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Six experiential trends reshaping grocery stores, restaurants

Grocery stores and restaurant experiences are rapidly evolving to keep customers coming through the door.

That’s according to real estate and investment management firm JLL, which noted that Americans’ relationship with food has completely changed, thanks to the rise of grocery delivery, pre-packaged meals, electronic ordering and more. And grocery stores and restaurants need to keep up with the changes.

“For a long time, the food and beverage industry focused solely on new store growth, leaving existing stores untouched,” said Steve Jones, international director, JLL project and development services. “This paradigm has shifted with a new emphasis on keeping things fresh—both the food itself and the overall experience. The pressure is on for restaurants and grocers to renovate existing locations to keep up with consumers’ heightening expectations for food quality and modern, trendy environments.”

According to Jones, the following six trends are shaping food and restaurant locations in 2018:

1. Restaurateurs and grocers are making food more accessible. Striving to offer a seamless shopping experience, leading grocery stores are offering customers options  to shop wherever and whenever they want: in-store, delivery or pick-up. As more consumers choose to fill their fridges and pantries with a few clicks, stores are designating convenient areas for pick-up of online orders.

Technology is also enabling greater accessibility in the dining experience. Many restaurants are determined to solve the logistical challenges associated with partnering with delivery services such as Uber Eats and Grubhub, ensuring food is hot and fresh once it arrives. Fast casual restaurants are starting to experiment with drive-up services and designating fast lanes to pick up online orders, eliminating long lines.

2. Food purveyors are designing more intuitive environments. Busy consumers want to walk inside any retail environment and immediately find what they need, no questions asked. Quick serve restaurants are adding easy-to-use kiosks and mobile apps to make the ordering process more intuitive.

Meanwhile, grocers are placing more grab-and-go meals within easy access of store entry, from simple entrees to meal kits with recipes and pre-measured ingredients. ALDI is another great example of retailers designing for experience, with a new store format that positions freshness and quality at the forefront.

3. Immersive environments capture consumers’ attention… and wallets. Speedy service and convenience only get you so far when consumers are in the mood to linger. Sit down restaurants are delivering experiences that engage all five senses, understanding that every piece of the aesthetic puzzle—from wall décor to food presentation—must be carefully curated to appeal to the Instagram generation. Restaurants are incorporating richer materials in finishes and furnishings, with quick serve locations even using upgraded materials such as stone, wood and marble.

On the grocery side, retailers such as Whole Foods are enhancing the shopping experience with wine bars and high-end coffee, turning the weekly chore of filling the fridge into an enjoyable shopping experience.

Authentic human interactions create connections in a tech-centric world. While WiFi and electric outlets are becoming ubiquitous in fast casual and quick serve restaurants, many consumers visit restaurants for something they can’t find on a screen—human connection. Friendly employees are a must-have to create a feeling of community. And as consumers become more discerning about their food preferences, knowledge is key. At sit down and fast casual restaurants, staff are expected to spout detailed information, from food origins to preparation.

On the grocery side, Trader Joe’s is raising the bar for grocery store employees, with friendly and knowledgeable staff who will go out of their way to be helpful. At checkout, Trader Joe’s cashiers will share thoughts on items that customers are purchasing and make suggestions for future items to try.

5. Consumers seek meaningful connections with food brands. The “eat local” mantra is alive and well. As consumers clamor for greater meaning and purpose in all aspects of their lives, they expect the food industry to keep up with sustainable production and sourcing, such as farm-to-table concepts.

A strong desire to support local businesses are similarly driving dining choices. National quick serve restaurant chains, such as McDonalds, Taco Bell and KFC, are keeping up with locally-focused outposts that offer tailored experiences.

6. Personalized experiences drive loyalty. Technology is making it easier than ever for restaurants to let consumers “have it your way,” with apps that remember customized preferences and orders. And tech-enhanced loyalty programs are letting consumers unlock rewards for their frequent purchases.

“Millennials and Generation Z are challenging us all to rethink the way we sell food and beverages,” said Jones. “Food quality will always be important. But to stay competitive restaurants and grocers also need to deliver a unique experience across all customer touch points.”
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