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Report: What do food industry operators want and how do they buy?

4 min read


Do you know what motivates the food industry operator — the person or people making the business decisions for a restaurant or other establishment? What makes an operator more likely to purchase a new product? Is it a recommendation directly from their sales representative? Is it experiencing and learning about a product at a national food show? Is it feedback from customers?

When asked about new products an operator has purchased in the past month, 45% of operators said a free sample spurred them to action.

(Photo: Datassential)

This is just one of the insights we uncovered in Datassential’s 2015 PULSE report, which surveys 1,500 operators to reveal their motivations, challenges, and behaviors. It has become an essential planning tool for our clients, who use it to be certain they have a comprehensive understanding of food industry operators — their needs, wants, behaviors, demographics, and more — setting the stage for their future business initiatives.

PULSE breaks all of this down segment by segment, from restaurant segments like fast casuals and fine dining establishments to on-site operators that sell food, like hospitals and schools, to retail segments, including convenience stores and grocery stores/delis. We pore over the data to uncover the statistically significant differences between each segment, showing you what truly makes a segment stand apart. And there are often notable differences between the behaviors and thought processes of decision-makers from one segment to the next.

Decision-makers in K-12 schools, for instance, are even more likely to rely on those free samples — 62% said a free sample caused them to purchase a new product in the last month. Yet only 34% of fast food operators said the same thing.

Here’s a sneak peek into this brand new report.

Who is making the decisions?

Ultimately it’s a person that makes the decision, which is why it’s important to know who those decision makers are — age, years of experience, culinary training, etc. These demographics can vary dramatically from one industry segment to the next. While decision makers in the industry as a whole tend to be male, for instance, a majority of healthcare and K-12 decision makers are women — 82%, in fact for K-12.

Do you know the job title that is responsible for making the decisions within a particular segment? Even within seemingly similar segments the answers can be very different — 73% of purchasing decisions in the K-12 segment are made by a foodservice director, while only 31% of college & university purchasing decisions are made by someone with that same title.

What do operators want?

We asked operators directly — which operational parts of your business are not only a major challenge, but to rank those challenges in importance. Two major themes emerged: operators were concerned about managing costs — food, labor, waste — and building traffic, from both existing customers and new business. These concerns topped issues like growing their operation or dealing with new government regulations.

Food and labor costs have already been increasing for operators — 80% of operators reported an increase in foods costs last year, and 15% of those reported that food costs had increased “a lot.” And they expect those rising costs to continue in the future — 78% of operators said they anticipated food costs to increase in the next year, and 57% said the same for labor costs. Anyone selling a product or service in the food industry should keep in mind that increased food and labor costs will be a critical factor and concern for operators in the year ahead.

How do operators buy?

Operators reported placing half of their orders through their primary distributor online, and online ordering was also the most preferred method — 49% said they prefer to order online. But ordering preferences vary widely from segment to segment, based on the availability of both technology and sales representatives in that segment and segment dynamics. On-site segments, like healthcare and education, have very different ordering preferences compared to restaurants, for instance.

This is just a small taste of this comprehensive, data-rich report, which answers questions like “Do brands matter to operators?” “Which segments are more likely to offer services like online ordering, open kitchens, buffets, or 24-hour service?” “What factors make an operator more likely to purchase from a specific supplier?” “What is the most important piece of information that operators want from suppliers?”

Brian Darr is a managing director and Mike Kostyo is the publications manager at Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis, and concept testing for the food industry. To purchase the PULSE report mentioned in this article, or to subcribe, contact Darr at 312-655-0594 or [email protected].


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