Spotting the next consumer trend and adapting to customer needs were among the themes discussed at Horizons’ latest Thought Leadership Forum.

Emma Read, Horizons’ director of marketing & business development, started the day by reminding the audience of operators, suppliers and analysts, that while eating out penetration and frequency were up this year, average spend per visit was still below pre-downturn levels.

“This is a very changing marketplace,” she said. “Horizons’ research shows there are huge opportunities in areas such as snacking and breakfast while smaller business units are being developed for locations such as transport hubs and shopping malls. The challenge is to stay in touch with customer needs and be able to adapt to the way the sector is moving.”

Paul Pomroy, senior vice president and chief financial officer for McDonald’s UK, focussed on consumer insights, saying McDonalds had responded to diners by broadening its menu, extending its opening hours to 24/7 in some outlets and giving restaurants a fresh look to fit in with what customers demanded.

He said: “You have to keep changing. Competition entering the market keeps us on our toes and the business sees this as a good thing. We remain market leading in the informal eating out sector and that is down to our desire to evolve, whilst meeting the demands from our customers.”

McDonald’s now has an internal customer insight team, while insight specialist RMS Revenue Management helps the company understand the relationship between pricing and customer behaviour.

Max Luthy of global trend watching company Trendwatching.com tackled the issue of identifying trends and how to choose which ones to use in your own business model. He outlined brands that have been taken into new, sometimes surprising, directions such as Moët & Chandon’s champagne vending machine and Airbnb, which has found success by appealing to consumer’s desire to save money, be comfortable and meet new people.

True trends, he said, raise and change consumer expectation.

He said: “Deliver more than goods, service is still key. The last touch point you have with your customer is in the delivery. Truly customer-centric brands understand that delivery is just the start.”

Kate Ringham from the Oxford School of Hospitality Management addressed the audience on using revenue management to drive turnover, raising the issue of price differentiation. “The important thing is to deliver the right product to the right customer at the right price through the right distribution channel,” she said.

During a Q&A session on the issue of price differentiation, Luthy and Ringham envisaged its growth in foodservice, particularly as consumers are used to it with hotel rooms, airlines, railway tickets and voucher schemes. Pomroy stressed how McDonald’s had deliberately kept its core pricing the same, offering value to its customers.

John Oakes, COO of RMS Revenue Management Solutions said what was important was knowing what your customer wants and the impact of pricing on their behaviour.

“There is a strong link between pricing strategy and the customer’s attitude towards your brand. It’s important to understand this and the relationship between pricing and service. Consumers today may tolerate higher prices if they are receiving good value, but it is unlikely they will tolerate lesser service,” he added.