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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Moving from comfort food to experiential cuisine

JoAnne Naganawa, friend and fellow trend-watcher from Seattle, just passed along a story she found in Fast Casual magazine—an industry trade publication—suggesting that consumers are moving out of their “comfort zone” when it comes to dining out. (Click here to see the story.)

Implications: When people go into shock—literally—their body is coiling-in to only the essential activities, like breathing, pumping blood, etc. The Great Recession could be thought of as a similarly traumatic event, which caused people—in terms of finances and consumption—to coil-in to only the most essential of behaviors.

To a restaurant, that might mean down-grading from upscale to fast casual, or from fast casual to fast food, or from fast food dining to a variety of supermarket options (like grab-and-go, deli, or heat-to-complete entrees). And when we did dine out-of-home, we were more inclined to order those things that would be predictably satisfying. The Great Recession was a time to serve foods known to satisfy, rather than the exotic or adventurous.

The times, they are a changing. (Again.) This consumer trend was almost predictable, as pent-up demand is no less an issue for out-of-home dining than it is for automobiles or home furnishings. As people once again “go out,” they are seeking an entrée or experience (or both) that they cannot achieve at home. Is your restaurant serving that meal? Is your store delivering that experience?

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

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