European Fast Casuals Testing American Waters

October 8, 2014

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By Darren Tristano, Foodable Industry Expert

In the third in a three-part series on the fast-casual market in Europe, Darren Tristano covers some of the European chains that are making their way to the United States.

Some of America’s most successful fast-casual chains, including Chipotle, Five Guys and Smashburger, conduct a significant amount of business overseas. At the same time, several European concepts see the United States as fertile ground for their own growth.

Recent fast casual immigrants to the States

As its name suggests, Maoz Vegetarian specializes in vegetarian fare with a menu that centers on sandwiches, salads and gluten-free falafel. The Amsterdam-based limited-service concept gained popularity for its simple service style—patrons choose a salad or sandwich for a fixed price, then visit the salad bar to add as many toppings as they choose for no additional cost. In 2004, Maoz opened its first U.S. location in Philadelphia. It now operates about a dozen units in the U.S. in Texas, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Maoz has a relaxed service approach that allows customers to add their own toppings to their sandwiches and salads instead of charging by weight, as at other salad bar concepts. Another differentiating factor: Maoz gives out doggy bags to patrons who don’t finish their meal, an amenity typically not offered at salad bars.

Nando’s

Nando’s is a fast casual chicken chain specializing in Portuguese-style peri peri chicken. Since launching in 1987 in South Africa, Nando’s has expanded to more than 1,000 locations in about two-dozen countries, but it’s especially popular in the U.K. The concept first expanded to the U.S. in 2008 with a unit in Washington, DC. Nando’s now operates 15 units in DC, Virginia and Maryland. From 2012 to 2013, Nando’s opened five locations in the U.S., propelling a nearly 40% increase in U.S. sales to $21.4 million.

Nando’s offers a worldly experience, with Portuguese-style chicken and a mix of Portugal and South African wines served in units decorated with African artwork. The chain also showcases the best qualities of a fast casual concept—lavish decorations make for an inviting place to dine, while speedy service attracts on-the-go patrons.

Vapiano

Vapiano operated in the U.S. much the same as its fast casual Germany counterpart. The concept offers made-to-order pizzas, pastas, salads and more from a variety of food stations. Everything on the menu is a la carte, allowing for customized meals. The distinctive feature of each location is the various food stations where chefs and bartenders custom-prepare food and drinks. Diners can order directly from chefs at different cooking stages, allowing for customizable and interactive meals. Meals are recorded on a personal electronic “chip card” given to each guest; diners pay for whatever was recorded on the card at the end of the meal.

The first Vapiano in the U.S. opened in Arlington, VA, in April 2007. A month later, the chain opened a second U.S. unit in nearby Washington, DC, and the third unit opened in D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood soon after that. The chain now has 11 restaurants in the States.

100 Montaditos

Inspired by traditional Spanish tapas taverns, 100 Montaditos was founded in Spain in 2000. The chain, whose name translates to “100 Sandwiches,” offers at least 100 varieties of crunchy snack-sized rolls made to order and topped with traditional Spanish ingredients like Serrano ham, chorizo and Manchego cheese. In 2011, the chain launched its first U.S. location in Miami. Since then , 100 Montaditos has opened about a dozen more Florida sites as well as locations in Iowa, New York and the Washington, DC, market. The chain recently announced plans to open 28 units in New York City over the next three years, five of them before the end of 2014.

With its variety of sandwich options and an adult beverage menu that includes sangria and Spanish wines, 100 Montaditos offers patrons a chance to have a traditional Spanish experience in a fun, casual setting.


What Will We Be Eating in 2050?

October 7, 2014

what-will-we-be-eating

Leading food watchers share their visions of what consumers will be munching on and swigging in the decades ahead.

Some food trends have staying power while others are fleeting fads … do you remember gelatin salads? Food fashions come and go but may reappear wearing a new set of clothes in 10, 20 or 30 years. Today, gluten-free, protein, local sourcing, sodium reduction, and whole foods resonate with many consumers and influence food choices and eating habits.

Since FutureFood 2050 is focused on finding solutions to sustainably feed 9-plus billion people by 2050, we thought it would be both fitting and fun to ask leading food watchers, market researchers and “trendmeisters” what they think consumers will be eating in 2050.

Three trends with staying power
Consumers increasingly demand food supply chains with greater transparency, local food sourcing and healthier cuisine on the menu.
“Although health and wellness comes with a price, the future will likely hold greater opportunities to make healthier fare more affordable for lower- and middle-income groups.”


After missteps, Dunkin’ Donuts Set for California Expansion

September 4, 2014

pictureChastened by early mistakes, company takes a 2d shot in the state Starbucks rules

By Taryn Luna

Globe Correspondent

Al Golub/AP for the Globe

Dunkin’ Donuts launches its campaign in Modesto, Calif.

Dunkin’ Donuts, the coffee chain so familiar in the Northeast, is nearing the end of an expansion march across the country to become a true national brand.

The retailer kicked off its California expansion on Tuesday, the first step in a strategy to challenge Starbucks’ stronghold on the West Coast.

The company once operated more than a dozen restaurants in the state but shuttered them by the early 2000s, citing logistical problems and poor relationships with franchisee partners.

Dunkin’ temporarily abandoned its California dreams as the international business grew to more than 3,000 restaurants. Today the chain serves its signature Munchkins and Coolattas at nearly 900 stores in South Korea, but has only three nontraditional stores in obscure California locations: on a Marine base, inside a hotel, and at a highway rest stop.

Now the coffee chain is preparing to take another shot in a market where its toughest competitor, Starbucks Corp., dominates with more than 2,500 stores.

Dunkin’ plans to open its first traditional restaurant in Modesto, Calif., on Tuesday and a second store in Santa Monica in the following weeks.

Three additional restaurants in Long Beach, Downey, and Whittier are expected before the end of the year. Franchisees have signed agreements to open nearly 200 stores by 2020 and the company intends to eventually grow to 1,000 stores in the state.

“We’ve learned a lot about operating out West,” said Nigel Travis, chief executive of Dunkin’ Brands. “We’ve been incredibly impressed with the quality of the franchisees.”

But Dunkin’ had to learn the hard way.

The chain was so eager to enter California in the 1990s that it “hopscotched a lot of the country,” said Grant Benson, vice president of global franchising and business development at Dunkin’ Brands.

The nearest distribution center was in Chicago, and truck drivers hauled products thousands of miles to the California stores. “It left a lot of gaps where we didn’t have a supply chain and any development,” Benson said.

Travis has also said that Dunkin’ was less selective with its franchisee partners and did not properly train them.

Dunkin’ vs. Starbucks in California

Locations of the first new traditional restaurants in California, compared to the current locations of Starbucks restaurants in the Golden State.

The company renewed its plans to move into California a few years ago and began building up its network of stores in the West, entering Denver and Salt Lake City in the past year.

The California stores will be supplied from a Phoenix distribution center, and the company intends to open a new warehouse in California as more restaurants get off the ground.

Benson said the chain has also upgraded its training program. It is working with a mix of existing franchisees that operate Dunkin’ restaurants in other states and new partners with experience in California.

Software programs that aggregate data on demographics, competition, and traffic will help the company select the best locations for restaurants, he said.

Darren Tristano, an executive vice president at the food industry research firm Technomic, said that California is a major growth opportunity for the Canton company.

Dunkin’ was the second-largest coffee chain in the United States last year, with $6.7 billion in annual sales and a 30.9 percent market share, according to Technomic. Starbucks posted $11.7 billion in sales and a 53.8 percent share last year. Technomic does not track sales by state.

And although Dunkin’ is entering a region dominated by Starbucks, it will appeal to a different customer, Tristano said.

Starbucks typically opens in middle- to upper-income neighborhoods and generally draws more affluent consumers, Tristano said. Dunkin’ prices are slightly lower, and the chain primarily draws middle- to lower-income consumers who represent a larger percentage of the workforce.

The stores tend to be smaller than at Starbucks, which means Dunkin’ pays less for real estate. They also can open more stores in nontraditional spaces, such as gas stations and convenience stores, he said.

Dunkin’ will serve its hot brews in paper cups in California — a move Tristano lauded and said environmentally conscious consumers will expect in the Golden State. The company will use the same polypropylene recyclable cup that was introduced in Somerville in May to comply with a citywide ban on disposable polystyrene, often referred to as styrofoam.

“When you look at how the brand has evolved over time, they should have a pretty good opportunity to grow there,” he said. “Today I think the California market is ready for Dunkin’.”


It’s Good to be King

September 3, 2014

burgerking-304xx3148-2112-482-0Emon Reiser

© 2014 American City Business Journals, Inc. All rights reserved.

Burger King responded to the public outrage it inspired this week by saying its deal to merge with Tim Hortons was about global growth, not tax evasion.

“We don’t expect there to be meaningful tax savings,” Daniel Schwartz, the 34-year-old CEO of Miami-based Burger King Worldwide, said during a conference call with media on Aug. 26.

The deal is more complicated than that. And the public isn’t buying Burger King’s characterizations. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, called for a Burger King boycott after the company announced the $11.4 billion deal to merge with the Canadian coffee and doughnut chain. So did MSNBC TV host Joe Scarborough.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., emailed supporters, asking them to sign a petition to tell Burger King to stay put: “Burger King told us they were proud to be in America, but now we know that was a whopper.”

The deal will create a new holding company for Burger King and Tim Hortons that will be based in Oakville, Ontario. The move was immediately characterized as a tax-inversion acquisition that would allow Burger King to skirt millions of dollars in corporate income tax payments to the U.S. government.

Petitions cropped up on the Internet. Social media commenters flame-broiled Burger King on Twitter and the company’s own Facebook page.

Some of the less vulgar comments:

 

  • “Liars. Tax dodgers.”
  • “Kiss my business goodbye forever.”
  • “I’m not boycotting your product, I’m merely relocating my loyalties.”

 

 

 

Burger King issued a response on Facebook hours after the deal was confirmed, assuring angry customers that it will continue to pay its “federal, state and local U.S. taxes.” The deal, however, will most assuredly lower its tax burden, particularly on dollars it earns offshore.

“Our headquarters will remain in Miami, where we were founded more than 60 years ago, and business will continue as usual at our restaurants around the world,” the fast-food chain wrote. “It’s about global growth for both brands.”

Burger King and Tim Hortons executives reiterated that stance on their conference call. But Schwartz, Burger King Chairman Alex Behring and Tim Hortons CEO Mark Caira never denied that the deal was a tax inversion.

The company paid a 27.5 percent rate in the U.S. last year – about the same rate it will pay in Canada.

The real tax savings potential lies in the income Burger King has earned offshore. The company gets nearly half of its revenue from other countries, and currently has nearly $905 million in cash and cash equivalents on its balance sheet.

“Our consolidated cash and cash equivalents include balances held in foreign tax jurisdictions,” Burger King has disclosed in a regulatory filing.

Were the company to bring this cash to its headquarters to pay shareholder dividends or reinvest, it would have to pay perhaps one-third of it to the U.S. government in taxes.

In Canada, it would keep far more of this money – which could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars to help fund its “global growth.”

In addition to any tax savings, the merger of these two fast-food giants will lower the costs of goods for both companies, said Alex Macedo, Burger King’s president for North America.

“These two brands will have more purchasing power, which will reduce the costs for our franchisees,” he said. “The overall support has been very good.”

It also helps to have Warren Buffett on your team. America’s most popular billionaire is financing 25 percent of the deal. Buffett has crusaded for higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and has championed some of President Barack Obama’s ideas about tax policy. His involvement in this deal could be read as hypocritical, or as a sign that he doesn’t see it as driven by tax savings, either.

Local business leaders are pleased Burger King’s Miami headquarters would remain intact, along with its staff.

If anyone will feel the pain of this deal, it’s Burger King’s independent franchisees. Only 52 of its 13,667 restaurants are corporate-owned. In 2013, franchise restaurant revenues were four times that of company restaurant revenues, at $923.6 million and $222.7 million, respectively. So if customers stop eating Whoppers because they’re not American, it will hit the store sales of franchisees first. So far, they don’t seem concerned.

Guillermo Perales, who owns 191 Burger Kings in Florida and Texas, said that, if anything, sales are rising because of the backlash: “Besides the comeback of chicken fries, this is one of the best promotions we’ve had this year.”

Financiers, not franchisees, call the shots at Burger King. A global investment fund, 3G Capital, owns 70 percent of Burger King. It’s a Brazilian firm that has offices in New York and is used to crossing borders with its investments.

It’s betting Burger King customers will have short memories, or that the gains it achieves with its controversial move will overcome any losses in sales.

Some observers say it’s a safe bet.

“I don’t think Americans are concerned with where a brand is based,” said Darren Tristano, executive VP of Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic.

Being labeled a corporate turncoat on social media hasn’t stopped companies from inversions. And ultimately, it’s problems with U.S. tax codes that are forcing some of America’s household names to leave, many tax experts have said.

Armando Hernandez, head of Hernandez and Co. CPAs in Coral Gables, said the advantages of tax inversion transactions can’t be ignored. After all, a company that doesn’t do an inversion faces steep taxes in the U.S. on earnings achieved abroad.

“If the tax adviser would recommend that their headquarters stay in the U.S., they would be committing malpractice,” he said.

Senior reporter Brian Bandell contributed to this report.

THE EVER-INCREASING MOVE TO TAX INVERSIONS

What is a tax inversion? A tax inversion describes when a U.S. company buys a foreign business and then shifts its headquarters outside the country – as Miami-based Burger King Worldwide (NYSE: BKW) plans to do with Canada’s Tim Hortons. Such a move carries many tax benefits for the companies, even though it largely stiffs U.S. tax collectors.

Why are tax inversions becoming more common? Companies are facing increasing costs, including modest ticks in inflation, higher health care tabs and even the potential for a higher minimum wage. At the same time, Canada and many European countries have cut their corporate tax rates.

What is the U.S. government doing about it? Almost nothing. While President Barack Obama has spoken out against the practice, tax reform is stalled in Congress.

What does the American public think? A wide swath of business-minded people believe anything a company can legally do to reduce its tax bill is a wise course. Others believe corporations should pay their share of income taxes. It’s an easily politicized issue. Walgreen Co. backed away from an inversion after too much of a backlash from its customers. Other companies have accomplished inversions without any backlash at all.

What are the benefits for a corporation? While they must still pay some taxes on their U.S. operations, companies achieve lower corporate income tax bills. Additionally, they can bring the cash they’ve earned overseas into their headquarters without paying taxes. This allows them to pay more dividends or invest in their operations. U.S. companies have accumulated about $2 trillion in cash overseas.

Does a company actually have to move its operational headquarters? No. Under current tax laws, companies don’t have to shift offices or executives overseas to be considered foreign. In the case of Burger King, the company will actually remain in Miami, but it’s corporate parent will be located in Canada.


What Obesity Problem Burger King’s Low-Calorie Satisfries Are a Total Flop

August 29, 2014

pictureThe fast-food chain plans to discontinue the healthier fried chunks of potato in most of its U.S. restaurants.

By Liz Dwyer

Americans may seriously tip the obesity scales, but when it comes to chowing down on fried wedges of potato, apparently we want full fat or nothing at all. At least, that’s what the demise of Burger King’s line of Satisfries seems to reveal. The fast-food giant announced on Wednesday that because of a lack of customer demand, it is discontinuing the relatively healthier french fry product.

“Earlier this week, franchisees in North America were given the option to continue offering Satisfries in markets where this game-changing product continues to perform well,” the company announced in a statement, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Two-thirds of restaurants chose to ditch the product.

The fries were first made available last September as part of Burger King’s effort to appeal to folks who might be on the hunt for healthier menu options. Satisfries were marketed as “great tasting crinkle-cut french fries with 40 percent less fat and 40 percent fewer calories” than McDonald’s french fries.

Consumers might have been a bit confused by the product. At $1.89 for a small container, Satisfries were more expensive than their full-fat, full-calorie counterpart, which are $1.59. A small box of Satisfries racked up 270 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 300 milligrams of sodium—not much less than the 340 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 480 milligrams of sodium found in the same-size traditional fries.

There’s also the tiny detail that when customers walk into a Burger King, they’re not usually on the hunt for a healthier food choice. “They go to fast food restaurants like Burger King for indulgence,” Darren Tristano, executive vice president of food industry consultant Technomic Inc., told NBC News.

So what do Americans want instead? This week Burger King also announced that because of grassroots demand on Twitter and Facebook, its previously discontinued Chicken Fries are back. As one fan enthused on Facebook about the fat-, sodium-, and calorie-packed product, “When you guys got rid of these I stopped going there my one to two times a week and only went a couple times a year after that. So time to kick back into gear and get my chicken fries on!”


Pizza Hut Grows Stale with American Diners

August 28, 2014

35a5f4ba06ee437491f8f75417fb078bBy Venessa Wong, Businessweek

Pizza Hut, the country’s largest pizza chain, seems to be losing favor with American diners.
The 56-year-old pizza restaurant’s same-store sales in the U.S. have fallen for seven consecutive quarters as competitors Domino’s (DPZ +1.35%) and Papa John’s (PZZA +0.56%) have seen sales increase.
“We’re obviously disappointed with second-quarter results and particularly with the very poor performance in our U.S. business,” David Novak, the chief executive of parent company Yum Brands (YUM +0.50%), said of Pizza Hut during an earnings call in July. “We’ve had our ebbs and flows versus the competition over the years, and I can assure you we will be back,” Novak told investors.

Pizza Hut remains the largest pizza chain in the U.S. by far, with more than 7,800 restaurants — it continues to add more locations. But, says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at research firm Technomic, as quick-service competitors such as Papa John’s, Domino’s, and Little Caesars cut into Pizza Hut’s U.S. business, new fast-casual, made-to-order pizza concepts are also expected to steal market share.

Pizza Hut’s recent menu launches — such as crazy cheesy crust pizza, three cheese stuffed crust pizza, and Blake Shelton-endorsed BBQ sauce pizza — have failed to improve results.

The chain is focused heavily on China, where it is developing Pizza Hut as a more upscale casual dining restaurant rather than as a delivery and takeout joint. It now has 1,134 sit-down locations in China — where sales are increasing — and just 215 delivery shops. In the U.S., only 14 percent of Pizza Hut’s business is dine-in.

Pizza Hut spokesman Doug Terfehr says China has not been a distraction. “Both our domestic and international businesses are incredibly important to the health of our brand,” he said in an e-mail. “As we’ve matured around the world, we’ve developed dedicated resources to handle that growth without wavering on our commitments to our business here.”

Terfehr cited recent efforts, such as a dessert partnership with Hershey (HSY +0.02%) that kicked off with an 8-inch cookie, the addition of equipment to all Pizza Hut restaurants to serve Wing Street chicken, and updating its website and app this spring as major turnaround efforts.

Bigger changes are on the way. Novak told investors that Pizza Hut will “launch a number of major initiatives in the United States to reignite sales beginning in the fourth quarter,” including plans to boost millennial-targeted advertising and digital marketing and a greater focus on value.

Brisket Channel proves to be ultimate reality TV

August 27, 2014

Article by: David Phelps, Star Tribune

© 2014 Star Tribune

Remember the Brisket Channel on Duluth TV?

It was on for 13 hours and five minutes over the Memorial Day weekend.

It turned out to be quite a hit, once reruns made it to YouTube. Nearly 400,000 viewers tuned into the Internet version of the smoked brisket marathon developed for Arby’s by the Minneapolis ad agency Fallon.

So popular was the website that each unique visitor spent an average of 38 minutes on the site, watching a brisket slow cook in the same manner that Arby’s prepares brisket for its customers. It also helped that visitors had a chance to win one of $20,000 in prizes that included a 10-gallon hat, lasso and beef-scented candles.

“We were blown away by that,” said Matt Heath, Fallon creative director, of the viewership.

And the client was pleased. “Thirty-eight minutes is longer than a lot of TV shows,” said Jeff Baker, Arby’s senior brand experience director. “It was a great idea based on simplicity.”

Besides setting a Guinness record for the longest TV commercial, the brisket show and limited brisket sandwich offer set the stage for Arby’s new “we have the meats” advertising campaign that Fallon launched earlier this month.

Results for the fledging ad campaign so far are inconclusive. But Rocky Novak, Fallon’s managing director, said: “We’re seeing a lot of social media love.” Arby’s said it does not release sales figures. But when it first made the brisket sandwich limited-time-offer available in October of 2013, “we declared it the most successful [limited-time offer] in the brand’s 50-year history,’’ said a spokesman Wednesday.

Gone as Arby’s pitchman is Bo Dietl, the former New York City police detective who was the face and voice of Arby’s for nearly two years. To quote Dietl from a commercial for Arby’s fish sandwich, “Really?” Yeah, really.

In fact, the new Arby’s commercials are faceless. The only human element seen by viewers is of a person from the shoulders down wearing a chef’s jacket. A roast beef or turkey or corned beef sandwich is the star of the commercial.

“The LSR [limited service restaurant or fast food] industry is not hyper-focused on food. There are a lot of entertainment factors,” said Heath. “We wanted to see how close we could get to the food. We didn’t want to put a face in there. It’s about the finished product.”

Among the tag lines used for the new set of Arby’s commercials are “this is meatcraft,” “fear not the meats,” “meats crafted with a heavy hand” and “it will change you.”

“We feel like we have an incredible heritage of meats and that presenting them in a simple way was the best way,” Baker said in an interview earlier this week.

Brand overhaul

Arby’s new advertising campaign will be accompanied by a new branding campaign that the Atlanta-based company announced in June. The branding effort includes remodeled exteriors, revitalized interiors and staff training.

Based on some consumer testing, Arby’s message and image could use a little retooling.

According to the food industry consulting firm Technomic, sales and market share at Arby’s have declined in each of the last two years, placing the roast beef king a distant second behind Subway in the non-hamburger sandwich sector and ahead of a hard-charging Jimmy John’s.

“Arby’s is considered to be unique because its about roast beef, not hamburgers, not chicken. We’re talking about an older, nostalgic brand,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president for Chicago-based Technomic. “Clearly there are some advertising opportunities and some innovative opportunities.”

Novak said the new Arby’s advertising campaign is all about what goes between a bun or two pieces of bread in the Arby’s kitchen.

“The main takeaway first and foremost is that this is about the meat that is put in the sandwich,” Novak said.

Tristano said Arby’s scores well with consumers on a number of metrics, including service, decor and “craveability.” But it doesn’t score so well on prices, healthy options and “advertising that makes me hungry.”

“By focusing on what differentiates you, that creates memorable and creative advertising,” Tristano said. “Freshness gives you a stronger feel of healthiness.”

And credit for a new Arby’s feel may come down to a Texas-smoked brisket that took 13 hours to cook and five minutes to carve.


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