Consumer Trends | March 2014 | By Tamara Omazic

What Women Want

Female consumers offer enormous purchasing power, making them a critical piece to the future of quick service.

Female consumers affect menus and marketing with demand for healthy foods.
Women in the U.S. today have $7 trillion in purchasing power and account for 85 percent of consumer spending. ©istockphoto.com / SimmiSimons
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Meet Jane. At 38-and-a-half years old, Jane is a married mother of two and the breadwinner in her family. Statistically, she represents the average age and has the average number of children born to an American woman, according to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook. She’s among a growing female population that serves as the primary source of income for households with children under 18—a population that has grown from 11 percent in 1960 to 40 percent today, according to Pew Research’s Breadwinner Moms report based on the most recent census.

Most importantly, Jane is a member of one of the most powerful economic forces in the world. As a woman, she’s part of a demographic that makes up 51 percent of the U.S. population, has $7 trillion in purchasing power, and accounts for 85 percent of consumer spending, according to several economic sources.

She’s just the type of consumer quick-serve and fast-casual establishments need to attract to build long-term consumer loyalty.

“Women are the CEO of the household. They often act as the chief purchasing officer. They purchase on behalf of themselves, but also their husbands and kids,” says Mary Van Note, partner of Ginger Consulting LLC, a Minneapolis-based branding firm that’s served names in the industry such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Sonic Drive-In.

“It ultimately comes back to the multitasking prowess of women. They do everything—women tend not to focus on just one thing, like the home or their career,” says Beth Perro-Jarvis, the other half of the Ginger Consulting duo. “We’re not claiming men focus on one thing, but women do tend to be multitaskers. They tend to take on multiple responsibilities.”

The quick-serve industry, which has seen a boom in healthy dining trends coinciding with the increase of women’s purchasing power, does seem to be listening to what women want. The rise in popularity of healthful menu items; fresh, quality ingredients; and the customizable model that offers nearly endless options reflect the typical values of the female consumer.

“Because women tend to be the caregivers in a family, they care about health,” says Margot Dorfman, founder and CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, a platform that aims to connect female business owners and drive female-friendly economic policy. “If you take a look at the woman’s role in a family unit, women tend to control purchasing decisions in the home, and they want healthy things for their children. That translates to many industries, but especially dining and foodservice.”

Women are more likely to frequent bakery sandwich concepts, coffee and tea brands, and frozen sweets shops, according to The NPD Group, a market research firm. The firm’s flagship information service, CREST, which monitors how consumers use restaurants and foodservice, also reveals that women are more likely to visit soup and salad concepts.

“Women are more likely to order turkey sandwiches or turkey clubs; Chinese, Asian, or Indian food; salads and side salads; and fruit and non-fried vegetables,” says Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant industry analyst with NPD.

Quiznos, the toasted sub concept, ranks highly with female consumers seeking healthy options, according to consumer brand metrics compiled by foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic. It ranks fifth in Technomic’s top five five brands for women seeking healthy options, which lists sandwich competitor Subway as the No. 1 choice.

“About half of our consumers are female, and we have about 25 percent who would be considered younger,” says Susan Lintonsmith, Quiznos’ CMO.

She says a large part of what attracts those female consumers to the brand is the variety offered at Quiznos. The 30-year-old concept offers plenty of meaty and cheesy toasted sandwiches, but it balances those with options that have less than 400 calories and are lower in fat. The Turkey Lite sub and the Honey Bourbon are two very popular choices among health-conscious consumers, Lintonsmith says. The brand also offers a lineup of wraps, flatbread sandwiches, salads, and soups, and it debuted a Choose 2 option, a strategy that was originally popularized by bakery brand Panera.

“Obviously, the way that our sub shop is set up is for customization,” Lintonsmith says, adding that the assembly-line operation is appealing to the female consumer. “We want to meet individuals’ taste preferences and dietary needs.”

“Women seek to have their product customized, and that’s happening a lot more in the quick-serve space,” says Laura Jakobsen, senior vice president of marketing and design at Pinkberry. “I think that’s certainly a female-driven trend. We’re seeing that in our category, but also in things like pizza.”

Jakobsen says Pinkberry’s assembly-line model is a draw for its female consumers, who account for about 60 percent of the brand’s business. These women also tend to bring in significant others, husbands, or kids, making them even more influential customers, she says.

Frozen yogurt offers probiotic cultures and a source of protein, giving the segment a healthy halo, and the assembly-line model is a natural fit. Numerous chains, including Red Mango, sweetFrog, and Menchie’s, have capitalized on the trend. But what differentiates Pinkberry is its commitment to a curated selection of healthy toppings, Jakobsen says. Pinkberry ranks third in Technomic’s list of healthy, female-friendly brands, and is the only fro-yo concept on the list.

“Everyone has a different definition of healthy, and I would say Pinkberry really stresses quality to increase that health factor,” Jakobsen says. “We’re not an organic brand, we’re not an all-natural brand, we’re not a gluten-free brand, but we have all those options in our stores.”

The salad segment is a no-brainer when it comes to female appeal considering its healthy options. Houston-based Salata capitalizes on the salad-bar concept, stressing its customizable options and a menu that has no set offerings. Guests choose from a wide variety of greens, vegetables, proteins, and proprietary dressings at an $8 fixed price. Unlike most salad bars, Salata also offers seafood like shrimp, salmon, and imitation crab.

Berge Simonian, founder of the brand, says that when the concept first launched in 2005, women made up about 65 percent of its customer base. “Contrary to what you might think, our ratio has probably skewed the other way, with about 60 percent women and 40 percent men,” he says. “Healthy eating has no age or gender now; everybody wants to eat healthy. But women were a significant part of that initial trend.”

Simonian says that when Salata conducted consumer surveys in 2006 and 2007, the brand found that females especially responded well to the variety and to the quality of ingredients, particularly the seafood.

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