Study shows 'anytime eaters' here to stay: Are you ready?

Study shows 'anytime eaters' here to stay: Are you ready?

By Bob Jennings and Kyle Beltran/InfoScout

Snacking is big business. Not only are "small bites" popular at sit-down restaurants and the trendy choice of the after-work cocktail crowd, but they have become a standard option on the menu boards of popular takeout chains and QSRs. And, if we can judge by current popularity, snack options will capture an even larger share of the market in coming months and years. 

Snacking has many faces, however.

Many chains have found that feeding "the new normal" requires a shift away from traditional meal packaging, both in portion size and time of day. Meal combinations have been altered as well, with healthier choices joining the list of possible options.

Where "super-size me" once held sway, value menus and healthy snacks now boost the bottom lines of savvy QSRs. Portability is a major component of the snacking trend, obvious not only at the drive-thru window, but also with packaged offerings at convenience stores like 7-Eleven, and at "boutique" establishments, like Starbucks.

The rise of all-day snacking

For some consumers, millennials in particular, eating less but more often has become a way of life. Traditional mealtimes are less important than the convenience of grabbing food on the go. 

Mini-meals are on the rise across all age groups, and the mid-afternoon "slump" has led to the mid-afternoon dietary pick-me-up. Breakfast all day — now commonplace in the industry — is one way to cater to the whims of a generation that doesn't subscribe to traditional eating patterns.

Non-traditional "dayparts" are gaining market share throughout the quick service industry, and operators are scrambling to find the right combination of healthy options and attractive snacks to cater to the new brand of consumer.

New taste combinations — some from ethnic spices and flavors — continue to appear on menu boards. Likewise, the idea of choice has grown to more than a slogan. Customers now demand it and often it is predicated on health and nutritional requirements. In essence, the current crop of consumers is more discerning, more demanding, and more "fickle" than previous generations. 

It appears too, that the next generation of consumers — the children of these millennials — will continue down the same path. In fact, analysis of current trends backs this up showing that smaller portion, greater variety and more healthful options are de rigueur, prompting even the most traditional QSRs to throw some orange or apple slices into kids meals. 

Ringing in on the off-hour trend 

In the restaurant sector traditional meal hours have set breakfast in the three-hour period between 7 and 10 a.m. Lunch traditionally runs noon to 2 p.m., while dinner is typically set from 5 to 9 p.m. That's just 9 hours of the day so there is a lot to capitalize on in the off-hour eating trend. 

In a recent analysis, InfoScout looked at 77,820 American households who provided daily receipts to the company to determine which off-hour consumers are most apt to head to a restaurant in those times, as well as the overall percentage of visits made by consumers during off-hour dayparts and the basket size during those visits and how that compares with the basket size of traditional mealtimes.




This graphs shows the percentage of visits each location receives during various dayparts. Altogether, the off-hour meals make up 35 to 48 percent of all trips. The company also found that after-midnight and 2 to 5 p.m. can potentially be money-makers for QSRs that serve the kinds of food customers want.

Some of the brands taking advantage of this off-hour opportunity now include Wawa, Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's and Taco Bell, all which attract more than 40 percent of their consumers visits in off-hours. All of those brands rake in more than 40 percent of their customer visits during off-hour dayparts, according to InfoScout data.

In Taco Bell's case, for example, the data show 47 percent of the chain's consumer trips occur during off hours, accounting for a solid 42 percent of dollars spent. Recently, the brand made a move toward ringing in on that trend by offering an expanded $1 menu for drink specials, like freezes, during the 2-to-5 time slot.

Likewise, the analysis undertaken by InfoScout showed that the average number of dollars spent per ticket is also edging up for non-traditional dayparts. In fact, at some chains these off hours actually tally higher ticket sales than traditional mealtimes

Why Consumers Snack and What QSRs Can Do to Meet Consumer Need

The art of snacking is really about offering consumers choice, value and an experience that fits their lifestyle. Millennials average 4.2 meals a day. It may seem like they're eating all the time, but research shows they are simply eating at "other" times. And they want choices.

With that knowledge, her are some of the aspects of the millennial profile culled from a recent Coca Cola survey: 

● More than half eat breakfast outside of morning hours. 

● 30 percent replace one or two meals daily with snacks. 

● 35 percent eat dinner at restaurants offering "happy hour" deals.

● 43 percent say they snack more today. 

● Members of the 18-to-24 age group reported they would go to restaurants more if they stayed open later.

The bottom line for QSRs

Not only millennials, but all consumers clearly no longer see snacking as occasional treats to hold them over until the next meal, but now they see snacks as mini meals in and of themselves. In other words, that's a seismic mental and social shift in consumers' overall definition of "the meal."

As a result, QSRs must redefine how they think meals too, including their menues and dayparts. QSR operators and leaders must look carefully at their consumer data to gain understanding of whether the consumers who visit their brand's during off hours are, in fact, a unique type of customer in need of menu and pricing updates or simply traditional meal-seeking diners visiting during off hours. 

The trend toward off-hour eating or "anytime eating," however, is clearly increasing so it behooves all restaurant leaders to consider this strongly in menu development and marketing. QSRs that can offer a wide variety of  snackable menu items, while establishing a reputation as being a great place for these types of items and beverages will be well-positioned to capture the business and loyalty of anytime eaters early on.

The risk is lessened by the fact that data show that a growing segment of diners will order "small bites," samplers and multiple appetizers, rather than full meals even during "normal" dining hours. Some well-known chains have already capitalized on this trend, and it is likely that more will join the parade by offering an increasing array of "tapas" not only for happy hour but all day and evening.

Bob Jennings leads InfoScout's QSR practice. Kyle Beltran is a market research consultant with InfoScout. 

Graphs: InfoScout

Feature picture: iStock


Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Marketing / Branding / Promotion

Companies: InfoScout

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