Columbus Ohio is the Principal Test Market for Fast Food In the USA
Having worked as a manager in fast food and casual dining for a decade after college graduation, I heard numerous presentations about new products. There were test products that our restaurants and marketing agencies would present to customers in the Number One Test Market in America: Columbus, Ohio.
In the 2010s, Columbus is still that principal test market. The word test is pertinent, because many food products failed in this market. Some of the failures I saw with my own eyes included:
- Meatza Pizza - A pizza topped only with meats- no cheese, no sauces. However, today we can find Meat Lover's Pizzas with meats plus other toppings.
- Fearless Franks - Hot dogs on toasted buns (let me add that they had chili sauce rumored to be a copy of Wendy's Chili), sold by a now defunct roast beef sandwich company. The dogs lasted a year or so at one location. The leftover donuts made on site by this location were sent to the prison, whose prisoners returned then as inedible.
- Breakfast Burritos at Taco Bell - These were great, actually - scrambled eggs, sausage, sauted onions and green peppers. Breakfast itself did not draw enough business to continue.
- Cavatelli - This was also delicious, a range of pizza ingredients over egg noodles. It was not popular and most people wanted a crust.
I'd like to predict another one. It's a KFC fried chicken bowl that includes deep fried chicken pieces on top of mashed potatoes, corn, gravy and cheese; and covered with crumbled bacon. I think it might be pretty unhealthy.
I can see that Columbus is a growing city, with over a million residents in the Greater Columbus Area that covers much of Franklin County. It's also the Number One Technology City in the USA as of 2010, suggesting emerging well paying occupations and new jobs through to the year 2020.
At the same time that a segment of the population is earning higher wages such as these, a larger proportion is spending less money at full service restaurants and eating out at fast food restaurants and casual dining establishments since the Recession of 2008.The median household income is about $45,000, according to Sperling's Best Places and city statistics. R & D planners know this and continue to develop products for this test market.
Simultaneously occurring with the prosperity, just over 1/3 of the county's children receive Food Stamps and the Free Breakfast/Lunch Program in school, or are eligible for these public benefits. However, these families also enjoy fast food and patronize these restaurants frequently. In fact, television documentaries in 2011 have shown how some of these families feel that fast food is cheaper overall than the cost of purchasing and preparing groceries.
Columbus is home to a dozen post-secondary institutions, including The Ohio State University, which is surrounded by fast food places and offers them on campus as well. Other schools include Columbus State Community College, Franklin University, Columbus College of Art and Design, DeVry, Columbus Business College, Ohio Dominican University, Otterbein University, Fortis College, and many others provide a young test market of multiple thousands for fast food.
Aside from the increasing number of International students and staff at our local colleges and universities, it is interesting that the Black Entertainment Network (BET) has rated Columbus the Number One City for African Americans in the US (2007). Diverse residents make a good test market and Columbus includes large numbers of Russians, Pakistanis, Indians, Somalians, Hispanics, and other ethnic groups.
The median age in Columbus is just 33.7, compared to 36.7 nationwide. In a population that is aging, 33.7 is comparatively young and indicative of a group that will try new things more often than the middle-aged or senior citizens.
Travel and Tourism: Visitors
Columbus is a conference hub in the Midwest, its downtown and suburban hotels making a good portion of their revenues form meetings and conferences. Independent conference centers have emerged in the last few decades as well. On top of this, the universities, sports arenas, and some movie houses and churches provide additional conference centers. This all brings millions of visiting people though town annually, across such highways as Interstate 70, US Route 23, Interstate 71 and others. They often patronize fast food establishments in Columbus.
Columbus is not too sophisticated for fast food, even though some of its suburbs are upscale. One inner suburb, Bexley, has refused to allow McDonald's into its boundaries, but you'll find the arches just about everywhere else in the county.
It took a number of years for Bexley to allow pizza restaurants in, and they do a good business, but even they are unlikely to succeed with Meatza Pizza.
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