Taco Bell Runs Naughty TV Ad For ‘Happier Hour’

March 27, 2014

taco-bell-campaign-188_2To drive awareness of its “Happier Hour,” which runs from 2 to 5 pm each day, Taco Bell is running new TV creative that’s slightly naughty, in a playful way.

The spot (in 30- and 15-second versions), from Deutsch LA, shows three different scenarios in which male/female pairs — office colleagues, college students and seniors — exchange suggestive looks and then appear to be heading out together for a tryst, as the song “Afternoon Delight” plays in the background.

But it turns out that they’re all actually headed to a Taco Bell, where they can get any “Loaded Griller” for $1, and any medium beverage for the same price, during those three afternoon hours.

The “Afternoon Delight” version is a Little Hurricane cover of the 1976 Starland Vocal Band song.

The keen-eyed viewer may notice a cameo by “America’s Next Top Model” winner Laura Ellen James, playing a college student who clearly makes the day of her much-shorter classmate when she lures him out of an in-progress lecture.

The spot started airing this week on networks and cable, and will continue running through the end of June, with additional media support through the end of August. Happier Hour is being promoted on Taco Bell’s social assets, including Facebook (10 million “likes”) and Twitter (1.1 million followers), as well as featured on YouTube.

Happier Hour is described in consumer promotions as a “limited time offer,” but it’s been running at participating locations since last year (an “always on” promotion), according to Deutsch. The current marketing push is the second campaign for Happier Hour; Taco Bell also ran a campaign last year.

The reasons behind a special afternoon event/offer aren’t hard to grasp. QSRs obviously benefit from driving more traffic during the quieter hours between and following regular meals. And offering snackable items at attractive prices has become a key strategy for driving such business.

According to a new “Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report” from foodservice research firm Technomic, 51% of Americans now report that they eat snacks at least twice a day — up from 48% two years ago. Nearly half (49%) report that they eat snacks between meals, and 45% replace one meal a day with a snack.

Among those who buy snacks at restaurants, 45% order from the value or dollar menu.

“There’s plenty of room for restaurants to expand their snack programs and grab share,” even as packaged food makers and retailers also push harder to grab those snacking dollars, noted Technomic EVP Darren Tristano.

And while candy is still the dominant snack (purchased at least occasionally by 71% of surveyed consumers), half of consumers say that “healthfulness” is very important to them when choosing a snack. As a result, many restaurants, like their CPG counterparts, are including healthier options within their snack offerings.


Burger King to Add Mobile-Phone Payment at U.S. Locations

March 26, 2014

AR-140329974.jpg&maxw=248&maxh=191&updated=Burger King Worldwide Inc. is introducing an application that will allow customers to pay for Whoppers with their smartphones as it races rivals to woo younger diners.

The program will be introduced next month and should be in all of Burger King’s more than 7,000 U.S. locations in “a few months,” Bryson Thornton, a spokesman for the company, said in an e-mailed statement. The option to order food and drinks ahead of time for later in-store pickup may be added, he said.

Fast-food chains including McDonald’s Corp. and Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. are competing to quickly introduce the best loyalty programs and smartphone apps to try to attract millennials and teens. McDonald’s last year said it was testing coupon and mobile-payment apps at some of its U.S. locations. Dunkin’ Donuts rolled out a rewards programs to all of its domestic shops in January.

“I don’t think there is a clear leader,” Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Chicago-based Technomic Inc., said in a phone interview.

Burger King’s app, developed by Tillster Inc., will give customers coupons for deals, such as $1 any-size drinks and free fries, as well as nutrition facts. To pay with mobile phones, users can load value onto a virtual card within the app.

Mobile ordering and payment apps appeal to millennial diners — those 18 to 35 years old, Tristano said.

“What younger consumers are looking for is the ability to use their phones to do everything,” he said. “The cell phone has replaced the wallet.”

About 19 percent of American consumers had recently used a mobile device to make a restaurant pickup or delivery order, according to a 2012 study from Technomic. That will probably increase as younger generations age, the researcher said.

McDonald’s, the largest U.S. burger chain, said in December that it was testing a smartphone app, called McD, at 1,000 U.S. stores. The trial app, created by Palo Alto, California-based Mowingo Inc., sent customers deals and discounts to redeem with their phones at participating stores.


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.”


Quiznos Moves Toward Bankruptcy Filing

February 28, 2014

Sandwich chain Quiznos is preparing to file for bankruptcy-court protection within weeks as it contends with unhappy franchisees and a $570 million debt load, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Quiznos has been negotiating with creditors for weeks on a restructuring plan that would streamline its trip through bankruptcy court, these people said, but a deal hasn’t yet been reached.

The chain’s move toward bankruptcy comes two years into a major turnaround effort that included an out-of-court debt restructuring and a management shake-up. While a Chapter 11 filing would give the company much-needed flexibility on leases and unattractive contracts, the company must repair its damaged relationship with franchise owners who say they’re being squeezed out of business by the high cost of operating a Quiznos outlet.

“If a brand wants to succeed, its franchisees have to succeed,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at restaurant consulting firm Technomic Inc.

Thousands of Quiznos locations have shut down in recent years as the company’s competitors have opened new locations at a rapid pace. Quiznos’s world-wide store count now stands at about 2,100, while its chief rival, Subway, has 41,000.

Founded in 1981, Quiznos was considered innovative at the time with its toasted subs. But its sales have suffered as Subway offered a $5 foot-long sandwich starting in 2008 and new competitors such as Potbelly Corp. PBPB -0.84% and Jimmy John’s Franchise LLC moved into the crowded sandwich market.

In its heyday in the mid-2000s, Quiznos stores, on average, rang up $425,000 in annual sales; since then, that figure has dropped to around $300,000 for the top-performing stores and to far less at the weakest stores, according to people familiar with the matter.

Quiznos franchisees say they’re struggling to stay in business. In addition to the fees the company charges them to use its name, store operators must also buy most of their supplies and ingredients from Quiznos’s distribution business.

Franchisees long have complained that the subsidiary charges more than what they would pay to purchase those goods elsewhere.

Mr. Tristano said the fees Quiznos collects from franchisees—7% in royalty fees and another 4% for advertising—is higher than the industry average of 6% in royalty fees and 2% for marketing.

Fabian Andino opened a Quiznos franchise in 2006 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. It wasn’t long before he realized that he was paying higher prices for items like tomatoes through Quiznos’s distribution business. To save money, he bought produce from local farms but said the company charged him weekly penalty fees for not placing minimum food orders.

A person close to the company said it didn’t assess such penalty fees, but that franchisees who wanted to receive rebates for food costs were required to place minimum orders.

When Quiznos decided to offer delivery service in 2008, he recalled, franchisees were told to pay $10,000 to the company in return for signs and decals for their delivery cars and in-store inserts.

“They marketed it as though it would be the magic wand that would save the operation, but I knew it was another ploy Quiznos was using to raise more funds for them,” Mr. Andino said. “I refused.”

Mr. Andino said the company withdrew the payment request and supplied him with the materials free of charge. He said he couldn’t make his Quiznos business work and closed his store in late 2009.

“Quiznos did not have the proper name recognition or great marketing,” said John Medici, a 71-year-old retired warehouse manager in Longwood, Fla., and onetime Quiznos customer. “You have to give people the impression that your food is better than the food down the street.”

Steven Raposo said he spent a total of $350,000 to open a Quiznos franchise in Norton, Mass., in 2005. He said he and his family soon realized they wouldn’t be able to bring in enough money to cover expenses and put the franchise up for sale. They sold the business less than a year later for about half the price.

Mr. Raposo said his annual sales would have been about $600,000, but he was still facing monthly losses of between $3,000 and $5,000.

“It sounds like we were doing a lot [of business] but there was actually no profit because of food costs and labor,” said Mr. Raposo, a practicing chiropractor.

To address franchisees’ concerns, Quiznos management cut food and supply prices last summer, a person close to the company said in December. The company has also tried to improve store operations in the U.S. by making sure restaurants were clean, adding new menu items and removing slow-selling ones.

But so far, Quiznos’s turnaround efforts haven’t met expectations and the company has missed key performance targets, according to people familiar with the matter. The company also has a high debt load for its size, in part the legacy of a 2006 leveraged buyout.

Quiznos missed a loan payment at the end of 2013 and has been operating under a forbearance agreement with its lenders, which delays a potential default, as it negotiates with creditors including Fortress Investment Group FIG +1.87% LLC, Oaktree Capital Management and Avenue Capital Group, which is also its majority owner.


Finding the Sweet Spot’ for Fast Casual Pricing

February 11, 2014

Screen shot 2014-02-01 at 5.36.37 PMFast casual continues to generate strong appeal with American consumers. That success has been based on the competitive positioning of the segment compared to traditional quick service and casual dining. Patrons continue to trade up from quick service to the made-to-order, fresh quality and contemporary experience, and trade down from the less convenient, higher-priced casual dining segment, especially at lunchtime.

But what are the price thresholds for consumers at Fast Casual?

A recent survey for Technomic’s Value & Pricing Consumer Trend Report asked consumers to define the price at which a product is too cheap so as to impact quality (low price); the price at which the item is a bargain (optimal price); the price at which a product is starting to become expensive, but they would still purchase it (indifference price); and the price at which a product is so expensive they would no longer purchase it (high price).

Consumers indicated that at breakfast, the sweet spot between optimal and indifference was $6.01 to $6.50. At lunch, the sweet spot increased to a price point between $7.00 and $7.60, with dinner results from $8.54 to $9.09. Also, some consumers indicated their thresholds for high price were as high as $8.51 for breakfast, $10.07 at lunch and $12.46 for a meal at dinner.

This chart provides a strong tool for fast casual operators to review their pricing and see how each of their meal bundles or a la carte items fit within the price points consumers indicated for meals at each daypart.

With regards to traditional quick service, the optimal price point for breakfast was $1.50 lower, lunch $2.00 below, and consumers indicated at dinner they would pay $2.50 less than fast casual. Interestingly, fast casual optimal prices increased by 50 cents throughout the day with each daypart.

So what does this all mean to operators?

Consumers continue to be sensitive to pricing and spending at meals away from home. As a result, operators should follow a “barbell” strategy by offering a broad pricing mix for high, medium and low prices. Some opportunities for strategies are as follows:

  • Vary portion size and price. Offer opportunities for customers to upgrade to larger portions or reduce spend with smaller plates or samplers. A “one-size-fits-all” approach may not suit differences in demographics between men and women or health vs. indulgent diners. A range of prices from high to low allow diners to spend what they want and get what they are looking for.
  • Promote value through offering full meals. Recent Technomic consumer research indicated that, in general, 80% of consumers purchase value meals at fast food restaurants at least once every two to four weeks. As consumers grow accustomed to purchasing “meals,” fast casual operators should offer meals that simplify the ordering process, increase check average and provide higher value.
  • Provide fresh and premium products. Nearly 48% of consumers polled indicated they would likely purchase and pay more for a food or beverage that is fresh. In addition, 37% say the same for premium food and beverage options. Taking credit for the fresh ingredients and preparation of food and beverages is important in justifying your prices. Menu descriptions, fresh images and interaction with customers build the story and give patrons a connection with a better-for-you offering.
  • Enhance your value positioning with customization. As the consumer’s need for greater control increases, giving them more options for having it their way enhances the value they receive. Providing patrons with the ability to allow ingredient substitutions, vary spiciness, and add more toppings are opportunities to delight the customer, build loyalty and get them back through the door.

Overall, operators who are able to provide broad options and keep it simple will win over customers with the right price and the right value.


New Pizza Hut Units Feature Pizza by the Slice

January 24, 2014

picChain aims to boost its lunch daypart and compete against fast-casual upstarts with the new prototype.

An updated dining room emphasizes a sit-down experience.

Pizza Hut opened two units this week built around a pizza-by-the-slice experience aimed at potentially evolving the brand to make inroads during the lunch daypart and to fend off competition from upstart fast-casual pizza brands.

A company-owned unit in Pawtucket, R.I., and a franchised restaurant in York, Neb., feature modern design elements that have spread from fast-casual restaurants into other industry segments, such as digital menu boards and open seating plans, as well as a pizza-by-the-slice “bar.”

The larger unit in York has 80 seats and will also emphasize the dine-in experience with sautéed pastas and a made-to-order salad bar. The Pawtucket location seats 30 people and will function more as a delivery-carryout restaurant with the additional by-the-slice feature.

Carrie Walsh, the new chief marketing officer for Pizza Hut’s U.S. system, said in a statement that the new restaurants would meet and exceed the needs of consumers, as well as “enter a competitive environment” like pizza by the slice in the Northeast “with a very competitive product.”

It also would give Plano, Texas-based Pizza Hut new footing in the lunch daypart, where several young fast-casual pizza brands are looking to build their market share. Much of the fast-casual sector’s activity revolved around pizza last year, with chains like Pie Five and Your Pie ramping up growth plans and other brands like Pizzeria Locale and PizzaRev attracting the investment of larger restaurant companies like Chipotle Mexican Grill and Buffalo Wild Wings, respectively.

However, Pizza Hut developed its new-concept stores to meet customer demand, not the challenge of the new fast-casual segment, spokesman Doug Terfehr said in an interview.

Pizza Hut says offering individual slices aims to satisfy customer demand.

“We pay attention to our consumer trends, one of which is them seeking a quick on-the-go option, and one of our solutions for that is pizza by the slice,” he said. “We’re not reacting or responding to what the others are doing with speed. It’s about understanding our broader pizza fan. They’re looking for a convenient option, and this is an inviting environment to bring that to them.”

Regardless, “fast-casual pizza competition is coming, and it’s coming hard,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based market research firm Technomic Inc.

Pizza Hut is acting prudently to recognize how that segment is changing pizza fans’ expectations, especially at lunch, which has always been a daypart in which the legacy chains like Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza could build sales, he said.

“The convenience of being able to get a single-serve, value-oriented item is the play Pizza Hut is looking to get into and what fast-casual chains will continue to dominate,” Tristano said. “It’s a way to build more traffic at lunch with something that’s price-appropriate. It’s a smart decision.”

Fellow industry expert Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of Columbus, Ohio-based WD Partners, also praised Pizza Hut’s decision to experiment with pizza by the slice.

“It’s one of the major methods of delivering pizza that they haven’t done before,” Lombardi said. “This is absolutely appropriate and important. Couple that with walk-in traffic — think how well the Hot-N-Ready has performed for Little Caesars.”

Properly forecasting the production needs for pizza by the slice, so that the products look fresh and appealing but do not go to waste, would be a major challenge for adding that experience, he added.

Where Pizza Hut also needs to be cautious, Technomic’s Tristano said, is staying true to its positioning as a delivery and carryout leader.

“When you’re No. 1, you have more to lose than to gain,” he said, “so when trying to reinvent yourself to remain competitive and relevant to new customers, it’s important as long as you don’t turn off people who appreciate you for what you are.”

Pizza Hut spokesman Terfehr agreed, saying, “Delivery and carryout are still our core business, what we do well and what people come to us for.”

He added that delivery and carryout orders have followed typical patterns, with by-the-slice orders creating incremental traffic during lunch and somewhat in the evening, in the first few days of operation for the York and Pawtucket stores.

But don’t expect the by-the-slice format to appear in all new Pizza Hut units soon, Terfehr said. He conceded that a few more locations would open over the near term — and Pizza Hut’s chief development officer, Al Litchenburg, noted in a statement that the brand was “bullish on our plans to quickly expand them” — but most of the chain’s new domestic units would continue to carry the “Del-Co Light” design, which has helped Pizza Hut regain its momentum for net unit growth.

Pizza Hut opened 115 net locations in the United States in 2013 and has more than 7,750 domestic locations.

The brand is a subsidiary of Louisville, Ky.-based Yum! Brands Inc., which also operates or franchises KFC and Taco Bell in more than 130 countries.


Can fast-casual continue its rapid growth?

January 22, 2014

page067thave 100Fast-casual eateries are riding a boom of consumer demand for better food at cheaper prices. It’s a formula that now accounts for nearly 10 percent of sales across the restaurant industry.

But can the segment continue its industry-leading growth?

Analysts and those within the restaurant industry say yes.

The NPD Group projects fast-casual concepts will continue double-digit growth through the next decade.

“They’ll grow more than 1 percent a year over the next 10 years, when the industry is forecast to grow less than half a percent a year,” said Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant analyst with the Port Washington, N.Y.-based research firm. “It will be a battle for market share. This group of concepts will be a group that will be winning that battle.”

Small and rural markets will fuel the segment’s growth and dominance of the $420 billion national restaurant industry.

During the past six years, fast-casual’s growth has occurred in higher-density markets such as cities and suburbs, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic Inc. He said many of these chains and concepts will start looking at smaller areas.

“Primarily, you don’t need a lot of sales to justify a restaurant (in these markets),” he said, citing Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches and Chipotle Mexican Grill among the brands eyeing those markets. “We’ve seen in the smaller markets the demand is there, and they’re generating sales because unit volumes are so high.”

The economics of fast-casual make it a perfect fit for smaller markets because of lower overhead costs.

“A small footprint and reduced cost on food and beverage still provides ample opportunities to be profitable,” Tristano said.

Even in sprawled-out markets such as Phoenix, fast-casual will continue to dominate, said Dan Beem, president of Scottsdale-based Cold Stone Creamery, a unit of Kahala Corp.

“There’s definitely room for growth in the Phoenix market,” he said. “The economy’s picking up, and our food scene has really evolved the past eight years.”

That being said, those with quality product will win out.

“The minute you start to diminish on food quality, you’re going to lose your consumers very, very, very quickly,” said Steve Chucri, president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association.


‘Most-Influential Burger of all Time’ Bestowed on White Castle’s Slider

January 21, 2014

slider-fame-art-gaaqe1kk-1restaurants-hq-2-jpgThe White Castle hamburger, which has been noted in everything from film to song, has reached an even-higher level of recognition.

Time, the magazine known for its annual listing of the world’s most-influential people, says the “most-influential burger of all time” is the one made by White Castle also known as a Slider.

“The now-iconic square patty — which debuted in 1921 at the first White Castle in Wichita, Kan. — was the first burger to spawn a fast-food empire: By 1930, White Castle had 10 U.S. locations,” the magazine said at the top of its online list of the 17 most-influential burgers ever.

“Its success paved the way for the great American burger obsession,” the magazine said.

Magazine staffers chose the Slider as their most-important hamburger after interviewing “burger historians and experts,” according to the Time website.

Completing the top five most-influential burgers were the McDonald’s hamburger at No. 2; the In-N-Out burger, No. 3; the 21 burger, No. 4; and the Burger King Whopper, No. 5.

“If I were going to look at this, there are three that come to mind,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, the Chicago food and restaurant research firm. “The Slider, the Whopper, the Big Mac. To me, those would be the top three.”

The name “Slider” has been a term of endearment for fans since the 1950s, said Jamie Richardson, the White Castle vice president who is chief spokesman for the family-owned company. He’s also a family member.

Although the Columbus-based fast-food company used the name “slyder” in its 1990s advertising, it didn’t adopt the “Original Slider” trademark until 2011, Richardson said.

The choice of the Slider as the most-influential hamburger doesn’t surprise Tim Powell, principal of the business-management firm Think Research and Consulting in Dublin.

“White Castle is one of the most-iconic brands because of its bite-size hamburgers,” Powell said in an email.

Also yesterday, White Castle celebrated its 1 millionth “like” on social-medial site Facebook with free food, gifts and giveaways for fans.

“This is our 80th year in Columbus,” having moved here from Wichita in 1934, Richardson said. “ Columbus has many distinctions. Now, it’s also the home of the most-influential burger. We’re truly humbled by the honor.”


Premium Toppings, Pairings Boost Pizza Sales

January 13, 2014

picCustomizable options and combo opportunities are creating exciting new options across the foodservice category.

Pizza remains among one of the most demanded foodservice options anywhere in the country. But it’s also one of the most competitive menu options. Customers are demanding high quality toppings and more exciting varieties in their pizza pies, as well as value-driven add-ons, such as beverages and side dishes that can complete a meal. Moving into 2014, convenience stores can expect increased competition from fast casual restaurants selling customizable pizzas and pizzerias attracting customers with craft beer options.

Chicago-based research firm Mintel International found in a recent study that the pizza restaurant market in the U.S. grew throughout the recession and is continuing to gain momentum. Pizza restaurant sales grew 10% from 2007 to 2011, and a growth of 16.7% is predicted from 2012 to 2017, reaching a projected $44 billion in 2017.

C-stores have ample opportunity to cash in on pizza’s popularity and take advantage of pizza trends coming out of other channels, from bundling beer and pizza to featuring more gourmet toppings and themed pizza options.

Italian Meats Pizza
Wade Mannino, president of Patoka Fast Stops in Patoka, Ill., and Stop and Go Marts in Marine, Ill., has been partnering with Hunt Brothers Pizza since 1996. He is seeing the latest trends in pizza first hand. “Customers are looking for specialty pizzas and add-ons—like bread sticks, chicken wings or calzones—anything they can add on to the pizza order,” he said.

Mannino’s stores witnessed customer excitement from the introduction of Hunt Brothers’ new Italian Meats Pizza (pictured above), which brought a bump in pizza sales with its debut during a test market launch earlier this year. “Anything new here sells,” Mannino said, noting that his stores offer all of the limited time only (LTO) pizzas, such as the Buffalo Chicken pizza, that Hunt Brothers offers to keep customer interest high year round.

The Italian Meats pizza uses Hunt Brothers’ original rising fresh crust, topped with a signature sauce, layered with slices of Italian-style ham, salami, pepperoni and 100% mozzarella cheese.

According to a recent Mintel report (see sidebar), pepperoni and sausage are the two most popular toppings. The Hunt Brothers’ varieties were tested in the Dallas and St. Louis markets (which includes Illinois) from Aug. 18 to Oct. 14, and rolls out nationwide this month. When introducing meat topping pizzas, c-stores often struggle with a low quality perception, but by elevating the quality of the meat and product, c-stores can not only increase price, but can break through that perception and increase sales, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president, for the Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc.

“Customers like the Italian Meats pizza because it’s new and it’s more of a premium product,” Mannino said.

Just as important, the pizzas are delivered with all the toppings already in place, making it easy for employees to prepare. “All you have to do is add the seasonings and spices they use, and if the customer wants double cheese then you’d add the double cheese to that,” Mannino said.

LTO Excitement
Gier Oil Co., with 37 Eagle Stop Convenience Stores in Missouri, also partners with Hunt Brothers Pizza at a number of its locations.

Bethany Poe, operations supervisor for eight Eagle Stop stores, six of which offer the Hunt Brothers program, said her customers are also looking for variation, and are attracted by limited time offers. “Customers miss the LTOS when they are taken off the menu, but then they’re excited when they bring them back a few months later,” she said.

Poe’s stores also tested the Italian Meats pizza during the pilot period. “Some of our stores are in rural areas, and it’s especially beneficial to try to do something different in these locations to change up the offering for the customers,” she said. “With the Hunt Brothers offering, we have the option of selecting the pizzas we want to offer, but we normally go with what Hunt Brothers recommends to stay competitive with the other stores,” she noted.

Technomic found that when it comes to flavors, themed pizzas continue to trend, especially at the c-store level. “The Buffalo chicken pizza is popular because it has the protein—chicken—but also the Buffalo sauce that’s going to give it some spiciness, which customers love,” Tristano noted.

Hawaiian pizza—with ham and pineapple— is another example of a popular themed pizza. Themed pizzas are gaining traction because customers don’t have to decide what topping to add.  “This is something that can be picked up by c-stores and leveraged as an opportunity to sell more pizza,” Tristano said.

When selecting a variety of themed pizzas it’s important to note that an increasing subset of the Millennial generation identifies as vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian (vegetarian most of the time but sometimes eats meat), making it wise to offer a non-meat pizza option alongside a meat-eaters option to capture customers in this demographic, Tristano noted.

Trending Now
Tristano pointed to two overarching trends set to impact pizza in 2014: the pizza pub concept of pairing pizza and alcohol together, and customizable pizza pies, made exactly how the customer desires.

Better fast casual pizza concepts are a key trend now emerging—not only on a regional basis—but soon to hit the national landscape as they gain momentum and capital for growth.

“In California, Blaze Pizza and Pieology are examples of concepts doing something similar to what Chipotle does. You pick a pizza they have or customize it as you interact with the person preparing the pizza,” Tristano said. “What these brands are doing is taking advantage of customization and speed, while leveraging quality and premium ingredients and flavors, which are all on target with what consumers are looking for from the pizza segment.”

Better With Beer
Craft beer is trending with both men and women—and especially with Millennial consumers. Pizzerias are tapping into this demand, showcasing an array of craft, domestic and premium beers alongside their pizza offerings.

“To some extent you have this already in a c-store, most of which sell beer,” Tristano said. “A lot of times a pizzeria isn’t going to have the same beer selection as you can find at a c-store, making this an opportunity for c-store retailers.” 

Technomic consumer research shows customers continue to demand premium high quality toppings and convenience, and proximity and convenient location weigh as key factors in customer intent to purchase.

“That’s something c-stores have an incredible advantage with, not just because of the number of locations, but the ease of going in and out, parking and the ability to pick up other items, such as pop, candy snacks and desserts,” Tristano said.

Convenience stores that currently serve pizza can boost sales by making it easy for customers to select the types of items usually purchased with pizza. That could be chicken wings, but more likely it’s desserts, snacks and beverages—including beer—that can be offered as a bundle deal or simply merchandised nearby.

Trendiest Toppings
Chicago-based research firm Mintel International, recently polled consumers to discover the hottest pizza toppings. Pepperoni took the lead (65%), followed by sausage (54%) and mushroom (51%). Other winners included extra cheese (45%), onion (39%), green pepper (37%), olive (34%), bacon (31%), ham (29%) and pineapple (21%).
Men are much more likely than women to order bacon-topped pies (38% of men versus 24% of women), sausage (60% to 48%), pepperoni (71% to 60%), and ham pizzas (34% to 25%).
Age also impacts topping preferences. Those 18-24 prefer bacon-topped pizza (40% versus 31% on average), extra cheese (54% to 45%), ham (36% to 29%), and pineapple (26% to 21%).


Cold Fusion

January 9, 2014

2014-01-09_1101In an exercise that captured the attention of category managers attending CSP’s Cold Vault Summit, consultant and former retailer Casey McKenzie of Lexington, Ky.-based Impact 21 Group asked the retailers to consider where they would place products in a fictional convenience store.

While the specific results didn’t matter—“There is no right or wrong answer,” McKenzie said— the real message was in the variety of answers.

While one group placed beer in the back-corner cold-vault doors across from a beef-jerky endcap, another put dairy in the same corner doors with bread and other grocery basics nearby. “We imagined our store was in the Northeast, where c-stores really evolved out of the dairy business,” explained the team’s leader, Nancy Knott, category manager of alcohol for La Palma, Calif.-based BP ampm. In that region, she reasoned, consumers are still drawn by bread, milk and eggs.

“That’s it!” McKenzie said. “This exercise is not just about product placement and adjacencies; it’s about what your marketing objectives are. Much of it is driven by who your customers are and what you want to be. But it can’t all be pie-in-the-sky stuff; there has to be some science behind it.”

For three days, 35 retailers from across the country put on their proverbial lab coats to consider the science and the data driving beverage sales today. Their scientific method started with a big picture: the economy and,
perhaps more important, how consumers view it.

“I think the economy is in a lot better shape than [most] people do,” said analyst Nik Modi, who follows beverage and tobacco stocks for RBC Capital Markets. Modi said the housing market is improving, U.S. gross-domestic product is growing again and the job picture is showing some progress.

Despite that, 10 of 12 major beverage categories are slowing and the majority of food categories are declining, according to Modi.

This is a matter of psychology and how consumers think about their purchases. “The internal consumer is being squeezed,” forcing them to be more disciplined in their spending, meaning less discretionary spending
on things such as beverages and fast food, he said. “Consumers are making choices.”

Also, as spending on cars and housing have increased this year, retail sales have declined.

Calorie Concerns
Meanwhile, the continuing trend toward healthier eating also has taken a toll in more ways than one.

First, there’s the move away from products—full-calorie sodas and juices—viewed as adding to the obesity epidemic in the United States.

But the real surprise is that even diet drinks, particularly low-calorie carbonated soft drinks, are hurting, indicating the next phase in the continuing move away from the CSD category.

“It comes down to health and wellness,” Modi said. Consumers are hearing a lot of negative news about low-calorie sweeteners, particularly aspartame, that’s turning them away from the category.

“Just as consumer interest in aspartame peaked (in the first quarter of 2013), diet CSD trends began to worsen, while regular CSD trends remained,” he said. “There are a lot of companies out there chasing the lowcalorie trend. I’m not sure it’s as important today as it used to be.”

For c-stores, those more indulgent beverages are still an area of growth. “Seventy percent of what I sell in my stores have nothing to do with health and wellness,” said retailer Lundy Edwards of Forward Corp., Standish, Mich.

Still, Modi and others pointed out, the trend suggests these full-calorie categories are falling out of favor with the public.

Ivan Alvarado, director of category management for Plano, Texas-based Dr Pepper Snapple Group, acknowledged that in just the past year, the average CSD set has shrunk from 14 shelves to nine in c-stores, most of it claimed by energy drinks and bottled water. “Some of this is related to health and wellness, and some of it is self-infl icted,” he said, citing beverage makers’ hesitance to innovate, and that “CSDs have not been able to communicate with millennials. New tactics are needed to reach these consumers.”

Added Clinton McKinney, group director category advisory for Atlantabased Coca-Cola North America, “If you want to be known as one of the retailers who embraces innovation, you’ve got to go all the way and let the
consumer know that’s your play with signage and other messaging.”

“It’s all about interrupting that autopilot behavior that consumers have in the store,” Alvarado said.

One challenge for retailers is the latest generation—those 21 to 35—coming of age. These millennials are less trusting of big business, making a warning message about the industry’s oldest artifi cial sweetener resonate all the more.

“They have a very low level of trust for institution,” Modi said. Instead, millennial consumers rely on their friends for recommendations, whether it’s a co-worker they see every day or a distant but respected acquaintance they  communicate with only through Facebook.

“It’s when recommendations start coming in on social media that sales really begin to improve,” Modi said.

To that end, Alvarado encouraged retailers to call out soda makers to turn things around. “Challenge us,” he said. “Every time we walk in your stores, ask us: What are you doing to sell more in my store?”

Energy’s Boost
One of the most active beverage categories on social media is energy drinks. With sponsorships of extreme-sport athletes and unique events, such as Red Bull’s Flugtag competition and Monster’s sponsorship of skating, surfi ng and snow events, the suppliers are keeping their brands in front of their key demographics’ eyes.

“Think about all the things that Red Bull does that make someone think, ‘Oh, I’ve got to post that [on Facebook],’ ” Modi said.

Still, energy-drink sales trends are slowing. The young category overall is growing by about 5% today, compared to the double-digit (up to 20%) growth of past years. The category is maturing, and consumers have taken notice of the headlines surrounding energy drinks and the pending lawsuits that claim the drinks are dangerous. Still, Modi doesn’t think that has had much of an effect on sales.

Energy-drink sales grew 8.6% in c-stores for the 52-week period ending Aug. 10, 2013, according to Nielsen data presented by James Ford, head of category and shopper insights for Red Bull North America, Santa Monica, Calif.

“The convenience channel is driving energy-drink growth,” he said. “And energy drinks will continue to be the biggest growth contributor to the beverage category through 2017 and beyond.”

C-store retailers attending the Cold Vault Summit generally agreed that energy drinks are still a bright spot in the cooler, bringing a high-margin ring to the checkout as the major energydrink makers—Monster, Rockstar and Red Bull—maintain a busy newproduct introduction pace to keep the category fresh.

The Wonders of Water
Bottled water is also gaining space in the cold vault as the subcategory continues its march toward becoming the No. 1 beverage in the United States.

The growth comes as usage occasions expand and variety increases, said Chelsea Allen, senior manager, category and shopper solutions, for Nestle Waters North America, Stamford, Conn.

“Bottled water outsells sodas in 13 U.S. markets today,” she said. “It will be the No. 1 beverage in the country in 2016.”

The opportunity for retailers is to grab as much share as possible of the category while it’s still growing.

“Smartwater is the fastest-growing brand, and private-label [water] is growing on distribution gains,” Allen said. “But … we know that brands bring people into your stores. In fact, 44% of all bottled-water households will only buy branded bottled water.”

To improve water sales, Allen encouraged retailers to offer single-serve packaging for the three main water segments: premium, popular and value waters. She also urged retailers to stock 12- and 24-packs of water. “Nearly 6 million shoppers shop in convenience stores and buy case pack water,” she said. “But only 1% of households buy case water in c-stores. It’s a real opportunity.”

Favoring Flavor
Millennials are helping change another aspect of the beverage landscape: They’re more willing to experiment with new flavors. They join the growing Hispanic demographic in a desire to sample bolder flavors. When you add millennials’ $1.7 trillion in spending power to Hispanics’ $1.2 trillion, the result is a “structural change” to the country’s palate.

“It’s the blending of America,” Modi said. “The white consumer is taking culinary cues from Hispanic, Asian and African-American consumers.”

This led Modi to suggest beverage manufacturers should focus less on low-calorie products and more on new flavors that appeal to this new desire for stronger flavors.

“We’re at a point in the United States where companies are taking ingredients out of their products” to make them seem more natural, Modi said. “Instead, there’s not enough flavor.”

The most obvious and successful evidence of this trend is in the beer and wine categories. One reason: By 2018, 80 million millennials will be of legal drinking age, and 20% of millennials are also Hispanic, according to Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based Technomic Inc.

For wine, the move has been toward mixing varietals to create new flavors and indulging the millennial consumers’ sweet tooth.

“The millennial doesn’t want to drink what their parents drink,” said George Ubing, national director of the convenience channel for E. & J. Gallo Winery, Modesto, Calif. For Gallo, the goal of turning wine into a more refreshing beverage has prompted innovation. Leading the way are Barefoot’s lighter, more thirst-quenching line extensions Refresh, Moscato and Bubbly; and a Liberty Creek wine packaged in a Tetra Pak to target on-the-go lifestyles.

Beer’s story has been told many times: The growth is in “better beers”—imports, crafts, higher-end brews from major brewers—as consumers seek more flavor and diversity, even at greater expense.

“There’s a definite shift away from domestic beers,” said Tristano. “Today, it’s craft beers, cider and imports that are growing. When they become too popular, that’s when millennials say, ‘Wait a minute. I want to try something different.’ ”

That, to Modi, is an opportunity. Their willingness to experiment and try new flavors gives retailers permission to “reduce the SKU capacity, but supply newness,” he said. That is, don’t feel the need to stock every variation on a subcategory; instead, stock the most popular and the newest to maintain the fastest-selling brands while providing customers the ability to experiment.

This theory is backed by research that shows a balanced beer portfolio is the most successful way to grow overall beer sales, as outlined by Dean Zurliene, St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch’s senior director of category management.

“There’s a lot of shifting in the beer mix today,” Zurliene said. “When retailers manage it from a balanced approach—emphasizing both premium beers and crafts—they win 93% of the time.” One reason is the beer buyer’s likelihood to buy both craft and premium beers or spend money on both segments.

“More often than not, someone who drinks craft beer also drinks premium beer, also drinks value beer, and also drinks import beer,” he said. “The craftbeer shopper only spends 32% of their beer money on craft beer.”

This data falls in line with research on the millennial consumer, too. “Millennials are not the most brand-loyal consumers,” said Adrienne Nadeau, senior researcher for Technomic. “They crave variety.”

And providing that variety can be a long-term win for retailers, Tristano agreed. “It’s not loyalty to millennials; it’s frequency,” he said. “If you build the frequency, the habit with this generation, you can grow with them.”


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