Consumer Trends | November 2012 | By Sam Oches

Meet Your Consumer

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The quick serve industry's customer base is a melting pot of age and race.
Thinkstock / QSR Magazine
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INCOME

The U.S. may have first become a melting pot with a promise of opportunity to all, but the Great Recession that sent the economy into the pits in 2008 has dispelled any kind of notion that wealth is a heartbeat away in the U.S. The recession made a lasting impact on the demographics of quick service and how various groups choose to spend their disposable income.

“I think the recession did impact different demographics differently, and I think it’s no surprise that the impact is highly correlated with the unemployment rate, which tended to hit a younger demographic much harder,” Arby’s Anderson says. “So if you think about disposable income changes over these last couple of years, it’s definitely had a disproportionate percentage-wise impact on the younger age bracket versus older.”

But younger customers aren’t the only ones with lighter wallets. Poverty has continued to go up, and some 15 percent of the population now lives below the poverty line, according to the Census Bureau. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve reported this year that median family net worth dropped 40 percent between 2007 and 2010.

And though the quick-serve industry, with its value menus and overall lower price points, would seem a natural hot spot for lower-income customers, data proves that operators have an opportunity to reach customers of all income levels.

According to The Food Institute, the share of annual food expenditures spent on food away from home generally goes up as household income goes up. While households that make $20,000-–$29,999, $30,000–$39,999, and $40,000–$49,999 spend 30.2 percent, 37.8 percent, and 38.5 percent, respectively, of their food expenditures away from home, those figures for households that make $100,000–$119,000, $120,000–$149,000, and $150,000 and up sit at 44.8 percent, 46.0 percent, and 49.8 percent, respectively.

Technomic also reports that higher earners don’t nix quick service just because they can afford other options. According to the firm’s “2012 Influence of Income Consumer Trend Report,” 84 percent of “affluent” consumers reported visiting a quick serve at least once a month, while 89 percent of the “upper middle” class, 87 percent of the “lower middle” class, and 84 percent of “working” class did the same.

“One of the interesting things was affluent consumers definitely use foodservice more often, but it’s not just the more pricy restaurants,” Weikel says. “Even at fast food, their rates were just about equal or just as high. So that’s one thing to keep in mind, that quick service is not just lower-income consumers.”

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