Speeding up or changing course? How COVID-19 has reshaped QSR trends | QSR Media | QSR news for Australia's quick service restaurant industry.
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Speeding up or changing course? How COVID-19 has reshaped QSR trends

By Matt Popkes

As the COVID-19 pandemic has gripped the planet, one of the most clearly and significantly impacted industries has been hospitality, spanning the largest global QSR brands all the way to your small neighborhood coffee shop.

However, within the highly competitive and constantly evolving landscape of QSR, sweeping change in how consumers view and interact with your product is a constant. The reality is, significant trends in consumer behaviour, customer experience and digital adoption were already reshaping the QSR industry long before we had ever heard the terms ‘social distancing’ or ‘contactless delivery’.

The pandemic, which continues to unfold, has accelerated many of those trends and completely changing the direction of others.

To find a steady and optimistic time for QSR, one must not really look too far into the past.

Over the previous financial year, QSR remained a strong and consistent piece of the Australian economy, poised for another year of 2% revenue growth in a $20 billion industry. That said, the industry was being reshaped by some major global trends.

Delivery and off-premise experience
Globally, food delivery has surged to a nearly $200bn industry, which had started to reshape the QSR experience entirely. The physical, in-house experience was being rethought, reducing physical space and seating while accommodating an increased volume of drive-thru and take out business.

All the while, consumers were enjoying as much if not more of their favorite QSR foods but visiting physical locations less and less.

Sustainability a core consumer concern
Think back to one of the key environmental issues of the last 12 months: plastic straws. This concern became top of mind for consumers around the world, who demanded change and action from QSR brands, immediately. To quote an operations manager of a well-known QSR chain, “There was not a day that went by that I wasn’t getting angry emails about plastic straws.”

Only a few weeks ago, sustainable, environmentally conscious business practices were arguably the most important, valid and top-of-mind concern for QSR customers.

Digital as the core experience
To say an intuitive, user friendly and rewarding app experience is essential for QSR brands belongs in a 2012 blog post. QSR brands have been investing and innovating their digital
experience, as a complement to the overall brand experience, for several years.

The digital experience has continued to grow in importance as it was quickly becoming not just one way but the primary way many consumers were interacting with QSR brands.

Much like nearly all industries and world economies, COVID-19 has taken the optimistic outlook for QSR and turned it on its head.

In a span of a few weeks, any hope of growth is long-forgotten, replaced by the bleak estimation of a 16% revenue decline in Australia in the current year. Within that new reality, the same trends have been dramatically impacted.

Delivery and off-premise experience builds further momentum
Take an industry already trending away from emphasizing the physical, in-store experience and create a global mandate of eliminating physical contact with other humans. 

As QSR locations have had to shut their doors to in-store visitors, the results are exactly as you’d expect. COVID-19 has dramatically accelerated the further adoption of delivery and off-premise consumption, leading to likely permanent changes to the physical experience, aimed at getting customers in and out while phasing out human contact.

It’s a dramatic and predictable outcome that will have permanent implications for consumer behavior in QSR.

Sustainability concern all but forgotten due to fear of contagion
The same operations manager that mentioned the daily emails about plastic straws followed that comment up with, “Over the last 12 weeks, I haven’t gotten a single plastic
straw email but I have gotten angry emails about seeing coworkers hugging.”

What consumers are concerned about has dramatically changed course overnight, as public health, hygienic practices and fear of contagion dominate the consumer mindset. While
never before necessary to mention in advertising, “contactless” has become one of the most repeated words on the airwaves.

From branding and messaging to supply chain, preparation, and packaging this consumer concern has long-term impacts on every facet of the QSR industry.

Digital as the only experience
As before, there is now an even higher likelihood that the entirety of your interactions with your favourite QSR brands will take place through digital channels and experiences. More
than ever, consumers will expect seamless, best-in-class digital experiences and rewards programs, which are no longer just a compliment to the overall brand experience, but the
only experience.

The reality at the moment is that the “new normal” is still a big unknown and it’s hard to say which of these trends will result in permanent, recognisable changes to a strong, decades-
old industry. Again, adapting and evolving in the face of change is not new for QSR and if one thing is certain, more change is coming.

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