Juice Craze May Be Next to Tank, Analyst Says

July 22, 2014

As the demise of Crumbs Bake Shop, and its cupcake kingdom, roils the food industry, one analyst is already predicting the next hot trend that is likely to cool off: Juices.

That’s the word from Darren Tristano, executive vice president of restaurant research company Technomic.

In a blog this week, food guru Tristano wrote that juice concepts, while “all the rage today,” are at risk of over-saturation and too much competition. The Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus is now home to Jamba Juice and Freshu Grill and Juice Bar.

“With health and wellness getting more play from affluent and millennial consumers, it’s clear the cold-pressed juice concepts will be pushing hard to expand,” Tristano wrote.

“Even though these concepts have price points over $10 in major markets like Los Angeles and New York, it’s clear that Hollywood-starlet impact on our country with juice cleanses is evident. Juice specialists will likely expand quickly as the fad continues but the trend will settle into concepts that represent reasonable prices for the mainstream consumer.”

He predicted that big brands such as Starbucks’ Evolution Juice and Juice It Up will have an edge in this competition.

“But ultimately, the ‘craze’ will settle down and many restaurants will likely see declines in sales that make it difficult to continue their operations,” Tristano wrote.


7-Eleven Launches New Doritos Loaded

July 18, 2014

By 10 a.m. Wednesday, the day of its launch, 7-Eleven’s brand new Doritos Loaded product had at least one Crystal Lake fan.

Karen Black-Vetter went into 7-Eleven, 1024 McHenry Ave., Crystal Lake, intending to leave with the usual snacks. But then, she saw the bold red signs advertising Doritos Loaded.

At $1.99 and 360 calories for a pack of four, Doritos Loaded are warm triangular pan-fried snacks, filled with melted cheese and encrusted with the signature nacho cheese flavor.

“We read that sign, and I said, ‘We have to try that,’” Black-Vetter said, sitting in the car with out-of-town friend Leslie Phiscator.

7-Eleven Inc. on Tuesday announced the launch of the new product, which can be found exclusively at 5,500 7-Eleven stores nationwide as of Wednesday, corporate spokeswoman Margaret Chabris said.

The snack food comes hand-in-hand with a new tropical Mountain Dew flavor called Solar Flare.

While its appeal is meant to hit all “on-the-go folks,” Chabris said Doritos Loaded is expected to be especially popular among younger Americans who prefer snacking to full meals – specifically, millennials.

“We have found that more and more people are not sitting down for three square meals a day, but they want something filling and affordable,” she said, adding the information stems from corporate studies. “It seems like, particularly, millennials snack throughout the day, so this is a perfect snack item for them.”

According to a 2012 report from the NDP Group, a market research company that tracks consumer trends, more than half of all Americans – 53 percent – snack two to three times a day.

Darren Tristano, executive vice president of food industry consulting company Technomics Inc., said annual studies done by Technomics also have found today’s America to be more snack-inclined than years prior.

“The snacking trend we’ve seen … is consumers are grazing more now, which means they’re having less to eat with greater frequency,” Tristano said. “Instead of three square meals, we’ve started to see more late-night snacking … and snacking late-morning and mid-afternoon.”

As far as snacks go, however, a dietitian at Centegra Hospital – Woodstock and McHenry said 7-Eleven’s newest product probably isn’t the best choice as it’s heavy in sodium, containing 1,070 mg.

“Anything that is providing half a day’s worth of sodium and it’s just a snack,” Susannah Baldock said, “that would be the first sign to look at something healthier.”

Those who indulge in Doritos Loaded could be swayed simply because of brand familiarity, though.

Tristano said food trends are pointing toward the use of big-name brands to increase revenue opportunities.

“One of the trends we’ve seen has been the opportunity for branded food services to take very leverageable brands like Doritos and other snacks, and build them into food service products in restaurants, and now we’re seeing it more out of the convenience stores.”

Based on previous new-product rollouts, however, Tristano said the buzz will likely quiet down in time.

“Most products that 7-Eleven introduces tend to be on a short-term basis,” he explained. “They’ll probably see how it registers with customers.”

At the Crystal Lake store, owner and franchisee Katen Patel was optimistic about the future of Doritos Loaded.

“I think it targets our target customer; I think kids are going to love it,” Patel said, sporting an official Doritos Loaded T-shirt. “If it does what Doritos does for our chips brand, I think it’ll do really, really well.”

It only took one bite each before Black-Vetter and her friend, Phiscator, were nodding in approval to one another in the car.

“Oh yeah,” Black-Vetter said. “I’ll get this again.”


Jamba Juice Isn’t Just About Smoothies; It’s a Leading Health Brand that Keeps Extending Its Reach

July 7, 2014

By Brian Bixler

Franchise Chatter

In the juice and smoothie space, Jamba Juice not only has the leading market share, it is recognized for its innovation which should encourage future growth, according to an industry guide published by Franchise Chatter.

Jamba Juice has cleverly positioned itself as a “healthy, active lifestyle brand,” which leaves possibilities for future product development wide open. Technomic Inc. places it in a specialty category among limited-service restaurants, along with other smoothie purveyors as well as snack and cafe businesses such as Pretzelmaker and NrGize Lifestyle Cafe.

Technomic puts Jamba Juice sales at $531 million for 2013, a 3.4 percent increase from the year before. Sales are coming from new products with higher profit margins.

“What you’re seeing is that juice has moved up and down to the very high end, up to 12 bucks (for a serving),” said Darren Tristano executive vice president of Technomic Inc. “And then you’ve got smoothies that have been shifted down to the McDonald’s price point. McDonald’s blew (the low-priced smoothie market) open.”

The good news for Jamba Juice, Tristano continued, is “a big consumption trend moving upward” and “the big loser in all this is the carbonated beverages.”

Jamba Juice Company started 2014 strong when it announced international plans for expansion by reaching an agreement with Foodmark, a division of Dubai-based Landmark Group. The agreement should lead to the opening of 80 Jamba Juice stores across the Middle East over the next 10 years with the first one set to open in Dubai sometime this year.

At the same time, Jamba Juice reinforced its brand by launching a line of “Whole Food Nutrition” smoothies and juices made with “straight-from-the-earth, whole-food ingredients.”

In addition, Jamba Juice announced that it had accelerated a roll-out plan for the expanded fresh-squeezed juice menu, beating its original target date by six months, and having it available in more than 500 Jamba Juice stores nationally as of June 2, instead of the end of the year as originally planned.

Jamba Juice dominates the industry with $500 million-plus sales compared to $39 million for such competitors as Robeks Fruit Smoothies & Healthy Eats and $16 million for Smoothie Factory, according to Technomic’s numbers.

But there are other big names in this race: Brands like Starbucks, Tropical Smoothie Cafe and the aforementioned McDonald’s, which opened the door for Dunkin’ Donuts to pair smoothies with doughnuts. And frozen yogurt stores such as Let’s Yo! and Red Mango have already added smoothies to their menus as nonseasonal offerings.

“I think we’re going to see more brands opening, and it’s going to be a slower growth rate,” Tristano said. “There will be 3 to 4 percent growth rate in limited-service (restaurant) growth over the next five years, but smoothie and juice won’t grow as fast as the fast-casual segment and Mexican and coffee chains.”


Dining Between Dayparts: The Evolution of Snacking

May 29, 2014

Snack consumption has been increasing in the U.S., leading to new definitions of snacks and new opportunities for foodservice operators.

Snack consumption is high and has been increasing. Just over half of U.S. consumers say they snack at least twice a day, up slightly from 48% in 2012. And, according to Technomic’s 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, about one in five consumers say they snack at least three times daily. Over the past two years, consumers have broadened their definition of “snack” to include more foodservice items. Therefore, it is vital for to stay on top of snack trends.

What Makes a Snack?

Firstly, what differentiates a “snack” from other types of food? According to consumers, a snack is defined primarily by the type of food or beverage and by time of day it is eaten. Portion size also plays a large role, as more than two-fifths of consumers polled report that they define a snack by the size of the item. The ideal snack size differs by occasion, because some consumers snack as a meal replacement while others may snack on something small to hold them over between meals.

Fewer consumers polled today than in 2012 (58%) define a snack by the time of day it is eaten. This aligns with the general trend of consumers eating at more frequent intervals throughout the day rather than eating three meals per day.

Base: 1,500 consumers aged 18+ Source: 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, Inc.

Base: 1,500 consumers aged 18+
Source: 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, Inc.

The majority of consumers report that their definition of a snack has not changed in the past two years, but about one-third say their definition has changed. A quarter of consumers say they now include more types of food in their “snack” mindset. About a tenth of consumers say their definition of “snack” has changed to include other parameters such as more types of beverages, more foodservice items and more overlap with meals.

Slightly more men than women say their definition of “snack” hasn’t changed, while more women than men now include more types of food within the scope of what they consider to be a snack.

darren_blog_2

Base: 1,500 consumers aged 18+ Source: 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, Inc.

Because a substantial proportion of consumers have broadened their idea of what constitutes a snack, and fewer consumers today than in 2012 consider time of day as a factor in the definition of “snack,” customers may be open to restaurants’ suggestions to add a certain food to their “snack” mindset, even food that is not traditionally served as a snack or food that is typically eaten at another time of day. For instance, operators could list sides, appetizers or small plates on a special “snack” menu, rather than just listing them on the main menu.

Snacking Frequency

Based on their own personal perception of what a snack is, consumers were asked how often they snack. Overall, consumers snack about as often today as they did two years ago, with just a slight increase in snacking frequency. Half of today’s consumers (51%) report consuming multiple snacks on a typical day, and 21% do so at least three times per day. In comparison, just 48% of consumers polled in 2012 say they snack at least twice a day.

Base: 1,522 (2012) and 1,750 (2014) consumers aged 18+; includes terminate data Source: 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, Inc.

Base: 1,522 (2012) and 1,750 (2014) consumers aged 18+; includes terminate data
Source: 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, Inc.

Limited-Service Opportunities

Increased snacking is strongly driven by younger consumers, so operators and manufacturers may want to focus on these consumers when developing and marketing snacks. Online and social-media marketing efforts, for instance, may pay off far better than traditional television advertising. In particular, younger consumers will respond to marketing that conveys the importance of snacks as part of social occasions with their friends. And images of younger consumers snacking at work or en route to a destination may convey the convenience of snacking and its role as an intrinsic part of today’s busy lifestyle.

Many restaurant operators are recognizing that snacks can be a traffic driver, appealing on a number of levels—from low price to craveability to on-the-go lifestyle integration.

Value menus are reflecting trends toward a proliferation of snacks and catering to off-peak dining occasions. The new Snack ’n Save Menu at Arby’s exemplifies this trend. Currently being tested in 13 markets, the Snack ’n Save Menu is designed to boost customer traffic and fuel multi-item purchases at each visit. Each of the 15 items on the menu is well suited for takeout and is sized for snacking. Ranging in prices from $1 to $2.99, the menu selection hits the main points relating to how consumers would define a snack. Some highlights are as follows:

  • Junior-size roast-beef sandwich
  • A two-sandwich pack of roast-turkey or roast-beef Mighty Minis
  • Mozzarella sticks
  • Jalapeño bites
Source: Arbys.com

Source: Arbys.com

Look for a value message to be increasingly delivered with snacks as the cornerstone of the menu lineup. This approach will likely lead to more value-oriented menus being dubbed simply as “snack” menus—with consumers picking up on the cue that snacks provide the overall value they seek.

Chains are also developing innovative portable packaging for their snack items. McDonald’s lists Chicken McBites, featuring bite-sized breaded and fried chicken breast pieces available in three sizes—including Snack, Regular and Shareable size varieties. The “deliciously poppable” McBites are served with the customer’s choice of Honey Mustard, Hot Mustard, Barbecue, Chipotle BBQ, Sweet n’ Sour, Buffalo, Ranch or Sweet Chili dipping sauce. The sauce can be inserted into a space in the lid when the lid is opened, which allows for easy on-the-go consumption.

The popularity of Chicken McBites has led to the introduction of Fish McBites, which are positioned in the same way. These items also reflect a burgeoning trend that centers on snacks as the core of the value menu.

Sources: Facebook.com; Chron.com

Sources: Facebook.com; Chron.com

This fall, KFC rolled out the limited-time KFC Go Cups in five varieties for $2.49 each. The selection includes a Chicken Little sandwich, four Original Recipe Bites, three Hot Wings, one piece of Original Recipe Boneless or two Extra Crispy Tenders, along with crispy seasoned potato wedges. The patented KFC Go Cup container was designed specifically to fit in a vehicle cup holder and is marketed as an on-the-go snack.

Key Takeaways

Understanding how snacking fits in with consumers’ typical dining behavior has implications for menu and product development. For instance, since younger consumers typically snack in addition to eating three meals per day, they may prefer a small portion or light snack. On the other hand, older consumers who are more likely than younger consumers to replace meals with snacks may be in need of a more substantial snack. Operators and suppliers should consider how snacking fits into the lives of their customer base when developing and marketing items to sell as snacks.

Clearly there is still ample room for restaurants to boost snack sales. However, restaurant operators should examine the feasibility of expanding into the snack category, keeping their customer base, and concept and menu positioning in mind.


Franchise Chatter Names Emerging New Food Segment The Hottest Franchise Concept of 2014

May 22, 2014

By Brian Bixler
Franchise Chatter

During the last few years, a band of start-ups has been racing to become what some have called “the Chipotle of pizza,” seizing upon the fast-casual custom concept and mimicking the company’s model in hopes that they can do for pizza what Chipotle did for the burrito. With major names in franchising recognizing the potential in the fast-casual custom pizza segment and backing some of the brands financially, potential franchisees are seeing dollar signs in what has evolved into the hottest franchise concept of 2014—one that looks to have staying power, rather than being a passing fad.

That’s the conclusion drawn in a report from Franchise Chatter, an online information resource for franchisees. Published on franchisechatter.com, the new report looks at the latest developments and growth within the fast-casual custom pizza segment, which has been drawing increasing interest among investors as new brands look toward explosive expansion, spreading the concept across the country.

“There are now dozens of brands in this segment, which could become as popular as frozen yogurt franchises were a few years ago,” said Ambrosio Cantada, founder of Franchise Chatter. “As these companies gain market share, we know potential franchisees will want to read about the future of this segment of the pizza category, and which brands may end up on top. “

Since 2008, a growing number of companies has moved into the custom pizza segment by establishing fast-casual restaurants in which customers choose their ingredients—including the dough, sauce and toppings—along a service line. With pizzas being cooked in high-temperature ovens, the concept combines speed and customization that customers are looking for today, with a variety of healthy ingredients.

So many new brands are entering the market with none of them dominating yet that potential franchisees face the dilemma of striking while the iron’s hot (or, in this case, the oven) or sitting on the sidelines to see which brand will best capture market share.

Some brands are posting impressive annual sales volumes as high as $1.8 million at individual units, according to Technomic Executive Vice President Darren Tristano, who recently completed the Fast-Casual Pizza Cluster Report for the market research firm.

Even though Technomic’s year-end 2013 figures show Pie Five Pizza Co., Uncle Maddio’s and Your Pie leading some competitors in the number of units, each with 18, the landscape is about to change.

“I think right now the two brands that are at the forefront would be PizzaRev because of the investment of Buffalo Wild Wings and Blaze Pizza, which is expanding rapidly,” Tristano says. “They both have strong management and overall knowledge of the consumer market.”

The speed with which the dueling companies bring their concepts to additional markets will be key to determining their success, he added. Tristano expects the custom pizza segment to be especially popular with the noon crowd.

“Fast-casual pizza has emerged out of a white space that’s typically lunch time,” he said, adding that brands that offer comfortable environments and alcoholic beverages will also be able to pick up dinner and nighttime customers as well.

“We expect to see a lot of opportunity for growth in the next five to eight years,” Tristano said. “It will likely attract more franchisees and other investors to come into the market as it’s still in the very early stage.”

The Franchise Chatter report includes updates on specific brands it has identified for having the greatest growth potential over the next five years.

For more information, click on the Hottest Franchise Concept of 2014 banner at franchisechatter.com.

Brian Bixler is a freelance journalist and blogger who writes for several business-oriented websites, including Franchise Chatter, a membership site devoted to reviewing franchise earnings claims. By talking to executives of leading brands as well as some of the most successful franchisees across the country, Franchise Chatter reports on growing brands as well as those that might be struggling. The website also examines the profit potential of all the major brands with its FDD Talk feature.


Subway Owners Take Stake in BurgerFuel

May 14, 2014

subwaylogopromoThe “better burger” niche is already crowded with domestic startups, but a new player from New Zealand, BurgerFuel, soon might break into the competition and onto the fast track to growth, helped by a partnership with Subway founders Fred DeLuca and Peter Buck.

According the The New York Times, DeLuca and Buck acquired a 10-percent stake in BurgerFuel in January through their investment company, Franchise Brands, which supports small and midsize concepts. BurgerFuel reportedly hopes to leverage this strategic alliance into expansion throughout the United States by selling franchises to operators of Subway, which is 100-percent franchised and has more than 25,500 restaurants in the United States.

Officials from Milford, Conn.-based Subway did not respond to inquiries for comment as of press time.

Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc., noted that Subway’s growth in extremely nontraditional spaces — such as a church, a Goodwill training center and auto showrooms, to name a few recent openings — show franchisees’ willingness and demand to open restaurants.

Fellow industry expert Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of Columbus, Ohio-based WD Partners, added that those Subway franchisees might be looking to open more units but, depending on where they are located, might not have the chance to grow as fast with more Subway locations as they could with a new concept, like BurgerFuel.

“It may not be about the 25,000-plus Subways [in the United States], but more about a franchisee’s home trade area, where it’s hard to expand your own franchise business and almost have to wait for somebody in the area to sell,” Lombardi said. “This gives the franchisees the opportunity to have a growth vehicle, and typically these kinds of new brands have a higher revenue potential relative to Subway’s.”

With BurgerFuel as a possible growth vehicle, Subway might have a way to enable its franchisees’ growth in more traditional spaces or make inroads with a slightly different customer base, Tristano said. He added that Subway’s tack of looking for a concept outside its segment — similar to Chipotle’s interests in ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen and Pizzeria Locale, or Buffalo Wild Wings’ investment in PizzaRev — is likely the better option than taking its current offering and trying a more upscale take on it, as Taco Bell plans to do with U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom.

“Subway is looking for growth potential, and it probably has more opportunities outside of the sandwich segment than within sandwich,” Tristano said. “They should look at something that could work in a co-branded way, like maybe with desserts. They still have so many franchisees that they could really leverage that base.”

Lombardi added that BurgerFuel’s possible entry to the United States “is not exactly coming in at the early stage of the better-burger trend.” In addition to muscling into a crowded segment, BurgerFuel would present completely new operations models or real estate needs to Subway franchisees, but “that’s not an overwhelming issue” to the better-performing operators in the system, he said.

“Subway is doing something nice for its franchisees by making this concept available to them,” Lombardi said. “But you’re not going to give a marginal operator the ability to expand into a second concept. If they want to grow, they’ll have to show Subway they are good at what they do.”

Both experts agreed that a possible expansion of BurgerFuel in the United States could be an intelligent long-term plan for Subway, and neither saw it as an indication that Subway’s growth could be slowing down in the United States.

“If you think about Subway’s royalty stream coming into its two owners, it’s crazy; you probably wouldn’t need to do anything else,” Tristano said. “But progressive brands always need to think about where the future is. There may be a day when people don’t believe Subway is the healthiest restaurant in the world, so Subway would need some bench strength and a way to hedge a little.”

Lombardi said that day is not really close to arriving.

“There are no real negatives in this, and I’m not surprised it’s happening,” he said. “Subway is still the golden goose for them. I just interpret this as another growth angle, an ‘and,’ not an ‘or.’”

As of May 13, Subway had 41,800 restaurants in 106 countries.


Does Taco Bell’s Fast-Casual Entry Have a Chance?

April 24, 2014

Taco Bell is following the lead of its YUM! sister brand KFC, which entered the fast-casual market last year. KFC Eleven features hand-crafted food—flatbreads, rice bowls and KFC Boneless Original Recipe Chicken—in a more contemporary environment.

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Taco Bell’s new fast-casual concept, U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom, provides the chain an opportunity to move into fast casual while maintaining its identity and value positioning with existing customers in the quick-service segment. Many brands today are trying to shift toward a more upscale menu, food and atmosphere positioning, but this strategy can confuse loyal customers and make it difficult to stay true to the brand identity. Taco Bell’s strategy makes sense and supports its goal to increase sales from $7 to $14 billion in the U.S. market.

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So what are the challenges this new brand faces?

Competition: In addition to a strong independent Mexican restaurant market, today’s Mexican grill segment features strong category leaders like Chipotle Mexican Grill, Qdoba Mexican Grill and Moe’s Southwest Grill. And there are more than 50 other fast-casual chains competing for share of stomach, many of which are growing aggressively.

Also within the landscape are successful taco shops that are growing from regional roots in California and Texas like Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, Torchy’s Tacos and Chronic Tacos. The 2013 limited-service Mexican category totaled $18 billion in sales with more than 18,000 restaurants. With so many competitors in the space, finding room for U.S. Taco Co. will be a challenge for Taco Bell’s young “intrepreneurial” team.

Price: With price points per-person pegged at $11.50‒$12, many economically challenged consumers may not be able to afford to eat at U.S. Taco Co. on a frequent basis. Average fast-casual price points are still south of $10. And with average prices of fast-casual burritos in the $6‒$7 range, consumers will continue to see pound-for-pound value at Mexican grill concepts. Recent Technomic research with consumers indicated that the optimal price at fast casual for lunch was $7.60, with a high price threshold of about $10. At dinner, consumers indicated that $9 was the optimal price, with $12.50 providing the upper threshold limit. As a result, consumers will likely see this U.S. Taco Co. as a place to go for dinner, as its lunch prices are too high for many consumers on weekday occasions.

Menu: Many American consumers have come to expect high levels of “authenticity” around both Mexican and Southwest dishes, sides and beverages. The menu at U.S. Taco Co. will feature the following tacos:

  • The One Percenter, featuring fresh lobster in garlic butter with red cabbage slaw and pico de gallo on crispy fry bread.
  • The “Brotherly Love,” a nod to the Philly Cheesesteak, with carne asada steak, grilled peppers and onions, roasted poblano queso and cotija cheese (rather than Cheez Whiz), and fresh cilantro in a flour tortilla.
  • The “Winner Winner,” which features Southern-style fried chicken breast with “SOB,” or “South of the Border” gravy, roasted corn pico de gallo with fresh jalapenos, and fresh cilantro in a flour tortilla.

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And on the side, guests can get “papas fritas,” which resemble steak fries, coated with habanero dust and served with housemade dipping sauces such as ghost chile ketchup or roasted poblano crema. Guests can also order their fries loaded with taco ingredients sans tortilla as a “secret menu” option.

Taking a page out of Red Robin’s play book, the menu will include shakes spiked with beer, and the brand will eventually offer tap, can and bottled craft beer.

So how will consumers react?

Patience and education will be important to getting consumers to consider an even more Americanized version of a traditional, authentic Mexican taco. Replacing the American burger with a taco served with fries and a shake will be a new behavior for many Americans. Although this new offering will likely have great appeal for Millennial consumers age 21‒36, Gen X and Boomers will likely continue to lean toward more familiar and traditional meals. As innovation and thinking outside the box (or bun in this case) is essential for filling white space, this new format may be a bit ahead of its time.


Luxury Dining at the Mall

April 22, 2014

bildeWhen the new Saks Fifth Avenue department store opens at the Mall at University Town Center, shoppers can expect more than just expanded departments and two floors of merchandise. The 80,000- square-foot Saks space — one of the key anchors for the $315 million mall in Sarasota County — also will boast its own restaurant, and be one of the first in the chain to do so.

When Saks opens, so will “Sophie’s,” a new restaurant concept by Fifth Dining LLC, a new restaurant effort within the Saks brand. The elegant, gourmet restaurant will complement the department store’s look and feel but will offer a completely separate lunch and dinner dining experience for Saks shoppers.

“We wanted to tie together the legacy of Saks with a concept that had a lot of appeal for the people who happen to shop here,” said Michael Kaufman, president of Fifth Dining. “The restaurant is designed to be a high-end experience through a unique look and feel and our freshly prepared food. It’s not stuffy, but resonates appropriately with the traditional Saks Fifth Avenue shopper.”

The 2,600-square-foot restaurant’s design is simple, with sleek tables and chairs and black-and-white finishes.

Its name pays homage to one of Saks Fifth Avenue’s legendary fashion designers, Sophie Gimbel, who designed women’s apparel for Saks for 40 years and married a Saks executive. Among her many simple and elegant designs was a red coat and dress she created for Lady Bird Johnson.

“We’re not creating a museum to honor Sophie, but a restaurant brand, if you will, keeping in mind what she stood for — like the simplicity in the way she designed — as we go along,” Kaufman said.

IT STARTED IN CHICAGO

Saks opened its first Sophie’s concept in Chicago earlier this year. Sarasota will be the second. More restaurants are planned in larger markets.

“These kind of restaurants primarily target women. It’s very much a place for ladies to lunch and meet their friends, then continue shopping,” said Jeff Green, a retail analyst with Phoenix-based Jeff Green Partners. “The demographic in Nordstrom cafes is traditionally older. I imagine the restaurant in Saks will do very well in Sarasota.”

Saks Fifth Avenue will close its existing 40,000-square-foot store at the Westfield Southgate Mall in October, when the mall being jointly developed by Taubman Centers and Benderson Development debuts.

Saks Fifth Avenue has further invested in the importance of the Southwest Florida market by closing its Tampa store at Westshore Mall.

When the 880,000-square-foot Mall at University Town Center opens in October, Sarasota will have the only Saks department store on the Gulf Coast north of Fort Myers.

Saks joins Macy’s and Dillard’s as anchors for the new mall, the only enclosed mall scheduled to open this year in the United States.

A slew of other national, high-end retailers have committed to opening stores there, including Apple, Anthropologie, lululemon, Tiffany’s & Co. and Brooks Brothers, to name a few.

Sophie’s will compete with other national restaurant chains — Brio Tuscan Grille, Capital Grill, Seasons 52, Cheesecake Factory and Zinburger — as dining options at the new mall.

“There are so many great restaurants in Sarasota. We hope Sophie’s will fit right in,” Kaufman said.

The restaurant will not stay open later than the department store does. Each Sophie’s will have a menu unique to its market. For example, Sarasota’s menu will have more fresh seafood than others, Kaufman said.

While the Sarasota Sophie’s menu has yet to be created, and the Chicago restaurant is open only for breakfast and lunch, its menu gives a taste of what Sarasota can expect. It includes a $12 cocktail menu with a rhubarb basil gimlet of distillery gin, basil, bitters and lime juice. Entrees include a North Atlantic salmon for $25 and an “Amish chicken breast” for $21.

A RETAILING TREND

Saks Fifth Avenue is the latest upscale retailer to venture into the dining sector in recent years.

Nordstrom’s department stores, including the one in Tampa’s International Plaza, have their own line of in-store cafes, which serve lighter fare, coffee and cocktails.

The concept has helped make Nordstrom more of a destination for shoppers, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president with Chicago-based Technomic, a food consulting firm.

“Combining a high-end restaurant with the Saks or Nordstrom clientele is a service to the customer that goes beyond just the typical shopping experience,” he said. “The idea of restaurants in department stores is coming back, and we’re seeing a lot of it internationally. It has great strength and is moving forward.”

Macy’s, too, has dabbled with restaurant concepts in larger markets — such as its Stella 34 Trattoria, an Italian restaurant tucked onto the sixth floor of the Macy’s in New York.

Brooks Brothers announced that it plans to open its first restaurant, “Makers and Merchants,” a steakhouse, around the corner from its flagship store in New York this year. The restaurant is taking over vacant space once used for a Brooks Brothers women’s line.

“Price is not the issue here, considering the type of store shoppers are in,” said Green, the Phoenix-based consultant. “We really only see these kind of restaurants inside upscale department stores, even though they used to be in more traditional stores.

“Full-service restaurants won’t ever be in traditional stores anymore.”


Expect New Dishes at Your Favorite Casual-Dining Spots

April 21, 2014

getimage.aspx“The food, it is kind of incidental to everything else,” said Myers, dining recently in the cafe at Universal CityWalk.

Hard Rock is seeking to change that attitude with a major menu makeover, one of many that casual-dining chains are doing to keep up in a competitive industry. Olive Garden, Smokey Bones and Tony Roma’s are among those trying to offer a better bill of fare to woo diners with increasingly sophisticated palates.

“People are more food savvy because of social networking,” Hard Rock’s executive chef Russell Booth said. “They’re expecting great food with flavor, with punch.”

A musical museum of sorts, Hard Rock is themed to the extreme. But the company said it wants to make what diners taste as much a reason to visit as what they see and hear. So it conducted a soup-to-nuts analysis that spanned 15 months and solicited opinions from more than 3,000 customers.

Thirty dishes and drinks are new. Almost as many other items have different ingredients and preparation methods.

Results range from a new chicken arugula salad to adult beverages with trendy additions such as bacon and salted caramel. Hard Rock replaced queso on its nachos with two layers of mixed cheeses and added toppings such as smoked beef brisket. Other changes are more subtle, such as new brioche burger buns to replace potato ones.

Still, Hard Rock hasn’t strayed too far from its roots: heaping portions of typical casual-dining chow.

Tony Roma’s took a more radical approach with a rebranding experiment in Orlando. It essentially gutted its old menu, keeping its signature ribs but switching out almost everything else for trendier fare such as pulled pork tacos and fish with couscous.

That’s risky, however, and unusual, experts say.

“It’s about balancing what is familiar — old favorites, signature items, with items that are new,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of restaurant-research firm Technomic.

Experts say casual-dining restaurants are reinventing menus to fight a trend of declining traffic and sales. But other types of restaurants are making changes, too. Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A recently introduced grilled-chicken dishes marinated in sea salt, lemon, garlic and herbs and cooked on a new kind of grill meant to create the flavor of a backyard barbecue.

Such changes aren’t always a recipe for success.

In late 2012, Red Lobster added more-affordable meals and many others that didn’t feature fish. Sales at the seafood chain owned by Orlando-based Darden Restaurants have declined sharply since, diving 8.7 percent in its most recent quarter.

At Olive Garden, also owned by Darden, one lesson learned from Red Lobster is that “you can’t forget that there’s something for everyone on this menu,” said Jay Spenchian, the Italian chain’s executive vice president of marketing. “You have to have those messages to different audiences going simultaneously.”

Olive Garden recently debuted more than 20 new tapas-style dishes meant to attract younger consumers. Grilled chicken with broth and vegetables appears on the lighter-fare section aimed at health-conscious diners. Several $9.99 pasta and sauce combinations are meant to appeal to customers on a budget.

To lure people with more adventurous tastes, Olive Garden added dishes with pesto and spicy diavolo sauces, which the chain had previously shied away from for fear of alienating core customers.

“We can’t be afraid when we put something on the menu [that] some people aren’t going to like it,” Spenchian said. “Before, we were a little enamored with trying to get everyone to like something a little bit.”

One of Olive Garden’s competitors, Tampa-based Carrabba’s Italian Grill, also recently added 15 new dishes for less than $15.

At Orlando-based Smokey Bones, Chief Executive Officer Chris Artinian said the goal of recent menu changes is to emphasize freshness. More sides and sauces are homemade. The restaurants are buying brisket with more fat and smoking it longer — 14 hours — for more tender meat and richer flavor. New items, meanwhile, include fried pickles, additional chicken-wing sauces and a margarita with Pop Rocks on the rim.

At the restaurants, some foods have disappeared — and not just to make room for new ones.

The overall number of items at Tony Roma’s dropped from 62 to 51 after the chain already dropped about 30 others a year and a half ago. Smokey Bones and Hard Rock both ended up with slightly fewer items than before.

Spenchian said Olive Garden’s menu is about the same size but a few things could be deleted in the near future to make operations less complex.

That, too, is a common theme in the industry now.

At Smokey Bones, Artinian said, part of the revamp was “ensuring our menu has enough variety but also small enough that we do everything great.”


Outside the Spoon

March 12, 2014

outside-spoonFrozen-yogurt concept looks beyond sweet treats for menu expansion.

The buzz behind frozen yogurt may be waning, but Red Mango Frozen Yogurt & Smoothies is one brand that won’t be limited by its category. The Dallas-based chain began testing a café concept at several Houston and Long Island, New York, area franchises.

The concept, called Red Mango Café, features an expanded menu of healthy flatbreads, salads, and wraps, says Jim Notarnicola, the company’s vice president of marketing and franchising.

Expanded menus are increasingly popular at specialized concepts like frozen-yogurt franchises, says Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant industry analyst for The NPD Group. “They’ve already got the real estate, they’re already open for business, and they have the customers, so now they can offer them something more,” she says.

Launched in the fall, Red Mango Café features six flatbread items that offer diners a savory experience with less than 350 calories. The salads are topped with natural dressings, and for cold winter months, the café serves a line of hearty soups. Some locations also offer specialty juice products.

Because Red Mango has always positioned its frozen yogurt as a healthy alternative rather than a sugary treat, the expanded menu has been well received, Notarnicola says. “Our customers are telling us it made sense to them that we would be adding these kinds of products, and it gives them another reason to come back in a different daypart,” he says.

While Red Mango doesn’t share sales numbers, Notarnicola says, results confirm the concept is moving in the right direction.

More menu choices can help units grow market share, says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic. “The frozen-yogurt business has become very competitive. There are not only a number of chains but also a lot of independent entrants, so as a result, it’s getting more difficult to be successful,” he says. “Broadening the menu seems to be a way these brands can grow their revenue.”


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