We are students in Northwestern's Medill IMC [Integrated Marketing Communications] program in a Direct and Integrated Marketing course that teaches social marketing. As a part of our assignments, we need to better establish our professional personas and begin writing blogs on key topics which concern our future professional industries. You can also follow us on twitter using the hash tag #NUSocialIMC. Enjoy!
Sunday, November 23, 2014
What Businesses Should Learn from Fast Casual Success
The fast casual restaurant industry continues to steal
market share from QSR concepts, which have either plateaued or declined in
customer traffic in the past five years.
Fast casuals, a market lying between fast food and casual
dining on the restaurant spectrum, one-up their QSR rivals with more customized
meals, healthier options, and more counter service. They’re not going anywhere
anytime soon, with consumers choosing to spend a little extra for perceived
fresher, healthier, and more natural ingredients.
reports that fast-casual chain sales rose 11% in 2013 due to
higher guest count and average ticket spend, while fast food sales rose only 2%.
In latest news, Habit Restaurants Inc. more than doubled in their trading
debut, according to a
recent Reuters article. Five concepts raised $486 million in
U.S. IPOs in one year, four of which were fast-casuals, reports Reuters’ Neha
Dimri and Sruthi Ramakrishnan.
Photo courtesy of Nation's Restaurant News
So what’s the key to their success?
The fast casual concept’s business model is the way of
the future. A Northwestern University IMC student and industry insider with a
focus in brand management, my interest is in restaurant concept development and
forecasting trends in the fast casual field. Fast casual concepts have proven,
both within their industry and in the consumer packaged goods space
holistically, that consumers expect so much more out of brands than simply the receipt
of an exceptional product.
There’s an increase in consumer demand to “do more.” Restaurants
like Chipotle Mexican Grill, Sweet Green, and Panera are not only praised for
their food, but also their operations, marketing and sustainability efforts. Fastcasual.com
points to Panera which now focuses on three verticals:
people, community, and planet, by expanding their recycling team, decreasing
energy use, seeking emerging technologies, building non-profit partnerships,
removing artificial foods, and investing in its people.
Photo courtesy of Fast Company
Consumers’ expectations for their food have only
increased. The most successful brands combine, sustainability, community
engagement and social service, as well as perceived wholesome foods to create
an unbeatable experience that fits in line with the consumer’s morale. The
restaurants who show they are committed to these three initiatives, will
continue to see growth and increased guest loyalty.
#1: Health and hygiene trump cost. People are showing
they’re willing to pay more for higher quality ingredients and fresher
#2: Make sustainability a priority. Discover how
sustainability can fit into your company culture. Live it, breathe it, and
promote it to your consumers.
#3: Devote time to a non-profit cause that fits with your
brand’s goals and devote yourselves to them – quality trumps quantity here. Create
partnerships that last so your company can really make an impact, driving
consumer engagement to this cause.
Consumers stand behind brands that fit in line with their
social, environmental, and health standards. The fast casual industry is a
perfect example of consumers’ greater expectations. In the restaurant industry
and outside it, companies need to reassess their priorities and create value
outside of the product itself. The idea that you can only be as good as your
taste, is no more.
Lauren Neuschel is
a part-time IMC Masters student at Northwestern University and Brand and Communications Manager for one of the Top 20 Fastest Growing
Small Chains in America. In her current role, Lauren led the vegan restaurant
concepts recent re-branding efforts, selected and managed multiple digital agencies,
executed public relations initiatives, and built content across social
platforms. Lauren has a strong background in branding and creative content
creation with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern’s MedillSchool of Journalism.