Domino’s is Hot; Pizza Hut Needs Reheating

October 22, 2014

By Sarah Halzack

(c) Copyright 2014, The News Journal. All Rights Reserved.

Domino’s Pizza and Pizza Hut are the titans of the $38 billion U.S. pizza market, and at this moment, one chain is piping hot and the other is in need of reheating.

Domino’s dazzled investors this week with third-quarter results that showed sales at stores open at least a year grew 7.7 percent in the United States and profits jumped 8 percent. The chain, which has 5,000 restaurants in the U.S., also said it attracted more customers and saw the average size of their tabs increase.

But things at Pizza Hut are looking decidedly less upbeat. Its parent company, Yum Brands, said last week that Pizza Hut’s same-store U.S. sales fell 2 percent in the most recent quarter and that its operating profit for the full year is likely to fall short of initial forecasts.

So why are these companies in such dramatically different postures?

The delivery food business has always been about convenience, and now the battle for the biggest slice of the pie is increasingly being waged online. So far, Domino’s has outmaneuvered its competitors with a popular app that is helping drive sales.

“I think it has really boiled down to convenience and the ability for Domino’s to really capitalize on the move toward online and mobile,” said Stephen Anderson, a restaurant industry analyst with Miller Tabak.

Domino’s says that 45 percent of its U.S. sales now come from customers ordering online and that they are running up a higher tab than people who call in their orders.

In a conference call with investors Tuesday, chief executive J. Patrick Doyle said that digital ordering capabilities are also leading to a higher volume of orders from repeat customers.

“It’s ultimately about the better retention of customers, better frequency of orders from customers, and as they have a better experience with Domino’s, we get more orders from them,” Doyle said.

Domino’s added a voice-ordering capability to its mobile app in June. Before the company started advertising the feature a few weeks ago, 200,000 orders had already been placed this way.

On social media, some consumers seem befuddled by the feature, wondering how it’s any improvement over ordering a pizza the old-fashioned way – by picking up the phone.

But Mark Kalinowski, lead restaurant analyst for Janney Capital Markets, said the voice app could be valuable to customers because it brings consistency to the process and it eliminates long hold times.

Meanwhile, Pizza Hut says that while its digital business is growing quickly, it has also acknowledged it is lagging its rivals.

“Our goal is to not only catch the competition on the digital front, but to surpass it in 2015,” said Yum chief executive David Novak in a conference call with investers earlier this year.

Yum says it is working hard to turn around the poor performance at Pizza Hut, not only by strengthening its digital offerings but by overhauling its marketing efforts and debuting new menu items that will connect with millennial diners.

The company said it recently “had good success” with the debut of its Hershey cookie dessert offering and its bacon and cheese stuffed crust pizza.

While the shift to digital pizza ordering is putting pressure on the major national brands to innovate, it could be creating problems for mom-and-pop shops and regional chains. These smaller operations likely don’t have the dollars to invest in such technology, meaning they might face fresh challenges in attracting convenience-focused customers.

Domino’s digital strategy has been crucial to its recent success, but analysts say the company has also gotten a boost from an effective marketing strategy that focuses on the improved quality of its ingredients. The company has also introduced a concept called “Pizza Theater” to some of its stores which allows the customer to see their pizza made fresh before their eyes. The hope is that this model can help boost its dine-in business and emphasize freshness.

“They’re really starting to reinvest in their brand by trying to shift the model from quick service to fast-casual,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a food and restaurant industry research firm.

Pizza Hut, meanwhile, has been more focused on emphasizing low prices with deals such as a large two-topping pizza for $7.99. Promotion-oriented strategies have been common in the quick-service restaurant industry lately as retailers try to get price-conscious consumers off the sidelines.

Both companies say they expect to remain focused on building their digital platforms to win market share in the future.

“You’re only going to be as good as your next platform or your next innovation,” said Chris Brandon, a Domino’s spokesman. “So we’re already starting to look at what are customers are telling us they want more of.”


After missteps, Dunkin’ Donuts Set for California Expansion

September 4, 2014

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

By Taryn Luna

Globe Correspondent

Al Golub/AP for the Globe

Dunkin’ Donuts launches its campaign in Modesto, Calif.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Dunkin’ had to learn the hard way.

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

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

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

Dunkin’ vs. Starbucks in California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

August 29, 2014

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

By Liz Dwyer

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pizza Hut Grows Stale with American Diners

August 28, 2014

35a5f4ba06ee437491f8f75417fb078bBy Venessa Wong, Businessweek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brisket Channel proves to be ultimate reality TV

August 27, 2014

Article by: David Phelps, Star Tribune

© 2014 Star Tribune

Remember the Brisket Channel on Duluth TV?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brand overhaul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


5 Reasons Burger King Wins with Tim Hortons Beyond the Tax Inversion

August 25, 2014

Print

Yesterday Burger King announced plans to acquire Canadian coffee-café chain Tim Hortons, which would enable the burger chain to relocate its headquarters to Canada. The move would lower its tax obligations, a fact the media has latched onto. But even without the so-called tax inversion, Burger King could win with the deal. Here’s how.

  1. Burger King continues to compete in the breakfast daypart, and coffee is essential to attracting patrons. Although Burger King has integrated Seattle’s Best coffee into its breakfast offering, replacing it with Tim Hortons’ premium-blend 100% Arabica bean could be a more financially advantageous opportunity on coffee purchasing.
  1. With increased emphasis on global brand growth, a combined Burger King/Tim Hortons provides strong growth opportunity through co-branding. Giving potential licensees the opportunity to offer a strong breakfast/lunch offering from Tim’s and lunch/dinner offering from Burger King maximizes rents and revenues.
  1. Competing with McDonald’s has become a challenge for larger brands. Since both Tim’s and Burger King compete with the global burger giant, Burger King should get a leg up in the competition. With greater opportunities to fine tune their Canadian operations, Tim’s knowledge of the market should support BK’s strategy and planning in Canada and create stronger competition with McDonald’s stores overall.
  1. Consumer loyalty and sentiment toward Burger King would likely improve with the Tim Hortons marriage. As the majority of Tim Hortons’ customers are brand fans, the strong emotional connection could carry over to Burger King with the new relationship. Emotional connections are important to younger Millennial consumer, and the connection could help strengthen brand perceptions.
  1. Out-of-the-bun thinking is becoming increasingly important to consumers. Menu innovation, limited-time offerings and the need to build what’s new and what’s next on the menu is important for consumers to maintain relevance to restaurant operators. The crossover of Tim Hortons’ and Burger King’s insight and development teams can provide some new perspective and ideally leverage staff experience and skills to support ongoing development programs.

Final Thoughts: Although this investment makes strong financial sense, the post-investment reality will be on leveraging synergies that exist and maximizing the relationship with new emphasis on overall brand growth objectives. How quickly each brand accepts the new realities and bands together culturally will determine the expected success.


Craft Soda Maker Cool Mountain is Hot

August 12, 2014

MONICA GINSBURG

Crain’s Chicago Business

(c) 2014 Crain Communications, Inc.

Untitled-1As a kid in the 1970s, Bill Daker recalls frequent outings to Lasser’s Beverages, a now-defunct soft-drink company on the North Side, where he and his brothers would swig a 32-ounce bottle of black cherry, blue raspberry or cream soda for 50 cents. Today, Mr. Daker is president of Cool Mountain Beverage Inc., a throwback line of neon-colored sodas he launched in 1997 with his brother John.

“The old pop-shop flavors, the glass bottles—it’s all memories of what we had when we were kids,” he says.

The kings of carbonated beverages may be suffering as consumers cut back on everything from Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi to Fanta and Mountain Dew. But for Des Plaines-based Cool Mountain and other little guys such as Jones Soda Co. of Seattle and New York’s Brooklyn Soda Works, these are the good old days.

 

Cool Mountain’s revenue is up 30 percent this year from 2013 and the company booked its first profit last year, though Mr. Daker declines to provide financial figures. Its soft drinks are available in 21 states, including Illinois since Aug. 1, and Canada, Britain and Singapore.

 

“The continuation of the artisan and crafted trend is moving into soda,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based research company. “It’s like craft beer, where consumers, especially younger consumers, are willing to pay more for what they perceive as better quality and a bolder taste.”

 

The test, says Mr. Tristano, will be what happens when consumers get a thirst for something else. “Like most trends, there’s a short-term growth phase that gradually declines as consumers shift to something new,” he says. “Fifteen years ago, consumers traded up from Baskin-Robbins ice cream to Cold Stone Creamery, only to shift to frozen yogurt a few years later.”

 

Mr. Daker, 47, has survived one bust already. In 2003, as fuel prices spiked, 10 of Cool Mountain’s distributors went out of business, leaving him holding $150,000 in unpaid receivables. “It was our worst year,” he says. “It almost took me out. But by then I had so much money invested, I had to keep it going.”

 

PREMIUM PRICING

 

Cool Mountain’s sodas come in seven flavors—the top sellers are black cherry and strawberry. Like other craft bottlers, it uses 100 percent cane sugar and no high-fructose corn syrup. A 12-ounce bottle sells for $1.50. By comparison, Walgreens in mid-July was selling a six-pack of 16-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola for $2.50.

 

The brothers cooked up the business in 1995 after Mr. Daker was laid off as an electrician at Chicago-based Montgomery Ward & Co. They spent two years working with three private-label beverage companies to capture the flavors of their youth, financed with $150,000 from personal savings, family loans and credit cards. John, 48, left the business in 1999 and does maintenance work in Arizona. Another brother, Jim, 63, remains a minority owner.

 

In the early days, Mr. Daker admits, he had little knowledge of the beverage business and was blindsided when Jones Soda expanded just as the brothers were rolling out Cool Mountain. “From the start, we were competing for distributors and we were the runner-up to Jones,” he says. “The soda business is about volume, and the ones who have volume win the race.”

 

Better times came in 1999, when Mr. Daker stopped manufacturing Cool Mountain’s sodas with two Chicago co-packers and instead began to license its recipes to other manufacturers, which would either handle distribution or sell to other distributors.

 

Today Cool Mountain works primarily with Dr. Pepper Snapple Bottling Group Inc. in West Jefferson, North Carolina, and Real Soda Ltd. in Gardena, California. Mr. Daker’s largest customer, Ingels Markets Inc., a chain of 200 supermarkets in the Southeast, accounts for 10 to 15 percent of business.

 

That sales are growing at all in 2014 says something about Cool Mountain’s cachet. Total volume of carbonated soft drinks fell 3 percent in 2013, the ninth straight year of decline and the lowest since 1995, according to Beverage Digest LLC, an industry tracker in Bedford Hills, New York.

 

And while Cool Mountain just has begun selling in Illinois—it had been blocked by exclusivity clauses with some distributors—Mr. Daker launched another brand, Chicago Root Beer, here in 2011. It’s made in Chicago and sold in kegs. Chicago Root Beer makes up 20 percent of the company’s revenue, with a quarter-barrel selling for $45. Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana, is the largest customer.


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