Menu innovation in an off-premise world: How to bring your next craveable product to market (Part 2)

Menu innovation in an off-premise world: How to bring your next craveable product to market (Part 2)

Welcome back to our series on menu innovation! It’s time to dig into more tips and tricks on how to bring your next winning item to the menu—while keeping in mind rapidly changing consumer habits.

Run a trial in test markets

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve spent carefully crafting a recipe, or how much your internal testers like your product, if your target audience doesn’t care for it.

To start a trial, select a small group of restaurants or focus on a key market. In a primarily on-premise model, in-store managers and employees are key resources for fielding the product because they can offer samples in-store. However, there are still plenty of opportunities to get feedback in the absence of a physical location or dine-in customers.

Since a large part of your customer base might be opting for delivery, you can use your test items as part of an upsell in digital promotions. Just as kiosks made it easy to upsell a customer when they first entered quick serves, your digital services can be optimized for incremental sales as well.

You can also set up survey systems through a vendor, such as asking patrons for their recommendations via your brand’s app. Enabling customers to give feedback as easily as possible will give you plenty of information to work with prior to a larger rollout.

In a delivery and drive-thru world, the minimal on-premise real estate must also be put to good use. Strategically placing your point-of-purchase (POP) materials, such as lining your storefront with vibrant window clings, is a powerful way to pique the interest of hungry patrons.

Another tried-and-true tactic is segmenting offers by daypart on your outdoor menus, which could persuade the undecided meal-goer to try your new item as they wait in traffic.

Diversify promotions

The media mix, the combination of advertising channels used to reach an audience, is non-negotiable. Your message must live within the mediums that your target audience does, and those environments are fluid.

Generations across the board consume media at multiple touchpoints simultaneously, whether that’s reading the paper while watching the news, or scrolling through one’s phone while listening to the radio.

One effective tactic in reaching a constantly moving audience is influencer marketing, which is when individuals who are authorities in their circles endorse a product.

For trial periods, we recommend using micro-influencers, which are people of influence within a specific community or area. Local personalities are great for sampling products on the air. You could also have restaurant journalists try your food and evangelize it to their audience.

If you want to further activate your community, then you can enlist community members to sample your offer. You can then donate the funds accumulated from food preparation, execution, and delivery to a local program or charitable organization to deepen community affinity for the product and your business.

Here are some other common tactics to use in your marketing mix, which you can tailor to your budget:

  • Location-based targeting like geofencing (sending relevant promotions to mobile users in a certain area), geoconquesting (sending those promotions  to consumers who have visited a competitor’s location), or addressable geofencing (reaching audiences in their homes)
  • Dedicated product section on company website and mobile app
  • Placements in local and industry publications
  • Direct mailers with coupons
  • Curated Instagram feed, preferably with a unique product hashtag
  • Social media ads (Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, etc.)
  • Advanced audience targeting, such as keyword, behavioral (ads display based on web-browsing actions), and contextual (displaying ads based on what content the user is currently consuming)
  • Email alerts (with incentives such as discounts attached)
  • Billboards near your location

Another key strategy for being top-of-mind at meal time is experiential marketing, weaving your brand into consumer memories.

Some classic experiential marketing tactics have included concert sponsorships, trade shows, and product tastings as mentioned previously. But in a world where some customers never interact with your brand directly, it behooves you to have a multi-pronged approach.

For digital campaigns, we recommend social media countdowns and giveaways that integrate your item, or a sponsorship (such as on a streaming platform) where your audience lives.

Conduct post-launch analysis

Now it’s time to analyze sales, large-scale consumer reactions, and operational inefficiencies that might have evaded test runs.

We have worked with clients who launch a few offers annually and others that are more conservative about their promotional windows, choosing to hone an item rather than testing a new one. Both methods have their strengths, but no strategy is immune to disappointing sales considering that patronage is not always loyal, and market conditions are not static.

While the initial reaction to a low-performing item might be to pull it from the menu, the first few weeks following a product launch are golden opportunities for customer feedback. If you find the product getting mixed reviews, then you can take it off the menu temporarily and optimize it.

We recommend giving a new product at least two months to truly gauge its performance, although trials can last up to six months. If a regional performer falls flat on a national scale, then we want to emphasize that it’s not a wasted effort. You still have plenty of data to flow back into your proprietary systems, refining future creations.

Wrapping Up

While the product development road is fraught with culinary, consumer, and operational obstacles, it’s an essential process to remain competitive. Particularly in times of economic downturn, it’s paramount to innovate with lean operations and supply chains. With a firm grasp on your brand’s capabilities (and limitations) as well as systems to keep processes running smoothly, you have all the ingredients for menu success.