As anyone who runs a restaurant knows, there’s a lot more to it than a good menu and a nice building.
There’s so much to operating and maintaining a successful restaurant that examining the bigger picture of why you and your customers are there — or whether to be vocal about your beliefs — can seem like a very complicated proposition. But many customers, especially younger ones, want the foodservice and restaurant brands they interact with each day to speak up.
Three-fourths of consumers claim their values are a huge part of their identity and 69% say that their values shape every part of their lives, according to Datassential’s New Food Values report. Foodservice operators seem to wholeheartedly agree: 92% of them claim that their personal values influence how they run their operations, and 63% say that their values are important to them across all aspects of their lives.
How consumers make food choices is no exception. For many consumers, these values manifest in their consumption habits at grocery stores and restaurants. Sixy-five percent of consumers claim that they purchase items at the grocery store from brands that have values that are at least mostly aligned with their own. With foodservice, 64% of consumers say that they dine at restaurants that have values that are at least mostly aligned with their own.
Over half (57%) of consumers think it’s a good idea for food and restaurant brands to tackle key issues. However, more than a fifth (21%) of consumers believe it’s a bad idea for brands to engage issues, primarily because they feel these companies should stay away from heated topics and worry brands may alienate them.
While most are in support of or indifferent to a brand engaging with key issues, consumers’ attitudes vary by generation. Younger consumers are more interested in seeing brand engagement in issues in contrast to their older counterparts. For example, 57% of consumers overall believe it is a good idea for food brands and restaurants to tackle key issues, while 70% of Gen Z consumers agree.
Of course, taking a stand on social issues can be a huge risk for food brands or any business that chooses to wade into potentially contentious territory, especially in this politically-charged climate. That’s what authenticity is key.
That means not just posting comments on social media or being vocal about a certain topic. For businesses, It means actively engaging in causes that one cares about, sharing the related work you’ve done for a certain cause, and sharing actionable ways to get involved with your customers. Making it part of the fabric of your business, rather than a rotating menu item, will draw the biggest engagement from customers.
Still, wearing one’s heart on their sleeve can feel vulnerable and worrisome — especially when it comes to potential backlash that affects a business. That’s particularly true when even the seemingly neutral topics — like vaccinations — have highlighted deep political divisions.
If a business wants to get involved and be vocal about it, but is reticent about consumer reaction, making an effort to battle food insecurity, or food distribution and access — either through organized campaigns or regular donations to a local food bank or hunger-fighting organization — is a way to show customers that your business cares about its community without taking the risk of delving into issues that are more contentious and could drive consumers away, particularly in areas where the population is particularly divided on politics or social issues.
From a food safety and social impact perspective, food companies have enormous potential in positively shaping society and battling food insecurity is one way in which brands can do good for their local communities and build stronger, longer-lasting relationships with customers at the same time.
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Samantha Des Jardins is a writer for Datassential, a food industry market research and insights firm.
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