Industry View: Getting a Taste of Inspiration

By  Kevin Higar, Author, Foodservice Marketing Consultant

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When my daughter was in high school years ago, she played the trumpet. Somewhere during that period a group of band parents, including my wife and me, decided it would be fun to organize and participate in a supper club. Each month, participating couples would meet at somebody’s house and everyone would be responsible for some portion of the meal, such as an appetizer, entrée, salad, dessert or drinks.

There were several benefits of this get-together. First, community gossip could be coordinated and disseminated quickly and easily. Second, it reinforced to our kids that their parents were not legally dead and still knew how to “bust a move” if push came to shove. Finally, given that we live in a rural community, the ability to throw down awesome menu items goes without saying, so it also provided a platform for demonstrating culinary prowess.

During our most recent get-together, one of the ladies mentioned that these supper clubs could be stressful. I couldn’t imagine why and inquired further. Because each couple was responsible for bringing only one portion of the meal, she said, it meant she could choose from only two or three items to cook. Trying to create a menu that satisfied the largest number of people with the smallest number of offerings stressed her out.

That got me thinking about menu strategies at restaurants and c-stores. They face a similar dilemma. Offer too many products, and food costs and waste can become an issue. Offer too few, and customers may be inclined to go elsewhere because there isn’t anything available that satisfies their cravings. How can retailers strike the right balance?

It’s a TURF War

Might I suggest a menu-optimization technique known as TURF? It stands for total unduplicated reach and frequency. The purpose of a TURF analysis is to determine how to reach the maximum number of people with the minimal, or optimal, number of offerings.

One of the common mistakes people make when thinking in terms of TURF is to survey folks, ask them to choose which menu items they like, and then assume the most popular responses are the ones that should be offered. Unfortunately, this can be wrong. Often, the same group of people may have chosen the most popular responses on the survey. So putting only those selections on the menu doesn’t necessarily entice more people; it just gives those who already have a satisfying option more than one choice.

Remember: The trick of a TURF analysis is “unduplicated satisfactory options.” So once a top choice is identified, look for the next most popular menu item that was not selected by those identifying the top choice. By doing this, you now have two menu items available that appeal to the widest group of potential customers. Granted, there are other factors that also go into a TURF analysis (and the total number of menu items offered will probably be more than two), but this gives you an idea of what you’re trying to achieve.

A successful TURF study provides an invaluable forum for consumers to offer opinions on the role your menu items play in driving their initial and repeat visits. If you’d like to expand the power of the analysis, consider incorporating the influence of two other vital components: competitive offerings, which can be assessed for price-point impact and craveability components; and current and emerging foodservice trends. Both of these areas often end up being sources of inspiration for potential future menu items you may want to include as part of the study.

In the supper-club scenario I discussed earlier, this particular member (let’s call her Annette) ended up using a very informal TURF analysis (a gut feeling) and settled on chocolate-dipped marshmallow Peeps as her second appetizer offering (see photo). This dish appealed heavily to males who weren’t enthused about the prospect of her first choice, which as I recall evoked visions of “better for you” and “positive digestive- tract influences.” Two dishes equals maximum appetizer reach and TURF awesomeness!

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