Ten things to know about the 2022 consumer

Peach 20/20 brought together experts from the worlds of casual dining, marketing and research to examine the seismic shifts in consumer behaviour since early 2020 – and what it means for business in 2022.

What has the pandemic taught us about customer behaviour? How are successful businesses already adapting to the new market reality? An expert panel at the Peach 20/20 conference drawn from the worlds of casual dining, marketing and research looked at the shifts in consumer behaviour since the start of the pandemic and what it means for future business strategy.

 

Here are 10 key themes that are shaping their thinking:

 

1 “It’s a period of extraordinary change”

Peach 20/20 co-chair Emma Woods kicked off the session by noting the rapid evolution of people’s habits and attitudes. “When we look back at the pandemic we’ll see a period of extraordinary consumer behaviour change—in the way we live, work and communicate… The question for us as a sector now is which of those changes will stick.”

 

2 “Consumer appetite has been reinvigorated”

CGA Group CEO Phil Tate said COVID has taken a heavy toll on hospitality, but stressed consumers are returning with confidence. “Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone…. [lockdowns] have reinvigorated consumers’ appetite for us. They want to get back into the sector and enjoy those special occasions.” Market data suggests sales built steadily over the autumn, he added. “You can start to see the positivity coming through.”

 

3 “Expectations have never been higher”

However, alongside the growing confidence has come a rise in demands on things like food, drink and service. “Consumers’ expectations have never been as high as they are right now,” Phil Tate said. “We’ve been enjoying hospitality at home… so when we come back out into the marketplace our expectations are so high.”

 

4 “There’s not the same loyalty”

Rising expectations have made consumers more fickle and keener to try new things, Tate added. “There’s not the same [brand] loyalty. People have got that live-in-the-moment mindset and have been cooped up inside for 18 months… so if they go out and have an experience that doesn’t live up to what they’re expecting, there’s no second chances—you’re out. Brands still matter though: “They are still important, but they need to feel authentic… if they resonate with someone they’ll share it.”

 

5 “Trading is more spread out”

Leaders on the Peach 20/20 panel agreed that post-lockdown occasions are flexing the days and times of their eating-out visits. “It’s much more spread throughout the week,” said Azzurri Group CEO Steve Holmes. “We’re seeing a flattening… people are wanting to go out on a Monday not just for sustenance but for special occasions.” The Alchemist CEO Simon Potts agreed: “We’re seeing activity right through from Monday to Sunday. Every evening has become an occasion of some sort… and you’ve got to make sure the experience is just as good on a Tuesday night as it is on a Saturday.”

 

6 “We don’t need to worry about delivery cannibalisation”

The last couple of years have seen a boom in deliveries and takeaways, but PizzaExpress’ chief customer officer Shadi Halliwell said there were no signs that sales are damaging eating-out trade. “For the customer it’s a totally different decision [about eating out or ordering in]… cannibalisation is probably something we don’t need to be so scared about.”

 

7 “People are planning more”

When people do go out rather than order in, they are putting more thought into the occasion, Halliwell said—and PizzaExpress’ volume of bookings has doubled as a result. “We’ve seen a real shift—people are planning more, and they’re less inclined to walk around and see where the night takes them… that’s a dynamic we’ve got to get used to.”

 

8 “Other channels have earned us customers”

Halliwell said the supermarket side of PizzaExpress’ business had helped it attract more people to restaurants. The multi-channel environment has helped us earn customers rather than buy them [through discounts].” But she added: “You’ve got to remember that when you’re in the multi-channel you can’t just sit on your laurels… you have to keep innovating.” The Azzurri group meanwhile used delivery and retail products to dramatically evolve Coco di Mama. “We had a London-centric food-to-go business that has now become a national delivery brand… the business has been completely transformed.”

 

9 “Data’s important, but insight’s essential”

COVID has accelerated people’s use of technology for things like bookings, ordering, payment and wi fi access, the Peach 20/20 panel agreed—and that’s given operators much more data about guests. “There are more opportunities than ever to digitally raise your hand… the challenge is how we use that info to provide a better experience,” said Steve Holmes.  Phil Tate agreed on the need to interpret data properly: “Data’s very important, but insight is essential, and it has to be completely embedded into the operations of the business.”

 

10 “People still want human-ness”

While people have grown accustomed to digital solutions, most people still want some human interaction when they eat out, Shadi Halliwell said. “The question is how we integrate technology in service without compromising that wonderful thing that we bring to the party: human-ness.”

 

To see the whole conference session, go to the Peach 20/20 YouTube channel

 

For more news and insights from Peach 20/20, click here.

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