United States: A nation of diners
01 March 2013
The United States’ US$632 billion foodservice industry operates on a mega scale, employing 12.9 million Americans in 970,000 locations.
From McDonald’s, Burger King and Starbucks chains to celebrity chefs in the high-end dining sector, to the growing casual dining segment and the casual fast food truck phenomenon, the US foodservice industry has a diverse range of segments to appeal to the taste buds of the most fussy consumer and the wallet of the most price conscious diner.
While the foodservice industry continues to grow and diversify, it has had its share of downturn and volatility. The global financial crisis toward the end of 2008 significantly affected its performance. Real (inflation-adjusted) sales growth dropped 0.9% in 2008, while restaurant traffic declined 3% over the same period.
The foodservice segments which felt the pinch most were high-end, the family dining and the casual family dining establishments, with about 83%, 70% and 66% respectively of restaurant operators reporting lower same store sales by December 2008. With unemployment moving beyond 10% and consumers cautious about spending money eating out, selling higher-priced food items, particularly lamb, has been challenging.
But during the GFC, most casual restaurants were nearly full most nights. They traded down their menus to ‘comfort’ home cooked style foods such as pot roasts, meatloaf and braised short ribs as well as the ubiquitous burger in many forms. This made people feel comforted in the gloom of recession, and the dishes were cheaper than usual and used more affordable ‘secondary cuts’.
Now that the economy is picking up, albeit slowly, casual restaurants are turning to better-quality menu items, using the global flavours trend to differentiate themselves from their competitors. The casual dining segment in particular is characterised with immense product innovation with trends and ideas often filtered down from fine dining and celebrity chefs. It is an enormous industry within itself as restaurant chains search for the next big concept that will distance them from their competitors.
A new breed of savvy, food-focused consumers (largely of the ‘millennial’ generation) is seeking new and exciting dining experiences, but at lower price points.
These consumers are more adventurous in flavour profiles and trying new products; it is not uncommon to see items such as kimchee tacos, pickled beef tongue or bison burgers on the menus. While the obscure is being explored and experimented with, comfort and classic foods are also being taken to another level. New burger chains such as Five Guys, Smashburger and Elevation Burger are growing in popularity, while others such as Mexican cuisine chain, Chipotle, are among the fastest-growing quick service restaurants in the US.
The attraction? These chains are offering consumers added value on classic items, for example, the protein sources for Chipotle’s burritos and tacos are naturally raised, free of hormones and antibiotics and some are 100% grassfed.
Australia has long been an important exporter of beef to the US, supplying a large quantity of lean manufacturing beef for hamburgers.
About 62% of Australia’s beef sent to the US is manufacturing grade. Our lean grinding beef (90CL) is important to complement the fatty US grinding product. When blended correctly, it gives the right meat-to-fat ratio for juicy burgers.
Aside from manufacturing product, beef cuts such as outsides and tenderloins are used by foodservice operations.
Most of Australian beef exports is destined for the foodservice sector. A significant quantity of Australian lamb legs, racks, shoulders and shortloins are also used in the foodservice sector.
Marketing to the foodservice sector
Generating quality leads for Australian red meat products is central to most MLA marketing activities in the North American market.
The National Restaurant Association (NRA) annual trade show in Chicago is one of the largest trade events for MLA. Last year, the Australian red meat booth showcased five importer and exporter participants.
MLA also participates in and sponsors MeatingPlace and Plate magazine’s Protein Innovation Summit, Star Chefs’ International Chefs Congress and Rising Star Chef Galas, the International Corporate Chefs Association (ICCA) Annual Summit and regional conferences, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington and the Culinary Institute of America.