MRM Research Roundup: Mid-December 2019 Edition

This edition of Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine's Research Roundup features the great gift of a restaurant gift card, learning about event professionals, top QSR traffic and digital ordering strategies.

Holiday Traffic Not Enough

Topline numbers show robust restaurant sales growth during November. This was largely due to a favorable shift in the Thanksgiving holiday. Same-store sales growth was 1.6 percent in November, which represents the third consecutive month of positive sales growth and the strongest since January. This report comes from Black Box Intelligence™ data from TDn2K™, based on weekly sales from over 31,000 and $72 billion in annual sales.

According to Black Box Intelligence’s reporting convention, since Thanksgiving was celebrated late in November this year the holiday was considered as occurring in December. Thanksgiving typically represents lower sales volumes for most industry segments. While restaurant sales were lower for November of 2018, November of 2019 did not include the same holiday headwinds. This effect will be reversed in December, which is expected to be weak from a same-store sales perspective.

“To better understand November, we need to look at what happened during the first three weeks of the month,'' commented Victor Fernandez, vice president of insights and knowledge at TDn2K. “Two of the first three weeks of the month had negative same-store sales. Additionally, the month-to-date growth rate by the end of the third week was -0.3 percent. But comparing a regular week to Thanksgiving week last year meant the fourth week of the month had positive same-store sales growth in the double digits, which was enough to elevate the month’s overall growth rate by almost 2.0 percentage points.”

Favorable Holiday Shift Not Enough to Grow Traffic

Despite the favorable comparison due to Thanksgiving rolling into December this year and the fact that same-store traffic also achieved double-digit growth during the last week of the month as a result, the industry continued losing guests at an accelerated pace. Same-store traffic growth for the month was -0.9 percent. Even though overall this is the best month since January, the traffic growth rate of -3.1 percent for the first three weeks of the month provides a clearer view of November’s traffic performance.

Fine and Family Dining Hurt by Holiday Shift

The best performing segments during November were those whose sales are the most negatively affected by Thanksgiving: fast casual, upscale casual and casual dining. In the case of most of the concepts in these segments, Thanksgiving means significantly less traffic and even closed locations as consumers gather at home for meals with friends and family.

But for other segments, namely fine dining and family dining, this holiday actually means an increase in sales as many families travel, get together and celebrate by dining out. For these segments, the delay in the holiday meant underwhelming same-store sales performance during November and especially during the last week of the month. The expectation is for both of these segments to offset these results with strong same-store sales growth in December.

Soft Income Growth and Increased Holiday Shopping = Flat Restaurant Demand

“With trade pressures easing, economic growth has begun to stabilize at the expected modest to moderate 2.0 percent pace,'' stated Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors and TDn2K economist. “So far, fourth quarter data has been disappointing and while online Black Friday sales were strong, brick and mortar activity fell sharply. That points to decent, but not great, overall holiday shopping. Unfortunately, with consumers making more purchases from home, a trend that shows no signs of lessening, eating out is likely to be limited.”

“The more moderate pace of consumption implies the softening in hiring and income growth should continue. That is likely to be the case even if a so-called ‘phase one’ China trade agreement is signed sometime over the next few months. It eases tensions but doesn’t significantly change the economic fundamentals. And it isn’t certain an agreement will happen. Consequently, expect household spending to expand moderately at best over the next six months, assuming a modest trade agreement. That means restaurant demand is likely to be largely flat.

Industry Continues to Grow, Adding to Mounting Staffing and Retention Pressures

Restaurants continue to face significant staffing pressures. Finding and retaining employees remain among the biggest obstacles operators struggle with. The problem lies in part in the fact that, while unemployment remains at the lowest levels experienced in the last fifty years, chain restaurants continue to expand and add to their number of locations. Net growth in number of chain restaurant locations was 1.6 percent year over year according to Black Box Intelligence’s Market Share Report. Restaurants have had to keep up with this growth from a staffing standpoint amid the most difficult labor market in decades.

Additionally, turnover rates for restaurant employees and managers continue to be at all-time highs. In the case of the hourly crew, turnover increased slightly in October after a small drop in September. It seems the industry has reached its ceiling in terms of hourly employee turnover and is now moderating. The relentless climb in turnover rates may be over, but considerable easing of turnover pressures are not expected considering the tight job market.

The story is similar for restaurant managers. We have now experienced three consecutive months in which management turnover has alternated between rising and decreasing, also suggesting it is stabilizing at its current levels.

There’s good reasons to be pessimistic about same-store sales growth for restaurants in December. First, at 2.1 percent sales growth, December of 2018 was tied for the strongest month last year, which means a tough comparison as we wrap up the year. Second, the shift of Thanksgiving into December of 2019 converts from tailwind to headwind this month. Expect for casual dining, upscale casual and fine dining to have abysmal sales and traffic growth numbers.

Tough year-over-year comparisons and a softening economy carry over into next year, which means a significant lift in restaurant spending is unlikely.

From a workforce standpoint as long as the economy keeps growing (even if at a slower pace) and labor markets remain tight, restaurant operators will continue to struggle with finding and keeping enough qualified employees in the new year.

Go with a Restaurant Gift Card

According to new research from the National Restaurant Association, 72 percent of people want a restaurant gift card this holiday season.


“Restaurant gift cards are a perfect gift for anyone on your shopping list; they’re quick and easy to purchase and your friends and loved ones get to pick the meal they want most,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research and knowledge for the Association. “A sizable 47 percent of adults say they are planning to give a restaurant gift card to somebody this holiday season–and among consumers with children in their household, that goes up to a whopping 60 percent.”

Restaurant gift cards are easy to add to your last minute shopping list – grab them when you’re out for holiday social events, or order them online. Just keep this in mind while shopping:

  • More than half of consumers (56 percent) said they would want a gift card from their favorite restaurant;
  • Nearly a quarter (22 percent) would like to use a gift card to try a new restaurant they haven’t been to before; and
  • More than 1 in 5 (21 percent) would like a gift card for a restaurant they wouldn’t otherwise get to visit.

Additionally, the research suggests diners have specific plans for their gift cards. Twenty percent say they will use the gift as soon as possible, while 40 percent plan to save the gift for a special occasion. When they do use them, more than a third (35 percent) say they will splurge and order more expensive items than usual.

“Ninety percent of people tell us they enjoy going to restaurants, so a gift card is pretty much one size fits all. They are also a good choice for someone who wishes to give an experience rather than a material item,” said Riehle.

The National Restaurant Association commissioned Engine to conduct an online survey of 1,004 adults December 2-4, 2019, asking questions about their perceptions of restaurant gift cards.

In fact, Paytronix Systems, Inc., examined Black Friday Restaurant Gift Card Sales and found that while Friday sales increased 9.73 percent from 2018 to 2019, sales for the whole weekend only increased about four percent. Given that the 2019 holiday season is shorter than last year, brands will need strong gift card promotions throughout December to optimize their overall sales. November and December purchases typically account for upwards of 50 percent of annual gift cards sales.

The Paytronix analysis included anonymous tracking of aggregate gift card sales for nearly 200 brands, from Friday, November 29, through Sunday, December 1, 2019. Paytronix identified the following changes in 2019 gift card sales when compared to those for 2018:

  • Black Friday sales increased 9.73 percent
  • Saturday sales decreased by 14.1 percent
  • Sunday sales were up 22.8 percent
  • Overall sales increased 3.96 percent year over year for Black Friday through Sunday.

“While Black Friday offers us a great opportunity to examine a point in time, it doesn’t provide a deep insight into how sales will progress during the holiday season,” said Michelle Tempesta, head of marketing for Paytronix Systems. “What matters more is the number of days within the season for sales, which means every day counts, whether that day is Black Friday, Christmas Eve or just another day in December. Brands will need to work hard with promotions to ensure they get the most out of the season.”

Gift card sales are a much greater portion of revenue during the holidays than during the rest of the year. While gift cards account for 6.3 percent of brand sales between January and October, that number more than doubles to 15 percent during November and December.

The Role of an Event Professional

Tripleseat released its first "Event Professionals Career" report, which compiled data from over 200 event planners in the hospitality industry to better understand the career of an event professional.

For the first time, Tripleseat conducted a survey to share with leaders in hospitality the amount of hours professionals put into each event to make sure that every one of their clients' events are a success, as well as their experience in the industry, type of training received, salary earned, among others. Loyal to their venues, roughly 68 percent of respondents have worked for one to three different locations, with about 15 percent spending ten or more hours on planning just one event.


Most notably, the report uncovered that the title of an event professional is unclear, as respondents shared 62 different positions. The most popular titles included Event Sales Manager at 17.4 percent, Event Coordinator at 12.4 percent, Event Manager at 11.9 percent, Event Director at 8 percent, and Sales Manager at 6.4 percent. While some job descriptions look the same, it seems the titles are not reflected.

Other findings include: 

  • Almost a third of event professionals earn between $40,000 to $70,000 annually 
  • 18.5 percent hold more than 500 events 
  • 62.5 percent visit competitors to keep up with industry changes and trends 
  • 58 percent of professionals currently work at restaurants and 5.5 percent at hotels 
  • Verbal skills, customer service and multi-tasking are the top 3 skills needed to work in the events industry

"The event planning industry is booming, with demand for event planners expected to grow between now and 2026, and job growth rising to 11 percent," said Jonathan Morse, CEO of Tripleseat. "Professionals work long hours and endure crazy schedules, so we conducted this study to learn more about their careers, the amount of work and time they put in daily, and tools they'd like to be provided with to make their jobs more seamless and less time-consuming. Having a better understanding of the types of events professionals hold, salary earned, training offered and tools accessible, other professionals can have insight into building a more structured career path and share their concerns with their leaders."

To learn more about this report, click here.

Top QSR Traffic

In their Q3 2019 Food Sector Retail Index,, the world’s most advanced foot traffic analytics platform, looks at ten of the biggest QSR brands to see who came out on top this quarter. data highlights:

  • Despite summer dips, Starbucks remained the market leader, taking 27.9 percent of market share. 
  • McDonald’s was close behind, with 22.9 percent of market share. 
  • Starbucks and McDonald’s were also the leaders when it came to customer loyalty or visits per visitor with customer visited 2.4 times and 2.8 per quarter, respectively.
  • Starbucks and Panera were the leaders in the “length of stay” category, each with average visit duration of over 50 minutes.
  • Chick-Fil-A drove growth through menu innovation, but more importantly, it was one of the main characters in the much-hyped Chicken Wars saga (8.2 percent growth over Q2).
  • Burger King was the runner up, with 4.8 percent growth over Q2

Find the full report here.

Digital Ordering Strategies

Tillster published the results from its 2019 Online and Mobile Ordering Index. The Index examines the digital ordering strategies best serving restaurants as they grow sales and engage with customers.

For the third consecutive year, Tillster partnered with SSI, to conduct a study on how online and mobile ordering impacts guest behavior. The Online and Mobile Ordering Index summarizes the proprietary study's key findings as it relates to digital ordering. Surveying 2,000 restaurant customers across the United States, the Index includes findings from last year and projects ahead to the next year. 

“The 2019 Online and Mobile Ordering Index concludes decisively that online and mobile ordering is critical to restaurant success in the marketplace today,” says Perse Faily, CEO of Tillster. “Most QSR and Fast Casual brands have already adopted a digital ordering program. For customers, they are a given. For brands, the question is no longer whether to offer digital ordering but how to optimize it best.”

Three key findings from the 2019 Index include:

Customers Expect Online & Mobile Ordering

Among the 2,000 customers polled, 70 percent expect a restaurant's website to offer online ordering, while 76 percent said they expect a restaurant's branded mobile app to offer it. These tools are no longer a nice-to-have but a necessity.  

Customers Spend More with Online Ordering

When ordering online, a majority of customers order for more than one person, which generally results in a higher check size. With digital ordering, most customers place an order for an item they didn't previously plan to order and spend more on their total order.  The majority of customers report spending up to $5 on extra items presented during digital ordering.

Online and Mobile Ordering Offers Needed Convenience

Nearly half of all customers polled reported using an order-ahead app when selecting a restaurant, in an effort to beat the line. Index data also indicates that online ordering offers convenience that forms powerful brand allegiance; from busy parents looking to quickly re-order meals customized to their families’ preferences, to working professionals who want a convenient meal without much effort.

“The demand for digital ordering grows with every Index we conduct. Customers today expect seamless and frictionless ordering experiences. For those restaurants already providing online ordering, the task at hand is to optimize efforts. And for those yet to roll out digital ordering programs, there is no better time than the present to meet your customers where they are,” adds Faily.  

For complete survey data, and more detailed findings on how restaurants today are harnessing the power of ordering technologies, click here.

What Diners Want

While Americans are addicted to the convenience that mobile devices offer, new research suggests that more consumers prefer to slow down and enjoy the in- restaurant dining experience over online ordering and delivery services. The research also found that food quality and consistency are what sway consumers’ choices the most, when selecting a restaurant for either dining in or takeout. 

A nationwide survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers by Vixxo found that two in three Americans still prefer dining in restaurants (62 percent) over takeout or delivery (34 percent). The findings – which were surprisingly consistent across all demographic groups – suggest that people prefer their meals to be a memorable experience, despite an increase in online ordering and delivery services available to them. 

Quality and consistency impact the dining experience the most, the survey found. Overwhelmingly, the quality of food is the main factor in determining why consumers pick a particular restaurant when dining out (46 percent). Consistently delivering quality food also keeps customers coming back: 39 percent say it’s the most important reason they choose one restaurant over another. 

However, consistency of the overall experience matters as well. While roughly half (51 percent) of Americans choose their favorite restaurant based on the menu options, 38 percent say that it’s that overall experience at an establishment – including atmosphere, employees and convenience – that makes it their favorite. 

“For restaurant owners, the data underscores the importance of a consistently positive customer experience for increasing both customer traffic and sales,” said Matt Brown, Chief Revenue Officer, Vixxo. “Whether they dine in or carry out, guests notice when the quality of the food, from the temperature to the taste, are inconsistent. In fact, quality impacts the entire dining experience, including how well equipment functions and ultimately supports the staff’s ability to efficiently serve its guests.” 

Consumer dining patterns: spending and frequency increasing 

Meeting consumer expectations for a good dining experience matters more than ever because the research revealed consumers are dining out more, and spending more, than a year ago. A majority (56 percent) of Americans dine out at least once or twice a week, compared to 47 percent who order delivery with the same frequency. 

Regardless of how they get the food, though, consumers are spending more on dining, takeout and food delivery services than a year ago. Approximately 43 percent of those who dine out say their frequency has increased in the last year, and 46 percent of people who order takeout or delivery have increased their number of orders as well. 

When deciding whether to stop in for a bite or pick up an order, the top two considerations for consumers are affordability (25 percent) and whether they prefer a dine-in experience or the convenience of takeout (25 percent). Affordability is more important for younger Americans when deciding whether to eat out or order in, with consumers 18 and under being the only demographic to choose takeout or delivery more than dining in. Men are twice as likely to choose takeout or delivery than women. 

Experience is important to takeout restaurants as well, the survey found. When picking up an order, consumers are likely to favor short pickup lines (24 percent) and a pleasant staff (24 percent). Accuracy (38 percent) and quality (34 percent) rank high as well when diners order food for delivery or takeout. “These findings suggest that having fully functional equipment could prevent business disruptions that result in a poor guest experience,” added Brown. 

The survey found that loyalty programs can be important motivators as well, according to 58 percent of respondents. Awards based on the number of purchases (37 percent) and amount spent (35 percent) are slightly more popular than programs based on frequency of visits (28 percent). However, when asked why a consumer frequents one restaurant over another, the loyalty program was one of the least determining factors (5 percent). 

Global Food Trends

Mintel has listed three key trends that will shape global food, drink and foodservice in the next decade. 

Expect to see consumers further prioritize plants in their diets, with the planet's health in mind as much as their own.  From beer made from rejected cereal pieces to  containers made from organic mushroom waste, food waste will lead the way for more sustainable consumption and innovation. 

Consumers will gain a better understanding of what makes them unique using health testing services, artificial intelligence-enabled apps, and increased personal data collection. Meanwhile, with consumers expected to live longer, many will want to learn how their diet can benefit long-term cognitive health. 

Following in the footsteps of molecular whiskey, expect to see brands use science and technology to create new products, shorten production time, and confirm trustworthiness. Meanwhile, new ingredient growing regions, such as those in Africa and India, and agricultural innovations, including floating farms, will emerge to tackle global food insecurity. 

Looking ahead, Jenny Zegler, Associate Director, Mintel Food & Drink, discusses how issues of health, technology and trust will inspire formulation, packaging, marketing and more in the years to come.

Change, Incorporated

“In the next decade, consumers will be hungry for leadership and demonstrable change on environmental issues, ethical business practices, public health, and other important causes. Consumers will reward brands that take action and improve important societal issues. The companies that will win in the next 10 years will be those that fuel the new era of conscious consumption. Tomorrow's conscious consumers will be looking for eco-friendly packaging and products, while also seeking guidance on how to make their diets more sustainable.”

Smart Diets

“Looking ahead, more consumers will be able to gain in-depth knowledge of their biology through personal health testing kits which will empower them to personalize their diet and health regimes. Analysis of these tools will inform consumers of the steps they need to take to address every aspect of their health, including brain and emotional wellbeing. As a result, in order to succeed over the next decade, brands will need to offer more personalized product offerings, develop smart home solutions and assist consumers in addressing mood and brain health.

High-tech Harvests

“Science will interlace with the food supply chain to boost yields and combat climate change. Celebrating the sustainable, health and cost benefits of lab-grown food will be crucial in educating consumers about nature-identical alternatives. But the food and drink industry will be compelled to elevate the role of nature, and humans, in the storytelling of these new, modern solutions. Transparency of information is essential to building trust in a future where scientists play as integral a role as farmers. And championing the people behind the food—whether it is grown in a laboratory or a field—will remain a timeless way of building trust with consumers.”

What We're Ordering

goPuff announced the results of its first-ever Off The Shelf Report, which analyzed data from millions of orders over the past 12 months (November 2018 to November 2019). Due to goPuff’s direct-to-consumer relationship, the company is able to not only understand and predict order patterns, but also identify changing consumer habits, preferences and shopping behaviors as the world of e-commerce continues to evolve. Highlights of the report include: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos was the country’s favorite snack in 2019, orders for personal care items increased 24 percent during the winter months and there was a 115 percent increase in boxed and canned wine orders this year.

Daniel Folkman, VP of Business at goPuff, said, “Because we sell products direct to the consumer, we’re able to predict order patterns and identify changing consumer habits. In fact, we’ve developed a unique program that provides our CPG partners with deep consumer insights on how their products and brands are used by the changing consumer, what actions to take to maintain relevance in an increasingly crowded marketplace, and what levers to pull to create repeat purchasing habits with an audience that has been shifting away from brand loyalty.”

The Changing Consumer 


Even as consumers eat healthier, they won’t abandon more traditional snacks: Many of goPuff’s healthier items have been trending nationwide, with increasing demand for products like Harvest Snaps Green Pea Crisps, Oatly Original Oat Milk and Good Health Veggie Stix. However, 24 percent of customers who ordered a health food item this year also had a traditional snack in their basket. This indicates that a dedicated subset of consumers is willing to shift their habits in some areas while not compromising on old favorite snacks.

Baby Products

Consumers are shopping for the family on goPuff, indicating a need for immediate convenience for their essential products: When purchasing a baby product, customers were also likely to order other daily necessities, including: Horizon Organic Whole Milk, Bounty Paper Towels, Charmin Ultra Strong Toilet Paper or Minute Maid Lemonade.

Parents are using goPuff’s delivery to skip the family trip to the store and order from home at more convenient times instead: The majority of baby product orders occur in the evenings, between 6:00 p.m. to 12 a.m. After they get home from work and the kids are in bed, parents seek the convenience of having essentials delivered to their door.

Personal Care Essentials 

Personal care has a peak season: Products from goPuff’s personal care category, like shampoo, conditioner and face masks, have historically seen a higher volume of orders during the winter months, with a 45 percent increase in orders December through February. Customers look for convenient self-care in the comfort of their homes during the colder winter months.


Wine drinkers are opening up to all packaging formats: Although bottled wine continues to make up the majority of wine orders, goPuff reported a 115 percent increase in boxed and canned wine orders in 2019. This trend towards canned and boxed wines has accelerated throughout the year, with orders for these items increasing 47 percent between July-September. These increases were largely driven by boxed wine orders, and goPuff expects continued interest in both boxed and canned wine in 2020.

All demographics, ages 21+, are ordering alcohol online for delivery.

Wine: When looking at wine consumers over the age of 45, 60 percent are women. That said, men who are more likely to order wine exist in the 31-34 age range.

Beer: Men are more likely to purchase beer on goPuff, with 65 percent of all orders coming from men across a variety of 21+ age segments; from women, those over the age of 45 are most likely to order beer.

Hard seltzer: The biggest cohort of customers ordering hard seltzer in 2019 was men between the ages of 21-30.

Customers Want Convenience When Enjoying National Events

Customers seek added convenience during experiential events and gatherings, with goPuff orders spiking during major national events (like the Super Bowl or Game of Thrones finale).

On the other hand, during family-centric holidays like Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving, customers are less likely to order convenience items for delivery, indicating they and their families are well prepared with all of the coffee, wine and essentials they need.

Looking to 2020 and the continued rise of big TV, sports and entertainment moments, goPuff anticipates customers increasingly leaning towards delivery for convenience rather than interrupting their enjoyment of these key moments.

Steadfast Behaviors


American favorites are about flavor and experience: For the third year in a row, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos was the number one snack ordered on goPuff. However, over the past three months, demand for Gushers has skyrocketed; as a result, goPuff anticipates Gushers to overtake Flamin’ Hot Cheetos as the #1 snack in 2020.


Cold and flu orders follow the school year. goPuff’s cold and flu orders traditionally begin increasing at the end of August or early September and remain high through early April – that’s seven to eight months long! Whether that’s more germs from school or the changing weather, goPuff anticipates a similar pattern in the future based on historical trends.

Cold and flu orders peaked on February 17. Based on historical data, goPuff also expects this flu season to peak around the same date.

Despite changing consumer habits, e-commerce trends and innovation, go-to sick day products have stood the test of time; orders for OTC medicine also include:

Snacks: Premium Saltine Crackers and Campbell's on-the-Go Chicken and Mini Round Noodles

Drinks: Gatorade, Simply Orange Juice, Canada Dry Ginger Ale and Sprite

Essentials: Puffs Plus Lotion Tissues, Charmin Toilet Paper, Kleenex and Bounty Paper Towels

Home Essentials

Spring cleaning is not just a chore, but a buying behavior: Historically, orders for cleaning products peak in April and May, when compared to the two months before and after, indicating a notable purchasing behavior.

Most Popular Order Days by Product


Most popular order days: December 9 (finals week across many campuses), Memorial Day Weekend

Least popular order days: Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve


Most popular order days: February 23 (around peak cold and flu season), and Memorial Day Weekend

Least popular order days: November 19 (Monday before Thanksgiving), May 22 (the Weds before Memorial Day)


Most popular order days: New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day

Least popular order days: Christmas Eve and February 4


Most popular order days: Halloween, New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl Sunday

Least popular order days for beer: January 2 (the day after New Year’s Day) and May 28 (the day after Memorial Day)

Regional Trends

Regional Snacking Trends

Northeast – A Penchant for Ice Cream. Customers in the Northeast ordered more ice cream (specifically Ben & Jerry’s Milk & Cookies and Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked).

Southeast – Salty Snacks. Customers in the Southeastern region of the U.S. showed a tendency towards saltier items. Among the top indexing items in this region were Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Slim Jims.

Midwest – A Love of Spice. Customers in this area ordered more Takis Fuego than any other region.

Southwest – Our Country’s Sweet Tooth. goPuff’s Southwestern customers have the biggest sweet tooth of any region: they order more Gusher Super Sour Berry, Wonka Nerds Rope and Dr. Pepper than anyone else.

Pacific – Our Thirstiest Region. Customers on the west coast ordered a lot of Gatorade, specifically Frost Glacier Freeze. This was also the only region to over-index on an alcohol item: White Claw spiked seltzer.

In some cities, certain products are trending:

Boston – Hard Cider. Orders for cider in Boston increased 61 percent year over year.

Dallas – Jerky is trending in Dallas and has had consistent, positive month-over-month growth.

Chicago – Pizza products have been trending in Chicago for the past 6 months, when comparing pizza to other frozen foods.

Phoenix – Soft drinks have been trending since goPuff opened in the Phoenix market and have retained a significant share of the overall drinks category.

goPuff City Superlatives

Cleanest cities: Bethlehem PA, Champaign-Urbana IL, and Bloomington IN ordered the most cleaning products this year.

Saltiest cities: Kansas City KS, South Bend IN and Dallas TX ordered the most salty snacks this year.

Sweetest cities: Albuquerque NM, Washington D.C., and Lafayette IN ordered the most sweets this year.

Homiest cities: Champaign-Urbana IL, Syracuse NY and Washington D.C. ordered the most home products this year.

Global Food Security

The relationship between food security and the environment is often framed as a trade-off, owing to the impacts increased agricultural production has on emissions, forests and natural resources. However, the two need not be opposing forces, and can instead benefit from a mutually supportive relationship. Released today, the 2019 update to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Food Security Index (GFSI), highlights how smart choices today can protect the food sector from the most severe consequences of climate change and minimise the impact of agriculture on the environment.

Supported by Corteva Agriscience, previously the Agriculture Division of DowDuPont, the GFSI is an annual assessment of food security in 113 countries, measuring the root causes of food insecurity by examining the dynamics of food systems around the world. By creating a common framework against which to benchmark a country’s food security, the GFSI has created a country-level food security measurement tool that addresses the issues of affordability, availability, and quality and safety. 

For the second consecutive year, Singapore ranks at the top of the GFSI, followed by Ireland and the United States.

“Over the past eight years, the GFSI has provided global leaders in agriculture and health with data-driven insights and analysis critical for formulating policies and programs to improve food security worldwide,” said Priya Bapat, The Economist Intelligence Unit project manager for the GFSI. “As the index shows, nearly 90 percent of countries report that they have a sufficient food supply, yet in over a third of countries, 10 percent or more of the population is undernourished. Food security is a complex, multi-faceted issue, and the GFSI provides needed insights to help build stronger food systems.”

Findings from the 2019 Global Food Security Index reveal that:

●      Global food prices are rising worldwide. Twenty-six countries in the index report food price inflation of 5 percent or higher in the past year. Ongoing turmoil has seen food prices rise most sharply in Venezuela and Syria. Over the past five years, food prices have increased overall, and have tripled in Angola and Egypt, and doubled in six additional countries in the index. Argentina recorded the highest price food inflation in the past year (51 percent), followed by Turkey (25 percent) and Egypt (19 percent).

●      The percentage of cultivated land equipped for irrigation is inadequate to meet global needs. The 2019 GFSI, for the first time, includes a measure on global irrigation infrastructure. We find that in nearly three-quarters of countries in the index, less than 10 percent of agricultural land is equipped for irrigation. Given decreased water security in the context of climate change, and drought risks across the globe, this is an area for attention.

●      Overall agricultural infrastructure, including crop storage and transportation infrastructure, has improved markedly in a number of countries, including Qatar, Belarus, Slovakia, Australia and Kuwait. In the past year, Qatar has improved port and rail infrastructure, while other countries have made investments in improving or expanding crop storage facilities. In Australia, the government announced a new innovation fund to support innovation in the grain industry, including for grain storage logistics, while in Kuwait, the government has invested in new grain silos and expanded crop storage at a major port. 

●      When scores are adjusted for natural resources and resilience risks, Ireland ranks at the top scoring country. Since 2017, the GFSI has included an assessment of how food secure countries are in light of climate and resilience risks, from exposure to temperature changes and sea level rise to dependency on food imports. This serves as a risk adjustment factor to the overall score. Based on this metric, Bahrain, Yemen and Tajikistan face the highest levels of overall risk, while the Czech Republic, Finland and Denmark are the most shielded from these risks.

The 2019 Global Food Security Index will be launched in Singapore at 6pm Singapore Standard Time on Monday, 9 December 2019, and will be broadcast live via YouTube.

For more information, and to access the report and other detailed findings from the index,  click here.

No Christmas Dining Out for Brits

It seems that many Brits are hosting Christmas at home in an attempt to keep costs down, however, when comparing the price of a home-cooked meal versus a restaurant bill, new research shows that the costs per-family are roughly the same. 

Catering company Nisbets surveyed 1,000 UK residents* and found that two million of us will be dining out this Christmas Day, with a huge 90 percent of us choosing to stay in and cook ourselves. This is despite post-dinner washing up being most disliked part of Christmas Day (32 percent) and nearly half (45 percent) of home-cooks facing some sort of family feud.

Over a third of Brits (35 percent) avoid dining out on Christmas Day as they believe the cost to be too expensive. So just how do the costs of home cooking versus dining out compare?

When the prices of ingredients for a Christmas Dinner for two adults and three children (including a starter of soup and prawn cocktail, a dessert selection, cheese and a bottle of prosecco) were tallied**, the cost adds up to £135, or £27 per person.** 

When analysing the price of a three-course meal with a bottle of prosecco in three pubs across the UK (excluding London), the average price for a family of five totalled £164, or £32.80 per person. Dining out was also revealed to come with the added benefit of choice; with diners able to pick from an average of five starters, five main courses and three desserts.

For just an extra £30; the analysis by Nisbets showed that families of five could avoid worrying about spending their day, prepping, cooking, or doing the washing up.

Families with different dietary requirements could even save money by dining out, as there would be no need to fork out on different starters, mains and desserts for those who are vegan (up to an extra £40) or Gluten free (up to an extra £30).  

Of those already converted to dining out, the most popular reasons for doing this were:

  • Less hassle (22 percent)
  • Family members with different dietary requirements can have different meals (22 percent)
  • Fewer arguments (16 percent)

Dean Starling, Head Development Chef at Nisbets, commented on the findings:  “Dining out is a great option for those families where people have wildly different dietary requirements.”

“It’s also great for those who don’t really like cooking, people with little space in their homes and those working around Christmas who may be short on prep time.Instead of having to plan, buy, prep, cook, serve, and clear away three or four different types of dishes, families can head to a restaurant and choose their own meal. And nobody has to worry about the washing up!”

Almost half (45 percent) of those who decide to stay in on Christmas Day end up arguing with their family members, with the main causing of disputes being:

  • Who is doing/preparing what for the meal (15 percent)
  • Who’s doing the washing up (14.5 percent)
  • The great “after-dinner telly debate” (13 percent)
  • Whether someone is chopping/making something in the “right” way (12 percent)
  • Arguments caused by too many pre-dinner bucks’ fizz’s (7 percent)

Solitary Dining in Europe

With Christmas fast approaching,  Europeans will soon be gathering around the table to eat, drink and be merry, but latest research from Mintel reveals the solitary nature of European consumers’ dining habits.

It shows that on average nearly a third of Europeans often eat every meal alone, with the Polish (40 percent) leading the way. Overall a third (33 percent) of all Brits eat all their meals alone, followed by around three in 10 German (31 percent), French (30 percent), Spanish (29 percent) and Italian (29 percent) consumers.

While many consumers today are eating solo, Mintel research highlights the perceived importance of family mealtimes across Europe. More than eight in 10 (84 percent) Spanish, Italian (83 percent) and French (82 percent) consumers believe eating a family meal is important; they are joined by 79 percent of Polish, 78 percent of German and 75 percent of British consumers.

Edward Bergen, Mintel Global Food & Drink Analyst, said: “Increasingly busy lifestyles are resulting in less time for nearly everything, including shared meals – with the trend in solo dining on the rise for many people throughout Europe. What's more, with consumers struggling to pull themselves away from their mobile phones, some have grown to prefer the company of their digital devices over eating with others. While some are eating their meals alone as a result of social isolation, others are using meal times to get quality time to themselves. With the festive period finally here, many consumers will relish the chance to come together, fulfilling a desire that is becoming more challenging for the busy, modern consumer.”

According to Mintel research, technology is taking its toll on mealtimes. While using phones to talk and text during meal times is the height of bad manners, it seems that the Spanish are among Europe’s worst culprits.  

Anxious not to miss a moment of precious phone time, over half (55 percent) of Spanish consumers admit to often using their phones to talk or text while having meals. But it seems they are not alone, as  Polish (53 percent) and Italian (51 percent) consumers are also guilty of this dining faux pas.

At the other end of the scale, the Brits (32 percent), Germans (21 percent) and French (23 percent) are less likely to whip out their phones whilst eating.

Mintel research goes onto reveal that across Europe, the young are the most likely to use their phone as an eating companion. Leading the way once again, more than seven in 10 Spanish (76 percent) and Polish (72 percent) Gen Zs (16-24 year olds) are guilty of using their phones while eating their evening meal. But they are by no means alone, as 67 percent of Italians, 62 percent of British, half of French (52 percent) and German (52 percent) Gen Zs are glued to their phones during dinner time.

Finally, it’s not just phones which are interrupting precious meal times; other screens are proving something of a distraction too. Famed for a love of TV, seven in 10 (71 percent) Brits often eat meals while using home entertainment technology such as watching TV and gaming. They are joined by 68 percent of Polish and almost six in 10 Spanish (59 percent) and 57 percent of Italian consumers. Highlighting the importance of good table manners, it seems technology at mealtimes is less likely in German (44 percent) and French (50 percent) households.

Edward Bergen, Mintel Global Food & Drink Analyst, said:“The digital era has certainly changed the way we communicate with each other, even when we’re surrounded by friends and family. We’ve become hungry for a constant flow of information, and the so-called ‘fear of missing out’ doesn’t stop at the dinner table. This is particularly the case among young generations, regardless of which European nation they’re from, who are particularly keen on checking their phones even if they’re eating their dinner. 

“There are opportunities for brands to tap into consumers’ interest in their digital devices and encourage them to think more about what they eat and drink. For example, they can provide food planning apps to help with meal choices and cooking skills. In order to grab consumers’ attention in our device obsessed world, food and drink brands also need to utilise as many techniques as possible to engage people beyond taste, such as through texture, colour and scent.”

What Will Happen to the Cultured Meat Industry in 2020?

Will the hamburgers of the future be made from animal cells grown in a lab instead of inside a cow? Cultured meat, also known as “cell-based” or “clean” meat, could soon be making its way to our dinner plates, completely bypassing the need for animal slaughter and overcoming some of the major environmental issues that currently plague the global agriculture industry. Even though no products have yet been released and there are major challenges with cost, regulation and scale up, the industry is growing rapidly, with investment reaching a new high in 2019. 

The recent IDTechEx report, “Plant-based and Cultured Meat 2020-2030”, projects the cultured meat market to reach $514 million in sales by 2030. But what does the immediate future look like for cultured meat? This article looks at what happened in the cultured meat industry in 2019 and explores what’s in store for 2020.

Investment has been growing rapidly in recent years. Following major successful funding rounds for companies likeBlueNalu, Future Meat Technologies and Wild Type, the total invested reached $80 million in 2019, a 120 percent increase from 2018. This is likely to continue in 2020, with companies channelling the extra funding into R&D. The science behind cultured meat production is relatively well-established; the main challenges are to do with cost reduction and scale up.Both require significant investment into equipment, such as high efficiency, large scale bioreactors, and process engineering, so companies will be keen to secure additional funding.

In response to the growing excitement and investment in the field, many new start-up companies are being founded. In 2016, there were only four companies operating in the space. Now it is more than thirty. We can expect this trend to continue into 2020, with more companies getting involved in the race to bring cultured meat to market.

Alongside this, companies from peripheral industries will begin targeting their output towards the cultured meat industry. A major problem currently facing the cultured meat industry is the lack of an ecosystem around it – no companies are yet producing equipment such as bioreactors or consumables such as growth media designed for the cultured meat industry, as the industry is currently too small for this to be worthwhile. Cultured meat companies are therefore having to do much of this development themselves, which is time-consuming, expensive and risky. However, as the industry grows, so will the size of the opportunity across the cultured meat value chain, drawing interest from companies involved in peripheral industries. In addition to this, we can expect more new companies focusing on specific areas of the cultured meat value chain to emerge. This is already beginning to happen, for example German start-up Ospin Modular Bioprocessing, which produces scalable bioreactors designed for processes such as cultured meat production.

Throughout 2019, arguments have brewing about what to call cultured meat, and whether it even counts as “meat” at all.Cultured meat companies have switched between the terms “clean meat”, “cultured meat” and “cell-based meat”, with industry advocate The Good Food Institute recently announcing that “cultivated meat” is now the preferred term.

Whether cultured meat actually constitutes “meat” is a controversial topic. Bills to prevent plant-based and cell cultured products from being labelled as “meat” have already been put forward in 25 US states and the US Cattlemen’s Association petitioned the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2018 to restrict use of the term “beef” to products derived from slaughtered cattle. In 2020, cultured meat companies are likely to begin the regulatory approval process for their products, and so the arguments over labelling will become increasingly volatile.

Whilst this debate over what to call the products may at first seem trivial, it could have major implications for the cultured meat industry. If the industry is banned from using the term “meat” and forced by regulators to use unappealing terms such as “artificial muscle protein” or “lab grown meat analogue”, it could be very off-putting to consumers and seriously stymie the growth of the fledgling industry.

At the less extreme end, the debate over “cultivated” or “cultured” meat also matters. Consumers are notoriously sceptical of biotechnology, especially within food, and what people call this category could be critical to the success of the industry. Terms like “lab grown” or “cell-based” meat could sound scientific and unappealing, but “cultured” meat may be difficult to understand. The term “clean” meat implies that conventional meat is dirty and could be viewed as unnecessarily derogative towards the agricultural industry, whose support and acceptance may be required to overcome the labelling debate.

Will 2020 see the first products released? In short, probably not. The regulatory battle in the US and EU has not yet properly begun and no companies have yet made a formal application. The regulatory process itself could take at least a year in the US and will likely take more than 18 months in the EU. Whilst the regulatory process is easier in places like Hong Kong and Singapore, which have been touted as likely first markets for cultured meat, it is difficult to see any product releases happening in 2020.

Even with regulatory approval, the question remains as to whether a quick release is even a good idea. At the Cultured Meat Symposium 2019, David Kay from Memphis Meats commented that the first cultured meat products could colour perceptions of the industry for years. He pointed out that the plant-based meat industry has struggled for years to shake off the perception that its products are unappetising, based on consumer perceptions of the first generation of products.The botched introduction of genetically modified food products in the 1990s scarred the industry for decades and the cultured meat industry will be keen to avoid making the same mistakes.

However, getting the first products right could take years, especially if this involves securing supply chains, reducing costs and scaling up production capabilities. This also risks investors getting tired of feeding money into the industry without seeing returns. Nevertheless, this may be the most likely outcome. In the IDTechEx report “Plant-based and Cultured Meat 2020-2030”, we forecast that the first products will not be released until 2023. Growth will initially be slow, as products are released in selected restaurants at premium prices and companies wrestle with scale up and cost reduction. Towards the end the decade, however, we believe that growth will pick up, as cultured meat begins to become a viable alternative to the conventional meat industry.

Theme Park Visitors Don't Like the Food

93 percent of US theme park visitors get frustrated about lack of fast, easy access to food and drink, according to research by Omnico, global providers of multi-channel commerce solutions to leading brands in theme parks, resorts, hospitality, retail and casinos.

Surveying 2,000 visitors across the US, Omnico found the growth of new theme park culinary experiences and “eatertainment” has cooked up a storm of frustrations. 73 percent of visitors said new kinds of food and drink are somewhat, or very important to their visit. But 47 percent are frustrated by having to wait in line. More than half (57 percent) believe technologies such as kiosks and phone apps could solve these problems.

77 percent like kiosks because they make ordering and paying much faster and easier, while 75 percent agree having food delivered directly to them via a phone app or kiosk would ‘definitely improve’ their visit. More than two-thirds (67 percent) say park apps make life easier through advance-ordering and 39 percent love that they give more time to decide on menu choices. 27 percent like apps because they give quick and accurate access to loyalty programs and points.

“Many parks don’t have technology that makes it fast and easy for guests to get the hugely popular new food and drink selections or themed dining experiences,” said Mel Taylor, CEO, Omnico. “Parks that still think the burger and fries approach works for everyone in the era of movie-inspired dining risk losing out on important new revenue streams. Guests want new experiences and technology previous Omnico research found 95 percent of guests will spend more with phone apps.”

Among methods overlooked by destination operators are meal plans bought before arrival in the park. Disney and Universal already use them and in previous Omnico research, 65 percent of guests said they would make visits more convenient.

This research found just 45 percent were aware of meal plans and only 39 percent have used them. But 78 percent of guests would buy meal plans if they came as part of package with loyalty points to be spent in the park. Meal plans are obviously under-promoted by many park operators.

Download the research report here.

Morning Consult today announced The Fastest Growing Brands of 2019, its first annual definitive measure of successful brand growth for both emerging and established brands.

The full report details the top 20 fastest growing brands for the year, including Amazon Prime, Impossible Foods,, Trolli and more, with breakouts on the fastest growing brands by generation – Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X and Boomers – all ranked by purchasing consideration. The debut report also details those brands that have gained the most awareness, including Juul, White Claw, Huawei and WeWork, determined by increases in name identification.

Fastest Growing Brands of 2019

The food and beverage industry dominates this year's rankings, with 11 of the top 20 spots claimed by food brands and delivery services.

DoorDash ranks the #1 fastest growing brand, leading its competitors with a 14-point purchasing consideration increase. Its competitors follow, with Postmates ranking #3, UberEats #12 and Grubhub #13.

The popularity of plant-based meat attributes to the rise of Impossible Foods, landing at #4 on the list.

The rise of mobile payment reinforces the rankings of both Venmo (#5) and Cash App (#7) landing in the top 10. 

Fastest Growing Brands of 2019 by Generation

DoorDash leads across all generations, with Postmates following in second for both Gen Z and Gen X. 

In addition to DoorDash, the only other two consistent brands ranking across generations are Postmates and White Claw.

Legacy brands, including Activision, Walgreens and Sony Pictures Entertainment, constitute the majority of the fastest growing brands for Gen Z. 

White Claw is the only brand ranking for this generation that launched in the last five years. 

With the exception of two brands (Fiji Water and Sargento), all fastest growing brands among Boomers launched within the last 15 years.

2019 Brands That Gained Most Awareness 

Juul leads by far for brands with increased name recognition, showing a 29-point gain.

Purdue Pharma, Huawei and WeWork, three brands consistently in national headlines this year, rank at #8, #12 and #16 respectively.

The Fastest Growing Brands of 2019 is a product of Brand Intelligence,Morning Consult's premiere data intelligence platform tracking consumer perceptions of thousands of brands daily.

Diverting Food Waste

A new study finds restaurants can play a crucial role in diverting tons more food waste away from the nation's landfills. One way to accomplish this: offering durable or compostable plates, cups and utensils, which the study proves makes it easier for customers to compost their food scraps and sort their waste into the right bins.

The study, conducted by the non-profit Zero Waste organization Eco-Cycle, details the growing problem of food waste in America and identified ways that restaurants can be part of the solution.

"Restaurants play a critical role in reducing and recovering food scraps, and composting is one of the fastest, most cost-effective solutions for reducing carbon pollution and reducing waste," said Kate Bailey, Policy & Research Director for Eco-Cycle and one of the study's authors. 

The study noted that restaurants are recovering some food waste — but far too much is still thrown out.

"Less than 15 percent of restaurant food waste is collected for composting, and these efforts have primarily focused on collecting food scraps from the kitchen," the study said. "However, on average, diners leave 17 percent of their meal uneaten, and more than half of these potential leftovers are not taken home. This means there is a large, untapped potential to recover food waste generated by diners through front-of-house composting programs that collect food scraps from customers."

The study discovered that in order for composting to work well, one of the keys to success is for restaurants to simplify their serviceware by using durable plates, glasses and utensils, or using all compostable serviceware. Nationwide 85 percent of customers say they are willing to sort their waste after eating out if bins are provided. 

However, in order for recycling and composting to succeed, the sorting has to be done properly. Observations in the study found consumers struggled considerably with how to sort materials when there was several different types of food serviceware. By contrast, those restaurants that used one primary type of serviceware — either durable, reusable plates and utensils or a fully compostable system — had higher rates of success. The result: more of what composters love (food scraps) and less of what composters hate (materials like non-compostable plastic that contaminates the compost).  

The quick service restaurant with all compostable food serviceware performed well — meaning they captured most of their food scraps with very little contamination — as did the quick service restaurant using all durable food serviceware, suggesting both of these approaches can be used successfully to capture food scraps for composting, the study found.

"This report is first of its kind to demonstrate this can be done well and is worth doing," Bailey said. "Food establishments are capable of very high diversion rates, making them a key partner in moving toward Zero Waste, reducing our carbon emissions and building healthy soils through composting."

The study, written by Bailey and Dale Ekart of Eco-Cycle, was supported by a grant from Eco-Products. To read the full study, click here