Consumers Like What They Like

New products may indeed be the rocket fuel for growth and expansion for an enterprise but when it comes to consumption, Americans tend to be stick-in-the-mud traditionalists who tend to choose the tried-and-true over innovation, a few stories last week tell us.

Only 30% of restaurant customers will try a new item on a restaurant menu, according to new research out of The NPD Group. Not only that, according to “NPD’s Menu Item Trial: Motivating First-Time and Repeat Orders,” of that “30% of customers who did venture outside their normal patterns to eat something different, the vast majority, or 73%, tried an item that already was a regular fixture on the restaurant’s menu,” writes Mark Brandau in Nation’s Business News.

“Consumers reported a greater willingness to try new things at full-service restaurants, with the casual-dining segment showing the most trial in NPD’s study. Forty percent of consumers who had tried a new item recently bought that dish at a casual-dining restaurant while 25% of those respondents tried something new at a midscale or family-dining restaurant,” Brandau reports.

A Food Business News infographic breaks down the survey results by channel.

Of those consumers willing to venture outside of their comfort zone, 17% said they will order a new item and 10% will try a limited-time offer, according to Monica Watrous in Food Business News.

“Perceptions of taste and visual appeal, as well as healthfulness and price, may drive a consumer to order something new, but generally diners will trade in their pre-planned menu item only if the unfamiliar product is the same food type, NPD said,” Watrous reports.

It’s no wonder, then, that after traveling to restaurants across the country that are more than 100 years old for his new book A Century of Restaurants: Stories and Recipes from 100 of America's Most Historic and Successful Restaurants, author Rick Browne’s prime ingredient for culinary success is “don’t radically change the menu,” as the Associated Press’ Suzette Laboy reports in the Ocala Star Banner.

“‘In a lot of cases, people order a dish that they had one time or another,’ Browne said, adding that diners return to spots they went to as a child. ‘It's comfort food that comes with memories,’” writes Laboy.

Meanwhile, traditional radio broadcasters have come up with a new approach to fending off the digital competition that allows listeners to create their own channels based on a particular artist or sound and thereby increase their exposure to different tunes and performers. The are offering less variety more often, Hannah Karp reports in the Wall Street Journal, citing data from of Clear Channel Communications’ Mediabase division that show that the top 10 songs last year were played close to twice as much over the airwaves than they were 10 years ago.

“The strategy is based on a growing amount of research that shows in increasingly granular detail what radio programmers have long believed — listeners tend to stay tuned when they hear a familiar song, and tune out when they hear music they don't recognize,” Karp writes.

Ebro Darden, VP of programming at New York's Hot 97, tells Karp that he “didn't have the space” to add a single from Wiz Khalifa's album "O.N.I.F.C." to the rotation last winter, “even though he liked it, the record label had bought ad time, and Mr. Khalifa — who would come in to do promotional interviews — is one of hip-hop's biggest stars.”

In radio today, Darden says, "taking risks is not rewarded, so we have to be more careful than ever before."

Our fear of risk and change as a species is not confined to restaurants and what we like to blast though the sound system in the privacy of our own automobiles.

“They say the only one who really likes change is a wet baby,” career coach Phyllis Mufson tells Forbes’Jacquelyn Smith in “12 Tips for Overcoming Your Fear of Change at Work” last Thursday. “We’re creatures of habit and changes at work move us out of our comfort zone,” according to Mufson. “Depending how we view the change and how it is presented to us by management, it can be more or less stressful and bring up a variety of fears.”

Smith compiled a dozen strategies for dealing with changes such as a new boss, budget cuts or a revised job description, including:

  • Acknowledge your fears;
  • Accept your feeling and accept support;
  • Get involved in the change
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate

It appears that consumers, on the other hand, generally have a much simpler time dealing with disruption: Don’t buy in.

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