Report: More Consumers Want Food that Tastes Good

January 10, 2012

Report Consumers

Report: More Consumers Want Food That Tastes Good

Market research firm Technomic is out with its 2011 Consumer Flavor Report, and one finding is that 53% of consumers say “new and unique flavors” drive their decisions on where to eat, compared to just 42% in 2009. The report’s authors say that “craveability and culinary expertise [are] increasingly relevant to consumers, many of whom say they are more interested in experiencing new flavors as they dine out.”

“There is only so much you can do with pricing until your profit margins disappear. So you have to look at other ways to differentiate your brand,” says Technomic EVP Darren Tristano. “Incorporating unique flavors into existing menus can be a low-cost and easy way to grow sales and attract new customers. In our newest study, 42 percent of consumers said they are more interested in trying new and unique flavors, compared to a year ago. So keeping the focus on food taste and flavor is a powerful long-term strategy.”

The report also says that more consumers are interested in flavors “imparted by spreads, sauces or condiments,” which means we’re going to continue to see restaurants roll out more varieties of salads and spreads.

The most daring diners are apparently those who visit Italian restaurants: 67% of diners at Italian restaurants are willing to try new menu items. Just 57% of visitors to limited-service chicken chains are willing to take a chance on new flavors.

View the full article on The Consumerist

Technomic Identifies Six Canadian Foodservice Trends for 2012

January 10, 2012

Technomic Identifies

Technomic Identifies Six Canadian Foodservice Trends for 2012

CHICAGO, Nov. 10, 2011 /CNW/ — Shifting consumer preferences and growing competition continue to play bigger roles in Canada’s foodservice industry, with numerous implications for menu, technology and venue innovations at Canadian restaurants. Looking forward, Technomic see these six trends as growing in importance in 2012:

1. Revisiting the classics: Limited-service restaurants are tinkering with some of Canadians’ favourite foods, thinking up new variations of classic quick fare such as burgers and pizzas. With “better burger” chains leading the way, more restaurants will find ways to dress up classic Canadian comfort foods with artisan and premium ingredients. We’re primed to see more tricked-out poutines, pizzas with exotic and unexpected toppings, new takes on the classic donair, and new concepts devoted to luxe burgers with lush accompaniments.

2. Chefs scale back: While fast-food chains are busy rolling out gourmet and indulgent comfort foods, chefs at full-service and fine-dining restaurants will be wowing diners who want approachable food that’s flavourful yet wholesome, indulgent yet not in a gorge-yourself way. Chefs will be crafting dishes with fewer ingredients, simpler preparation techniques and locally-sourced products. Not only does the scale-back approach allow chefs to showcase the flavours of a small set of carefully chosen ingredients, it also emphasizes the skillful preparation required to take a few simple items and create a culinary masterpiece. Utilizing fewer ingredients will also allow chefs to showcase center-of-the-plate stars like locally-sourced meat and seafood.

3. Kids’ menus come of age: The healthfulness of the food that children consume remains a growing concern of parents. Operators will continue finding ways to revamp their kids’ menus to appeal to children and parents alike. Over the next year, more restaurants will update their kids’ menus by adding baked or grilled dishes instead of fried items and replacing high-calorie sides with more healthful options. Chefs will also continue dropping staid children’s fare such as chicken nuggets and hot dogs in favor of more sophisticated dishes better suited to little ones’ budding palates.

4. Disposed to disclose: More than ever, restaurant-goers want to know exactly what they’re consuming, from the origin of the beef they’re eating to the exact calorie content of the margarita they’re sipping. This intensifying interest in food and beverage health, coupled with increasing pressure for regulation on menu labeling, means that restaurants will have to start disclosing information about the calories, fat and salt that goes into their food. At the same time, restaurants will continue highlighting their use of local, natural and wholesome ingredients to bolster health perceptions of their food and drink.

5. The new tech connection: The rapid emergence of smartphones has opened a new door through which operators can reach their target audience. Today’s consumer gravitates toward what’s quick and easy, and operators have adapted their practices to provide convenient restaurant tools available at the touch of a finger. Apps, social-media pages and daily deals are just the beginning. Look for restaurants to begin adopting more cutting-edge technologies–such as location-based platforms like Foursquare and near-field communication payment services–to develop even deeper connections with their guests.

6. Format flexibility: Independents and chains alike are taking their concepts down new avenues to better reach today’s consumer. Convenience is now a critical component in the overall eating-out value equation, and operators will create added convenience with new and innovative dining venues. More operators will embrace new concept models ranging from food trucks and high-tech urban prototypes to fast-casual and scaled-down offshoots of full-service eateries. These flexible venues will help operators immerse themselves in high-traffic areas and bring the concept closer to the consumer.

View the full article on CNW Telbec

Click This: The Dollar Fifty Menu

January 10, 2012

Dollar Fifty

Click This: The Dollar Fifty Menu
More upscale than Micky D’s, a little shy of Le Bernardin—“fast-casual” eateries are hot.
By Adam Hunter

Let’s face it: When the economic going gets tough, even the toughest among us tend to get going to Sonic, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and Burger King. But if these are Chili Cheese Tot times for many folks, that doesn’t mean we’re ready to give up amenities. In fact, long before the financial crisis of the late 2000s, so-called “fast-casual” restaurants like Boston Market and Au Bon Pain were shooting the gap between formal sit-down places like Chili’s and Friendly’s and the ornately-colored plastic booths of most fast-food chains. That need for feed in an environment more alluring than, say, a Jack in the Box, or for a quality bite that is quick and cheap but still fitting for those in weekday business attire, has pushed the fast-casual model to the fore of restaurant development.

It’s half past noon on a Monday in the heart of Boston’s Downtown Crossing. A lunch-hour crowd has descended for the grand opening of a new neighborhood eatery. Men and women wait in a line, stretching nearly out the door, to order sandwiches on artisan baked bread, while diners in a bigger rush grab one of the ready-made antipasto plates. Watching the busy scene unfold, Jamie Strobino couldn’t be more pleased. As senior vice president of new concepts for the Uno corporation—the company behind casual dining chain Uno Chicago Grill—this new place is his baby.

“Our CEO’s vision was to take a blank sheet of paper and create something to stand on the corner and compete against all the Paneras and Au Bon Pains of the world,” Strobino says. “We believe we’ve done that with Uno Dué Go.”

Technomic, a Chicago-based food service research and consulting firm, reported that, in terms of growth, the top 100 fast-casual restaurants greatly outperformed their full-service and drive-through brethren in 2010. With earnings topping $18 billion, fast-casual restaurants increased their sales by 6 percent from the year before. In comparison, the entire food industry grew a meager .4 percent, and sales at full-service restaurants fell 1.3 percent. Craving a Friendly’s Fribble or some Perkins’ pancakes? Good luck finding them—both chains filed for bankruptcy protection this year, as did fast-food Italian chain Sbarro’s. And even though that “I want my baby back, baby back” song is still stuck in your head, revenue for Chili’s has fallen for four straight years.

“Casual dining is a tough beast in terms of competition and the economy at the moment,” Strobino says. “People have cut down the amount of sit-down occasions. Fast-casual is less expensive, with no tip, and the average guest gets their food in less than five minutes. That’s big, particularly at lunch. The day of the hour-and-a-half, two-hour lunch is over.”

For fast-casual, being small is a big advantage. A typical Uno’s Chicago Grill takes up 5,000 to 7,000 square feet. Uno Dué Go fits into a footprint as small as 1,000 square feet. That means the company can expand into channels they had previously struggled to enter—airports, suburban strip malls, college campuses, even hospitals. “Our Boston location was a CVS Pharmacy until five years ago,” Strobino says.

Another hallmark of fast-casuals compared to fast-food is careful attention to atmosphere. “Fast-casuals are warm and inviting,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic. He cites open kitchens, flexible and comfortable seating, and even features like fireplaces as responsible for creating a better setting. Think of your typical fast-food joint. “Formica tabletops, fixed chairs. Since most of their traffic is drive-through, in-store decor is not a priority,” Tristano says.

Shake Shack, a fast-casual burger restaurant based in New York City, debuted beneath the tall trees in Madison Square Park; when founder Danny Meyer expanded to other, less bucolic locales, he incorporated leafy green trellises and exposed wood-and-steel beams to help maintain the ambiance. Just Salad, also in Manhattan, took a different tack to make its customers feel loved, offering its own online dating site. RedBrick Pizza, a southwest chain, provides LCD televisions at many tables that allow customers to change the channel and watch what they want.

McDonald’s, taking a page from this playbook, recently revamped the look of their locations nationwide and announced plans to develop their own in-restaurant television channel designed to keep diners in their seats longer. Burger King, meanwhile, added beer and wine “Whopper Bars” to some locations to compete with fast-casual competitors like Chipotle, which serves Mexican beers and margaritas.

For full-service players who enter the fast-casual market, paring down menu items or changing the menu all-together for a fast-casual version prevents dilution of the brand. At Uno Dué Go, you won’t find much from the Chicago Grill menu, other than their deep-dish pizza. “We don’t want people to confuse the two,” Strobino says. However, his team did develop muffins based on Uno’s cocktails, such as the Callebaut Chocolate Mint Mudslide and the Cranberry Pomegranate Margarita. “Not alcohol-based, but based on the flavor profile,” Strobino emphasizes. They hope the muffins will help establish the brand in the breakfast arena, a segment where Uno has been largely absent.

Fast-casuals, for the most part, have eschewed traditional advertising. Before Uno Dué Go opened, it built buzz with unbranded billboards, touting a website based on their address that sounded like some sort of club or place for haute cuisine:

The result is an anti-corporate, homegrown feel—even though many fast-casuals have corporate partners. Similarly, nearly all of the fast-casual leaders promote their version of Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” mantra, emphasizing the freshness, healthiness, and sustainability of the food they serve. The Boston Uno Dué Go sources its granola from Maine, its humanely raised pork from a New Hampshire pig farm, its cheddar from Vermont, and its mozzarella from a boutique farm in Rhode Island. “It’s fresher, leaves a better carbon footprint, and is better for the community,” Strobino says.

Shake Shack’s COO Randy Garutti says his company’s devotion to environmentally friendly practices appeals to its customer base and helps its new locations develop good relations with their surrounding communities. “We think people connect with our mission to ‘Stand for Something Good’—which resonates throughout every aspect of our business, from ingredients to hiring practices to design, environmental responsibility, and community investment,” Garutti says.

Of course, as fast-casuals expand, the harder it becomes to obtain sources for fresh local produce and ingredients, find dedicated staff, and oversee quality. In 2012, Shake Shack plans to open their first location in Philadelphia, and a second in Miami. “Every business decision we make will always be driven by the idea that the bigger we get, the smaller we need to act,” Garutti says.

“Some original players in this space have lost ground to new upstarts,” says Technomic’s Tristano, citing Fuddruckers and Boston Market. “With consumers’ rapidly changing needs, fast-casual restaurants have to evolve rapidly. They need to ask the right questions and not be afraid to hear the answer. Most importantly, they need to continuously improve every aspect of their restaurant.”

View the full article on Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine

McDonald’s Upgrading its Guest Sweets

January 10, 2012

McDonald's Upgrading

McDonald’s upgrading its guest sweets

Transformation under way for restaurants to become ‘dessert destinations’
November 13, 2011|By Emily Bryson York, Chicago Tribune reporter

Shannon Stevens, of Chicago, is busy polishing off a hot fudge sundae at a downtown McDonald’s, the cap to a meal of McDouble cheeseburgers.

The 20-year-old is something of a regular, visiting the fast-food giant about twice a week, but the desserts aren’t the major draw.

“I like the chocolate sundaes and the shakes,” he said, but noting that McDonald’s needs to add more chocolate items if it wants to lure him from a traditional favorite like Dunkin’ Donuts or Dairy Queen when he’s craving something sweet.

Turns out, McDonald’s is thinking along similar lines.

With restaurants that already circle the globe, the fast-food giant has embraced myriad strategies to keep sales growing, extending its restaurant hours and adding healthier items as well as upscale coffee drinks. Now, the world’s largest restaurant chain by sales is aiming to transform itself into a “dessert destination,” moving beyond apple pies and shakes in an effort to plump up sales in a relatively small segment of its business.

“It’s just one of those things that fell into our laps as something customers want,” said Adam Salgado, marketing director with McDonald’s USA.

“We’re always trying to find ways to address what customers want and, in turn, help us grow our business,” he said, describing the latest push as “renewed focus in offering variety.”

McDonald’s is also working to reflect different eating patterns.

Ten years ago, Salgado said, customers might only have had a McFlurry — an ice cream and candy concoction — with dinner, but now they’re having them with lunch and at other times of the day. For instance, McDonald’s sells 20 percent of its pies at breakfast.

McDonald’s, Salgado said, first got a taste of what a smaller, novel dessert could do for sales last summer, when the chain offered a “snack-size” McFlurry with Reese’s cups, tied to a movie promotion for “Shrek Forever After.” He declined to provide specific sales data.

But results were promising enough for the Oak Brook-based burger chain to repackage its shakes in clear cups, adding whipped cream and a cherry, and introduce a small-size shake, at 12 ounces, for the first time earlier this year.

Now it’s testing new iterations of its best-selling dessert: pies, first introduced in 1970. The chain recently tested a strawberry creme pie, with a sugar cookie crust and sugar glaze covering strawberry and white cream fillings, and a S’More pie, side-by-side layers of chocolate and marshmallow with a graham cracker crust.

“That sounds perfect,” Stevens said of the S’More pie. “I can’t wait now.”

Salgado said McDonald’s is evaluating when either would make sense as a limited-time offering, and the chain said it’s too soon to say how they might be priced. McDonald’s also is testing a chocolate-dipped cone.

“These are just some examples of things we’re looking at,” Salgado said, adding that the products under consideration would not require new equipment.

Salgado said the majority of dessert sales are made as add-ons — that’s restaurant lingo for accompaniments to a traditional meal — but that the chain is looking for new items to help drive traffic on their own merits.

The timing seems to be right. Sweet treats have gained ground with consumers during the recession, with Technomic estimating that 70 percent of consumers ate dessert at least once a week during 2010. That’s up from 57 percent in 2007.

“Most people, when the economy is tough, turn to desserts as comfort food and an indulgent way of getting past a tough day or a tough life,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic.

Daniel Dahlen, chief development officer at Weber Associates, said that desserts are a relatively small business for McDonald’s but new menu options are more likely prompted by pressure to keep the business moving forward.

“When you’re McDonald’s, you’ve got to look under every rock,” he said. “They need to increase sales every month over month, quarter over quarter.”

On Tuesday, McDonald’s posted its 102nd consecutive month of sales gains at stores open more than one year, a critical industry benchmark. That equates to 34 consecutive quarters of gains.

“In last few years, McDonald’s has been doing very well in drawing people to restaurants and drive-thrus at nonpeak hours with snack wraps, beverages,” said Janney analyst Mark Kalinowski, who estimated that desserts comprise a low-single-digit percentage of the chain’s business. “So it sounds like McDonald’s is saying, ‘Hey it’s a great way to leverage fixed costs and get more people in our stores at nonpeak hours.'”

Although products like snack wraps, oatmeal and smoothies are also important offerings for these periods, Tristano said desserts are “craveable” and perhaps an easier sell for a group of office workers battling midafternoon doldrums or a few friends looking for a way to cap off a night on the town.

View the full article on Chicago Tribune