UK consumers increasingly interested in “gourmet junk food”

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 4th September 2013

Consumers in the UK are looking for something a little fancier than a basic burger and chips when they eat out, according to findings from global market research organisation Mintel.

The latest research from Mintel found that more than one in ten (13 per cent) of UK diners had tried “gourmet junk food”, and nearly half (46 per cent) who had not ordered “posher” fast food, such as hot dogs with better quality ingredients, said they would be interested in trying it.

The research offered consumers a list of “innovative” foods and asked whether they had eaten them or would consider eating them in the future. Chip flights (a selection of different chips and dips) proved the most popular menu innovation, with 13 per cent of diners having tried them and a further 61 per cent saying they would be interested in ordering them in the future.

Build-your-own (such as sandwiches, burgers or ice cream sundaes) were the next most popular, with 22 per cent of diners having tried them and 49 per cent saying they would be interested in doing so. Gourmet doughnuts and éclairs were next, with 12 per cent having tried these and 43 per cent interested in doing so.

“Menu innovation is now rife in an increasingly competitive and mature marketplace, with current food fashions, including gourmet junk food and artisan pastries, designed to reignited consumers’ enthusiasm for spending on eating out,” said Helena Spicer, Food Service Analyst at Mintel.

“As such, a number of flavour trends have grown around this area of the menu, as operators look to balance consumers’ low confidence with their increasing ‘menu/recession fatigue’,” Ms Spicer said. “For example, sweet potato fries were a notable trend in 2012, whilst courgette (zucchini) fries have been gaining traction on menus in 2013 at leading venues,” Ms Spicer said. “Offering these options as a price bundle in the format of a ‘chip flight’ encourages diners to be more spontaneous without taking them too far out of their price comfort zone,” she said.

‘Nostalgia dining’ also popular

While 47 per cent of UK consumers who had eaten in a restaurant in the last three months said that when choosing a dish they would choose something they could not usually make at home, Mintel said its research showed that many consumers were also harbouring nostalgia for British dining experiences of the past.

According to Mintel, 34 per cent of UK consumers claimed to be interested in historical or traditional ingredients (for example, faggots, which is made from various meat off-cuts and offal), while 21 per cent claimed to be interested in ordering offal on its own.

“Diners need to be romanced into ordering these particular types of dishes, such as offal,” Ms Spicer said. “Given that many historical dishes such as faggots are essentially made up of offal, it would suggest that the marketing message is as important as the ingredients,” she said.

Overall, in 2012 alone, UK consumers spent £31 billion on eating out, which Mintel estimates will grow to £32 billion in 2013.

Consumer price consciousness continues

Despite the predictions of growth in spending on eating out, Mintel found that more than half (54 per cent) of UK restaurant diners said price range was the most important factor when selecting a venue for an everyday meal and as many as a third (33 per cent) of all diners admitted that they order tap water rather than bottled water in a restaurant.

A similar number (30 per cent) said they ordered house wine rather than more expensive wine, compared to 18 per cent who said they were prepared to pay more for good quality wine or beer.

“Diners are more likely to be frugal on areas where it isn’t obvious where the added value lies, such as in the case of tap vs bottled water, for example,” Ms Spicer said. “Offering greater variety in terms of the range of drinks and dishes available should provide operators with key opportunities for upselling, with a good proportion of consumers prepared to pay more for good quality wine or beer,” she said.

“’Guiding choice’ concepts such as drinks paddles, miniature desserts and dessert platter can help operators maximise revenues from these opportunities,” Ms Spicer said.

Tradition ‘pub grub’ leader in market value

Pub catering remained the largest segment of the eating out market, according to Mintel, with consumer spending £6.5 billion in 2012.

Pub restaurant and bars were also the most visited restaurants in the UK, with 57 per cent of diners visiting them. They were followed by ethnic (for example, Chinese, Indian, Thai etc) restaurants at 52 per cent, pizza, pasta and Italian restaurants at 45 per cent, and burger and chicken restaurants at 32 per cent. British restaurants (excluding pubs) came in fifth at 25 per cent.

While eating out was most certainly still on the menu for UK diners, with 54 per cent of consumers saying that their eating out habits had not changed in the past year, Brits remained cautious with their money. Mintel said its research into consumer eating out habits found that as many as a third (34 per cent) of UK consumers had reduced the number of times they had eaten out in restaurants compared to a year ago, and a quarter (24 per cent) claimed to have reduced the amount they spent when they did eat out. By comparison, 30 per cent of restaurant diners agreed that they enjoyed splashing out on dining out.

“The onus is also on operators to reinvigorate consumers’ enthusiasm for spending on the category through techniques such as menu innovation and enhancing the experience of eating out in order to improve on the fact that only 30 per cent of restaurant diners agree that they enjoy splashing out on dining out,” Ms Spicer said.

Home dining trend continues

Finally, Mintel’s research showed that nearly a third (33 per cent) of restaurant diners said they were cooking at home more instead of eating out.

The trend towards home dining continued with just over one in ten (11 per cent) of consumers stating that they were trying to recreate restaurant meals at home instead of eating out.

UK consumers increasingly interested in "gourmet junk food"