McDonald’s: When the Chips are Down

January 13, 2015

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After a long run of success, the world’s largest fast-food chain is floundering–and activist investors are circling

IN A brand-new McDonald’s outlet near its headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, customers do not have to queue at the counter. They can go to a touch screen and build their own burger by choosing a bun, toppings and sauces from a list of more than 20 “premium” ingredients, including grilled mushrooms, guacamole and caramelised onions. Then they sit down, waiting an average of seven minutes until a server brings their burgers to their table.

The company is planning to roll out its “Create Your Taste” burgers in up to 2,000 restaurants–it is not saying where–by late 2015, and possibly in more places if they do well. McDonald’s is also trying to engage with customers on social media and is working on a smartphone app, as well as testing mobile-payment systems such as Apple Pay, Softcard and Google Wallet.

All this is part of the “Experience of the Future”, a plan to revive the flagging popularity of McDonald’s, especially among younger consumers. “We are taking decisive action to change fundamentally the way we approach our business,” says Heidi Barker, a spokeswoman.

After a successful run which lifted the firm’s share price from $12 in 2003 to more than $100 at the end of 2011, McDonald’s had a tricky 2013 and a much harder time last year. When it announces its annual results on January 23rd, some analysts fear it will reveal a drop in global “like-for-like” sales (ie, after stripping out the effect of opening new outlets) for the whole of 2014–the first such fall since 2002.

In the past year Don Thompson, the firm’s relatively new boss, has had to fight fires around the world, some of them beyond his control. Sales in China fell sharply after a local meat supplier was found guilty of using expired and contaminated chicken and beef. Some Russian outlets were temporarily closed by food inspectors, apparently in retaliation for Western sanctions against Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine. And a strike at some American ports left Japanese McDonald’s outlets short of American-grown potatoes, forcing them to ration their portions of fries. (More recently several Japanese customers have reported finding bits of plastic, and even a tooth, in their food.)

However, the biggest problem has been in America–by far McDonald’s largest market, where it has 14,200 of its 35,000 mostly franchised restaurants. In November its American like-for-like sales were down 4.6% on a year earlier. It had weathered the 2008-09 recession and its aftermath by attracting cash-strapped consumers looking for a cheap bite. But more recently it has been squeezed by competition from Burger King, revitalised under the management of a private-equity firm, from other fast-food joints such as Subway and Starbucks, and from the growing popularity of slightly more upmarket “fast casual” outlets (see “Fast-casual restaurants: Better burgers, choicer chicken”).

In response, McDonald’s has expanded its menu with all manner of wraps, salads and so on. Its American menu now has almost 200 items. This strains kitchen staff and annoys franchisees, who often have to buy new equipment. It may also deter customers. “McDonald’s stands for value, consistency and convenience,” says Darren Tristano at Technomic, a restaurant-industry consultant, and it needs to stay true to this. Most diners want a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder at a good price, served quickly. And, as company executives now acknowledge, its strategy of reeling in diners with a “Dollar Menu” then trying to tempt them with pricier dishes is not working.

McDonald’s says it has got the message and is experimenting in some parts of America with a simpler menu: one type of Quarter Pounder with cheese rather than four; one Snack Wrap rather than three; and so on. However, this seems to run contrary to the build-your-burger strategy it is trying elsewhere, which expands the number of choices. That in turn is McDonald’s response to the popularity of “better burger” chains, such as Shake Shack, which has just filed for a stockmarket flotation.

Some analysts think that McDonald’s should stop trying to replicate all its rivals’ offerings and go back to basics, offering a limited range of dishes at low prices, served freshly and quickly. Sara Senatore of Sanford C. Bernstein, a research outfit, notes that Burger King, having struggled against its big rival for years, has begun to do better with a simpler and cheaper version of the McDonald’s menu. For the third quarter of 2014 Burger King reported a like-for-like sales increase of 3.6% in America and Canada compared with a decrease by 3.3% of comparable sales at McDonald’s. That said, sales at an average McDonald’s in America are still roughly double those of an average Burger King. So the case for going back to basics remains unproven.

So far, McDonald’s looks as if it is undergoing a milder version of its last crisis, in 2002-03. Then, an over-rapid expansion had damaged its reputation for good service, its menu had become bloated and customers were drifting to rivals claiming to offer healthier food. Now, once again, “McDonald’s has a huge image problem in America,” says John Gordon, a restaurant expert at the Pacific Management Consulting Group. This is in part because of its use of frozen “factory food” packed with preservatives. In 2013 a story about a 14-year-old McDonald’s burger that had not rotted received huge coverage. Even Mike Andres, the new boss of the company’s American operations, recently asked bemused investors: “Why do we need to have preservatives in our food?” and then answered himself: “We probably don’t.”

McDonald’s doesn’t seem to be cool any more, especially among youngsters. Parents say their teenage children have been put off after seeing “Super Size Me”, a documentary about surviving only on McDonald’s food; and “Food, Inc”, another about the corporatisation of the food industry; and by reading “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal”. It is hard to imagine the new McDonald’s initiatives getting the reaction Shake Shack got when it opened its first outlet in downtown Chicago in November: for the first two weeks it had long queues of people waiting outside in the freezing cold.

A lot of the negative PR that McDonald’s gets is the flipside of being the world’s biggest and most famous fast-food chain. This has made it the whipping-boy of food activists, labour activists, animal-rights campaigners and those who simply dislike all things American. In America it has been the focus of a campaign for fast-food workers and others to get a minimum salary of $15 an hour and the right to unionise. Last month the National Labour Relations Board, a federal agency, released details of 13 complaints against McDonald’s and many of its franchisees for violating employees’ rights to campaign for better pay and working conditions. The alleged violations relate to threats, surveillance, discrimination, reduced hours and even sackings of workers who supported the protests. McDonald’s contests these charges, while arguing that it is not responsible for its franchisees’ labour practices.

Not all the criticism McDonald’s gets may be merited–or at least it should be shared more fairly with its peers. However, the company’s troubles have begun to attract the attention of activist shareholders, who may prove somewhat harder to brush aside than labour or food activists. In November Jana Partners, an activist fund, took a stake in the firm. Then in December its shares jumped, on rumours that one of the most prominent and determined activists, Bill Ackman, intended to buy a stake and press for a shake-up.

McDonald’s says it welcomes all investors and is focused on maximising value for its shareholders. Even so, Mr Thompson’s new strategy needs to deliver results quickly. Mr Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital has done well out of its 11% stake in Burger King, because the chain’s main shareholder, 3G Capital, has pushed through a drastic cost-cutting programme and a merger with Tim Hortons, a Canadian restaurant group. “If McDonald’s were run like Burger King, the stock would go up a lot,” Mr Ackman mused recently. It looks like Mr Thompson may soon have to fight on another front.


Starbucks Sells 37 Million Gifts Cards During the Holidays

January 13, 2015

pictureStarbucks Corp. (SBUX) sold about 16 percent more gift cards in the U.S. during the 2014 holiday season as shoppers increasingly defaulted to the fail-safe option of treating their loved ones to lattes and Frappuccinos.

About 37 million gift cards were sold during the holiday season this year, up from about 32 million last year, the Seattle-based company said in an e-mail. More than $1.1 billion was loaded onto Starbucks gift cards between Nov. 3 and Dec. 25 in the U.S. and Canada, where a combined 40 million cards were sold, Starbucks said.

The world’s largest coffee-shop chain, with almost 12,000 cafes in the U.S., is an easy choice for consumers seeking the convenience of gift cards, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc. Its stores are everywhere, and many customers visit almost daily.

“It becomes a safe bet,” he said. “We don’t want to give gift cards to people that we’re not sure they’re going to use.”

In 2013, Starbucks customers across the globe loaded $1.4 billion onto gift cards, including $1.3 billion in the U.S. and Canada, between October and December. Starbucks hasn’t yet released numbers for the corresponding period in 2014.

Starbucks said almost 2.5 million gift cards were activated on Christmas Eve this year, up from nearly 2 million sold that day last year. More than $20 billion has been loaded onto Starbucks gift cards since the program originated 13 years ago, the company said in a press release before Christmas.

The gift-card program reached new heights this year when the coffee chain sold a $200 Starbucks Card keychain that’s made with sterling silver and comes loaded with $50. The item sold out online and was available only in limited quantities at certain stores nationwide. Starbucks also offers monogrammed cards for $5.

Gift cards increase the amount of money customers spend when they’re in a Starbucks store, and the company should see a boost in sales in the first part of the year as coffee drinkers start to redeem the cards, Tristano said.

“It’s a significant part of what they do,” he said.


Quiznos sees Asia move as key to its future

December 16, 2014

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Quiznos is undertaking a major expansion in Asia as it emerges from bankruptcy, with plans to open 1,500 stores in China and several hundred more in other countries.

Kenneth Cutshaw, president of the company’s international division, says the overseas move is important to help restore the company’s financial health.

The Denver-based sub chain filed for bankruptcy protection in March, citing a need to reduce its debt load by more than $400 million and to aid franchisees who have fought with the company over their profitability.

It exited Chapter 11 protection in July after court approval of a prepackaged plan in which three senior lenders acquired 70 percent of the company’s shares in exchange for debt.

These new efforts in Asia represent the first substantial growth plans the company has announced since then. In addition to the Chinese partnership, Quiznos signed deals with master franchisees to open 100 stores each in Malaysia, Taiwan and Indonesia, including a 24/7, 10,000-square-foot location in Indonesia that will be the chain’s biggest in the world.

In betting big on growing Asian markets — it also has franchisees who have opened stores in South Korea, Singapore and the Philippines — Quiznos is following in the footsteps of larger chains such as McDonald’s and KFC that have found success in that region.

But Quiznos enters these new arenas after spending 10 years reducing its number of American stores from more than 5,000 to about 1,100, making Cutshaw keenly aware of how important this growth is.

“Yes, it is a key component to restoring our company’s financial health,” Cutshaw said. “We’re not alone. There are other brands that have had tremendous success outside the country and are still rebuilding their operations in the U.S.”

Quiznos entered the international market in 1999 in Latin America and now has more than 100 locations in that region. For its international expansions, it seeks out master franchisees who know the markets and who have experience operating chain restaurants. About 35 percent of its total stores are outside of the United States.

Asia would host the largest concentration of its overseas stores if the growth is completed as projected. Key to that is the 1,500 Chinese locations planned over the next 11 years in a partnership with AUM Hospitality and Parkson Holdings Berhad. Parkson operates about 60 top-tier stores of other brands throughout China now, Cutshaw said.

Quiznos will enter the market with what Cutshaw believes is a built-in advantage.

“American brands are given the strong benefit of the doubt when they enter an international market,” he said. “It’s perceived as a superior-quality product.”

Brands that have experienced Asian success have changed their culture and menu somewhat, adapting to the use of Asian meats and vegetables and an inclination toward spiciness, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc., a Chicago food-industry consultant. But there are big opportunities present.

“Looking abroad for growth … is definitely a way for brands to grow, especially for Quiznos as it comes out of bankruptcy,” Tristano said.


Habit Looks to Trade on ‘Better-Burger’ Standing in IPO

December 11, 2014

© 2014 Orange County Business Journal. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved.

RESTAURANTS: Recent growth, timing of offering look favorable

The Habit Restaurants Inc. in Irvine appears to have a number of factors working in its favor for an initial public offering that’s expected sometime this week, including some that reflect its strong run of recent years and others that indicate the chain is well-positioned for the future.

Among them:

* Habit has staked out a spot in the meaty middle of the “better burger” category with an effective mix of competitive standing on price and quality.

* The burger chain has quadrupled in size in seven years and now has 99 locations in four states.

* Habit plans more growth in 2015, notably on the East Coast and other new regional markets.

* It’s the first better-burger chain to go to market, and the move comes just a few months after the IPO by Costa Mesa-based fast-food chicken chain El Polio Loco Holdings Inc., whose shares have more than doubled since their July debut.

Habit’s offering of 5 million shares at $ 14 to $16 a share would put about 20% of the company on the market and raise about $66 million for the parent of the Habit Burger Grill chain after costs, according to its Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

Habit Restaurants Inc. would trade on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “HABT.” Its market capitalization at $15 a share would be about $380 million.

When El Polio Loco’s similarly priced offering-$15 a share-hit July 25, its stock quickly traded above $20, and it now trades at about $35 for a market cap of some $1.3 billion.

Habit has been busy with expansion plans in the run-up to its public offering. It signed master franchise deals for 15 units in Las Vegas and 25 in Seattle in May. The first restaurant in a planned East Coast expansion came in August in Fair Lawn, N.J.

Growth

Habit was founded in 1969 in Santa Barbara.

Greenwich, Conn.-based private equity firm KarpReilly LLC led a group in 2007 that bought a majority stake. It will own 37% of the company after the offering, with voting control of 55%, the SEC filings said.

Habit had $162 million in sales for the 12 months ended Sept. 30, according to the documents. It ranked No. 16 this year on the Business Journal’s list of OC-based restaurant chains.

Net income has grown from $2.4 million in 2011 to $5.7 million in 2013.

It has had 43 consecutive quarters of samestore sales growth, and average unit volumes have grown from $ 1.2 million in 2009 to $ 1.7 million for the trailing 52 weeks as of Sept. 30, the filing said.

“They have strong leadership and strong growth,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Chicago-based restaurant consultant Technomic Inc.

Tristano said Habit benefits from being the first prominent hamburger chain to go public this year. New York-based Shake Shack, which has about 50 units, is also considering an IPO, according to reports.

“If you believe in this segment, this is the first available investment,” Tristano said.

He attributed several restaurant IPOs this year to private equity investments that led to “operators trimming the fat” and then tapping the public markets to slash debt.

El Pollo Loco raised $113 million to pay down part of $289 million in debt when it went public.

That and a prior refinancing cut its debt service from $36 million a year to $10 million. It said resulting cash flow would fund growth.

Habit said it would use $41 million of its offering proceeds to close out debt, with $25 million for working capital, according to the filing.

Company representatives declined to comment for this article.

‘Better Burger’

Tristano placed Habit firmly in the “better burger” category: chains with a higher-quality hamburger than a $2 McDonald’s or Burger King selection, but at a lower price-$3 to $5 compared with $8 to $10-than restaurants such as The Counter.

Habit’s roots are in fast food, and “they’ve evolved toward fast casual, so they’re in-between,” he said.

He said El Pollo Loco has staked out similar territory-somewhere between Chipotle and Taco Bell.

“Quality and price means a better deal for lower- and middle-income customers,” Tristano said.

He said Habit-again, like El Pollo Loco- is strong in California, but sounded a note of caution.

“They’ll have strong regional competition in other markets,” he said.

One example: Prairie du Sac, Wise.-based Culver’s, which is similar in style to Habit and has 450 company-owned and franchise locations in 20 mainly Midwest states.

Tristano said Habit has shown it can do well against established competitors, including Irvine-based In-N-Out Burgers, a standardbearer in the better-burger category.

“They have to introduce themselves to a new audience, but they can be competitive,” Tristano said. “And they did well in the Consumer Reports [national] test early this year.”

Habit Burger Grill: 99 units and counting, initial public offering slated for this week

The Habit Restaurants Inc. in Irvine appears to have a number of factors working in its favor for an initial public offering that’s expected sometime this week, including some that reflect its strong run of recent years and others that indicate the chain is well-positioned for the future. Among them:

* Habit has staked out a spot in the meaty middle of the “better burger” category with an effective mix of competitive standing on price and quality.

* The burger chain has quadrupled in size in seven years and now has 99 locations in four states.

* Habit plans more growth in 2015, notably on the East Coast and other new regional markets.

* It’s the first better-burger chain to go to market, and the move comes just a few months after the IPO by Costa Mesa-based fast-food chicken chain El Polio Loco Holdings Inc., whose shares have more than doubled since their July debut.


Immigrants to Get Wage Boost from Job Mobility Under Obama Plan

December 10, 2014

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President Barack Obama’s decision to lift the economic ceiling on almost half the nation’s 11.4 million undocumented immigrants will give those workers a chance at higher pay and better jobs.

That means it will also raise costs for businesses that rely on off-the-books labor.

Dishwashers will become waiters, and day laborers will move to full-time work on farms, forcing employers to pay higher wages for new workers. A 1986 immigration law covering 2 million people pushed up pay by 15 percent in the first six years for those workers.

Those are some of the effects of the president’s plan to protect about 5 million people from deportation.

“We’re going to see these people do better in the job market,” said Sherrie Kossoudji, an associate professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “They’re going to be more mobile.”

On the higher end of the economic scale, workers with specialized technical expertise will have more freedom to change employers. And their spouses — often highly skilled themselves — will be allowed to work, too.

The consequences for the broader economy will be slight. The order has the potential to boost U.S. output by between 0.4 percent and 0.9 percent over the next 10 years, according to a report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

In contrast, the sweeping, bipartisan immigration legislation passed by the U.S. Senate last year would raise the gross domestic product by 3.3 percent by 2023, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That bill failed to advance in the Republican-controlled House.

Wage Pressures

Obama’s plan, which he outlined this week, will defer for three years the deportation of those who came to the country as children, as well as the parents of children who are citizens or legal permanent residents.

As a result of the order, the agricultural industry, which relies heavily on immigrant labor, could face rising wage pressures. Once workers are documented, they won’t stay in seasonal work for long, said Baldemar Velasquez, president and founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee of the AFL-CIO.

“How are you going to replace the people you’re losing?” Velasquez said. “Farmers will still be looking for workers to harvest their short-term crops.”

Restaurant Workers

An estimated 18 percent of undocumented workers — about 1.5 million — are employed in low-paying restaurant and hospitality jobs, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based research group. Another 1.3 million work in construction and 723,000 in retail.

For restaurants, Obama’s action will make it easier for those employing undocumented workers to follow the law, said Darren Tristano, an analyst at Technomic Inc., a research firm in Chicago.

“It will help the operators who are not compliant, who are running the risk of being closed or fined,” Tristano said. “It should take some of the complexity and pressure out of a business that is hugely labor oriented.”

One of the smaller groups aided by Obama’s directive may see the biggest gains: Some 40,000 foreign students who earn graduate degrees to get jobs in technology industries will be allowed to work in the U.S. for up to 29 months.

These students, who have degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, would have a significant effect on productivity and innovation, said Giovanni Peri, an economist at the University of California at Davis.

“It involves few people, but very crucial people,” said Peri, whose research shows that undocumented labor complements, rather than competes with, U.S. workers. “Those workers will go beyond the effect of matching the right person to the right job and increasing efficiency. They’ll create innovation.”

Good Start

For employers, the steps are a good start toward addressing the shortage of skilled workers, said Emily Lam, vice president of federal issues for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a San Jose, California, trade association. Still, the effect is limited because it’s only a temporary fix, she said.

Another large impact might result from a provision that expands opportunities for skilled immigrants and their spouses. Workers with specialized technical expertise would have more freedom to change employers. Their spouses would also be allowed to work.

Settled Debate

While Obama’s order has sparked a clash with Republicans over its legality, the economic debate over easing immigration laws is largely settled: Decades of research shows the economy benefits from greater worker mobility.

The 1986 amnesty law signed by President Ronald Reagan raised wages and boosted the economy. Almost 2 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. were given legal status, as were about a million seasonal workers.

By 1992, real hourly wages for those workers had risen an average of 15.1 percent as they moved out of low-status, low- paying jobs, according to a Department of Labor survey. Wages continued to rise, according to a 2012 study by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, even as the nation entered a recession that lasted from July 1990 to March 1991.

Obama’s plan is even less controversial from an economic viewpoint because it mostly applies to people already working in the U.S. For them, the move brings opportunity.

“It’s quite a small effect in the aggregate,” Peri said. “There’s no harm done to the American worker and a big gain for the immigrants who can take these opportunities. That’s the big picture.”

Cumbersome Process

Peri was one of those immigrants, moving to the U.S. from Italy to study in 1993. He earned a doctorate degree and landed an H-1B visa, which are set aside for highly skilled people. The system made it almost impossible for him to get his green card granting permission to live and work in the U.S.

“It was so long and cumbersome I had to marry an American,” he said with a laugh. Now he’s a citizen raising three children. “I’ve invested in the U.S.”

For undocumented workers, moving up the economic ladder can be difficult, if not impossible. The economy creates and destroys millions of jobs a month, and that churn is one key to raising wages. Companies hired more than 5 million employees in September, according to Labor Department data, and almost 2.8 million people voluntarily quit their jobs, the most since April 2008.

The threat of deportation typically discourages workers from switching jobs, even within an off-the-books economy. Many don’t consider more visible jobs with their current employers to reduce the risk of detection, cutting off the easiest route to better wages, Kossoudji said.

With the danger of deportation at least temporarily lifted, “it releases them from having to be in the back of the restaurant,” she said.


Second Cup Tries Upmarket Vibe

December 8, 2014

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Underdog coffee shop chain is trying to remain relevant as competition heats up

When Alix Box joined Starbucks Canada almost 20 years ago, it was the underdog taking on titan Second Cup in the fledgling coffee wars.

Today, as the new boss of Second Cup Coffee Co., Ms. Box is again the underdog, this time battling giant Starbucks – and an array of other fast-growing rivals.

Just over nine months into the job as chief executive officer, Ms. Box is rolling out a three-year transformation effort starting with a sleek redesigned Second Cup in downtown Toronto. On Wednesday, Ms. Box held court at the new “store of the future,” which opens on Friday. Located in the city’s hipster King Street West entertainment district, the café is an airy, white-hued space with marble counters, a “slow bar” and a high-tech Steampunk coffee brewing machine.

But as a reminder of the increasingly brutal café landscape, the new store faces a Tim Hortons restaurant across the street and a Starbucks about a block away. There’s also an outlet of the nascent, but increasingly popular, Aroma coffee shop several steps away and other independent cafés nearby.

Given the intense competition, Ms. Box travelled the country to get feedback from Second Cup franchise owners at their almost 350 cafés – a far cry from Starbucks’ 1,445. She got an earful.

“They felt Second Cup had fallen behind and was outdated,” she said as she sipped a Finca La Cumbre light roast Costa Rican brew at the slow bar, priced at $4.75. “This is not tweaking,” Ms. Box added, referring to Project Crema, the internal name for Second Cup’s reimagination. “We’re not doing a little bit here and a little bit there. This is a revolution … It’s never too late.”

It may not be too late but time isn’t on Second Cup’s side. Having essentially created the affordable luxury café culture in Canada, Second Cup has lost steam as Starbucks, market leader Tim Hortons and global titan McDonald’s Corp. have raced to perk up their coffee business here.

Now, under new leadership, the chain is betting it can get the jolt it needs with a chic café design, fresh offerings and breaks for its franchisors.

“Is it too late? Probably,” said Joe Jackman, CEO of consultancy Jackman Reinvents, which specializes in turnarounds such as the ones at U.S. fashion retailer Old Navy and drugstore chain Duane Reade. “They’re yesterday’s brand … But I don’t count them or anybody out. It’s doable. It’s just a long-odds situation.”

Added Darren Tristano, executive vice-president at researcher Technomic in Chicago: “Given the size of Starbucks compared to Second Cup, it’s a more uphill challenge.”

The challenge is daunting. In its latest quarter, Second Cup posted a $26.2-million loss, including provisions for café closings and a hefty $25.7-million writedown of impaired assets – the value of its trademarks – while its adjusted profit tumbled 64 per cent. Meanwhile, its same-store sales dropped 2.9 per cent, its 10th quarterly decline in that important measure of sales at outlets open a year or more.

Starbucks doesn’t break out its Canadian results, but in the third quarter, same-store sales at its Americas division rose 5 per cent and “Canada is a contributor to that growth,” Rossann Williams, Starbucks Canada president, said in an e-mail. It has also been adding more food and digital payment alternatives.

At McDonald’s Canada’s 1,430 restaurants, including McCafe, coffee sales have nearly tripled since 2008, more than doubling its coffee market share here, said president John Betts. Tim Hortons for its part will soon be acquired by Burger King, counting on the heft of the fast-food chain to help it expand even further.

Even as its rivals stake out their territory, Second Cup has an opportunity to move more upscale to make gains, Mr. Jackman said.

Other retailers, such as Hudson’s Bay Co., have found that reinventing themselves by shifting more upmarket can be more rewarding rather staying in the sinking middle ground, he said.

Ms. Box’s store of the future reflects her focus on a premium experience and offerings. Coffee at the slow bar, which she compares to the feel of a wine bar, costs up to $4.95, which can be more than twice the price of its regular brew. At the bar, the coffees include an Ehiopia YirgZ, with a “peach-like sweetness and grapefruit acidity” and Finca La Soledad, a light roast from Guatemala.

She’s chosen a new, local bakery to source a more edited offerings of muffins, scones and croissants, with a breakfast menu that includes egg white and kale sandwiches and granola and oatmeal. Franchise owners had told her that the food needed to be better and fresher.

The store’s remodelling cost close to $1-million, although rolling it out will probably cost half that much as the company learns from the process, she said.

An $8-million share offering will help fund the renovations in the 10 corporate stores, while Ms. Box is giving breaks to franchisors that could encourage them to invest in re-doing their stores.

Second Cup’s recent $2.3-million of annual savings from cuts to head office – dubbed coffee capital – went toward shaving franchisors’ royalties to 7.5 per cent of sales from 9 per cent, and their marketing spending to 2 per cent from 3 per cent if they achieve high operational scores, she said. That amounts to about $15,000 worth of annual savings for a café owner, and almost all of them so far have qualified for the breaks, she said.

At the new store. she changed the logo to a more modern-looking font and added art work by local artists to the cups. Her team has put hooks underneath the eat-in counters to hang purses and coats. And she introduced a new staff dress code of a charcoal grey apron over a white shirt and dark denim pants to replace the all-black with red piping uniform.

Its “image was very fast-foodlike,” Ms. Box said. “It looked like everybody else. We think we can be a bit different.”


Asian Concepts Poised for High Unit rowth this Year

November 25, 2014

New data from Technomic forecasts a 2.3-percent unit growth rate over 2013 among the 500 largest US restaurant chains.

According to a news release, this will be slightly higher than the 2.1-percent growth rate from 2012-13 and much higher than the 0.5 percent rate in 2009.

The unit growth is rising in both the full and limited-service segments. Technomic EVP Darren Tristano said fast casual concepts will continue to show high levels of unit growth, as well limited and full-service Asian concepts. Among full-service restaurant menu segments, Asian will increase units by 5.1 percent, followed by seafood (3.9 percent) and steak (3.4 percent).

Asian/noodle also leads the limited-service menu segments, increasing unit counts by 8 percent, while bakery cafes and coffee cafes will grow units by 5.2 and 4.2 percent, respectively.

Many full-service brands have positioned themselves to expand this past year. The largest growth has been at Buffalo Wild Wings, which will have added 65 units, Mellow Mushroom (32 units) and LongHorn Steakhouse (24 units), according to Technomic.

In limited service, Subway will add 908 units by year-end, followed by Starbucks (443), Jimmy Johns (350) and Dunkin Donuts (291).

Fast casual to continue double-digit sales bump
Additionally, limited-service restaurants are expected to gain a sales bump of 3.5 percent. Fast casual chains should experience a 10.8-percent increase in sales, while quick-service chains increase 2.3 percent.

Full-service restaurants will experience a 2.5 percent sales increase in 2014, similar to the 2.4 percent increase in 2013.

Fine dining is expected to continue its post-Recession rebound, with a 5.8-percent sales increase. Casual and midscale restaurant growth will be nominal, at 2.8 and 0.5 percent, respectively.

Q3 traffic gains at Mexican concepts
Additionally, research from The NPD Group analyzed Q3 consumer traffic at US restaurants, and shows an increase in the fast casual segment, as well as at coffee/donut/bagel concepts and Mexican concepts.

Fast casual restaurants posted an 8 percent gain in traffic across all dayparts compared to same quarter year ago. Visits to Mexican quick service and coffee/donut/bagel concepts grew by 5 percent, according to NPD’s foodservice market research.

Conversely, hamburger quick-service traffic, which represents the largest share of quick service visits at 23 percent, declined by 3 percent compared to same quarter year ago. Visits to both sandwich concepts and Asian quick-serve restaurants were down 1 percent.

Although total industry traffic was flat in the quarter, consumer spending rose 3 percent in the July/August/September quarter due to average eater check gains. Check and dollar gains are in line with food away-from-home inflation. Dealing/discounts are still supporting traffic with visits on a deal up 4 percent compared to a decline in non-deal visits.

“Although total traffic is flat, the visit growth in the fast casual, coffee/donut/bagel, and Mexican QSR shows that consumers still have an interest in going out to restaurants,” NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs said in a news release. “Those restaurant concepts that are meeting the needs of today’s foodservice consumers will win their visits.”


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