What did you eat yesterday? For me, it was yogurt and berries, kale and chickpea salad, some almonds and a feta burger washed down with a martini (okay fine, and a glass of wine). Nothing outrageous or even that decadent. But now, consider the source for all these foods – at home, one of those food app delivery services, my office “stash” and a neighborhood restaurant. Sound familiar? We—consumers—purchase food to make or eat at home as well as regularly rely on restaurants or prepared food sections at grocery stores (“grocerants” as they’re now called by some). So as marketers of packaged foods or agricultural commodity boards, why do we only look to understand consumer behavior at retail and ignore foodservice?

Let me underscore the urgency of this question. According to Technomic, Inc., 49% of the total food industry revenue is derived from foodservice operators. Or, nearly 50-cents of every dollar consumers spend on food and beverage is away from home. It stands to reason that the choices your target audience makes in the grocery aisles are affected by the decisions they’ll make when in a restaurant. Having a broader, well-rounded understanding of these preferences and motivations and most likely, their contradictions deepens your knowledge of consumers and allows you to engage them in a more relevant, intimate way.

Let me demonstrate. Looking at my food choices mentioned above, I generally look for nutritious, more healthful foods for breakfast and lunch. But at night, I know that I’ll want more freedom to indulge and enjoy a cocktail. A yogurt brand would be more likely to get my attention (and my loyalty) by acknowledging this behavior, demonstrating that it understands me. That is powerful and consistent with a marketing ethos championed for years. (Check-out this article from Harvard Business Review from 1993 that still rings true 24 years later.)

I realize food is a complex topic for people and my example is simplistic. But I’d encourage you to consider the consumers with whom you reach and ask yourself: Do I understand, or am I even aware of, their eating habits out of home? If your answer is no, then you’re missing an opportunity to strengthen a connection to target consumers and gain a competitive edge. At PadillaCRT, all of our work begins with understanding how consumers eat at home and away from home for this very reason. We call it the “table to farm” approach.

Foodservice has been part of our eating behavior for decades and it’s not going away. This fact was most recently shown to be true during the Great Recession when consumers simply made trade-offs to save money. So follow your customers out of the grocery store and over to the food court and get to know them better.