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The Evolution of Consumer Eating Patterns


Growing, or even maintaining, customer traffic remains a struggle for most restaurant operators. How consumers shop, define convenience and personalize wellness continue to evolve and, subsequently, shape the way they use restaurants and other foodservice operators, according to Eating Patterns in America, a report from The NPD Group.

“Consumer eating attitudes and behaviors are evolving in ways that transform long-standing consumption patterns. Shifting demographics, changing meal composition, more fresh foods, and new attitudes on beverages all create challenges for growth,”says David Portalatin, NPD vice president, industry analyst and author of Eating Patterns in America. “Today’s macro environment isn’t generating organic growth for the food and foodservice sectors so we’re dealing with a one percent world.”

In addition to changing consumption patterns, consumers are also making fewer visits to restaurants, opting to stay at home or spend their money on experiences or something else, NPD reports. As a result, restaurant visits have declined for the last several quarters; but evidence of the country’s stay-at-home culture is that foodservice delivery is growing.

Contributing to the shifts in consumption are the attitudes and behaviors of Boomers and Millennials, two of the largest generational groups. Millennials have now surpassed Boomers in numbers but Boomers remain a large population and their behaviors still have a significant influence on the marketplace. For example, as Boomers age they use restaurants less and their cutback has resulted in 292 million fewer restaurant visits per year. Like the Boomers did before them, Millennials, a generation strapped by sizeable student debt and other committed expenses, are agents of marketplace change as they move through their life stages. They continue to influence Big Food and the restaurant industries with their want of authenticity, fresh, and social consciousness.

“Although the food and foodservice industries are in a stalled growth mode, there are still pockets of growth,” says Portalatin. “To grow in these challenged markets will require renovation by some, reinvention by others, and, by many, a deeper understanding of what consumers really need and want.”