On day two of the PMA Foodservice Delivered virtual event, Jack Li of Datassential spoke on what the post-COVID-19 consumer looks like: what has changed in their perceptions on the foodservice industry, and how has the demand shifted? Li also discussed how the foodservice operator can adjust to these changes, and how produce suppliers can help operators adjust.
With the closing down of dine-in restaurants, the entire foodservice landscape drastically changed. Li shares that research does show recovery, though the pace of this recovery will depend on the further progression of the pandemic. Li says: “The on-premise eating will continue to recover, and the off-premise eating (take-out orders) will hold on to the growth they achieved in the past months.”
Some of the recent research looks at what is important to consumers when they go out to eat. “There are a few things that have always been important, which continue to be important,” Li says. “Taste and convenience were always the top two considerations, pre-pandemic. Now, these have moved down on the list to make room for cleanliness and sanitation. Pre-pandemic, cleanliness and sanitation were more of a baseline in the considerations; restaurants were assumed to be clean. Now, consumers actively look at the hygiene measures taken.”
Part of the research conducted looked at the perspectives of consumers on produce and compared this to the perspective of foodservice operators. The findings showed that in general these perceptions align well with each other, but there were a few discrepancies. “The alignment in the perceptions of the consumers and the operators is close, but not perfect. One of the most prominent discrepancies is the perception of pride in produce. Operators show a lot more pride in their produce than consumers do. This shows the importance of produce to these operators, and this is something that the industry should play into; work to continue to elevate these perceptions of pride in produce,” says Li.
Other discrepancies related to produce seasonality and locality. Li shares: “82% of consumers say that produce seasonality is important to them, but the majority of the operators, 56%, consider year-round availability important. A similar effect is seen for local produce: 81% of consumers think it’s important to source produce locally, but only 23% of operators consider locally sourced produce in their purchases. This shows a disconnect between what the consumer values and what the operator values.”
What foodservice operators need
The research also looked at how the produce industry can better serve the foodservice operators during these times. “One of the main things that operators need right now is more convenience items and more versatile items. The demand is very unpredictable right now and produce items that require less prep time will be a big help to the operators,” Li says.
Education and innovation were also high on the list of importance, according to Li. “There is always room for education, and for suppliers this needs to be a big focus: educate the operators on an item’s availability, how to use it and how to present it.”
“In the crisis of 2008, we saw that operators were increasingly looking for more versatile items, and this is what we are seeing again today. This allows them to reduce the number of items in their inventory and use less items. As produce suppliers, it’s important to educate the operators on the versatility of your items and give them new ideas on how they can prepare them,” Li concludes.
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