As foodservice scrambled to come to terms with the new normal, those who adapted in time were able to hedge much of the pandemic-related struggles that came down the pipeline, according to Tim Fires, president of the NPD Group Supply Track.

“Looking back, a lot of people didn’t think this pandemic would last more than 3-4 weeks," Fires told IntraFish.

"Now that it seems this situation will be ongoing and continual, I think restaurants that haven’t quite figured out what their plan was going to be, they figured it out and pivoted pretty quickly. I think we learned in March and April [2020] what to do. Then in May was when they put their plans in action.”

In April 2020, the US foodservice industry bottomed out in terms of broadline distribution restaurant sales. Full-service restaurants (FSR), where a majority of seafood is sold, were hit hardest and will take the longest time to rebound.

Quick-service restaurants (QSR) didn’t have the same issues as FSR because they were set up for delivery and takeout.

“It feels we’ve jumped ahead five years with digital,” he said, referring to online ordering, digital payments and customer experiences with fewer touch points. “I think tech will continue to stay/expand, continue to get faster, become more frictionless.”

For FSR, it’s been more of a struggle to adjust to the new normal.

“Looking forward, it starts with the consumer, when it really comes back to normal or close to normal, it’s the comfort level of the consumer," Fires said.

"If they have a really good experience, they’ll want to do it again if the restaurant makes them feel safe, provides opportunities for moments and celebrations and convenience. Some will be faster to return than others obviously. It comes down to a balance between consumers willing to feel safe to go out and restaurant capacity reacting to that.”

Fires said the fatigue of home cooking as well as these missed experiences are key to bringing diners back.

“I think as much as consumers have learned to live with and enjoy takeout and the at-home experience, there’s nothing quite like the dine-in restaurant experience. There’s been a lot of pauses -- for example celebrations, family, vacations, business travel, etc. -- a lot of areas where restaurants brought convenience into our lives. As our lives go back to normal, restaurant activity will go back to normal.”


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