Customization Is King

The “Chipotle Effect” has become shorthand for any well-edited but highly customizable menu in the foodservice world. Whether one popular fast casual chain deserves all the credit or not, the demand for customizable food choices is real, and it’s affecting every setting where food is served, from bulk aisles to frozen yogurt shops.

In Columbus, Ohio, for example, a new eatery called Graze Seasonal Market Grill sounds more like a prepared food section than a restaurant. Located in an office complex, Graze is an upscale cafeteria offering buildable meals of house-made meats and sauces, sides, salads and breads.

Graze co-owner Louie Pappas has heard the comparisons to Chipotle, but told The Columbus Dispatch that the similarities begin and end with the ordering process. His chef-prepared menu is at a higher culinary level, with far more choices of moderately priced meals and daily specials produced in an open kitchen, where diners can orchestrate their meals.

This kind of singular food experience is also what consumers want from their grocerant options, according to a new series of reports from Packaged Facts. Customization is named as a Top 5 trend among consumers in general and millennials in particular. Packaged Facts research finds more than a third of millennials order something different every time they visit a restaurant.

Two other trends identified by Packaged Facts — bowl meals and “mash-ups” — are spinoffs from customization. Diners want to mix and match noodles, grains, proteins and greens for dinner and merge cookies and milkshakes for dessert.

At Baskin-Robbins, where customers have been creating their own cone combinations for decades, customization has guided R&D for new desserts, such as the cookie sandwiches launched in March 2016.

“We offer our guests the ability to customize their ice cream treats across our menu, from customizing a Warm Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich with their choice of ice cream, cookie flavors and toppings, to personalizing an ice cream cake with their favorite ice cream and cake flavor combination,” notes Jeanne Bolger, director of R&D for Baskin-Robbins. “We find our guests love the ability to customize their desserts with their favorite flavor combinations so they can create flavor experiences all their own.”

Grocerant-Ready Ideas:

  • Easy-to-navigate menus with columns of mains, sides, salads and desserts that are offered bundled or at a la carte prices
  • Upscale cafeteria-style service for instore dining
  • Sauce and dressing bars that guarantee no two meals are alike
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