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Consultants: Restaurants Must Adapt Quickly to Pandemic-Era Changes

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Tim Hand and Bruce Reinstein, partners with food industry consulting firm Kinetic12, and Wade Hanson, principal with foodservice consulting firm Technomic, participated in a webinar yesterday hosted by The Food Institute and DMA titled “2021 Trends for Chain Operators and Distributors.” Below are some highlights from the presentation:

“We’re in unprecedented times,” said Kinetic12’s Hand, “There’s a phrase that goes ‘crisis is the true catalyst of change’ and if that’s true, then we can expect to see some permanent changes.”

“Some (industry) segments have been down 50 to 60 percent or more compared to 2019,” noted Technomic’s Hanson, assessing the industry at large. “This is a different animal. We can’t combat a pandemic very easily. We’ve got approximately 80,000 restaurants closed permanently, just in 2020 – this has been severe.”


Hanson said that more than ever, restaurants must adapt to consumers’ evolving desires. For example, in 2021, the Gen Z demographic is seeking out businesses that pride themselves on being socially responsible.

“Gen Z, our youngest adult generation, they’ve got a high level of awareness,” Hanson said. “They want to make sure that the restaurants they believe in and frequent are demonstrating some of those social responsibility efforts.”

He added, that Millennials wants more “personalization,” and for the restaurants they frequent to know what their ordering behavior typically looks like. Gen-Xers want interaction with restaurant staff members and Baby Boomers are looking “more and more for value and loyalty.”


The business challenges of 2020 could very well inspire ownership shifts among multiple chains, Hanson predicted.

“There is a lot of money on the sidelines right now,” Hanson said. “We anticipate private equity getting more and more involved. … We can expect, given private equity’s public statements about the fact, that they want to get more involved in foodservice. They see the growth potential as strong as ever for many leading chains – I think we can expect activity there.”


The webinar panel also noted that companies have come to the realization that they now need to cater to customers throughout the day as much as possible. That likely factored into McDonald’s recent decision to add breakfast all day at many locations.

“We always talk about breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but doing business throughout the day has become crucial,” noted Kinetic12’s Reinstein.


The COVID-19 pandemic has, understandably, made consumers increasingly concerned about the sanitization of businesses like grocery stores and restaurants. For example, consumers are as uneasy as ever about grocery-store salad bars and hot bars, Hand noted.

“We’ve seen consumers get more and more concerned about those locations within the store,” Hand said. “So, I think there’s going to be some fundamental changes. Perhaps we’ll see more grab-and-go, or perhaps we’ll see more meal kits. There will be changes, particularly on the self-serve side.”