State of the QSR Industry
State of the QSR Industry

Better food and technology are major trends affecting the industry

The numbers don’t lie, the quick service restaurant (QSR) industry is booming. According to data from Statista, the QSR industry generated revenue of $203.2 billion dollars in 2015. That metric is projected to increase to $224 billion in 2020. This segment of the food industry is best described by restaurant concepts such as Smoothie King, McDonald’s, Which Wich and Checkers & Rally’s - quality food delivered fast with minimal to no table service.

One of the appeals of quick service franchise brands is that food can be made efficiently and at an affordable price points. In 2015, consumers spent $273 billion at QSRs restaurants, which only serves to validate the model and drive it forward. However, one of the main challenges facing the industry is the misconception that QSR only means processed fast food. Today’s QSRs are turning that notion on its head as more and more brands adopt the use of fresh and natural ingredients.

There are a number of factors contributing to this trend. One is that consumers have become more educated about what they put into their bodies. The other reason is there are more resources available to consumers that empower them with information to make the most informed decision possible. In the past, consumers may have been content with just knowing how many calories or trans fats were in a burger or drink, but thanks to technology, they can understand where the wheat came from for the flour in the bun of the sandwich they ordered. Stephen Foley, franchise development associate for Smoothie King, said people’s evolving tastes are a major contributor for this new wave of education.

“I think Americans are more conscious of what they put into their bodies. For a long time, consumers were pre-conditioned for something fast and cheap, whereas now the average guest would rather wait a little longer (not much), and pay a little extra, for a product that is better or healthier for them,” Foley said.

QSR concepts are responding to this increased consumer demand by providing their guests with better ingredients. Smoothie King for example offers fruit and veggie smoothies, along with vegan options. And a number of QSR concepts like Subway, Taco Bell and Noodles & Company have all publicly said they are phasing out processed ingredients, such as artificial colors, preservatives and synthetic flavors in their foods. Consumers are sticking to their healthy guns as the National Restaurant Association found that 76 percent of consumers are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers healthy options.

Use of Technology
Technology’s role in the shifts in QSR customer behavior and the products that brands have responded with cannot be understated. Consumers are better able to research ingredients and understand more about quick service restaurant brands. Technology is not only a useful tool for consumers; it is an important resource for brands. Mobile is one such tool, as some brands have launched new mobile sites where consumers can place orders faster and learn about franchise opportunities.

Brands can also use technology to learn about consumers during their decision making process. The recently launched Google Analytics 360 Suite is a resource QSR brands can use to measure data. The six products used by the Suite allow brands to better unify advertising and marketing data across all channels. Brands can use all the contained data to learn about what their customers like and see emerging trends.

By using technology, QSRs are able to connect with their customers, alert them about menu updates and get a sense of what type of changes they want to see. Foley said technology is a great way to connect with younger consumers, but it is also a way for QSRs to improve their business.

“Technology has closed the gap on how quickly people gather information so they are understandably more educated on topics like food, health, and wellness,” Foley said. “If you don’t keep up with tech and constantly innovate, you’re missing out on the younger generation and opportunities to develop your brand. The one caveat is that tech changes quickly. Once you master one technology, here comes something else that people are into. You have to always pay attention to where the opportunities lie and quickly adapt to them.”