Conducting a Foodservice Focus Group

Posted on Nov 6, 2017 in Articles | 0 comments

Convenience store operators continue to plunge into foodservice with the hopes of stemming the tide of lower margins with high-margin foodservice offerings. While the degrees of foodservice can vary greatly from chain-to-chain, the approach to introducing foodservice into your operation should not be left to chance. Gaining a better understanding of your foodservice customer can sometimes be the difference between making your store profitable or just wallowing in a “me-too” foodservice program. One way to gain valuable insights into your customers is to conduct a focus group with some of your core customers. This is your chance to hear first-hand what your customers have to say.

Gain some Customer-focused Perspective on the Foodservice industry:

When starting your focus group, gaining a better understanding of the foodservice industry is a great place to start. Ask your customer the kind of places they go for lunch and/or dinner. Do they generally:

  • Eat in
  • Take out
  • Get food delivered

Next, have them assess the overall foodservice landscape:

  • What is the frequency in which they visit?
  • Which places do they visit most often?
  • Are there advantages/disadvantages of each?

Lastly, get a feel for the preferred foodservice category. Does your customer view sandwiches, pizza, and chicken, etc. all the same?

  • Do they go to any of these places for lunch, dinner or both?
  • Do they prefer one brand or category vs. other fast food or quick service?
  • Identify closest competitors. What makes them similar? What makes them different?
  • What are the perceived “advantages” of each competitor vs. your foodservice brand?

Associations with your Foodservice Brand:

Now you want to zero in on your specific foodservice brand. You should attempt to see if your foodservice brand resonates with any of your customers with regard to the following senses:

  • What do you see?
  • What do you hear?
  • What do you smell?
  • What do you feel?
  • Then, ask your focus group their perceptions regarding taste.

There are some that feel carrying a Starbuck’s cup down the street says more about the consumer than the actual product. With that in mind, ask your customers the following:

  • What does being a your foodservice brand consumer say about you?
  • What does it say to your friends/neighbors/colleagues?
  • How does that compare with other quick-service restaurants or other foodservice brands?

Next, probe into the underlying aspects of perception or imagery. This is an interesting perspective in that it makes the customer articulate your brand with an unrelated object:

  • If the foodservice brand were a car, what kind of car would it be and why?

Lastly, probe your customers with questions regarding a time continuum for your foodservice brand – has it changed over time and if so, what have been the implications of those changes?

Experience with your Foodservice Brand:

Understanding how the customer first encountered your foodservice brand can shed insights into attracting additional customers. Questions should probe around the initial attraction as well as how the interaction has progressed over time:

  • Where was the initial encounter – what city?
  • How was your foodservice offering introduced? When?
  • What were some of the first impressions?
  • What is the relationship like today? How is it different than at first?
  • What types of advertising or communications do they recall?

Your Foodservice Brand Eulogy Exercise:

Lastly, have your customer focus group describe your brand as though they were writing a eulogy. This exercise will help crystalize the core attributes of your brand.

In summary, conducting a foodservice focus group helps capture real feedback from an outside perspective. All too often, chains develop their foodservice offerings in a vacuum without asking the customer what they like/dislike about the offering. Focus groups can cut to the core and provide clear guidance for your foodservice brand in the eyes of the consumer.

John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc., a strategic planning, operations and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries.  With more than 25 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written Game-Changing Strategies For Retailers, which is available on Amazon. In addition, he has two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.