Posted on | March 22, 2016
Written by | Jack Robertiello
Consumer behavior at chains reveals patterns relevant across the market.
Each year, the VIBE conference gathers owners, operators, beverage directors, marketing VPs and F&B executives from chain restaurants, hotels, cruise lines, and casinos across the country for a two-day think tank, and this year’s focused on data and trends. Some highlights:
Big data keeps growing. Niki Kundra, CEO of the mobile bar inventory app Partender, which gathers information from about 15,000 restaurants, said the info they gather keeps tabs on category behavior in real-time, and breaks down sales trajectories by quarter and perhaps even more frequently, making rapid reaction to an operation’s sales trends increasingly possible. But the flood of more and more, sometimes contradictory, data can confuse even the fastest adapter; better to analyze data by specific region, neighborhood, concept and customer.
Calorie-watching looms. Providing beverage nutritional info is just around the corner. By as early as December of this year, operations that are part of a chain of 20 or more units will be required by the Food and Drug Administration to provide nutritional and caloric information for each beverage alcohol product on the menu. Even self-service beer from a cooler will be covered. Specific rules are likely to be complicated when they arrive, reports the National Restaurant Association’s Vice President for Food Policy Joan McGlockton. Consider that suppliers are not yet required by their controlling agency—the TTB—to supply similar data on their own labels. Any state or local rules will be wiped away by the federal statue, but multi-unit operators in the dark need to start getting ready now.
Traffic is back, but beverage sales are lagging. Restaurant and bar traffic has returned to levels last seen in 2006, according to Warren Solochek of research firm NPD Group. However, although traffic has almost returned to pre-Recession levels, beverage sales are down about 10% from ten years ago. Reasons? Beverages are considered too expensive and not a good value by consumers. The lag may be due also to the growth of fast casual chains, where beverage alcohol is limited in selection.
Sweet still sells. Operators who do a significant amount of wine business reported continued growth in Prosecco and Moscato, both American-made and imported, as well as red blends. Pinot Noir is still showing double-digit gains and Malbec is now the top-selling varietal wine in chains like Morton’s. The Morton’s Restaurant Group’s VP of Wine and Spirits Tylor Field III says wine cocktails, including sangria and sparkling wine cocktails, are also showing double-digit growth.