National Restaurant Association, Technomic and Digital Coco Partner to Launch New Fast Casual Trends & Directions Conference

September 6, 2012

Restaurant News Resource, 14:03, 19 June 2012, By Pat Maio, North County Times, Escondido, Calif.  

The conference is designed to deliver a comprehensive look at where the fast casual segment is and where it is headed. The event will bring together key players in the fast casual community, including leaders from the National Restaurant …

 RESTAURANTS: Souplantation begins retail expansion in Barons Market

 Souplantation, which runs a chain of 127 restaurants, is planning a larger push into grocery stores.

 The Rancho Bernardo-based chain with more than $300 million in annual revenue, has sold salad, soups and dips in more than 200 Costco warehouse stores in the Western United States since 2009.

 Those sales are beginning to pick up steam. Since the beginning of Souplantation’s fiscal year on Oct. 1, it has sold more than 400,000 units at an average retail price of $9.99 — its biggest sales-volume pace over an eight-month-plus period since it began the partnership, said Dan Anderson, director of business development with Souplantation.

 The Costco sales are tiny compared with Souplantation’s overall revenue picture, but with a recent shakeup in management, the niche may get fresh eyes on growth possibilities.

 “It seems they are moving more toward a total food strategy, where they hopefully profit through licensing, or expanding their brand through other direct sales channels,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based restaurant industry consulting firm.

 “When you license your brand, you generally don’t get the same level of revenues. But it is a way to generate revenue without capital,” Tristano said.

Last week, Souplantation announced that it had expanded retail sales with its Joan’s Broccoli Madness Salad kits to an independent grocery chain — San Diego-based Barons Market. The kits are about half the size of the Costco kits and sell for $5.99 apiece. The kits include broccoli, cashews, raisins, bacon bits and dressing, and are on shelves at Barons’ four locations: Point Loma, Rancho Bernardo, Temecula and Murrieta.

 Sprouts Farmers Market, with deep roots in San Diego County, also is high on Souplantation’s wish list of grocers that it wants to sell in, Anderson said.

The private equity company that bought Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. — the Rancho Bernardo-based parent of Souplantation — seven years ago recently replaced founder and CEO Michael Mack at the helm of the soup-and-salad chain with David Goronkin, former CEO of Real Mex Restaurants.

The change at the top also included the ouster of Garden Fresh President Ken Keane. Sun Capital Partners Inc. is the Florida private equity firm that bought Garden Fresh in 2005.

“The organization hasn’t moved or taken off in a direction that has been high-growth. My guess is that they just felt it was time for new leadership, and some fresh thinking,” Tristano said.

Souplantation’s salad kits quickly sold out last week at Barons, forcing Souplantation to scramble to restock the shelves, Anderson said.

“We went a little light (on our initial stock). It’s a product with a shelf life on it, and we didn’t want to give them too much and then have to throw it away,” Anderson said.

Souplantation is not the first restaurant chain to step into supermarkets with its branded food. One of the most successful players has been CPK, or California Pizza Kitchen, along with Boston Market, Romano’s Macaroni Grill and P.F. Chang’s.

“They all go in the freezer. Our competitive edge may be that we are fresh,” Anderson said.

Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. runs 39 Souplantations in California and 85 Sweet Tomatoes in locations outside of California.

Garden Fresh also has one Souplantation Express in Carlsbad and two Sweet Tomatoes Express stores elsewhere. The Express stores — a concept the chain began trying out in recent years — have food workers serving helpings on a plate rather than the consumer moving the food with tongs or spoons.

The original thinking was to have these smaller stores serving large lunchtime crowds either in office park areas or at universities.

 (c)2012 the North County Times (Escondido, Calif.)