woman cutting into meatWhether shopping, cooking or dining out, food culture and eating norms are changing dramatically. We live in an era when consumer-driven demand for higher-quality food and beverage experiences has fundamentally altered traditional offerings in food industry segments ranging from packaged foods and supermarkets to restaurants and food service. 

Embodied by the success of brands like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Panera and Chipotle, the rise in importance of fresh and less processed not only as a halo of high quality but as symbols of both health and sustainability in the minds of consumers has now diffused from the aisles of natural, specialty and grocery stores and into the dining venues of diverse restaurant formats and food service settings. 

When it comes to the world of restaurants, food service and prepared food bought at retail, just as consumers now shop in diverse stores (seeking new experiences and flavors such as local, organic, natural and fresh distinctions), so too do they look for those experiences while eating out. Although traditional dining habits persist (e.g., eating out remains tied to celebration), consumers have outsourced food preparation and now eat out as a daily habit. When that new behavior is paired with our ongoing cultural fascination with global flavors, diet and health, we see greater demand for menus with fresh, healthy and sustainable options. 

As found in our latest report, Diners’ Changing Behaviors: Sustainability, Wellness and Where to Eat, dining habits are converging to include an interest in sustainable menu options as well as criteria that relate to healthy eating choices and higher food quality. Diners receptive to sustainable and healthy possibilities within a wide range of restaurant and food service settings compose 42 percent of consumers today

Diners’ Changing Behaviors finds that diners receptive to sustainability are more frequent diners, eating out an average of 18 occasions a month in 6 different channels, compared to others who eat out 14 occasions a month. Compared to other diners, sustainable-receptive diners are more likely to be Millennials, with children, more affluent, urban and ethnically diverse. Sustainable-receptive diners are health-focused and motivated to make what they believe are smarter eating choices, and many recognize the health benefits of making sustainable food choices. 

Other insights from the report include:

  • Many diners are looking for transparency from restaurant operators and are trying to order healthier, higher-quality foods when eating out. 
  • Healthy meals healthy environment‘Fresh’ continues to be a most valued quality distinction marker, whereas descriptors such as ‘locally grown’ and ‘seasonal’ are now almost as salient as calorie and fat information. 
  • Restaurant practices such as treating employees fairly, supporting the community and sourcing the freshest ingredients are all indicators of high restaurant quality and valued by diners. 
  • Sustainability is a broad, abstract term, and consumers do not yet have a clear understanding of how it relates to them personally or to the food they are eating. 
  • While the majority of Americans claim some familiarity with the term ‘sustainability,’ most understand it to mean environment protection rather than personally relevant attributes such as food quality or health. 
  • Once consumers understand the meaning and relevance of sustainability in food service, consumers associate sustainable foods with nutritious, higher-quality food.   

Diners' Changing Behaviors establishes that a significant portion of diners are receptive to restaurant and menu concepts that link to health, wellness and sustainability: These consumers are more likely to be interested in a host of food-forward concepts, including healthier menus, smaller portions, alternative proteins and local, fresh or responsibly sourced ingredients. As consumers are becoming more aware of the link between diet and health, many are actively managing their diet and dining habits. The report provides insights for restaurant, food service and food retail operators into which criteria are converging for diners when it comes to personal health, healthy and sustainable choices on the menu and choices seen as good for the environment.  

Prepared in partnership with food consultancy Changing Tastes, Diners’ Changing Behaviors: Sustainability, Wellness and Where to Eat provides insights into dining preferences and motivations, definitions of sustainability, familiarity and purchase intent for sustainable options, and insights into the sustainable-receptive diner, perceptions and use of food service and food retail channels, channel profiles and recommendations. More information about the report is available here:  Diners’ Changing Behaviors