Providing the most comprehensive and up-to-date information and analysis of the US Foodservice Brand Ethics market, including the behaviors, preferences, and habits of the consumer.

82% of restaurant customers say health insurance for employees and living wages for employees are important to them, indicating the universal demand for better treatment of restaurant employees that transcends political and demographic lines. Consumers also overwhelmingly expect restaurant chains to shoulder these costs with their own profits.

COVID-19 revealed racial and social inequities in the US, including those within the restaurant industry. Between consumer demand for better treatment of employees and the competitive job market during economic recovery, restaurants are forced to reconsider starting wages and benefits packages sooner rather than later.

Immense logistical, supply and cost challenges face foodservice operators trying to come up with more ethical packaging solutions, especially with a quickly accelerated off-premise industry from COVID-19. However, consumers will increasingly scrutinize foodservice brand ethics analysis, as well as the recyclability and reusability of packaging, forcing continued sustainability investments.

With immense challenge comes great opportunity for innovation: for example, think of how circular packaging economies can potentially benefit restaurant loyalty, as the necessity of returning or reusing takeout packaging (eg for a deposit refund) drives repeat visitation.

Read on to discover more details, check out our US Restaurant Takeout and Delivery Market Report 2021, or take a look at all of our US Food and Foodservice market research.

Quickly understand

  • The impact of COVID-19 on consumer attitudes and foodservice brand ethics.
  • What consumers think about the top ethical dilemmas facing restaurants today, from sustainability to employee welfare.
  • Ethical issues as payment and visitation motivators among consumers.

Expert analysis from a specialist in the field

Written by Jill Failla, a leading analyst in the Foodservice sector, this report delivers in-depth commentary and analysis to highlight current trends and add expert context to the numbers.

Restaurant customers overwhelmingly embrace foodservice brand ethics, desiring to see employee welfare, animal welfare and sustainability improvements at restaurants, and this is especially true for quickly growing demographics such as younger, multicultural consumers. Consumers expect restaurant chains to be able to pay for these improvements themselves, rather than passing on costs. Opportunity exists to build brand loyalty among target consumers — and attract employees during a labor crisis — by improving brand ethics sooner rather than later.
Jill Failla, Senior Foodservice AnalystJill Failla
Senior Foodservice Analyst

Table of Contents

  1. Overview

    • What you need to know
    • This Report looks at the following areas
    • Definition
    • Market context
    • COVID-19: US foodservice brand ethics context
  2. Executive Summary

    • Top takeaways
    • Impact of COVID-19 on foodservice brand ethics
      • Figure 1: Short-, medium- and long-term impact of COVID-19 on foodservice brand ethics, July 2021
    • Opportunities and challenges
    • Make restaurant jobs desirable by treating employees better
      • Figure 2: Brand ethic attitudes, by restaurant visitation frequency per segment, 2021
    • When it comes to politics – address the issues, not the parties
    • Gen Zs view eco-friendly packaging as a payment and visitation motivator, but they may not understand what it is
      • Figure 3: Brand ethics as payment and visitation motivators – NET any rank, by generation, 2021
      • Figure 4: Restaurant packaging interest – NET any rank, by generation, 2021
    • Gen Z fuels more innovative sustainable solutions
      • Figure 5: Brand ethic attitudes, by generation, 2021
  3. The Market – Key Takeaways

    • The New Activists are also the ethical foodservice consumers
    • QSRs must consider sustainability to appeal to super users
    • Labor crisis spurs ethical initiatives
  4. Target Audience by the Numbers

    • Sustainability Prioritizers are quickly growing
      • Figure 6: Sustainability segmentation, 2021
      • Figure 7: Sustainability segmentation – Sustainability Prioritizers, 2021
  5. Market Factors

    • Labor crisis hits hospitality sector hard
    • The unions are coming
    • PFAS are quietly exiting foodservice packaging
    • Younger consumers represent a growing subset of activists
      • Figure 8: Activist segmentation – New Activists, 2020
      • Figure 9: Brands and activism, by activist segmentation, June 2020
  6. Companies and Brands – Key Takeaways

    • Benefits beef up amid activism, labor shortage
    • Brands have a long way to go to increase sustainability and racial equity
  7. Competitive Strategies

    • $15 hourly wage inches closer to reality
    • Walk the line between purpose and politics
    • Pandemic protocols find new long-term applications
  8. Market Opportunities

    • Sustainable initiatives have ample room for improvement
    • Champion racial equity inside and outside of restaurant doors
    • Mental healthcare matters
  9. The Consumer – Key Takeaways

    • Consumers overwhelmingly want restaurants to treat employees better, but don’t want to pay for it
    • Consumers show slightly more willingness to pay for premium products
    • Sidestep direct political messaging
  10. Importance of Brand Ethics

    • Addressing employee welfare matters is key to consumer loyalty
      • Figure 10: Importance of brand ethics – NET importance, 2021
    • Young consumers care most about foodservice sustainability
      • Figure 11: Importance of brand ethics – NET any sustainability initiative, by generation, 2021
    • Millennials care the most about employee welfare (even if they won’t pay for it)
      • Figure 12: Importance of brand ethics – NET any employee benefit initiative, by generation, 2021
  11. Brand Ethics as Visitation and Payment Motivators

    • The onus for employee welfare lies with brands
      • Figure 13: Brand ethics as visitation and payment motivators – NET any rank, 2021
    • Frequent and Moderate Diners don’t want to pay for employee benefits
      • Figure 14: Brand ethics as payment motivators – NET any rank, by dining frequency, 2021
    • Some Boomers will pay for employee welfare, Gen Zs for animal welfare
      • Figure 15: Brand ethics as payment motivators – NET any rank, by generation, 2021
      • Figure 16: Brand ethics as visitation motivators – NET any rank, by generation, 2021
  12. Preferred Payment Methods for Initiatives

    • Tread very carefully when trying to pass on employee benefit costs
      • Figure 17: preferred payment methods for employee benefits, 2021
    • Restaurants have more wiggle room with eco-friendly packaging costs
      • Figure 18: Preferred payment methods for eco-friendly packaging, 2021
  13. Brand Ethic Attitudes

    • Political stances remain taboo for restaurants
      • Figure 19: Brand ethic attitudes, 2021
    • LSRs have the most work to do to improve ethics perception
      • Figure 20: Brand ethic attitudes, by restaurant visitation frequency per segment, 2021
    • Gen Z drives today’s environmental initiatives at restaurants
      • Figure 21: Brand ethic attitudes, by generation, 2021
    • Restaurant customers of color want better treatment for employees
      • Figure 22: Brand ethic attitudes, by race and Hispanic origin, 2021
  14. Restaurant Packaging Interest

    • Top-preferred restaurant packaging options contribute to a circular economy
      • Figure 23: Restaurant packaging interest – NET any rank, 2021
    • Gen Z is disillusioned with traditional recycling methods
      • Figure 24: Restaurant packaging interest – NET any rank, by generation, 2021
  15. Appendix – Data Sources and Abbreviations

    • Data sources
    • Consumer survey data
    • Consumer qualitative research
    • Abbreviations and terms
    • Abbreviations
    • Terms
  16. Appendix – The Consumer

      • Figure 25: Importance of brand ethics – NET importance and initiatives, by dining frequency, 2021

About the report

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