Cage-free eggs could boost Bloomin’ Brands’ bottom line

February 29, 2016

Ashley Gurbal Kritzer
Tampa Bay Business Journal
Feb 23, 2016
http://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/blog/morning-edition/2016/02/cagefree-eggs-could-boost-bloomin-brands-bottom.html

Don’t count the cage-free eggs before they’re hatched, but Bloomin’ Brands Inc.’s latest supplier decision could boost its bottom line.outback-ft-myers-evening-750xx1800-1013-0-104

Tampa-based Bloomin’ (NASDAQ: BLMN) said Monday that it will transition to 100 percent cage-free eggs in its restaurants by 2025. Bloomin’ is the parent company of Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar.

“Our guests expect us to source and purchase wholesome ingredients responsibly,” Juan Guerrero, chief global supply chain officer, said in a statement. “We are working with our suppliers to ensure we meet or exceed this deadline.”

Committing to cage-free eggs is a popular move in the restaurant industry. In September, McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) said it would shift to cage-free eggs, as is Dunkin’ Donuts (NASDAQ: DNKN) and Taco Bell, which is owned by Yum! Brands Inc. (NYSE: YUM).

Bloomin’ operates close to 1,500 restaurants throughout 48 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and 22 countries.

The cage-free move, Bloomin’ said, “reaffirms the company’s commitment to the humane treatment and handling of animals” — and that’s important to consumers, according to Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based food industry research and consulting firm.

“Cage-free is particularly important right now,” Darren Tristano, Technomic president, wrote in a Feb. 2 blog post. “Forty seven percent of consumers said they are more likely to order dishes made from cage-free eggs or poultry during breakfast dine-out occasions.”

“The preference ties into health and wellness concerns from consumers,” Tristano said.

“Consumers are increasingly concerned about transparency — what’s in their food and where it came from,” he wrote, “and operators and suppliers are feeling the heat.”


This is what happens when McDonald’s listens to its customers

February 2, 2016
By Roberto A. Ferdman
Washington Post
January 25, 2016
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/01/25/the-incredible-power-of-the-egg-mcmuffin/
It’s no secret that McDonald’s has been struggling. At a time when specialization is increasingly important in the food business, the brand has opted for breadth, offering everything under the moon: hamburgers, salads, yogurt parfaits and fancy chicken wraps. And it hasn’t worked. In fact, that’s putting it mildly.Each time McDonald’s has announced how much money it’s making, the company has been forced to share an embarrassing truth: Americans are eating less and less of its hamburgers, chicken nuggets and French fries. The routine became so consistently depressing that McDonald’s decided to quit sharing monthly performance data altogether in March.

But all of that seems to be changing: For the first time in a long time, McDonald’s is thrilled to tell everyone how it’s doing.

On Monday, McDonald’s said that same-store sales (those open for at least 13 months) increased by 5.7 percent in the last three months of 2015, more than twice what analysts had expected. The hefty jump is the largest the company has reported in almost four years.

The news comes on the heels of a major concession by the fast-food chain, which is no coincidence. For years, adoring fans pleaded with McDonald’s to extend its breakfast menu beyond the current 10:30 a.m. cutoff. For nearly as long, the fast-food behemoth shrugged off the ask, saying it doesn’t have the capacity to make breakfast and everything else at the same time. But this October, McDonald’s finally gave in, agreeing to offer Egg McMuffins and other breakfast fare from open to close. And the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

“All-day breakfast was clearly the primary driver of the quarter,” McDonald’s Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook told investors in a conference call following the company’s earnings announcement. “We knew it would be.”

In some ways, the immediate success of all-day breakfast is a reminder of one of McDonald’s biggest follies: its inability to see itself what for what it is. Rather than embrace what its fans adore it for most — a place that serves hamburgers, French fries, chicken nuggets, and yes, an exceedingly popular breakfast menu — McDonald’s tried to become something other than itself, expanding its menu, largely with salads, wraps and other healthier but also more expensive fare, to mimic new competitors.

The Chipotles and Shake Shacks of the fast-food world have managed to sell pricier food, at least in part, because of their association with meaningful trends in the food world that prioritize good food over cheap food. But it’s a much harder pitch at cheap burger chains, which people visit for a respite from their (hopefully) healthier dietary regimen, rather than a reminder that they could be eating something better. It’s no coincidence that fast-food chain Sonic has flourished by accepting what it is, while McDonald’s has struggled by doing just the opposite.

The chain’s re-energized business can also be seen as a testament to the enduring popularity of the Egg McMuffin, arguably the most iconic breakfast sandwich in the world. The affordable egg sandwich, which was first served in the early 1970s, caught on so quickly that it helped popularize the entire breakfast sandwich category. But it hasn’t been replaced. Today, demand for it is such that the chain buys more than 2 billion eggs per year in the United States alone, or almost 5 percent of all eggs produced in the country.

“It’s one of the oldest items they’ve had on their menu, and it’s still one of the most popular,” said Darren Tristano, who is the president of Technomic, a food industry market research firm. “Selling it all daylong was a no-brainer.”

Since Easterbook became McDonald’s CEO last March, he has shown that he’s willing to not only listen to but also heed requests from the fast-food chain’s customers. The introduction of all-day breakfast is perhaps the best example, but during his short stint, he has already also shortened the McDonald’s menu and announced plans to switch to cage-free eggs and antibiotic-free chicken in the United States, among other things.

Tristano reminds that it’s too early to tell whether the most encouraging earnings in years is a sign of things to come. The real test will be what happens in the rest of 2016, and beyond. The excitement around all-day breakfast, and Egg McMuffins specifically, might not last, which even Easterbrook admitted to investors this morning. But the move has set an important precedent.

“I think listening to the customer is going to the most important rule McDonald’s has to follow,” said Tristano. “As long as they’re doing that, they should be fine, because the customer usually has the answer.”

When markets opened Monday, McDonald’s shares were up 3 percent on the news, but finished the day up less than 1 percent. Despite the company’s recent struggles, its stock is at a near all-time high.


We want a ‘natural’ Big Mac. Why fast-food giants are finding it tough to deliver

November 4, 2015

2015-11-04_1641Peter Frost
Copyright © 2015 Crain Communication, Inc.
http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20151024/ISSUE01/310249994/we-want-a-natural-big-mac-why-fast-food-giants-are-finding-it-tough-to-deliver

Chain restaurants that want to jump on the all-natural beef, chicken or pork bandwagon better expect to wait in line.

While higher-end restaurants in Chicago and other big cities have long turned to niche natural-meat suppliers, McDonald’s, Subway, Chick-fil-A and smaller companies are competing for a limited supply of “clean-label” meats. In many cases, they’re being forced to get supplies from the other side of the globe or wait years for suppliers to catch up to the types of proteins consumers want today.

“The infrastructure just doesn’t exist today,” says Marion Gross, senior vice president of supply chain management at McDonald’s, the nation’s largest fast-food chain. “And no one can turn on a dime, especially when you do the type of volume we do.”

On a quest to improve the quality of its food and lure back customers who left long ago for competitors perceived to have higher food quality, Oak Brook-based McDonald’s is overhauling a portion of its supply chain. It plans to begin using hogs raised outside of gestation crates, eggs from cage-free chickens and chicken not containing antibiotics used to treat humans. On Oct. 19, the company said it also will begin serving sustainable beef in some areas next year.

But the systemwide changes won’t begin to take effect in the United States until 2017, and they won’t be finished until 2025, because of McDonald’s huge size.

U.S. meat suppliers, knowing they’re missing an opportunity, are investing millions of dollars to change farming practices and acquire “natural” brands to fill growing demand. But change takes time.

The primary factor driving deals “is the pursuit of growth and moving into markets where the growth is,” says Heather Jones, a BB&T analyst based in Richmond, Va. “It’s completely being driven by the consumer, and these companies realize it is way cheaper to buy than it is to build this on your own.”

Big meat producers like Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods, which in May agreed to buy Applegate Farms for $775 million, and Salisbury, Md.-based Perdue Farms, which bought Natural Food Holdings and its Niman Ranch brand in September for an undisclosed price, are augmenting their portfolios with branded organic and natural products primarily to compete better at retail, where consumers make decisions based on the label.

The takeovers also should help big meat processors learn from the upstarts and apply the lessons throughout their mass-market-sized operations. Randy Day, president of Perdue Foods, the food division of Perdue Farms, says the acquisition of Chipotle’s pork supplier, Niman Ranch, will help his company continue “a slow, thoughtful” expansion into antibiotic-free pork without compromising what made Niman successful in the first place.

Hardees and sister burger chain Carl’s Jr. had to look outside the U.S. to Australia to find enough steroid-free, antibiotic-free, grass-fed beef to supply its 3,000 U.S. restaurants for an unexpected hit. Its “all-natural” quarter-pound burger performed so well in limited tests that the chains are keeping it on menus indefinitely. The sandwich, which retails for $1.50 more than a conventionally sourced burger, has been the company’s best-selling new beef product over the past two years, says Brad Haley, chief marketing officer for Carl’s Jr. and Hardees, subsidiaries of CKE Restaurants of Carpinteria, Calif.
“Earlier generations were more concerned about counting calories, and this generation is more concerned about counting chemicals,” Haley says. “And this is not a surprise to our suppliers. They’re getting asked by everybody for this, but we just couldn’t get enough in the U.S. to meet our volume demands.”

DEMAND GROWS

Roti Mediterranean Grill, a Chicago-based fast-casual chain with 21 restaurants, likewise tapped Australian and South American cattle for dishes that will showcase the grass-fed, pasture-raised beef its customers have come to expect, CEO Carl Segal says.

“People absolutely want it,” he says. “There’s such a tight supply in the U.S. right now. Until the big producers realize there’s more and more demand for (natural meat) we’re still going to (have) tight supply, which is going to keep pricing very high. It’s frustrating.”

Market share for organic or natural chicken, beef and pork remains small. Aside from antibiotic-free chicken, which is 6.5 percent of the total chicken market by pounds, no other natural or organic meat holds more than 3.6 percent of its category, according to data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI/FreshLook.

But while analysts say it’s unlikely the majority of consumers will pay hefty premiums for grass-fed beef or chickens raised without antibiotics—supermarket prices of such products sometimes are nearly double those of factory-farmed meat—sales are outpacing conventional products by as much as a factor of six, the IRI data show. And they might have increased even faster if more supplies were available, analysts say.

“It’s going to take time for the farming and (agriculture) community to produce as much organic and antibiotic-free product as demand dictates,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a Chicago-based market research firm.

And demand is growing. Subway wants to convert to chicken raised without antibiotics next year and eliminate antibiotics from all meat within 10 years. Chick-fil-A plans to sell only chicken that is entirely free of antibiotics within four years. Earlier this year, Wal-Mart Stores asked its meat and egg suppliers to curb their use of antibiotics and provide animals with more humane living conditions. Perhaps wisely, it didn’t set a deadline.