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.


Bootler brings comparison shopping to food delivery services

February 3, 2016
Cheryl V. Jackson
Blue Sky Innovation
Chicago Tribune
January 26, 2016
http://www.chicagotribune.com/bluesky/originals/ct-bootler-food-delivery-bsi-20160126-story.html

Food deliveryA Chicago startup plans to feed on the food-delivery boom with a search engine that makes comparing costs and delivery times easier.

Bootler (at gobootler.com) launches Tuesday in Chicago with a platform that allows users to compare menu items, prices, delivery times and fees, and order minimums across a variety of services. Users can add booze to their orders through the company’s partnership with on-demand alcohol delivery service Saucey.

Founder Michael DiBenedetto says customers who use Bootler don’t have to hop from one delivery site to the next to find what they want, then evaluate costs and other information.

The site currently includes Delivery.com, GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates and EatStreet, with plans to add Uber, Amazon, Caviar and Eat24.

“It’s a very saturated market,” DiBenedetto said.”We think it will work because of how many companies are in the space. We’re driving more awareness and traffic for all the players in the space by arranging them all in one spot.”

Users can search by restaurant or food category then see the total from various delivery services, including menu price, taxes and delivery fees. They can then click through to their preferred service to complete the order.

Using Bootler is free to consumers. The company plans to get a cut of the delivery services’ take.

One-stop shopping for online food and alcohol ordering seems a natural with the growth of restaurant delivery services, said Darren Tristano, president at research and consultant firm Technomic.

“It was only a matter of time before somebody built a site that makes comparisons,” Tristano said. “It makes sense. We’ve seen it in other types of comparative places like with travel, with airfares and hotels and car rentals.”

It could be difficult to get consumers who already order from particular sites to steer first to an aggregator, though, Tristano said.

It “will be interesting to see if they can get consumers for a few dollars’ or a few minutes’ savings,” he said.

DiBenedetto said he started working on the website in June.

“I’ve wanted to order from one restaurant and it didn’t have what I wanted, so you end up having three or four tabs open until you find one that delivers what you want,” he said.

The site began operating beta in December, he said.


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.


Mcdonald’s Earnings Does the Company Think We’ve Reached Peak Burger

November 6, 2015

pictureBeth Kowitt
http://fortune.com/2015/10/23/mcdonalds-earnings-peak-burger/

The company’s executives seem to have other products on their mind, if yesterday’s analyst call was any indication.
Where’s the beef? McDonald’s is the biggest burger restaurant in the world, but you wouldn’t have known it from its third-quarter earnings call yesterday. Executives at the fast food giant uttered the b-word a mere six times. Two of the mentions came at the beginning and end of the call when CEO Steve Easterbrook repeated that the company was repositioning itself to be a “modern, progressive burger company.” By comparison, the execs referred to breakfast 17 times and chicken eight times.

The rare mention of the iconic product that has long defined McDonald’s MCD 0.19% is a sign that being a “modern, progressive burger company” might means focusing a lot of attention on…other things.

“I think you’re going to see them become more and more about other things and less about burgers and fries,” says Edward Jones analyst Jack Russo. “They want to be seen as giving people choice and being more healthy.”

If you look at the numbers, it’s clear why. The U.S. public may be burgered-out. There are 50,000 burger restaurants in the U.S.—that’s one for every 6,300 people, according to industry analyst Aaron Allen, who says that Americans eat 46 hamburgers a year on average. Of all the sandwiches sold in the U.S., he says three out of every five are burgers, and more than two-thirds of all the beef we consume comes in the form of a patty on a bun.

Of course, there’s been a surge in at least one category: the ballooning “better burger” segment. Allen found that some 50 national chains—from Shake Shack to Five Guys to Smashburger—have plans to expand, which will add thousands of locations in the coming years. And the proliferation is not just at burger joints. Darren Tristano of industry research firm Technomic says that the burger is also popping up in unexpected places, such as on Olive Garden’s menu or integrated into tacos.

But the pace of growth of the better burger segment is not in line with the growth of burger consumption, which Allen says lags behind population growth. We are already one of the top beef-eating countries in the world. How much more beef can we stomach?

“The only growth is coming from cannibalization,” Allen says. “We’ve capped out on the number of burgers we can eat. They’re really just swapping dollars.” He thinks McDonald’s has taken the biggest hit, noting that if you look at the growth of units added in fast-casual hamburger restaurants in the last three years, that’s approximately equivalent to the number of locations McDonald’s has closed.

The fast-growing chicken sandwich is giving the hamburger a run for its money. According to research firm NPD Group’s Harry Balzer, 2044 will be the year the number of chicken sandwiches consumed at lunch at all chains will surpass burgers for the first time. “Hamburgers are not on a growth cycle,” Balzer says, “but they’ve got a place in our lives.” He says that the chicken sandwich is not cannibalizing from hamburgers; instead it’s a change in how we eat chicken.

Allen, who has done an analysis of McDonald’s menu, says there are now more chicken-related items than anything else on the its menu, and McDonald’s now sells more chicken than beef.

It makes sense if McDonald’s wants to go whole hog on chicken. But McDonald’s can’t forget its roots. As Fortune noted last year in a story detailing McDonald’s woes, the company has a perception problem when it comes to quality:
A survey in Consumer Reports showed that McDonald’s customers ranked its burgers significantly below those of 20 competitors. It also had the lowest rank in food quality of all rated hamburger chains in the Nation’s Restaurant News 2014 Consumer Picks survey. Worse, McDonald’s ratings among diners put the chain at No. 104—on a list of 105 restaurants without table service. (Only Chuck E. Cheese’s scored lower.)

Whether it likes it or not and no matter how much chicken it sells, McDonald’s will always be known first and foremost for the hamburger. That doesn’t mean it has to compete with the better burger chains. It just needs to convince consumers that its burger has gotten better.


How 10 Food Trends for 2016 Will Transform Restaurants

November 2, 2015

2015 Forbes.com LLC™ All Rights Reserved
http://www.forbes.com/sites/darrentristano/2015/10/28/how-10-food-trends-for-2016-will-transform-restaurants/

At this point a couple years ago, if you asked a restaurant executive how she might user Uber to build sales, she might have guessed as a prefix for the name of her brand’s Oktoberfest-theme burger. But now, Uber and Postmates are just two of the sharing-economy apps rapidly transforming foodservice and shaking up consumers’ expectations everywhere.
Going into 2016, there are dozens of similar forces shifting the ground beneath restaurants, and most of them are far beyond what brands have the power to control. While they are hard to predict, even for a data-rich firm like Technomic, they are easy to identify and understand, because they all spring from evolving consumer demand. Major moves from the biggest restaurant companies—McDonald’s moving its food supply toward more cage-free eggs, for example—aren’t dictated solely by the bottom line. They’re dictated by what consumers need from foodservice brands.

Technomic just released its 10 major food trends for 2016 with this dynamic in mind. Because consumers are the impetus behind all the upheaval, take a look at each trend and see how many of them you’re driving with your own dining out preferences.

The Sriracha Effect: This hot sauce from Thailand will continue to grow in popularity, but the “effect” Technomic predicts is that chefs and chain restaurant executives will search for the next hot ethnic flavor to find lightning in a bottle again. Early indications are that this will drive more use of and consumer interest in ghost pepper from India, sambal from Southeast Asia, gochujang from Korea, and harissa, sumac and dukka from North Africa.

The Delivery Revolution: Popular apps that simplify online and mobile ordering making “dining in” even easier and, in some cases, “dining out” irrelevant. Delivery services like GrubHub are starting to proliferate far beyond urban centers, bringing the convenience of a restaurant meal home, where plenty of people are likely camping out in front of the TV to binge-watch a season or two on Netflix. Other services are muscling in, including the aforementioned Uber and Amazon, which is expanding its Prime Fresh memberships for grocery delivery.

One particular threat to restaurants could be app-only services like Munchery, which delivers restaurant-quality food from a commissary, cutting out brick-and-mortar restaurants completely.

Negative on GMOs: In some cases, consumers have made up their minds before scientists have reached consensus, but many restaurant customers are declaring genetically modified organisms to be nonstarters. Many diners will agree with calls for labels of GMOs on menus and food packaging; some will go further and gravitate toward restaurants that advertise a GMO-free menu. That will be a major issue for the nation’s food supply, since many crops—particularly soy fed to livestock and other animal feeds—have been modified to boost their yields and productivity.

Modernizing the Supply Chain: Speaking of the supply chain, it already has enough challenges to deal with, including climate destabilization, rising costs for transportation and shipping, and pests. These will cause frequent repeats of shortages similar to those witnessed in 2015, like the unseasonable freeze that decimated Florida’s orange crop or the egg shortage that resulted from avian flu. Those hurdles will proliferate while more and more consumers demand food that is “fresh,” “local,” or just free of additives and artificial ingredients. Every brand, from restaurants to grocery stores and convenience stores, will make big investments in supply chain management in 2016.

Year of the Worker: Restaurants will also contend with rising labor costs, because of new mandates to cover full-time staff with health insurance and because the minimum wage could increase sharply depending on the state or city where they’re located. Pressure groups will ratchet up their call for a $15-per-hour wage, and they could possibly succeed in more cities like they have in New York and Seattle. Don’t expect any changes to the federal wage floor of $7.25 per hour, because no cooperation between a Democratic White House and a Republican Congress is possible, especially in an election year.
How will restaurants respond? Most will raise their wages to either comply with a new law or to compete for the best staff—but that means menu prices are going up as well, everywhere from fast food to fine dining. Also, more brands will experiment with technology and automation in the kitchens and the dining rooms to do more with fewer employees.

Fast Food Refresh: Consumers gravitate to “better” quick-service restaurants, which has transformed the industry. That has created a subset of “QSR-Plus” concepts with fresher menus and more contemporary designs, which exploits a price threshold between fast food and fast casual. Culver’s, Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out Burger are examples of this. “Build-your-own” menus are springing up across the industry, and many quick-service brands are adding amenities like alcohol.
QSR-Plus also helps other restaurants clarify their positioning by giving up their attempt to go upscale in a piecemeal approach, and those chains instead are returning to their roots with simplified menus and lower prices.

Elevating Peasant Fare: The popularity of street foods and consumers’ demand for portability and affordability have put things like meatballs, sausages and even breads back in the spotlight. But this time, those meatballs might have a nouveau twist, such as a blend of fancier meats like duck or lamb. Multiethnic dumplings will also continue to grow in popularity, from Eastern European pierogi to Asian bao.

Trash to Treasure: Rising prices for proteins will raise the profile of underused cuts of meat, organ meats or “trash fish.” The “use it all” mindset has also moved beyond the center of the plate. Some restaurants will use carrot pulp from the juicer to make a veggie burger patty, and perhaps other chains will follow the lead of Sweetgreen, which last year partnered with celebrity chef Dan Barber to make the wastED Salad, an entrée that saves vegetable scraps like broccoli stalks and cabbage cores and combines them with upscale ingredients like shaved Parmesan and pesto vinaigrette.

Let them eat kale stems!

Burned: Smoke and fire are showing up everywhere on the menu—smoky is the new spicy. Look for more charred- or roasted-vegetable sides, desserts with charred fruits or burnt-sugar toppings, or cocktails featuring smoked salt, smoked ice or smoky syrups.

Bubbly: Effervescence makes light work of the trendiest beverages. Technomic expects rapid sales growth of Champagnes and Proseccos, Campari-and-soda aperitifs, and adults-only “hard” soft drinks like ginger ales and root beers. In the nonalcoholic space, sales will also increase for fruit-based artisanal soda and sparkling teas.


Snacking and Healthier Options are on the Rise

October 30, 2015

pictureSnacking is a growing trend and consumers are snacking more frequently. About half of today’s consumers (51 percent) say they eat snacks at least twice a day and 31 percent say they’re snacking more frequently than they were two years ago.

According to Technomic, Americans also are broadening their definition of a snack to encompass a wider range of foods and beverages.

Smoothies are they a snack or a meal? According to Vitamix and ORC International, 59 percent is snack, 25 percent is part of a meal and 18 percent meal.

“Snacking occasions represent a growth channel for restaurant operators. The retail market is aggressively promoting snacks, but there’s plenty of room for restaurants to expand their snack programs and grab share. By providing more innovative, healthy and easily portable snacks, and boosting variety, restaurants can position themselves to increase incremental traffic and sales –particularly among a younger customer base.” Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic.

In an article by WholeFoods Magazine called “Healthy Snacking on the Rise in the US” this article reports that more Americans are snacking more than ever before – but are also make smarter snacking choices. In a recent survey taken, 33% of the survey population is snacking on healthier foods than they were last year. This number has steadily risen with time, and is something that only stands to increase with nearly a third of all parents surveyed mentioning that they are serving healthier snacks to their children.

What a great opportunity for any restaurant, café, juice or smoothie bar to take advantage of this growing trend. Now more than ever it is important to offer customers what they want and that is healthier options.

The healthy trend is also dominating menus. Gone are the days of serving only indulgent foods or offering calorie laden menu items. The most prominent industry buzzword over that last decade is healthy which appears in various forms on today’s menus. This change has been inspired by the growing public awareness of healthy attributes in food and consumers are leaning on restaurants to go beyond adding a side salad to create a healthy meal.


Has America FINALLY hit ‘peak pumpkin’?

October 28, 2015

pumpkinKatie Little
© 2015 CNBC LLC. All Rights Reserved. A Division of NBCUniversal
http://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/02/has-america-finally-hit-peak-pumpkin.html

More than a decade after Starbucks helped make “pumpkin spice latte” a household name, there is some evidence that “peak pumpkin” may finally be coming to restaurants.

The country’s 500 biggest restaurants launched just 45 pumpkin flavored limited-time offerings, such as Dairy Queen’s Pumpkin Pie Blizzard Cake or Krispy Kreme’s Pumpkin Spice Doughnut, from January to September. That’s down 61 percent from 116 a year ago, according to data from Technomic.

“Although many consumers are still interested in pumpkin spice, recent years have shown heavy saturation with beverages and although the flavor is likely here to stay, the growth of the trend is starting to flatten showing we have reached maturity,” wrote Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, in an email.

Overall promotions are shrinking as well, falling 11 percent as operators adopt a “less is more” attitude borrowed from fast-casual restaurant hits like Shake Shack and Chipotle.

“Brands are starting to discover the fact that consumers are experiencing new menu burnout,” Tristano wrote. “This year marked the first year in a decade that top chain restaurant menus declined in total menu offering.”

At the retail level, growth is also showing signs of slowing.

For the year ending July 26, sales of pumpkin-flavored items rose 11.6 percent, the slowest growth in at least three years, according to Nielsen data. Declines in pumpkin-flavored coffee, milk and frozen waffles, pancakes and French toast were especially steep. Still, pumpkin-flavored item sales remain a large market, clocking in at $360 million at retail outlets, including grocery and convenience stores.

So if pumpkin has reached saturation, which seasonal item will start to take share? This is difficult to predict, Tristano says, adding it’s possible other seasonal flavors like gingerbread, molasses, peppermint or eggnog could increase.