Can a Business Be Built on a Single Craving?

The shine is coming off the star that is Fast Casual. With several exceptions, the category has had a rough year plus. This past quarter continued declining category sales overall. After several years of craving creating brands, headlines and growth the narrative has been changing.

Analysts are now looking back to QSR as the best bet for growth. Experts are calling for brands like Jack in the Box to spin off their Fast Casual sub-brands (in this case, Qdoba) because they are creating drag for the higher growth QSR.

Fast Casual brands have been praised for a simplified, focused menu. Under-complicated. Built around a single craving. Think Habit Burger (one of the Fast Casual brands bucking the growth trend). That is a fantastic attribute until it isn’t. One clear difference between FC and QSR brands is veto power. FC brands have menus based on one craving. A great burger. Custom pizza.

Across QSR, brands have built our a strong menu that attracts a core while adding a moat. That moat is the extra items that match the brand expectations but meet a different craving. This stops the veto, which is difficult for a brand like Qdoba with a very simple menu to do. Want a burrito, or something like it? Great, Qdoba works. But if not, the search for the next option begins. The single craving is a double edged sword.

Every new FC brand had a simple description: Chipotle for “insert cuisine here.” There was a novelty for most cuisines, as people flocked to see how pho or Uraguayan food could be presented to guests in an assembly line. But time passed and the unknown became the known. There was nothing new to try and back to Jack in the Box we go. Burgers, chicken, tacos, breakfast. Plenty of options for all.

People are not getting richer so price will matter going into the next 18 months.

Doing the mental math here? The next move for Fast Casuals would naturally be to combat the QSR menu moat by adding items. Not so simple. The expanded menu is just one moat. The second was built-in by Fast Casuals but has been enhanced. Pricing.

Fast Casuals took price as part of a premium positioning to differentiate against the perceived quality gap of QSR from the outset. In many cases, the claim that a tighter focus on a single craving made the price make sense. As in: we use the best ingredients to make the best burritos, sorry it costs a bit more. Now it’s a little hard to go head to head with QSRs and expand the menu to match. Sure, they may offer a more premium product but going head to head gives people a chance to compare price.

People are not getting richer so price will matter going into the next 18 months. Fast Casuals like Blaze can’t expand their menu. They’ll be unable to compete on price against QSRs and against Casual Dining if they try to add premium entrees. The question becomes what can they do to make people crave their food more? If they really wish to expand that craving, they’ll need to bring in new, unique flavors and innovation into their core. Fast Casuals have to go all in on ingredients in both variety and quality. Enhance that single craving and make people see the difference between their offering and QSRs.

The Art of Creating Craveability

I’m one of those people.

I see a photo from a restaurant in my Instagram feed and BAM! It hits me – the craving. I’m a foodie to an extent, so only the best-of-the-best photos can have that effect on me. The restaurants and brands that capture my attention know how to leverage the power of “craveability” and understand how powerful it can be, especially in the social space.

Craveability (creating the feeling of uncontrollable need or desire with a consumer through imagery; runs parallel to food or drink marketing) isn’t a new concept by any means. McDonalds, Taco Bell and Krispy Kreme have been cashing in on this tactic for decades. As such, it has been associated mainly with fast food brands. However, now is the perfect time for restaurants in other verticals to take a similar approach.

Why? It seems craveability is no longer all about “the burger.” It has been reported that most burger chains have reached their maturity in the last few years, citing “nominal growth of only 1.2% in 2014.” (Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report). This signifies that consumer focus has shifted, leaving open opportunity for other types of food to move into the crave-able space. Perfect.

So, how do you generate craveability for your menu items using photography? My answer is…it’s a combination of things. Start by making smart decisions about what to showcase, then focus your effort on how to showcase it to make the biggest impact.

What to Showcase

According to a Technomic Inc. study, 74.7% of people surveyed said they crave restaurants that offer a menu item they can’t make at home. So in choosing food to showcase, this is a great indicator as to what may hit the right chord with your audience. Fans will crave the foods that they can only get in your restaurant, which inherently drives purchase intent and ultimately justifies a trip to your store. This is also helpful for CPG brands that offer a product the consumer can’t easily make.

Besides this, strategic content planning – working hand-in-hand with chefs or other stakeholders to make sure you are showcasing what is most important – (deals, specials flavors, new products, etc.) helps to determine what you will shoot. Ideally, this means that photography and designed assets are based on content calendars that include shot lists and photo ideas for items that were chosen ahead of time.

How to Showcase

In that same Technomic Inc. study, it was found that craveability is just as much about establishing a reputation in the foodie community as it is about creating an emotional connection with the consumer. We aim to impact both of these audiences by taking a very planned and artistic approach in how we shoot.

CPG, food, branding, craving, photography, social
Taking the extra step to understand what makes people crave your food and how to bring it to life.

I see a photo from a restaurant in my Instagram feed and BAM! It hits me – the craving.

You’ve seen these photos, the “from above” view point, the product placement, the picturesque moments. Photos don’t need to be over complicated or cluttered. Simple props, dishes, product, table textures etc. are great to have on hand. If you’re asking yourself, “is it really necessary to stand on a chair to get the overhead shot of the table of food?” Yes. Yes it is. Here’s why:

Fans want to see your product in picture perfect lifestyle settings and in unexpected visually pleasing scenarios. On one hand they want to relate to your imagery with their own life and values. On the other, they want to see something aspirational and “likeable.”

Finally, testing is messy but the more this is practiced the closer you get your content to that craveability factor. When we post a photo on Peter Piper Pizza and the top comments are, “man, now I want PPP tonight,” we know we’ve struck gold. Our team works tirelessly to make relevant content for not just every client but every medium. That way a fan or perhaps a new consumer is faced with fresh content and a crave-able experience on the entire social space. Plus we are watching insights in real time to see how our audience is reacting to the posts.

Watch insights and audience participation closely. It could take months to see a consistent reaction in engagement from your fans. Especially if posting content with a craveability factor is new for your audience to see.

Make sure to pay close attention to your competitors and their tactics but for the most part have fun! Craveability itself is about capturing the love for moments and experiences. Fans can’t help but react positively to that.