We live in a great time to be a consumer. Mass markets, most famously TV and retail, are each undergoing something of a “Golden Age,” driven by disruptive entrants offering compelling new products, often enabled by technology, and competing against sluggish, entrenched legacy incumbents. Think Netflix vs. CBS and NBC, or Amazon or Trunk Club vs any number of brick-and-mortar retailers. The American consumer today is being spoilt for choice, with a proliferating number of companies competing for his and her attention, eyeballs, time and, of course, money.
There’s a similar phenomenon happening in food, which I find remarkably under-reported on. Most of the “food press” is devoted to the typical foodie beat: the organic/locavore stuff popular with the same wealthy elites that obsess over food as a vehicle for self-expression. That stuff is interesting too – more on it later in this post. Yet there’s another food renaissance happening on the other end of the market: in fast food, and the “fast casual”/quick service restaurant (“QSR”) segment broadly. As consumers, particularly younger ones, shift more of their spending towards experiences and consumables rather than tangible goods, new restaurant concepts are breaking the traditional expectations of the fast food biz and growing like crazy.
I think we’re the early days of broad growth in food, which will eventually absorb many of the dollars Americans are not spending in physical retail stores. Up and down the value chain, from your basic fast-food, to upscale “fast-casual,” to the burgeoning category of meal kit delivery, how and what people eat is changing – with interesting knock-on effects on adjacent industries like transportation and local delivery.