How McDonald’s Easterbrook can maintain momentum

February 4, 2016
Joe Cahill
Crains
January 27, 2016
http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20160127/BLOGS10/160129896/how-mcdonalds-easterbrook-can-maintain-momentum

McDonalds-all-day-breakfast-win-for-CEO-Easterbook.jpgAll-day sales of Egg McMuffins did more than reverse a three-year slump at McDonald’s: It has inspired confidence in CEO Steve Easterbrook and buys time for the new chief to lock in the elements of a long-term growth strategy.

Last fall, Easterbrook answered the prayers of many customers who had yearned for years to buy breakfast after McDonald’s long-standing 10:30 a.m. cutoff. This week, McDonald’s credited all-day breakfast for the lion’s share of a 5.7 percent rise in fourth-quarter sales at U.S. locations open more than a year. The quarterly increase, outstripping even the expectations of McDonald’s executives, was the second in a row and a sign that McDonald’s is finally moving in the right direction under Easterbrook, who replaced Don Thompson in March.

A pair of quarterly sales gains doesn’t mean Easterbrook has put McDonald’s on track for long-term sustainable growth. But together with some other recent moves, it shows he understands the challenges facing McDonald’s and will move aggressively to meet them.

If Easterbrook still has a long way to go, all-day breakfast gives him a bit more time to get there. He’ll enjoy a grace period of three more quarters, as extended breakfast hours continue to generate sales increases over periods that predate the change. That cushion will disappear in the fourth quarter, when McDonald’s will lap a quarter with all-day breakfast for the first time. “That will be the telling moment,” says Darren Tristano, president of restaurant consulting firm Technomic in Chicago.

During the next three quarters, Easterbrook must build on the success of all-day breakfast, which is bringing in new customers and others who hadn’t visited McDonald’s in years. Now he needs to turn them into regulars. Strong store traffic is essential to the long-term health of any fast-food chain. Guest counts at McDonald’s declined again for the full year of 2015, but turned upward in the fourth quarter.

Customer traffic will keep rising if Easterbrook gives people more reasons to keep coming back after the novelty of afternoon Egg McMuffins wears off. That requires steady progress in three key areas:

Service. Service slowed as McDonald’s menu grew more complex in recent years. Drive-in speeds lagged those of key rivals. Easterbrook has begun to address the problem by expanding on a menu-decluttering effort launched by Thompson. “Simplifying the process is what people want nowadays, and they’re finally addressing that,” says analyst R.J. Hottovy of Morningstar in Chicago.

On McDonald’s earnings call with Wall Street analysts on Jan. 25, Easterbrook said customer feedback shows improvement in “food quality, order accuracy, speed and friendliness.” But all-day breakfast adds a new layer of complexity, potentially undermining service speed and accuracy.

Ruthless purging of slow-selling items will be essential to keep restaurants running smoothly. Restaurant efficiency also could benefit from new technologies that allow customers to order via kiosks and mobile devices. McDonald’s is testing these systems in the U.S. but hasn’t set a date for national rollout.

Value. McDonald’s is still searching for a successor to the Dollar Menu, the low-price offering that drove its last turnaround, in the mid-to-late 2000s. The company badly needs a compelling deal for budget-conscious customers who faded away during the last recession and its aftermath. Always a bulwark of McDonald’s business, lower-income families matter even more today as affluent consumers migrate to fast-casual chains like Panera. “Value-conscious” consumers now represent about 25 percent of McDonald’s customer base, Easterbrook told analysts on the earnings call.

Early this month, McDonald’s began a six-week test of “McPick2,”which offers two menu items for $2. Easterbrook said initial response has been favorable and acknowledged the need to settle on a permanent value proposition this year.

“Value still has to be at the core of their menu,” Tristano says, noting most of McDonald’s rivals offer a low-price combo. “It’s what a lot of their customers want, and if they can’t get it they’ll go elsewhere.”

Listening. McDonald’s boffo launch of all-day breakfast shows what happens when a company listens to customers. For years, McDonald’s rejected customer pleas to extend breakfast service beyond late morning, citing insurmountable operational hurdles. Easterbrook pulled it off in a matter of months, a clear sign his efforts to winnow bureaucracy and accelerate decision-making based on market feedback are bearing fruit. “That shows the company is much more nimble now than it was before,” Hottovy says.

A streamlined management structure established last summer has “sharpened our focus,” and “removed distractions to speed up decisions and increase our ability to move winning strategies quickly across markets,” Easterbrook told analysts.

Of course, faster product rollouts won’t help if customers don’t like them. McDonald’s has struggled for years to cook up menu innovations that click with consumers. Remember, the Egg McMuffin isn’t a breakthrough innovation but a proven winner that McDonald’s made more available.

Acknowledging that all-day breakfast demand will “settle down” from its initial euphoria, Easterbrook said McDonald’s has more initiatives in the pipeline for 2016. We’ll see if he can come up with a hit new product—the true test of whether McDonald’s has developed an ear for customers’ ever-changing preferences.

“As long as they’re listening to the customer and giving them what they want, instead of trying to force something on the customers, they can be successful,” Tristano says.


Consumers pick top restaurant chains

January 28, 2016
635886546846667948-papam.jpg6 a.m. CST January 19, 2016
http://www.argusleader.com/story/news/business-journal/2016/01/19/consumers-pick-top-restaurant-chains/78945800/

Some restaurants with a presence in Sioux Falls were among the winners of the Consumers’ Choice Awards from industry research firm Technomic.

It surveyed consumers about 138 restaurant chains and 60 attributes.

“It’s important to point out that it’s the consumers who rated the chains and selected the winners,” said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic. “In essence, the award is from the customers themselves.”

The winners are:

• Food quality, quick-service category: Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza

• Food quality, fast-casual category: Firehouse Subs

• Food quality, full-service restaurants: Bonefish Grill

• Intent to return, quick-service: In-N-Out Burger

• Intent to return, fast-casual: Rubio’s

• Intent to return, full-service: Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen

• Provides value through service, quick-service: Chick-fil-A

• Provides value through service, fast-casual: Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches

• Provides value through service, full-service: Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

• Socially responsible, quick-service: Ben & Jerry’s

• Socially responsible, fast-casual, Chipotle Mexican Grill

• Socially responsible, full-service: Seasons 52


Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® Wins Chain Restaurant Consumers’ Choice Award

January 27, 2016

Nick Flanagan, a senior vice president for restaurant and retail for Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores®, accepts award from Technomic President Darren Tristano. Cracker Barrel was named a Chain Restaurants Consumers' Choice Award winner for 2016. (Photo: Business Wire)LEBANON, Tenn.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® was named Chain Restaurant Consumers’ Choice Awards winner in the full service restaurant category for the value it provides through excellent service, marking the restaurant company’s third win since 2013.

Conducted by Technomic Inc., a leading food industry research company, its fourth annual Chain Restaurant Consumers’ Choice Awards identifies the top chain restaurants by asking nearly 100,000 consumers to rate over 120 leading restaurant chains on 60 different attributes ranging from the quality of food to the overall brand reputation. Cracker Barrel was given top marks on its ability to provide value through high-quality service, according to consumers.

“Consumers give Cracker Barrel credit for its friendly and polite servers,” said Technomic Inc. President Darren Tristano. “When we asked why they gave high ratings for their visit, many of our respondents talked about how they always make people feel at home.”

“Cracker Barrel’s commitment to excellence is driven by our mission of Pleasing People,” said Cracker Barrel Senior Vice President of Restaurant and Retail Operations Nick Flanagan, who accepted the award at Technomic’s Consumer Insights Planning Program Conference in Newport Beach, California on Thursday, Jan. 14.

“We promise guests a friendly, home-away-from-home, where they can relax, enjoy real home-style food and be cared for like family,” he continued. “Since 2013, Cracker Barrel has been voted the top full service restaurant in the Consumers’ Choice Awards’ ‘Pleasant, Friendly Service,’ ‘Food and Beverage,’ and ‘Value Through Service’ categories, which is a testament to our 72,000 employees who bring our mission to life every day.”

About Technomic

Only Technomic, A Winsight Company, delivers a 360-degree view of the food industry. We impact growth and profitability for our clients by providing consumer-grounded vision and channel-relevant strategic insights. Our services range from major research studies and management consulting solutions to online databases and simple fact-finding assignments. Our clients include food manufacturers and distributors, restaurants and retailers, other foodservice organizations, and various institutions aligned with the food industry. Visit us atwww.technomic.com.

About Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. provides a friendly home-away-from-home in its old country stores and restaurants. Guests are cared for like family while relaxing and enjoying real home-style food and shopping that’s surprisingly unique, genuinely fun and reminiscent of America’s country heritage…all at a fair price. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. (NASDAQ: CBRL) was established in 1969 in Lebanon, Tenn. and operates 635 company-owned locations in 42 states. Nation’s Restaurant News’ 2015 Consumer Picks survey named Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® the winner in two Family-Dining Restaurants categories – Menu Variety and Atmosphere. For more information about the company, visit crackerbarrel.com.


Making Sense of Value and Pricing Expectations

March 25, 2014

The prevalence of value-based promotions spiked in recent years as U.S. restaurant operators aimed to drive incremental traffic and sales among consumers affected by the recession. The use of these deals is becoming ingrained in consumer behaviour, even as the economy slowly improves. During the economic recession, consumers were more likely to cut back spending altogether, deals or no deals. Now that the economy is on the mend, consumers are accustomed to these deals being available and likely expect that they will be in the future.

While price continues to be a major component of the value proposition, it is by no means the only factor. Value is multidimensional, including the quality of food and beverage, and the quality of service and convenience. These different facets of value allow flexibility in formulating value propositions and pricing strategies.

This article explores U.S. consumers’ value equation; the appeal of restaurant deals and promotions; consumer price thresholds and how low prices drive traffic. U.K. operators will find many of these themes suitable for their own customers, whether they are deal-seekers or not.

The Value Equation

The restaurant value equation is comprised of a host of factors. It’s not straightforward—and it’s evolving. Primary drivers of value are price, quality, service and atmosphere. Secondary drivers vary but may include the meal or occasion as well as the diner’s mood and needstates. Consumers asked to describe what constitutes good value in a restaurant mention food quality, appropriate portion sizes, fair prices, service and cleanliness.

Food and beverage trump price in creating good value. Highlighting specific qualities of food and beverages—such as quality, convenience or healthfulness—can help marketers create a message of good value. Even at limited-service restaurants, the quality and taste of the food are most important: 86% of consumers say food and beverage are key to the LSR value equation, vs. 74% who name price. At full-service restaurants, of course, service and ambiance are also central: 87% name food and beverage as a component of value, 60% mention price, 28% ambiance, and 24% the service and amenities.

Customisation can enhance the value proposition. Half of diners—and a larger proportion of those under 35—say customisation is important in creating a good value proposition. They want to know that the meal will match their personal preferences and that they will get (and pay for) only the ingredients they like. Restaurants can incorporate customisation by offering menu items in multiple portion sizes (thus making them appropriate for both meals and snacks); allowing ingredient substitutions; and varying the heat level of foods from mild to super-spicy. Even a simple bottle of hot sauce left on the table allows patrons to customize their dish to their liking.

Deal-seeking in restaurants has become ingrained behaviour for consumers. Dealing was essential during the recession, but since then operators have been hoping to scale back on deals as the economy improves. However, consumers expect to continue employing deals; more than half say they’re using more deals now than two years ago. Interestingly, deal-seeking is not tied to income constraints; eight out of 10 diners at almost all income levels say they order from dollar menus at fast-food restaurants at least once a month, and among those with annual incomes over $150,000, seven out of 10 do the same. In addition, four out of 10 consumers use “daily deal” websites, and two out of 10 use them more than once a month. (These sites encourage restaurant patronage, but not loyalty; 55% of subscribers to daily-deal sites say they turn to these deals so they can try new restaurants more often.)

Traditional buy-one-get-one and half-off specials resonate strongly with consumers. More restaurant traffic is being driven by specials rather than the quality of the food, atmosphere or experience, with consumers asking: “What can I get for the price?” Deals that provide immediate half-off savings represent the most attractive value: eight out of 10 consumers say buy-one-get-one deals and half-off promotions add strong value, compared to seven out of 10 who name set-price specials, coupons or value menus. Buy-one-get-one specials, coupons and half-off deals are effective in driving traffic, with almost two-thirds of consumers saying they’d be likely or extremely likely to visit restaurants that offered these.

Base: Approximately 800 consumers aged 18+; base varies as promotions were randomly rotated Sum of percentages may not equal cumulative percentage due to rounding Source: The 2013 Value and Pricing Consumer Trend Report, Technomic

Base: Approximately 800 consumers aged 18+; base varies as promotions were randomly rotated
Sum of percentages may not equal cumulative percentage due to rounding
Source: The 2013 Value and Pricing Consumer Trend Report, Technomic

Pricing Expectations

Consumer price thresholds increase as the day progresses.Operators should make sure that their price thresholds are in line with what consumers are willing to pay (keeping in mind that consumers may report lower thresholds than they would actually accept). Research for Technomic’s Value and Pricing Consumer Trend Report found a “sweet spot” between what consumers consider optimal and what they’ll pay without complaint for each meal in each restaurant segment.

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Base: 1,800 consumers aged 18+ Source: The 2013 Value and Pricing Consumer Trend Report, Technomic

Snacks provide a unique pricing opportunity because women are willing to pay more for snacks than men are. For example, while the average consumer would pay $5 for a snack, women aged 25‒34 would pay $6.50. A number of chains, from coffee-café Starbucks to quick-service burger chain SONIC, have experimented with “happy hours,” during which they sell snacks at a special price. And while some fast-casual bakery cafés are seen by consumers as offering only unhealthy pastries for snack time, Au Bon Pain has built afternoon traffic with female-pleasing small plates like hummus with cucumber and Thai peanut chicken with snow peas.

“Fresh” and “premium” descriptors can increase consumer price thresholds.Nearly half of consumers say they would be likely to purchase—and to pay more for—food or beverage that is fresh; 37% say the same about premium options. Operators may be able to justify higher price points on food and beverage billed as fresh, homemade, premium, authentic, local, natural, organic, seasonal or sustainable. They should carefully consider both what such terms could mean when applied to their offerings and how to adjust their price threshold.

Value and Low Prices Help Justify Restaurant Visits

The good news for restaurant operators is that good value makes consumers feel better about eating out: 57% say they can eat out more often if meals are low in cost, and 52% say low prices help them justify the money they spend eating out.

Base: 1,500 consumers aged 18+ Source: The 2013 Value and Pricing Consumer Trend Report, Technomic

Base: 1,500 consumers aged 18+
Source: The 2013 Value and Pricing Consumer Trend Report, Technomic

Key Takeaways

The value equation involves multiple inputs, but price and quality both play strong roles in all segments. Deal-seeking in restaurants has become ingrained behaviour, and consumers don’t expect to change. Operators must find ways to adjust prices, deals and portions so they can still make money. Price and value promotions can effectively drive traffic. But be careful what you’re driving traffic to; you probably don’t need more business on Friday night. Freshness, quality and customisation can help justify higher prices.

There is pent-up demand for restaurant meals. Consumers who are looking for low prices are doing so to eat out more often. Older consumers seek value and “worth,” while younger diners have a more straightforward desire for deals; operators should consider strategies that don’t alienate any part of their customer base.

Darren Tristano is Senior Managing Director of Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based foodservice consultancy and research firm. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations. For more information, visit http://www.technomic.com.