NEW YORK -- Eat-in restaurants have seen a significant increase in takeout business and in sales of comfort foods since last year, according to a FoodTrends '96 survey conducted last month.
For the survey, Thomas Food Industry Register and its research arm, FIND/SVP, here, polled attendees at the New York Restaurant and Foodservice show here Feb. 25 to 27. The show drew attendees from the Mid-Atlantic states and New England as well as from New York, a Thomas spokeswoman said.
White-tablecloth restaurants as well as family restaurants show what they termed a "significant increase" in sales of both takeout and comfort foods such as meatloaf, pot pies and stews.
There's a message there for supermarket deli and food-service departments, consultants to the retail industry told SN. They said it helps confirm that the home-meal-replacement trend is here to stay and that supermarkets could be getting a piece of the action.
"It's not surprising that meal takeout is increasing at restaurants, but it's unfortunate that most supermarkets haven't taken advantage of this business they see growing every day," said Stephan Kouzomis, president of Entrepreneurial Consulting, Cincinnati.
"Judging by the way consumers are changing their eating patterns and the times of day they are eating, there is a lot of potential for supermarket delis," he added.
In the recent survey, 77% of respondents representing family restaurants said they have had a significant increase in takeout business since this time last year, and 60% of white-tablecloth restaurant respondents answered the same way.
Forty percent of the survey respondents that serve comfort foods -- including family and white-tablecloth restaurants -- said they are serving more of them this year than last year.
But what may be even more significant is that white-tablecloth restaurants are adding comfort foods to their menus.
A total of 554 restaurant show attendees were asked about takeout business and their sales of comfort foods, in addition to questions about customers' nutrition-consciousness and their willingness to buy dessert. This is the third year the survey had focused on the latter two questions, but the first time that attendees were polled about takeout and the comfort-food items.
"The reason we added the questions about comfort foods and takeout business this year is that over the past year we saw entrees like short ribs and braised greens and pot pie turning up on menus where you wouldn't expect to see those items," said Judith Leone, national sales manager for the Thomas Food Industry Register.
"Upscale restaurants, the type where you'd expect to have a $100 per person tab, are adding meatloaf," Leone added.
"Takeout has been rumbling for a while. In other research during the past year, we found that restaurants were searching out foods that travel well. So these survey results help confirm what we thought was a growing trend," she said.
That confirmation was noted as significant by Win Davis, president of Market Access, a brand positioning and communications firm based in Richmond, Va. His company works with supermarkets as well as restaurants.
"The challenge for supermarkets increases as traditional restaurants get into more takeout, and this survey adds confirmation to what we've seen happening. At the recent CO-EX conference [Chain Operators' Exchange, sponsored by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association, Chicago], one of the best-attended conferences was on HMR," Davis said.
Supermarkets can best meet the challenge by first finding out exactly what their customers want from them, said Kouzomis of Entrepreneurial Consulting.
"Micromarketing is the first step. They need to find out what customers in particular areas want, where they are now buying their takeout meals, and what they need to do to be considered as a source [for home-meal replacement]," he said.