Industry News | January 20, 2009

Weak Economy Influences Restaurant-Goers' Tastes

The weak economy hasn’t just reduced restaurant traffic; it has influenced diners’ choices in entrees. Many consumers are bypassing beef for less expensive proteins such as chicken, says Darren Tristano, EVP at food-service consultants Technomic. When ordering beef -- and especially steak -- explains Tristano, they expect more quality, better cuts, aging, and seasonings to justify paying a higher cost. Their expectations are reflected in emerging flavor and preparation trends and in menu descriptions.

These and other findings are detailed in two new reports in Technomic’s Center of the Plate series, the Poultry Consumer Trend Report, and Beef & Pork Consumer Trend Report. Based on more than 3,000 consumer interviews and analysis of about 500 restaurant brand menus, the reports examine changing consumer protein preferences, attitudes toward health and food safety issues, and their effects on purchase behavior, plus emerging trends in flavor, preparation and presentation. Select findings include:

  • More than three out of five consumers think that turkey (64 percent) and chicken (61 percent) are healthier than beef or pork.
  • Among emerging full-service chains and independent restaurants, the top three preparation methods for beef were “cut” (as in hand-cut, center-cut or barrel-cut) at 16.7 percent, “grilled” (13.3 percent) and “aged” (12.4 percent). These were often used together in describing specific beef entrees.
  • Though consumers say they would like to order more ethnic and regional chicken dishes, restaurants have not yet met growing demand. Operators have increased their offerings of bolder, globally-inspired poultry dishes, but menu analysis reveals there is even more room for growth.

Compared to the population at large, both students and Canadians displayed interesting differences, including:

  • The high protein content of beef was less appealing to students (39 percent) than to non-students (47 percent). However, students were more likely than non-students to think that beef is healthier than pork, chicken or turkey.
  • Several flavors for beef preferred by Americans, such as bourbon and chipotle, are significantly less appealing to Canadian consumers.
  • For beef, students show increased interest in spicy, ethnic flavors such as chili pepper, chipotle and hot sauce, and less for traditional flavors such as garlic and black pepper.
  • The Poultry Consumer Trend Report and Beef & Pork Consumer Trend Report were designed to help restaurant operators and food service suppliers understand consumer attitudes and preferences that drive purchases and to identify growth opportunities in beef, pork, chicken and turkey.

    Other Consumer Trend Reports from Technomic are available at

Add new comment