What Obesity Problem Burger King’s Low-Calorie Satisfries Are a Total Flop

August 29, 2014

pictureThe fast-food chain plans to discontinue the healthier fried chunks of potato in most of its U.S. restaurants.

By Liz Dwyer

Americans may seriously tip the obesity scales, but when it comes to chowing down on fried wedges of potato, apparently we want full fat or nothing at all. At least, that’s what the demise of Burger King’s line of Satisfries seems to reveal. The fast-food giant announced on Wednesday that because of a lack of customer demand, it is discontinuing the relatively healthier french fry product.

“Earlier this week, franchisees in North America were given the option to continue offering Satisfries in markets where this game-changing product continues to perform well,” the company announced in a statement, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Two-thirds of restaurants chose to ditch the product.

The fries were first made available last September as part of Burger King’s effort to appeal to folks who might be on the hunt for healthier menu options. Satisfries were marketed as “great tasting crinkle-cut french fries with 40 percent less fat and 40 percent fewer calories” than McDonald’s french fries.

Consumers might have been a bit confused by the product. At $1.89 for a small container, Satisfries were more expensive than their full-fat, full-calorie counterpart, which are $1.59. A small box of Satisfries racked up 270 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 300 milligrams of sodium—not much less than the 340 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 480 milligrams of sodium found in the same-size traditional fries.

There’s also the tiny detail that when customers walk into a Burger King, they’re not usually on the hunt for a healthier food choice. “They go to fast food restaurants like Burger King for indulgence,” Darren Tristano, executive vice president of food industry consultant Technomic Inc., told NBC News.

So what do Americans want instead? This week Burger King also announced that because of grassroots demand on Twitter and Facebook, its previously discontinued Chicken Fries are back. As one fan enthused on Facebook about the fat-, sodium-, and calorie-packed product, “When you guys got rid of these I stopped going there my one to two times a week and only went a couple times a year after that. So time to kick back into gear and get my chicken fries on!”


Restaurant Loyalty Varies by Generation, Finds Technomic

July 14, 2014

Dow Jones Global Press Release Wire

Copyright © 2014, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Repeat patronage is critical to most foodservice operators’ success. However, guests’ intent to return and their reasons for doing so vary considerably by generation, as revealed in a recent white paper using data from Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics (CBM) program.

The white paper, titled Keep ‘Em Coming Back: Customer Loyalty and What Drives a Generation to Return reveals that more consumers report they will return in the near future to Papa Murphy’s Pizza and In-N-Out Burger than any other restaurant tracked. Papa Murphy’s scores are driven by Generation X and Baby Boomers, while more Millennials than members of other generations say they’ll soon return to In-N-Out Burger.

“Millennials are looking for restaurants that not only satisfy their hunger, but that they can feel good about,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic. “Older consumers, on the other hand, place a higher priority on atmosphere and service.”

Highlights from the white paper include:

-In-N-Out Burger and Papa Murphy’s Pizza garner the strongest intent to return. More consumers strongly agree that “I will return to this restaurant in the near future” for Papa Murphy’s Pizza (54 percent) and In-N-Out Burger (52 percent) than for any other restaurant tracked in the program. While limited-service chains, which are visited more frequently overall, generally outperform full-service concepts on this attribute, both Cracker Barrel (46 percent) and Texas Roadhouse (44 percent) rank in the top fifteen restaurants overall.

- Among Millennials, In-N-Out Burger is the chain most likely to be revisited. Millennials place greater emphasis on the concept’s brand image, agreeing more strongly than other generations that In-N-Out Burger supports local community activities, offers new and exciting products and is an innovative brand.

- Gen Xers and Boomers are especially likely to say they’ll revisit Papa Murphy’s soon. Their motivations for returning differ, as Generation X rates the brand most favorably on cleanliness, convenient location and beverage quality, while Boomers score the chain most highly on service attributes, such as staff friendliness and payment handling.

These findings were derived from Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics (CBM) program, which offers consumer insights based on ongoing tracking of consumers’ perceptions of their recent experiences across 128 leading U.S. restaurant brands. Clients can analyze results across 62 experience attributes by time period, demographic group, dynamics of the occasion or designated market area. Data is updated on the Consumer Brand Metrics website quarterly.

Technomic provides numerous online services to the foodservice industry. To learn more, please visit Technomic.com or contact one of the individuals listed below. For Technomic updates, please follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and our blog.


Dining Between Dayparts: The Evolution of Snacking

May 29, 2014

Snack consumption has been increasing in the U.S., leading to new definitions of snacks and new opportunities for foodservice operators.

Snack consumption is high and has been increasing. Just over half of U.S. consumers say they snack at least twice a day, up slightly from 48% in 2012. And, according to Technomic’s 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, about one in five consumers say they snack at least three times daily. Over the past two years, consumers have broadened their definition of “snack” to include more foodservice items. Therefore, it is vital for to stay on top of snack trends.

What Makes a Snack?

Firstly, what differentiates a “snack” from other types of food? According to consumers, a snack is defined primarily by the type of food or beverage and by time of day it is eaten. Portion size also plays a large role, as more than two-fifths of consumers polled report that they define a snack by the size of the item. The ideal snack size differs by occasion, because some consumers snack as a meal replacement while others may snack on something small to hold them over between meals.

Fewer consumers polled today than in 2012 (58%) define a snack by the time of day it is eaten. This aligns with the general trend of consumers eating at more frequent intervals throughout the day rather than eating three meals per day.

Base: 1,500 consumers aged 18+ Source: 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, Inc.

Base: 1,500 consumers aged 18+
Source: 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, Inc.

The majority of consumers report that their definition of a snack has not changed in the past two years, but about one-third say their definition has changed. A quarter of consumers say they now include more types of food in their “snack” mindset. About a tenth of consumers say their definition of “snack” has changed to include other parameters such as more types of beverages, more foodservice items and more overlap with meals.

Slightly more men than women say their definition of “snack” hasn’t changed, while more women than men now include more types of food within the scope of what they consider to be a snack.

darren_blog_2

Base: 1,500 consumers aged 18+ Source: 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, Inc.

Because a substantial proportion of consumers have broadened their idea of what constitutes a snack, and fewer consumers today than in 2012 consider time of day as a factor in the definition of “snack,” customers may be open to restaurants’ suggestions to add a certain food to their “snack” mindset, even food that is not traditionally served as a snack or food that is typically eaten at another time of day. For instance, operators could list sides, appetizers or small plates on a special “snack” menu, rather than just listing them on the main menu.

Snacking Frequency

Based on their own personal perception of what a snack is, consumers were asked how often they snack. Overall, consumers snack about as often today as they did two years ago, with just a slight increase in snacking frequency. Half of today’s consumers (51%) report consuming multiple snacks on a typical day, and 21% do so at least three times per day. In comparison, just 48% of consumers polled in 2012 say they snack at least twice a day.

Base: 1,522 (2012) and 1,750 (2014) consumers aged 18+; includes terminate data Source: 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, Inc.

Base: 1,522 (2012) and 1,750 (2014) consumers aged 18+; includes terminate data
Source: 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, Inc.

Limited-Service Opportunities

Increased snacking is strongly driven by younger consumers, so operators and manufacturers may want to focus on these consumers when developing and marketing snacks. Online and social-media marketing efforts, for instance, may pay off far better than traditional television advertising. In particular, younger consumers will respond to marketing that conveys the importance of snacks as part of social occasions with their friends. And images of younger consumers snacking at work or en route to a destination may convey the convenience of snacking and its role as an intrinsic part of today’s busy lifestyle.

Many restaurant operators are recognizing that snacks can be a traffic driver, appealing on a number of levels—from low price to craveability to on-the-go lifestyle integration.

Value menus are reflecting trends toward a proliferation of snacks and catering to off-peak dining occasions. The new Snack ’n Save Menu at Arby’s exemplifies this trend. Currently being tested in 13 markets, the Snack ’n Save Menu is designed to boost customer traffic and fuel multi-item purchases at each visit. Each of the 15 items on the menu is well suited for takeout and is sized for snacking. Ranging in prices from $1 to $2.99, the menu selection hits the main points relating to how consumers would define a snack. Some highlights are as follows:

  • Junior-size roast-beef sandwich
  • A two-sandwich pack of roast-turkey or roast-beef Mighty Minis
  • Mozzarella sticks
  • Jalapeño bites
Source: Arbys.com

Source: Arbys.com

Look for a value message to be increasingly delivered with snacks as the cornerstone of the menu lineup. This approach will likely lead to more value-oriented menus being dubbed simply as “snack” menus—with consumers picking up on the cue that snacks provide the overall value they seek.

Chains are also developing innovative portable packaging for their snack items. McDonald’s lists Chicken McBites, featuring bite-sized breaded and fried chicken breast pieces available in three sizes—including Snack, Regular and Shareable size varieties. The “deliciously poppable” McBites are served with the customer’s choice of Honey Mustard, Hot Mustard, Barbecue, Chipotle BBQ, Sweet n’ Sour, Buffalo, Ranch or Sweet Chili dipping sauce. The sauce can be inserted into a space in the lid when the lid is opened, which allows for easy on-the-go consumption.

The popularity of Chicken McBites has led to the introduction of Fish McBites, which are positioned in the same way. These items also reflect a burgeoning trend that centers on snacks as the core of the value menu.

Sources: Facebook.com; Chron.com

Sources: Facebook.com; Chron.com

This fall, KFC rolled out the limited-time KFC Go Cups in five varieties for $2.49 each. The selection includes a Chicken Little sandwich, four Original Recipe Bites, three Hot Wings, one piece of Original Recipe Boneless or two Extra Crispy Tenders, along with crispy seasoned potato wedges. The patented KFC Go Cup container was designed specifically to fit in a vehicle cup holder and is marketed as an on-the-go snack.

Key Takeaways

Understanding how snacking fits in with consumers’ typical dining behavior has implications for menu and product development. For instance, since younger consumers typically snack in addition to eating three meals per day, they may prefer a small portion or light snack. On the other hand, older consumers who are more likely than younger consumers to replace meals with snacks may be in need of a more substantial snack. Operators and suppliers should consider how snacking fits into the lives of their customer base when developing and marketing items to sell as snacks.

Clearly there is still ample room for restaurants to boost snack sales. However, restaurant operators should examine the feasibility of expanding into the snack category, keeping their customer base, and concept and menu positioning in mind.


Eating Ethnic: Traffic Drivers & Attitudes

June 26, 2013

For ethnic fare, U.K. consumers seek restaurants and menus that offer both an authentic taste and authentic ambiance.

It’s no surprise that consumer interest in and demand for ethnic foods at restaurants and other foodservice locations is on the rise. One quarter of all U.K. consumers (26%), and two-fifths of consumers aged 25–34 (40%), polled for Technomic’s 2012 U.K. Flavour Consumer Trend Report are more interested in trying ethnic cuisines and flavours than they were a year ago. Further, consumers call for more ethnic fare at restaurants. Fully 22% of consumers agree and another 30% agree somewhat that they would like to see more ethnic options at restaurants. This data signals greater opportunities for operators to differentiate their menus through globally influenced offerings and gain an increased share of consumers’ foodservice spending.

This piece will examine what is important to those seeking ethnic items as well as their willingness to try new cuisines.

Authenticity Is Key

A majority of U.K. consumers—71%—cite authentic taste as one of the most important factors in their decisions regarding ethnic foods. And it seems to be more important to older than younger consumers. Three-quarters of consumers aged 55+ (74%), compared to 60% of consumers aged 18–24, choose a restaurant for ethnic foods based on the authentic taste of the food.

Two-fifths of consumers feel it is very important that ethnic food be prepared by someone from that country or region. Again, older guests feel more strongly: 50% of consumers aged 55 or older place high importance on the food being prepared by someone from the country or region, compared to only 32% of consumers aged 18–24. Ethnic restaurants are limited in their ability to hire and retain staff from other countries, so operators of restaurants that base their appeal on authenticity of the fare may want to consider establishing apprenticeships allowing their chefs to train other cooks in order to maintain the authenticity of menu offerings.

Servers who are from the same country or region as the restaurant’s cuisine may also drive ethnic purchases at restaurants. Patrons may consider these servers to be more knowledgeable about the menu. Nearly half of consumers choose an ethnic restaurant based upon the staff’s knowledge about the menu. These consumers may be seeking menu suggestions or thorough answers to their questions about an unfamiliar ethnic ingredients or preparations.

Ambiance also plays a key role in creating an authentic experience. Almost three out of 10 consumers decide which restaurant or foodservice establishment to visit for ethnic foods based at least in part upon the authenticity of its ambiance or décor.

Interestingly, while more men (45%) than women (36%) feel that it is important that their ethnic food be prepared by someone from that country or region, more women than men place high importance on authentic ambiance (30% of women vs. 25% of men).

Some consumers also choose an ethnic restaurant based on general restaurant amenities. Three out of 10 consumers choose a restaurant to visit for ethnic fare based on the availability of takeaway, and 28% place importance on customisation at ethnic restaurants.

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+
Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

Menu Attributes Can Drive Purchases

Consumers may not be familiar with some ethnic dishes available at restaurants, and in fact, many consumers choose ethnic foods to discover new flavours. Various menu features could aid consumers in choosing an enjoyable meal.

More than half of consumers (53%) feel it is important that the menu include descriptions of ethnic dishes. As we have seen, consumers place high importance on authenticity when choosing an ethnic restaurant, suggesting that these restaurants may use traditional ethnic names for menu items that may be unfamiliar to many consumers. So it’s no surprise that 37% of consumers prefer that menus at restaurants that offer ethnic items present their fare both in English and in the language corresponding to the cuisine.

Similarly, consumers place a high importance on a menu that includes ingredient listings and photos of ethnic dishes. More than a third of consumers feel it is important that a menu provides a list of ingredients in ethnic dishes, and a quarter would like to see photos of ethnic dishes.

More women than men report that descriptions and lists of ingredient for ethnic dishes are among their top five factors in deciding where to eat ethnic foods. This could be related to the fact that more women than men say they eat ethnic foods to discover new flavours and to try something new, suggesting that these women may be less familiar with the ethnic foods they are considering.

Consumers want to explore and discover new flavours through ethnic foods. However, some may not have much knowledge about ethnic dishes, particularly less familiar options. Operators may find that highlighting their popular dishes, ingredients or flavours can help consumers choose an appropriate dish. Additionally, operators can train their staff not only to be knowledgeable about the menu in order to answer patrons’ questions, but also to ask customers if they have questions. Without enough knowledge to make informed choices, consumers may skip over items they would enjoy.

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+ Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+
Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

Importance of Ethnic Beverages

Offering ethnic beverages native to the particular cuisine served at a restaurant can add to consumers’ perception of authenticity. Forty percent of all consumers polled agree that restaurants should provide ethnic beverages that are associated with the cuisine offered.

While about equal proportions of men (40%) and women (41%) agree that restaurants that offer ethnic foods should also offer ethnic beverages, differences emerge by age. Consumers aged 18–44 are more likely than those 45+ say that restaurants should offer ethnic beverages along with ethnic foods. Further, consumers aged 25–34 are the most likely to agree with this proposition, with half saying that restaurants that offer ethnic foods should also offer ethnic beverages native to the particular cuisine.

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+ Consumers responded using a 1–6 scale where 1 = disagree completely and 6 = agree completely Percentages may not equal cumulative percentage due to rounding Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+
Consumers responded using a 1–6 scale where 1 = disagree completely and 6 = agree completely
Percentages may not equal cumulative percentage due to rounding
Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

To Try or Not To Try?

Consumers’ attitudes toward trying ethnic foods largely fall somewhere between adventurous and conservative.

Technomic asked consumers about their attitudes toward trying mainstream and unique ethnic foods and flavours. Generally, consumers are neither particularly adventurous nor especially conservative about ethnic foods. More than two-fifths of consumers say they try both mainstream and unique ethnic foods from time to time.

On one end of the spectrum, 5% of consumers report that they prefer traditional foods and rarely try ethnic fare. These consumers are likely less adventurous eaters in general. Beyond these highly conservative eaters, more than a quarter of consumers (28%) enjoy ethnic foods and flavours but tend to try only those that are mainstream, such as Chinese, Indian and Thai.

On the other hand, some consumers are more enthusiastic about trying new ethnic foods and flavours. Seven percent of consumers say they actively seek out mainstream ethnic foods, and another 4% actively seek out unique ethnic foods.

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+ Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+
Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

Key Takeaway

Consumers want to try new ethnic flavours and appreciate authenticity in the global cuisines and influences that they grew up eating. Restaurants and other foodservice operators can help build traffic and loyalty by offering authentic dishes and experiences while educating consumers about the cuisines’ flavours, ingredients and preparations.


Strangers eat out together – Communal tables new dining trend

June 21, 2013

Mary Altman and John Pinson, though each traveling alone on business, savored some conversation with their barbecue recently as they sat together at one of 4 Rivers Smokehouse’s large picnic tables in Winter Park, Fla.

The two discovered they both live in Jacksonville, Fla., so they chatted about their lives there.

“When you’re by yourself, it’s nice to meet somebody and, coincidentally, to meet somebody from your own hometown,” said Pinson, a salesman in his 70s.

Diners such as Pinson are surrendering some of their personal space as more restaurants install communal tables. The extra-long tables, which generally seat from six to 16 people each, are often occupied by multiple groups of diners who don’t know one another.

Though such tables are supposed to foster a sense of togetherness, restaurants also have a financial incentive to use them because they seat more people quickly.

“This is going to be a trend that will slowly become part of the restaurant-dining-seating options,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at the food-industry-research company Technomic. “Over time, more restaurants will jump in because they can squeeze more space out of it.”

For some people, communal dining feels too much like sitting with a bunch of strange students in the school cafeteria. But it is gaining acceptance as eating out in America becomes more casual, New York restaurant consultant Clark Wolf said.

“The notion of formal dining at your own table, with all that goes with it, has receded more and more,” he said. “We just don’t value it anymore the same way we did.”

But casual restaurants aren’t the only ones doing this. At a high- end Orlando restaurant called simply The Table, customers pay $120 apiece to sit for hours around a single, 22-seat table with strangers as they consume a five-course meal.

“Usually by the end of the first course, people are talking, and it’s great,” said Tyler Brassil, who co-owns The Table with his wife. “It’s a community thing.”

The 4 Rivers chain, meanwhile, has dining rooms dominated by picnic tables, along with some booths.

“It fits really into our entire model of wanting people to be together,” founder John Rivers said. “Anyone can sit with anybody here.”

For solo diners, communal tables can help them feel less awkward about sitting alone without forcing them to sit at the bar. McCoy’s Bar & Grill in the Hyatt Regency at Orlando International Airport added two long tables recently to appeal to travelers who might be alone.

For Altman, a marketer who frequently dines alone while on business trips, communal dining is a comfortable arrangement. But when she brought her more introverted husband to 4 Rivers, she said, “he was not quite as comfortable as I was.”

Zagat Survey has listed communal tables as the No. 1 most- annoying restaurant trend. Jason Kessler, who writes a column, The Nitpicker, for Bon Appetit magazine’s website, has also given them a harsh review.

Kessler is 30 – one of those “millennials” who supposedly embrace togetherness.

But “when I go out to dinner, I’ve chosen who I’m going with for specific reasons,” he said. “I like the privacy of dining at my own table.”

Others, such as Laura Kaminsky of Longwood, Fla., are more ambivalent. Kaminsky has eaten at communal tables, mostly while on vacation. In general, she prefers traditional restaurant seating.

Still, she said, “if you embrace it, it’s an opportunity to meet people. Kind of an adventure.”

Pulitzer Newspapers Inc.


Too big to sell? McDonald’s looks at super-sized menu

May 31, 2013

 Medill Reports ChicagoDT_screenshot 

Darren Tristano, Executive Vice president at Technomic, Inc., weighs in on balancing McDonald’s expansive menu with consumer demand.

Click to view the video (please allow a few seconds for item to download).


Marketers, Retailers to Feel Sting of Consumer Paycheck Pinch

January 29, 2013

012113-air-jordan-graphicAs payroll taxes rise, the middle and lower classes will spend less at stores—and the corner bar.

Already moody from the uneven economic recovery, consumers are about to get a lot grumpier. The first pay period of the year ushered in higher Social Security taxes, which are expected to suck more than $1 billion from spending in 2013, presenting marketers with yet another challenge as they seek to pry precious dollars from shoppers.

Paychecks began shrinking Jan. 1, when the tax rate jumped to 6.2% from 4.2%, ending a temporary break that began in 2011. For a household making $50,000 a year, that means a loss of about $83 a month, or $1,000 a year. The payroll tax applies only to wages up to $113,700. Various analysts have projected anywhere from a $113 billion to $120 billion hit to the economy, with most agreeing the keenest pain will be felt in the first quarter as consumers adjust. IHS Global Insight cited the higher taxes when lowering its first-quarter consumer-spending growth projection to 1.4% from 2.6%.

For the middle and lower classes, “any hit to their income will affect their spending patterns,” said Greg Daco, an IHS Global economist, adding that consumers could shell out less for groceries, clothing, toys and more. “They are going to, wherever possible, limit their spending to essentials if their budgets are tight.”

For industries that rely on spending from blue-collar workers, the hit could not come at a worse time. Look no further than the corner bar, where beer sales had begun to stabilize after a multiyear slump thanks to the decreasing unemployment rate. But in the fourth quarter, as fears rose of higher taxes and the fiscal cliff, sales slumped again. The number of beers sold at bars and restaurants in the quarter fell 2%, compared to a modest 0.5% drop in the first nine months of the year, according to GuestMetrics, which tracks the hospitality industry.

“The initial sticker shock of having your paycheck go down will affect beer demand,” especially in the first quarter, said Harry Schuhmacher, editor of Beer Business Daily. As a result, marketers will face more pressure to keep sales steady with effective ads and in-store marketing, he said. “There’s going to be a real big focus on retail execution—getting big displays out there,” he said. “Beer is not going to be on the grocery list. So to overcome that, they’ve got to generate impulse buys.”

In a report last week, Bernstein Research stated that the tax hike will hurt middle-and-upper income consumers the most because low-income households typically derive a share of income from nonwage sources such as government assistance. As such, Bernstein projected that discount retailers, such as dollar stores and Walmart, will be insulated and might even stand to benefit as consumers trade down. But department, general-merchandise, apparel and home-furnishing stores face higher risks, Bernstein stated, citing marketers such as Target, Best Buy and Williams-Sonoma.

Morgan Stanley took a slightly different view, saying that marketers catering to lower-income households will suffer the most. In a report last month, it projected that the tax hike would decrease “discretionary-spending capability” by 6% for people who make less than $40,000, noting that “most households at this level spend all that is available to them.” As a result, Morgan Stanley projected headwinds for retailers that cater to the teen market, such as Aeropostale, as well as restaurants that target the low end, including KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Domino’s and McDonald’s. This might explain the rash of value-oriented marketing in the sector of late. “Many consumers will be faced with making hard choices about where to eat and how much they have to spend at restaurants,” said Darren Tristano, exec VP at Technomic, a restaurant consultant.

Conversely, packaged-food brands could benefit as people eat at home more often. That was the case when the recession took hold in 2008, noted Todd Hale, Nielsen’s senior VP of Consumer & Shopper Insights. “I would expect that we are going to see some return to that, but not completely, because things are not as dire as they were back then.” But in the short term, at least, shopping patterns are likely to change. Sales of private-label products—which have been relatively flat—could rise some, Mr. Hale said. Also, consumers, at least for a little while, might use more coupons after cutting back on them last year as the economy rebounded, he said.

The question is how much of the tax-rate hit will be blunted by positive factors, such as the improving unemployment rate, rising housing market and fairly stable gas prices. David French, senior VP-government relations of the National Retail Federation, noted that when the tax cut was put in place two years ago, the organization’s members did not report much of a boost largely because of higher energy costs, which ate up the new consumer cash. “Today, ironically, we kind of have a mirror-image situation: As the tax cut has lapsed, energy prices have fallen,” he said. The tax hike, he said, is “probably going to be somewhat lost in the wash of other economic factors.”

Either that, or consumers are about to take marketers to the cleaners.


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