The quick-serve world today is composed of many trends; local, sustainable, organic, and natural are just a handful of food trends that resonate with consumers.

But two researchers from The Hartman Group composed a webcast to suggest that the power of choice for the consumer will always guide the industry beyond one trend and on to the next—and that by recognizing the power of choice, true innovation can result.

Melissa Abbott, director of trends and culinary insights for The Hartman Group, and Jarrett Paschel, vice president of strategy and innovation for the Bellevue, Washington–based consumer research firm, composed the webcast, entitled “Consider Choice.”

“Because of the role of choice, we are no longer constrained to a world in which our choices are about physical things,” Paschel said in the webcast. “Increasingly, we have the leisure time and financial time to live within whatever world our imaginations and choices can invent.”

Paschel said people tend to complain about how little free time they have anymore, but that in fact people have more free time today than they ever have had in the past. The complaints stem from the fact that their ability to choose what they want to fill their time with has led to an overabundance of things on the schedule.

The power of choice has also led to the pickiness over what foods to eat, while only a few generations ago people were lucky enough just to eat, he said.

“It is only now in our era of vast wealth and excess time that we find ourselves able to question, investigate, obtain, or refashion the kinds of foods that we prefer to eat,” he said.

The researchers suggested that people today live in a world in which they’re constantly “reimagining” things because they have the choice to do so.

But they also said that reflection on choices that are made only happens after the fact.

“Processed foods only became problematic when seen through the lens of the future looking backward,” Paschel said. “So if processed foods are now held in contempt, one wonders what our grandchildren will think about our preferences for fresh food, local tomatoes, back-yard chickens, and artisanal cheeses?”

Abbott compared the phenomenon to today’s view of the world in which the TV show Mad Men is set: the 1960s, when drinking and smoking at the office was common.

“One wonders how Don Draper’s colleagues would react if we traveled back in time and told them to put away their cigarettes and their booze,” she said, noting that the trends highlighted in Mad Men are taboo today.

“When choices move from the personal to the collective, over time we tend to view such choices with a sense of morality. We mask the fact that they are still choices.”

The take-home point for the need to understand how consumers abuse choice, Abbott said, is that there is power behind knowing not just what consumers choose to do, but why they choose to do what they do.

“The more we think critically about choice, the more we become aware of the constraints that unnecessarily limit innovation,” she said.

By Sam Oches

Consumer Trends, Marketing & Promotions, Menu Innovations, News, Sustainability