Consumer Appetites Are Changing

Here’s how to cater to ‘snack-time’ lunches and healthy food trends.

Restaurants are seeing a clear shift in what and when diners want to eat. In the year that ended in September, lunchtime visits dropped 2% from the previous year and breakfast visits grew just 1%, according to the market research firm The NPD Group.[1] That may not seem like a lot, but what’s really telling is that traditional midmorning and late-afternoon “snack times” for restaurants saw a 3% jump in visits, with afternoon snacks making the biggest leap.

Another clear trend: Diners are looking for smaller and healthier choices. In fact, healthy snacks are quickly outpacing traditional food and beverage categories. The compound annual growth rate of healthy-ingredient snacks is expected to be 5.7% through 2020, higher than overall food and beverage sales growth, according to the research firm Packaged Facts.[2] That means restaurants need to rethink their menus to keep up.

Breakfast: It’s What’s for Dinner

Breakfast sandwiches are now the most popular snack across all time categories, posting double-digit growth in fiscal year 2016, according to NPD. McDonald’s was first out of the gate with its all-day breakfast menu, and the rest of the industry is rushing to catch up with consumer demand. The National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast showed that 72% of adults want to be able to order breakfast all day.[3]

Think Small

When diners come in for a late-afternoon snack, they don’t want a full meal. They’re looking for small and portable. Restaurants are responding with smaller, shareable choices, such as offering sliders in addition to full-size sandwich options. Some smaller chains are even adding smaller versions of the regular menu, providing consumers with lower-cost and lower-calorie options.

Make It Healthy

Yes, burgers and fries still make up the lion’s share of snack-time orders, but consumers — and particularly millennials — are demanding healthier munchies throughout the day. Packaged Facts notes two key trends restaurants should keep in mind: 30% of adults say they snack on more nutritious foods than in the past, and the highest demand is for higher-protein and bite-size snacks. Adding healthier choices to the menu is critical to meeting this demand.

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