The National Restaurant Association’s annual Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show unofficially kicked off with the biannual meeting of the Marketing Executives Group, or MEG, in Chicago Thursday, under the theme “Learn How to Build a Brand that Connects in a 24/7 Marketplace.”

Morning networking sessions gave way to a presentation from NPD Group vice president Harry Balzer titled “Eating Patterns in America.” Data shows people the obvious facts about how people consume food in restaurants today, Balzer said, but it is up to brand executives to take that information and think differently about what it really means.

That notion of thinking more holistically and looking beyond current trends resonated with Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers chief marketing officer Clay Dover, a MEG board member involved with planning this spring’s meeting. He spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News from the MEG meeting during a networking session.


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As you talk with marketers attending this year’s spring meeting for MEG, what seems to be top of mind for most members right now?

What’s top of mind is understanding what’s going on in the industry and what opportunities exist. The MEG attendees generally want to understand what’s new and cutting-edge, what’s trending and how to take advantage of that in their own chains. The idea of MEG, when we talk about it from a board level, is relevant material that people can take back with them to their companies and apply and be successful.

Did anything leap out at you as a surprise from the first presentation on consumer trends?

The biggest surprise is what was said about the impact of trends in the overall scheme of things. What’s hot and trendy really is a small amount of what’s working in the industry. Looking at the base of what really is happening in the foodservice industry, it takes something really momentous to change.

I think it’s interesting that everyone gets excited about what’s trending, whether it’s the 'food of the year' supposedly being quinoa or Greek yogurt or something like that. People suddenly say, 'Oh, we have to have that.' But it’s just a small percentage of what actually gets consumed.

At your own brand, Raising Cane’s, when was the last instance of you looking at something seemingly obvious, thinking about it in a different way, and developing a winning idea from that?

For us, it’s about focusing on communities and making it more of a local restaurant. We’ve shifted our efforts around localizing things, making our marketing community-focused.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN