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QSR Insights: Snacking Trend A Great Opportunity for Quick Serves

With “snack”-described menu items up 170 percent vs. three years ago, as found in a Mintel study last year, restaurants are taking interest and action to benefit from this growing consumer trend.

Who can be the big winner? The answer is quick serves, as the full-service format isn’t really set up for this. Increasingly, consumers are expecting quick serves to satisfy their snacking needs during nontraditional dayparts.

“We’re seeing greater consumer interest in snacking, and, not surprisingly, we’re seeing more restaurant interest in grabbing business and driving traffic during those nonpeak hours,” says Eric Giandelone, director of foodservice research at Mintel Group.

QSRs are not only adding appealing “mini-size” items to their menu (super-sizing seems to have run its course) but repositioning existing items as snacks. Most popular snack times are from 3 to 6 p.m., according to Mintel. Maybe old habits die hard. Growing up, an after-school snack felt as necessary as brushing our teeth in the morning.

While most munchers typically purchase packaged snacks from retailers like grocery stores, there is opportunity for quick serves to nibble away at their hefty market share due to the convenience factor and the ability to satisfy customer cravings, according to research firm NPD Group. Not to be dismissed is value, which is why dollar menu items are attracting snackers.

The most popular item is the American classic: fries.

As noted in a recent QSR Magazine article, operators are growing fond of the spud as their popularity and easy-on-the-wallet appeal has real potential to drive traffic during non-peak hours. Additionally, fries are as versatile as you allow them to be. They can be cut, shaped, topped, dipped and salted in endless ways, which allows more customization options for the consumer.

One quick serve ahead of the curve is Sonic Drive-In, which implemented Happy Hour (where most beverages are half price from 2 to 4 p.m.) chain-wide in 2007. Their afternoon business has reaped the benefits since adding Happy Hour.

“There’s been tremendous growth not only in terms of the drinks sold, but also in people adding on our great snacks, from our snacks menu and our everyday value menu,” says Paul Macaluso, Sonic’s vice president of marketing.

Younger consumers may be helping to drive this trend. According to “American Millennials: Deciphering the Enigma Generation,” a report from Barkley based on research conducted as part of a joint partnership with Service Management Group, The Boston Consulting Group, consumers ages 16 to 34 are more than twice as likely as 35 to 74 year-olds to grab snacks from restaurants between meals.

Another reason for the growth of snacks could be due to the prevalence of healthy options across menu boards. Commonly featured are yogurt, fruits, and smoothies such as McDonald’s Fruit ‘N’ Yogurt Parfait which has been an extremely popular snack as reported by QSR Magazine. Other operators have been adding frozen yogurt to their menus.

Some consumers might prefer savory over salty or sweet over savory when it comes to their snacking preferences. Regardless, they’re hungry and looking for you to satisfy their need for a nibble. What’s your brand’s snacking strategy?

Photo credit: Jessica Rossi

Cross-posted from QSR Insights

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Hilary Allen

December 7, 2011

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