Consumer Trends | March 2014 | By Tamara Omazic

What Women Want

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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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Quality has been an important consideration for Quiznos, too. “We try to provide fresh, quality ingredients that we put together in our chef-created dishes,” Lintonsmith says. “We do that because we’re all aware how much women control globally and in the U.S., and that’s what they often seek in quick service.”

But for all the economic clout and purchasing power the nation’s women wield, not very many of them feel understood by the businesses they buy from. In fact, a report published on the She-conomy blog, a guide to female-driven marketing, reveals that 59 percent of women feel misunderstood as consumers by food marketers, and a whopping 91 percent say advertisers in general don’t understand them.

“The old way of marketing has been a trend of big-box stores that change their verbiage to aim at women so that women will buy from them,” Dorfman says. “What we believe needs to happen is a growth of understanding of women’s needs and a respect for our values. Rather than someone telling us what we like, we want to be able to make informed decisions from the information that’s put out there.”

Value-based marketing, she says, is critical to attracting the female consumer, and not many quick serves have done a particularly good job of doing it.

Ginger Consulting’s Van Note says many brands in the industry still rely on low price points as the cornerstone of marketing strategies. Even those brands with female-friendly menus or healthful options are not advertising those options effectively, she says.

“In Taco Bell, for example, the Fresco menu is highlighted in stores, and it has some healthier options, but I’ve never seen that advertised anywhere,” Van Note says, citing the Mexican brand’s healthful menu. “What we’re hearing a lot about from women, especially in regards to food and dining out, is that they want options that are just more wholesome. They don’t necessarily need it to be low-fat or low-calorie, but they want it to feel wholesome and real.”

Salata, which has many locations in office buildings, appeals to consumers not on a gender basis, but on the perception of an ideal customer who will appreciate what the brand is all about. Simonian says the salad-bar concept often holds a soft opening, allowing the nearby work crowd to stop in for free food. It’s a tactic that keeps them coming back, he says, because they’re often sold on the fresh variety.

“We target mindset first in our advertising—we look for people who we call the ‘healthy optimist.’ They’re making good choices for themselves and they live with joie de vivre,” Pinkberry’s Jakobsen says.

At Quiznos, the advertising focus isn’t meant to appeal to women specifically, Lintonsmith says, but the brand’s low-calorie options are featured often in print and digital ads. In the store, Quiznos, like many other brands, highlights menu items with less than 400 calories. Online, those menu items are identified with a badge, and customers can also filter options based on that low-calorie menu. But there is no specific target aimed at the typical female consumer; instead, the healthy halo is allowed to speak for itself.

Lintonsmith says Quiznos’ high percentage of consumers who are moms and visit stores to dine with families is proof the brand knows what it’s doing with its appeal to the female demographic. Moms, she says, tend to frequent units that are in suburban environments during weekday evenings and during weekends across all dayparts.

And while dinner is a natural occasion to appeal to busy, on-the-go moms, the snack daypart serves as a particularly popular opportunity to young women.

“When it comes to beverages, women are very heavy users of specialty coffee, yogurt drinks, smoothies, iced tea, and water,” NDP’s Riggs says.

Van Note says the popularity of beverages among women stems from the trend of drinks serving as meal replacements. Brands like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts capitalize on that growing trend, and the former even runs a Frappuccino Happy Hour promotion during late spring to offer a discounted price on its signature drink in the hours between lunch and dinner. Smoothie brands like Jamba Juice, which ranks second on Technomic’s list of top brands among female consumers, also target consumers in a similar manner and during similar times of the day.

“With snack and meal replacements, women may actually consume the same amount of calories, but they feel emotionally good about the choice,” Van Note says.

These female-driven trends aren’t limited to health-centric brands, either—they have created a ripple effect in the industry. National quick serves that have been in the business since long before healthy dining became a critical mainstream concern are tweaking menus to stay competitive with the brands that emerged in stride with the movement. Perro-Jarvis cites the ever-growing offerings at McDonald’s as a key example. The industry behemoth is adapting to the times with side salads, a kids’ menu that offers fruit, and smaller portion sizes, she says.

The increase in sourcing transparency within the industry is something Perro-Jarvis says also stems from female consumers’ values. “Women want to see where their food is coming from,” she says. “Chipotle’s obviously done a great job of that. They’re showing you their sourcing, and it definitely plays into that wholesome look.”

Chipotle’s aggressive advertising of its sourcing, reinforced in late 2013 with the video short “The Scarecrow,” is starting to set an industry standard and piquing the curiosity of a growing number of consumers. The Mexican fast casual is also credited with the assembly-line model popular with women—a model that is steadily on its way to being ubiquitous, especially among fast casuals.

That’s true of many of these woman-driven trends: They’re not going away any time soon, and neither is the power of the female consumer largely behind them.

“Women have gained tremendous economic clout over the last decade,” Dorfman says. “We really do represent the largest economic force in the world, and that’s not only through our jobs and out business, but also through the purse strings we control in our families, passing the wealth from generation to generation.”

Though many in the quick-serve industry look to Millennials to gauge future trends, women are the consumers who shape the market, Perro-Jarvis says.

“Working in marketing, there are a lot of really cool teen panels allowing marketers to get a handle on what the next generation is thinking and wanting and feeling and spending their money on,” she says. “There seems to be a real lack of equally cool panels for household CEOs, which really do the majority of spending.”

Perro-Jarvis and Van Note organize a panel of female consumers they call their Alpha Panel, which serves as the basis of their annual “What Women Want” report. Their research shows the present power of the female can also translate to future generations.

“Generally, female teens that grow up in mom’s household will unconsciously adopt the purchasing preference of the mom,” Van Note says. “Once they set up their own household though, they readdress those perceptions of products, and they may make a different choice at that point. But a mom can shape that choice tremendously.”

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