Crafting a New Route for Artisan Foods

May 12, 2020

Small-batch artisanal products poised to strengthen, sources say

Food is increasingly part of the craft movement.

Today’s consumers increasingly want their food to be artisanal, small-batch, healthy, organic and local, as well as from a supply chain that’s transparent and from a farm or plant that treats its employees fairly and takes care of the environment and the livestock involved.

“Craft, in general, is about variety and nuance. If you know where your food is coming from, that gives you a lot more comfort knowing what you’re putting into your body,” says Ethan Lowry, co-founder of Seattle-based Crowd Cow, an online marketplace for high-quality meats. “Plus, it usually tastes much better, too.”

Craft foods are anything made in small batches rather than mass-produced, says Darren Tristano, founder and CEO of Foodservice Results, Chicago. “Anyone who’s doing this is really trying to leverage the demand by younger consumers, who are the ones driving this and are willing to pay more for these products,” he says.

As we amble into 2020, which craft foods are we going to see, eat, drink and buy?

“The hype around Impossible and Beyond Burgers has certainly proven that nonvegetarians and nonvegans are willing to try, and are interested in, plant-based alternative burger options,” says Maeve Webster, president of foodservice consultancy Menu Matters, Arlington, Vt. “The issue with the top brands right now is that they are hyperprocessed products that largely fly in the face of the clean-label, transparent, natural movement.” Webster expects to see burgers shaped by new technologies, ingredients and techniques that will have a cleaner profile than many products on the market right now. She also thinks retailers with back-of-house skills will handcraft their own plant-based burgers “to create unique, nonbranded options.”

Craft Cheese

For the first time, an American-made cheese last year won the top prize at the World Cheese Awards in Bergamo, Italy. Rogue River Blue hails from Rogue Creamery, Central Point, Ore., and Americans are poised to scoop up more artisanal cheeses in the coming year. According to Innova Market Insights, based in Arnhem, Netherlands, product launches of cheese, semihard and hard, described with terms such as “craft” or “crafted” were up 110% annually from 2016 to 2018.

Organic, Natural and Biodynamic Wine

If you thought wine couldn’t get more natural, think again. Wine touted as “natural” has nothing added to the grapes, and nothing taken away. Bars such as 8arm in Atlanta and 320 Market Cafe in Philadelphia are offering only natural wines, and grocery delivery company FreshDirect, based in New York, believes there will be a greater assortment of these wines this year.

“Natural wines are a growing trend among millennial shoppers, and the trend is heading higher,” says Keith Wallace, founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia. “Giving shelf space to these wines is a great way to draw in wine consumers. It also has the added benefit of communicating positive ideals of freshness and health to the consumer.”

Plant-Based Cuisine

Plant-based foods will continue to evolve and expand into more categories, according to FreshDirect, with cauliflower remaining a favorite gluten substitute and oat milk coming to the fore. The company expects to see more products being launched this year. Lizzy Freier, senior managing editor of Chicago-based Technomic, WGB’s sister foodservice market research company, points out that with dairy milk production on the decline, and built off the meteoric rise of nut and seed milks, “the next nondairy milks will be oat milk and fruit and vegetable milks.”


As shoppers become more savvy, picking up a container of iodized salt will no longer cut it. From kosher to Maldon and Himalayan, there’s a salt for every occasion. SaltWorks in Woodinville, Wash., uses its Perfect Smoke technology to add extra flavor to salts that are “harvested from the world’s cleanest oceans.” Flavors include alderwood, applewood, hickory and mesquite sea salt.

Crafted Nonalcohol Spirits and Mixers

Check out any urban bar these days and you’ll find a range of low-alcohol or alcohol-free cocktails. Younger consumers especially are looking to enjoy several drinks and still be able to walk in a straight line.

Webster of Menu Matters expects to see an expansion of low- and no-alcohol spirits such as Seedlip, “but spanning a far broader range of spirit categories, such as whiskey, bourbon and rum, as well as interesting low-/no-[alcohol] mixers to support continued innovation in this category.” She also expects to see more drinks such as bottled or canned cocktails with low- or no-alcohol, which will increase the convenience of this category.

Crafted Spice Blends

Dukkah, berbere, za’atar, baharat: This may sound like an invented language, but it’s actually a list of spice blends, all from the Middle East. As Americans travel more and eat out more, they want to eat the flavors they experiment with at home.

Webster thinks in 2020 manufacturers will consider unique spice blends “that set their spice product line apart.” She also expects to see retailers creating their own. “As consumers become more familiar and comfortable with spice blends and their many uses, it’s likely they’ll start experimenting with creating spice blends at home and look for solutions at retail that help them,” Webster says.

Craft Dog Food

From 2016 to 2018, product launches of dog food and dog snacks/treats were up 52% and 51%, respectively, according to Innova. “It makes a lot of sense given how consumers treat pets like a member of the family and are prepared to shell out good money to dote on their pets,” says Tom Vierhile, VP of strategic insights, North America, for Innova.

Craft Meats

Product launches of craft meat jumped 59% from 2016 to 2018, according to Innova, which “shows meat producers may be trying to fend off challenges from plant-based innovators by going upmarket to appeal to meat lovers,” Vierhile says.

“The craft movement is spilling over into meat and it’s high time,” says Lowry of Crowd Cow. Especially with beef, consumers are recognizing different cuts and different breeds. “It matters what it was fed, and pasture-raised beef matters too. It makes a big difference what went into the animal,” he says.

While Angus is the dominant breed, Lowry also expects to see much more wagyu as consumers cross over. This is particularly resonating with consumers, who love a story and a sense of connection to where their meat comes from. However, he says, the main reason people are switching to wagyu is the taste. “Then it has to be healthy; then, is it good for the animal, the planet, the farmer? People love to check all the boxes,” Lowry says.

Low-Carb Adult Beverages

As the low-carb craze continues, consumers are looking for carb-free beverages as well as food. Hard seltzers such as White Claw from Mark Anthony Group are gaining in popularity, and craft beers are also part of this trend, with fuller-flavored styles, such as the ever-popular IPAs, and reduced carb content.

Underdog Produce

Expect to see more collard greens, red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, fiddleheads, cardoons, ramps, parsnips and their brethren in 2020, says Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, Tulatin, Ore. “There is a movement to praise the overlooked, undervalued produce. Cauliflower is the poster child for this trend and has opened the door to others. Each stands apart and really has no direct competition within its category,” she says.

Freier of Technomic expects to see “new vegetables being created through natural or purposeful breeding techniques.” Hybrids that could become more mainstream include kalettes (kale and Brussels sprouts), lollipop kale (Russian red kale and Brussels sprouts) and caulilini (baby cauliflower).

2020 Future of Fast Casual Report

May 12, 2020

Which brands and categories are best positioned to recover after the pandemic?


A decade ago, fast casual underwent a genesis. Once a niche category with a few players spread across a handful of cuisines—say, Chipotle and Baja Fresh covering Mexican and Panera Bread and Corner Bakery tackling the bakery-café space—fast casual suddenly became the hottest thing in foodservice. The Great Recession pushed casual customers to trade down, while the rise in foodieism drove young consumers—particularly millennials—to seek out higher-quality eats.

Fast casual stood right at the intersection of value and quality, and for the last 10 years has filled in every corner of the U.S. with every manner of food served quickly and affordably.

But, just like any other trend, fast casual has also worn thin on some. And with mobile ordering and off-premises experiences giving quick-service chains a boost in competition for market share, could it be that fast casual isn’t the darling it once was? 2020 Future of Fast Casual Study – Final Tristano, CEO of FoodserviceResults, says that, prior to the coronavirus, the fast-casual segment was experiencing lower growth rates compared with years past, especially as oversaturation in restaurants created difficulty for expanding chains to find opportunities to drive unit volumes necessary to building sustainable restaurants.

QSR partnered with Tristano in this first-ever Future of Fast Casual Report, which explores consumer sentiment toward the fast-casual industry prior to the coronavirus outbreak. The report offers valuable insights into customer preferences and ordering habits within fast casual. And while the pandemic and resulting economic downturn will drastically alter the restaurant landscape, the report’s findings offer a glimpse at what customers wanted from their favorite restaurants before the coronavirus—and what they will likely want once it’s in the rearview mirror.

“Although great uncertainty exists from the COVID-19 crisis, insights from this report will help suppliers and operators plan their strategy and manage scenarios for the current year,” Tristano says. “The report data and insights remain relevant as the industry prepares and plans to navigate the new normal.”

Here, we’ve dug deeper into six menu categories within the fast-casual space to explore how brands were innovating—pre-coronavirus—in an effort to rise above the competition. Take a glimpse at some of the data below, and click on the category links to get a deeper dive into the state of fast casual, including insights from Tristano on each of the six categories.

Future of Fast Casual 2020 Cover pageFor more information about purchasing the full report, which includes an 85-slide deck and a 20-page PDF appendix of Top 250 rankings, please contact Greg Sanders at


What Does the Future Hold for Hooters and Twin Peaks?

September 17, 2019

Historically, chains like Hooters and Twin Peaks, and their scantily clad waitresses, established a niche audience, of mostly men, in the sports-bar restaurant space. But industry consultants suggest that although they’re holding their own, times have changed, and they need to adapt in order to keep pace.

Showing how challenging the category can be, the Arc Group, which owns Dick’s Wings, acquired 34-unit Tilted Kilt in November of 2018 for $10. That price was low based on Tilted Kilt’s $1.8 million burden of debt and $1.5 million in additional payments due.

Today, standing out means bucking the tide against sexism, updating menus beyond chicken wings, and appealing to more than men in search of sporting events.

Hooters and Twin Peaks have had disparate results in terms of revenue. In a ranking of revenue at the top 500 U.S. restaurants, Hooter’s, the largest of the two with more than 300 locations, saw its revenue fall 1.7 percent in 2018, while Twin Peaks’ 83 locations spiked 7.3 percent. What is Twin Peaks getting right, and what does Hooters need to do bounce back?

Darren Tristano, CEO of Foodservice Results, an Oak Park, Illinois-based food industry research firm, says these chains are still thriving, but they need to make improvements to catch up with “casual dining bar and grills that have contemporized.” He says competitors have enhanced food quality, and now offer local craft beer, as well as improved wine and spirits selections.

Consumers still frequent Hooters, Tristano says, for their “inexpensive and affordable food and that remains a value play.” But millennials are seeking “independent burger bars where they can watch sports and enjoy food and be in the company of each other,” he says.

Twin Peaks has done a solid job of enhancing its menu options. Many of the Twin Peaks locations have outdoor spaces, large settings with ample square footage, and its “food and ice-cold beers are differentiators compared to Hooters,” Tristano says.

These restaurants with sultry waitresses attract 65 percent or higher percentages of men, and that means they’re having a tougher time wooing women and families, Tristano says. He suggests hiring more male servers, which could appeal to a more varied clientele.


Hooters has seen a jump in delivery sales over the last year.

Yet it’s not just restaurant chains in this specific category that are feeling the pinch. So are a host of casual-dining bar and grills, says Roger Lipton, president of Lipton Financial Services, which specializes in the restaurant industry. “It’s a very competitive space, and they’re all battling for market share,” he says.

The alluring waitresses create a mixed message, Lipton says. Some men want to ogle them, but “some guys won’t bring their wives or kids. You lose some customers who are offended,” he says.

Since Hooters was acquired by two private equity firms, Nord Bay Capital and TriArtisan Capital Advisors in January 2019, Tristano expects they will focus on “improving the balance sheet first, and when they’ve made some success at the unit level, they’ll look to invest money for renovation.” Each renovated location usually spikes revenue by 10–15 percent the next year, he adds. Tristano also predicts that under-performing locations will be closed.

Hooters’ concentrating on delivery to spike sales

Recently in the press, Hooters CEO Terry Marks discussed the chain’s need to make some changes. He’s stepped up Hooters delivery, which has been a revenue booster for many chains.

Marks said Hooters’ delivery revenue has grown by more than 30 percent in one year. The brand has also improved its menu by offering smoked wings and more craft beer options.

Tristano believes Twin Peaks will continue to expand, grow its market share, and take market share away from Hooters.

Twin Peaks has grown to 83 eateries, located in 26 states, with 28 company-owned units and 55 franchised. It opened two new outlets in 2018 and is slated to debut four locations in 2019.

Twin Peaks knows its clientele: 74 percent are men.

Secret of Twin Peaks’ boosting its revenue

The secret to Twin Peaks’ success, says CEO Joe Hummel, who is based in Lewisville, Texas, outside of Dallas, is, “We understand our DNA and what makes our brand what it is. We’re not everything for everybody, but we understand our demographics.”

And that demographic is very clear: 74 percent of its clientele consists of men. Hummel says Twin Peaks appeals to “all kinds of men from millennials to Baby Boomers and everything in between.” Its audience frequents Twin Peaks, he says, for “bold and craveable food options, bar offerings, sports viewing packages, and a casual setting that includes cigar bars and large communal tables.”

Most locations contain 65–75 TVs and that covers a plethora of sports packages. “We have hockey fans sitting next to football fans, and we want to accommodate both,” Hummel says.

The chain’s menu consists of food items, made from scratch, fresh in the kitchen. Hummel says because of all the food networks on TV, “people have a more sophisticated palette. And you can’t fool the eater the way you could in the 80s.”

Patrons at Twin Peaks can choose among “spicy ribs, chicken tender basket, hangover burger [burger with eggs over easy, bacon and cheese on top] and smoked chicken wings,” he says.

Asked if there’s been any backlash over the Twin Peak waitresses (it doesn’t hire male servers), Hummel says not at all. He describes Twin Peak girls as “valuable team members that we know are someone’s daughter, girlfriend or wife or sister. We expect our guests to have the utmost respect.” Providing a safe and fun environment at work is critical to its mission.

Women patrons are major sports fans as well and come to Twin Peaks for salmon, ribeye, cobb salad, the hangover burger and great wine, margaritas and mimosas, he says.

The brand is also known for selling the frostiest beer in town, which Hummel says is based on a proprietary approach that includes “the chilling of the beer and the mug and serving it as the right temperature.”

Since it relies heavily on franchisees, Hummel, who was a former COO of La Cima Partners, Twin Peaks’ largest franchisee, says its selection process “runs deep and wide. We want to ensure that they take the same passion and care as we do.”

Hummel sees growth in Twin Peaks’ future and expects it to reach about 100 locations in the next two years or so.

Rise in Labor Costs Force Restaurants to Shift Toward More Pre-processed Ingredients

March 31, 2019

Forbes Article – 3/31/19

Fast casual salad chain restaurant Chop’t recently decided to stop chopping their salads and instead use pre-chopped ingredients. Many customers have become accustom to Chop’t and its namesake tradition of chopping the salad in plain view of the customer. The process creates a bit of restaurant theater and shows the customer that the ingredients are freshly prepared and customized to their liking. The new process will speed up service and reduces labor cost by taking the manual process out of the order. Customers who still wish to have their salad chopped will need to ask for the preparation.

Minimum wage increases are putting greater pressure on restaurants as they find difficulty passing on the costs through menu price increases. Consumers remain sensitive to prices for food away from home seeking value through deals and affordable combos. Many restaurants reduce their staffing in order to save some cost, but this results in lower levels of customer service and ultimately, customer satisfaction. Full-service restaurants reduce their front and back of house staff to levels where customers wait for a table is based on limited server and cook availability and not open, clean tables. In limited service fast food and fast casual, reducing staff means longer lines and many customers “look and leave”. This is where a consumer feels that the line is too long and decide to dine elsewhere. Increasing speed build greater throughput and moves more customers through peak lunch occasions.

Does the change to pre-chopped ingredients really change the taste and flavor of the salad? It’s not likely this change will affect the end-product. Most restaurants today purchase pre-processed ingredients to increase speed and reduce costs in the kitchen. While very few restaurants practice scratch or homemade meal preparation, the term scratch has evolved toward what is commonly known as “speed-scratch”. Speed-scratch is when a chef or cook prepares a restaurant meal using homemade recipes and ingredients but allows the use of some pre-processed ingredients. These ingredients can include marinated ingredients that require time and can be portioned, packaged and marinated by a supplier. Often vegetables are purchased in bulk already chopped or cut to specifications. In addition, sliced meat and cheese is often brought in through the back door while few restaurants today slice their own.

As I See It, many consumers will be put off by the recent change at Chop’t. Consumers who value the control and larger ingredient sizes will likely show their frustration by avoiding the restaurant for a short time. Consumer behavior is very repetitive, and consumers tend to be very forgiving, especially toward a restaurant that they know and trust. Longer term, loyal customers will return and accept the change and likely just ask for their salad to be chopped by staff. In the end, these changes will make for a faster service time and customers will appreciate getting in and out more quickly while less customers “look and leave”.


Papa John’s Extends Delivery Reach by Partnering with 3rd Party Delivery Service DoorDash

March 15, 2019

Forbes Blog

Papa John’s, the fourth largest US pizza chain restaurant, behind Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Little Caesar’s has partnered with 3rd party delivery service DoorDash. The partnership is expected to extend the reach of existing in-store direct delivery by leveraging a deeper reach into suburban and rural locations using the “dasher” network.  Consumers who were currently outside of delivery zones will now have greater opportunity to get the pizza delivered to their home, business or off-premise location.

With over 3,300 locations in the US, Papa John’s has continued to focus on quality ingredients, taste and flavor of their product. Sales at the pizza giant have been slipping and the brand is looking to rebound. Menu innovation has created some new appeal for customers and extending the delivery zones can provide greater ability for Papa John’s to steal share from other leading chain and independent pizza restaurants. Restaurant delivery in 2018 was estimated to be $45 billion, according to FoodserviceResults. Direct in-store delivery represented $32 billion while the remaining $13 billion was through 3rd party delivery providers.

FoodserviceResults/MonkeyMedia Off-Premise Insights Report

While many Americans have used 3rd party delivery services, a large portion of consumers have not used a 3rd party aggregator or delivery service. According to the Off-premise Insights Report, 41% of consumers surveyed indicated they haven’t used these new digital services. Although many consumers live in remote locations, can’t afford the service or lack the sophistication or desire to use digital ordering, the trend is positive in the use of delivery services beyond traditional direct delivery from the store. Among those surveyed, Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash are among the most used 3rd party marketplaces.

FoodserviceResults/MonkeyMedia Off-Premise Insights Report

For many restaurants, 3rd party delivery takes control away from the restaurant operator. Once the food order is handed off to the delivery person, they have to put faith in the driver to get the order delivered quickly. Food has to arrive with the proper temperatures maintained so heating and cooling bags are often necessary. But most importantly, the driver should represent the brand which means good, friendly customer interaction, appropriate appearance and respect for the neighborhood safety while driving. When issues arise through 3rd party delivery, the restaurant operator typically gets the blame.

FoodserviceResults/MonkeyMedia Off-Premise Insights Report

As I see it, the convenience of 3rd party delivery providers will continue to see high growth at the expense of traditional take-out and dine-in restaurant occasions. Consumer continue to value their time and prefer the quality of restaurant meals compared to cooking at home. American culture has changed with the continued improvement and affordability of new technology. Binge watching Netflix or Hulu using enormous high-definition televisions and the ease of mobile device ordering has become a common behavior for many consumers, especially Millennials and GenZ age groups. Delivery is expected to continue to grow at double digit rates while in-store dining occasions will remain flat over the next 5 years. Expect to see more restaurant brands leveraging 3rd party delivery partners and more Americans jumping on board to dash their way to better income.

Consumer Options for Same-Day Adult Beverage Delivery Grows as Instacart Expands Coverage

March 14, 2019

Forbes Post

Demand for delivery convenience is being met with increased supply as alcohol delivery through Instacart now reaches 40 million households. As many consumers purchase beer, wine and spirits, the availability of delivery will encourage consumers to increase spending and attract new users to the online shopping model. The delivery model will create competitive pressure on traditional brick and mortar independent convenience and liquor stores, likely causing some of these stores to close over time or adopt a similar order and delivery system.

What are the factors that will drive usage for alcohol delivery? Most US consumers continue to manage daily time pressures, sacrificing leisure time with errands and household activities. Delivery reduces the pressure and often improves consumer lifestyle as many don’t like to shop. Adult beverages including beer, wine and spirits can be cumbersome and heavy. In addition, the opportunity to break glass containers and ruin the contents can create unnecessary risk. Direct-to-door delivery gives customers back valuable time which can be spent relaxing and enjoying other leisure activities.

Purchasing adult beverages through Instacart also provides some other benefits. Searching and finding specific brands and comparison price shopping can be very easy through an online app compared with wandering the isles of a store and trying to make sense of which products are good alternatives and present strong value. Adding mixers and snacks to an order can benefit specific social occasion preparation and can be planned well in advance of events. The 30-45 minutes a person gains from the convenience can often justify the delivery costs.

For consumers who don’t own a car or truck, delivery can be a huge factor in deciding to try and use delivery. Hand carrying bags and using traditional two wheel pull behind carts can become a thing of the past. Handicapped and persons with disabilities can get their items with greater ease and avoid inconveniencing friends and family who are asked to pick up items for them.

As I See It, the availability and expansion of digital ordering and delivery systems continues to become the norm for younger consumers. Growing up using these conveniences will build frequency and loyalty to this behavior. As many Boomer and GenX consumers consider the cost to be a barrier, the use by younger consumers will create social pressure to get on board with the new trend and give services like Instacart a try. Expect more availability, competitive apps and delivery slowly cannibalizing trips to the supermarket as consumers learn to plan their purchases and become more routine and less impulsive.

Rewards Programs Can Boost Restaurant Sales as Chipotle and Venmo Team Up

March 12, 2019

Chipotle Mexican Grill continues to invest in digital sales and a national points-based loyalty program designed to encourage greater frequency and connection between the brand and their customers. Recently teaming up with Venmo, the digital wallet company and depositing surprise dollar amounts ranging from $1-$500 in fan accounts through March 15. Chipotle hopes to create engagement with consumers to strengthen the connection and build new connections with lapsed or non-customers. It’s expected that 25,000 fans per day will receive the rewards.

What’s in it for the consumer? Rewards translate into free stuff. According to FoodserviceResults recent Off-premise Insights Report, only 50 percent of consumers participate in restaurant loyalty programs. Building loyalty program participation allows restaurant brands to digitally market to their customer base, reminding them to consider their restaurant. Marketing is often focused at specific times during the day when consumers are hungry and are looking for a place to eat. In fact, the Off-premise Insights Report’s consumer survey identified 68 percent of consumers decision to dine-out are based on impulse and not planned. Consumer dining behavior can be very spontaneous and often is based on top of mind thought. These decisions are impacted by social media images, billboards, radio and television advertising. The ability to market directly to a consumer’s mobile device or computer can be a very powerful tool.

Source: FoodserviceResults Off-premise Insights Report

What do consumers look for in loyalty rewards? Some reward programs offer features and benefits like access to secret menu items, exclusive marketing promotions, skip the line benefits and access to new products. Although younger consumers appreciate these perks, only 5 to 11 percent of consumers indicated that these benefits drive loyalty participation according to the report. Preferred perks included free food, discounts and coupons driving participation with 82 to 89 percent of consumers surveyed (based on a survey of 1,500 consumers). Freebies continue to be the relevant driver for consumer loyalty.

Source: FoodserviceResults Off-premise Insights Report

Restaurant brands like Chipotle have much to gain by rewarding their customers with incentives. First, this engagement forces customers to sign up with the brand, providing information and access to the consumer. The data can be mined for consumer intelligence in how, when and where consumers use the restaurants. Access can build marketing touch points which drive impulse decisions and keep the brand top of mind and relevant to customers. Second, rewards build traffic and frequency to Chipotle restaurants. As creatures of habit, US Consumers often get accustom to certain behavior which can be repeated. These occasions can include work lunch, social meetings with friends, dinner with family or significant others. This investment builds sales, often with volumes above the reward amount resulting in sales growth. Lastly, brand direct perk programs encourage consumers to purchase directly from the brand through their mobile app. Costly third-party delivery programs don’t always provide the perks, driving more consumers to order directly from the restaurant. Direct purchase can be more profitable for restaurants as they don’t have the typical 30 percent surcharge.

As I see it, restaurants will continue to invest in digital strategy and perks programs that are simple and easy to use. Relationships with younger consumers who actively use Venmo and other applications or mobile wallets can allow smooth access to rewards. Today, 50 percent of consumers use restaurant loyalty programs and engagement and participation continues to increase. Investments in programs will continue to benefit customer usage as rewards continue to move from nice to have to must have for many consumers.