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Before Going Organic, QSRs Need Customer Intercepts, Consumer Panel Surveys

Posted by TrendSource on 5/4/17 7:49 AM

Have you heard, Quick Service Restaurants (QSRs) are going organic? Or at least one of them is testing it out.

Papa John’s began testing four organic toppings in Lexington, with an eye toward rolling out organic toppings nationally. The announcement came on the heels of Chipotle’s announcement that its menu had finally become entirely additive-free, and is part of a larger part of the “clean eating” revolution. But this is not a one-size-fits-all food revolution, by any means.

Indeed, QSRs contemplating similar moves would be wise to roll out market research programs to determine consumers’ appetite for organic ingredients and their pricing threshold, and then validate and finetune the decision with further research waves.

Organic is Not for Everybody

On the surface, going organic seems like a total no-brainer. US organic sales continue to grow—now over $40 billion annually—and customers are flocking to eateries marketing their fare as minimally processed, natural, and clean. It seems the most successful upstarts, especially in fast casual, have been aggressively attacking this segment.

But of course, for QSRs, the calculus is a lot more complicated than that. That’s because the cost of sourcing organic ingredients, and the attendant supply chain modifications, must be offset by customers willing to pay a premium price for the premium ingredients. In fine-dining and fast-casual settings, it isn’t that hard of a sell, but for QSRs serving pizza, burgers, sandwiches and the like, finding such willing customers could prove challenging.

That’s why Papa John’s is moving so slowly, ensuring there is a market for the premium ingredients before reinventing their national supply chains and recipes to institute the changes writ large.  Similarly, McDonalds is promising hormone and cage-free chickens by 2025 and throwing the word natural on almost everything nowadays.

But, despite the rare promotional exception, QSRs have for the most part yet to find a way to integrate and maintain organic offerings into their menu for fear of pricing out or turning off their existing customers, and failing to attract those seeking more elevated foods.

Consumer Panel Surveys and Customer Intercepts: Your Organic Origins?

That doesn’t mean, of course, that it can’t be done—it just takes some creativity. And it takes some serious market research.

The first thing you need to know: will your existing customers opt for organic options when you offer them, and at what price point? Taking their temperature with customer intercepts is an ideal way to get you started. You will find out if a move to organic offerings will alienate your base, if it will make them cautiously curious, or if it will give them another reason to love you even more. By placing field agents at your locations’ exit, you can intercept customers as they depart your location, with their impression of your food fresh in their mind.

If your surveys of existing customers indicate you should move forward, the next step is figuring out what to offer and consumer panel surveys are the clear choice. Online Panel Surveys build pools of qualified respondents based on their demographic information, their shopping habits, and their engagement with your brand. Once you have set the qualifications, this panel can offer insights into how you could rework your menu for (which ingredients should you offer only organic options, which you should offer both organic and conventional, etc.) how you should market new offerings, and how you should position yourself in the QSR segment.

The Trouble with Trends

It’s tough to know when to follow a trend—if it is truly ascendant, and you wait too long, you will be too late; if it is merely a passing fad and you go all-in, you have sunk yourself to claim a piece of an empty pot. Yes, it does seem now like organic, clean eating is here to stay. But don’t’ just go all in at the deal. Check first with some market research.

How do customers equate organic ingredients with food safety? Find out in our 2016 Food Safety Study.

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Topics: Market Research, Food Service, Restaurant, Customer Intercepts, Organic, Panel Surveys

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