public to describe the quality of the burger they are eating; is it the words “Better Beef. Better Eggs. Better Chicken;” or is it the focus on value and health messaging? A&W’s emphasis on this particularly impactful messaging stems from their declines in sales and guest counts.

While Canada was coming out of their latest recession, A&W saw an opportunity for growth to counter their losses. Though the brand competes in an affordable price segment, A&W’s core offerings are priced at a premium comparable to their competitors. They saw an emerging need to provide reasoning to help customers justify their choice of a burger. Along came their Better Beef campaign. With their “Raised Without Antibiotics” guarantee, A&W is able to target the 48 per cent of Canadians that want foods sourced from animals raised without antibiotics or added hormones.

Success of the Better Beef campaign has allowed “raised without antibiotics” to become a preference amongst Canadians, as the demand sees growth from being required amongst 38 per cent of consumers to 48 per cent of consumers within an 18-month period. Through their accelerated communication, messaging, and promotions for their Better Beef campaign, A&W’s customer satisfaction scores have increased. Since 2013, food preparation scores have jumped nine points; quality scores have risen 11 points; value scores are 12 points ahead; and availability of healthy options sees incremental growth by 16 points.

Why are these gains in customer satisfaction so critical? NPD sees that time and time again higher customer satisfaction scores are directly correlated with higher “revisit intent” and increased repeat visits. Along with the rise in satisfaction scores, A&W has successfully been able to increase their revisit intent from the previous year by 2.5 points. One marketing and promotional campaign speaking to the core needs that consumers are now demanding has been incremental in driving traffic (8 per cent traffic growth versus last year) and dollar (10 per cent) growth.

It’s all about the messaging

Representing two-thirds of the commercial foodservice landscape, QSR operators are the first to cater their marketing and messaging to consumer trends. Specifically, those that focus clearly on quality and value messaging are able to see traffic and dollar growth, such as the likes of Starbucks, Dairy Queen, and A&W. More so than ever before, consumer trends are focused on health. Consumers are worried about overall food and beverage quality; they want to consume foods that feel better for them.

To succeed, to drive traffic and dollars in this challenged marketplace, operators must adjust their marketing to include these changing consumer demands. Operators must invigorate, innovate, and grow.

About the author:

Mark Dempsey is the former Director, Foodservice Canada for The NPD Group. The NPD Group has more than 25 years of experience providing reliable and comprehensive consumer-based market information and insights to leaders in the foodservice industry. For more information, visit or contact Mark at

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