Super Bowl Wings Will Be Fat But Pricey as Chicken Count Shrinks

January 28, 2015

Lydia Mulvany
Bloomberg

Copyright © 2015 Vancouver Sun

http://washpost.bloomberg.com/Story?docId=1376-NILQBC6VDKHV01-2E7MM3M04PF2SQP6R5M335CK8E

On Super Bowl Sunday, expect two things when your order of chicken wings arrives: They’ll be fat, and they’ll be pricey.

First the fat part. American farmers are giving their chickens extra feed, taking advantage of plunging corn and soybean costs to help lift poultry production – as measured by weight – to a record.

But each chicken, of course, still only has two wings, regardless of its size. And the number of actual chickens slaughtered last year fell, causing a drop of about 50 million wings, government data show. That smaller supply is what’s triggering the pricey part of the equation. The cost of wholesale wings sold by processors in Georgia, which sets the benchmark for the nation, has surged 8.2 per cent this month to $1.715 US a pound, the biggest jump to start a year since 2012.

Americans will consume 1.25 billion wings when game day arrives Feb. 1. That estimate, provided by the National Chicken Council, is unchanged from last year’s Super Bowl.

“Wings are just all over menus,” Darren Tristano, executive vice-president at Chicagobased research firm Technomic Inc., said in a recent interview. Demand for wings remains “very high with consumers because they’re customizable,” he said. “There’s a health halo around it, because it’s chicken. There are a lot of flavour profiles, and it’s a fun finger food.”

Buffalo Wild Wings Inc., a Minneapolis-based restaurant chain with more than 1,000 stores, raised menu prices by an average of three per cent in November, CEO Jim Schmidt said this month. The company normally would have raised prices in February, but made the increases earlier partly because of higher wing costs, he said.

Chicken output will rise 2.7 per cent from 2014’s record to an all-time high of 39.21 billion pounds this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. Still, fewer birds slaughtered means that wholesale wing prices are up more than 30 per cent from a year earlier.

Americans paid 9.2 per cent more for meat last year, the biggest jump of any food group, USDA data show. The gains were led by increases for beef and veal amid shrinking cattle herds, and that advance helped support prices for other proteins as consumers sought cheaper alternatives to record costs for steaks.

“It’s a good thing the Super Bowl pastime is chicken wings and not hamburgers,” said Andy Wiederhorn, CEO of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Buffalo’s Cafe, where a pound of wings costs about five to 10 per cent more than this time last year at its 50 locations in the U.S. and Canada. “The prices have been generally reasonable, unlike beef prices, which have skyrocketed to record highs.”

The Super Bowl, which will pit the Seattle Seahawks against the New England Patriots this year, marks the No. 1 wing-eating day in the U.S. Demand peaks in the first quarter of the year, with consumption also high south of the border for the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament games. An increase in restaurants serving wings is also supporting prices. The number of U.S. chicken-wing franchises grew seven per cent to more than 2,000 restaurants in the five years through 2013, according to Arlington, Va.-based franchise researcher Frandata. Demand for the meat is also rising as pizza chains including Pizza Hut and Little Caesar’s serve wings, Technomic’s Tristano said.

 


Shake Shack IPO Filing Comes Amid a Hunger for Premium Burgers

January 14, 2015

Passersby walk in front of the Shake Shack restaurant in the Manhattan borough of New YorkCopyright 2015 Thomson Reuters. All Rights Reserved.
By Anjali Athavaley

NEW YORK, Jan 2 (Reuters) – Shake Shack Inc’s filing this week for an initial public offering underscores a question for investors and foodies alike: How hungry are U.S. consumers for another burger chain?

A key part of Shake Shack’s growth strategy involves expanding its locations beyond its New York base, and investors and analysts are bullish on its prospects.

They say there is room for more “fast casual” restaurants that offer higher quality burgers, a variety of toppings and in some cases, beer and wine. Shake Shack’s burgers are described in its preliminary prospectus as all-natural and hormone- and antibiotic-free.

To be sure, there are skeptics who say the excitement over Shake Shack is overblown.

“Consumers love it and it will be well greeted in the market – and then probably fizzle out,” said Doug Kass, president of Seabreeze Partners Management in Palm Beach, Florida, and a noted short-seller.

“That a company of such a small size can get a valuation is symptomatic of the silliness … that develops in a period of zero interest rates,” he said.

A Shake Shack spokeswoman declined to comment.

Still, several factors appear to be working in Shake Shack’s favor. First, 2014 was a solid year for restaurant IPOs, particularly of the fast casual variety.

Burger chain Habit Restaurants Inc’s shares have risen 3 percent since its $30 Nasdaq debut on Nov. 20, based on Friday’s prices, and Zoe’s Kitchen was up 12 percent from its April market debut at $28.72 on Friday. Shares of El Pollo Loco, another fast casual company, were up 5.5 percent Friday from their $19 market debut in July.

Second, premium burger chains are outperforming the burger category as a whole, thanks to demand from younger, more affluent consumers. Sales at such chains including Five Guys and Smashburger rose 9 percent in 2013, according to restaurant consultancy Technomic Inc, while overall sales at all burger chains including fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s Corp were down 1 percent.

“The better burger space has been a pretty disruptive force for McDonald’s and other players,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic.

NEW YORK AND BEYOND

Shake Shack has developed a fervent following since it was founded by restaurateur Danny Meyer in 2001, but the challenge will be to replicate the success it has found in New York in the rest of the United States and overseas. The company has 31 company-operated and five licensed locations in 10 states and Washington, D.C., and 27 locations abroad.

The chain believes it has the potential to increase the number of domestic company-operated Shacks to at least 450 and analysts say that finding new locations with affluent consumers is critical.

Consumers such as Leticia Garza, 33, a middle school teacher in Austin, Texas, help illustrate the brand’s potential in other parts of the country, but also the challenges. Garza says she is excited to hear that Shake Shack planned to expand to Austin.

Still, she notes that she has many similar options. “There’s definitely going to be some competition because we have recently gotten an In-N-Out, and a couple of local versions that are similar to In-N-Out: P. Terry’s and Mighty Fine.” She adds: “We have Smashburger, too.”

Indeed, the market may be just a few years away from being saturated with too many fancy burger places, some analysts say. Furthermore, premium burger chains are not the only ones offering more personalized options: McDonald’s is rolling out a new “Create Your Taste” program this year that will give customers a choice of sandwich toppings.

In December, the world’s biggest fast food chain, which has not had a monthly gain in sales at its established U.S. restaurants since October 2013, said it also planned to cut the number of items on its U.S. menus. It also plans to use fewer ingredients in food, in an effort to reach consumers who want simpler, more natural choices.

McDonald’s is cheaper than Shack Shack and competes for a less affluent consumer. Still, industry watchers say such efforts could put pressure on premium burgers.

“We’re always looking for the latest version,” said Harry Balzer, an analyst at NPD Group, a market research company. But, he said, “there’s a limit to the burgers we’re going to eat.” (Additional reporting by Sinead Carew; Editing by Eric Effron and Tomasz Janowski)


Here Are the Only 6 Food Trends You Need to Know for 2015

January 12, 2015

pictureExperts forecast that we’ll be eating more fat and insects, and predict the next sriracha

With all due respect to sports geeks, music freaks, stock jocks, and teenage girls, there is no group more obsessed with The Next Big Thing conversation than food people.
The “restaurant trends for 2015″ predictions aren’t just coming now; they’ve been coming, steadily, since before Halloween. Press releases, slideshows, listicles in trades and foodie zines all aimed at telling us what’s the next kale, sriracha, or quinoa.

Interesting reading, often hunger inducing, but with so many predictions — from so many chefs, flavor-makers, food companies, bloggers— it’s hard to make sense of it all.
So this year, to cut through the tsunami of food punditry, I submit a highly abridged list.

I asked only six experts — all industry people who live and breathe food trends. And I asked these carefully chosen experts to make some carefully chosen decisions. Instead of a top ten list — or even a five-item slideshow — just give me that one big food prediction for 2015.

1. The Rise of Fat
For most health-conscious people, fat ranks right up there on the no-no list with nicotine and smog. But Kara Nielsen, culinary director of the Boulder, CO-based Sterling-Rice Group, believes 2015 could be known as the year that more and more Americans get over their fat phobia.

Nielsen isn’t talking about just any fat — not the trans fats found in highly processed foods. She’s talking about natural, animal-derived fats. Real butter sales are at a 40-year high; cultured butter is surging in popularity; high-end burger joints, like Shake Shack, celebrate fat as an essential part of a better burger. And the trend seems to be broadening: There’s a San Francisco restaurant selling a wildly popular chicken fat rice dish; there’s a rapidly growing Boulder company that only features full-fat yogurt. Nielsen expects more high-fat dairy products, more fat-celebrating meat purveyors, and more higher fat Asian foods to hit restaurant menus and grocery store shelves in 2015. “Americans are recognizing that the fear of fat that we’ve lived under for so long is erroneous,” said Nielsen. And it’s not just because of a foodie quest for flavor. Says Nielsen: “It’s also because of books like The Big Fat Surprise that are making the argument that natural fat is an essential part of a healthy diet.”

2. Local Meat
There’s near unanimity among food trend trackers that the local foods movement will continue to grow in 2015. Darren Tristano is no exception. Tristano, who tracks the restaurant industry for market research giant Technomic, expects more local produce, more local beer, more local grains. But Tristano believes the big local story of next year will be local meat. Californians will see more menus boasting of grass-fed beef from Niman Ranch; Chicagoans will likely see more free-range bacon from Slagel Farm. Diners in DC will see more chicken sandwiches from Polyface Farms. In short, get ready for more restaurants to celebrate the local origins of their chicken, beef, or pork just as zealously as their local Brandywine tomatoes or radicchio.

3. Insect-Powered Foods
Restaurants serving grasshopper tacos and ant guacamole, entrepreneurs peddling cricket-powered powerbars —there’s been tons of media coverage of insect-eating in 2014. Yet most people regard it as a curiosity, more Fear Factor-fad than food trend.

Not Suzy Badaracco. The president of food trend consultancy Culinary Tides believes insects will rise as a foodstuff in the U.S. far sooner than many expect. In picking insects as her “Food of 2015,” Badaracco said that insects draw on not one but three food trends: the growing interest in foraging, the invasivore movement (i.e., don’t kill them, eat them), and, the granddaddy of current trends, the desire for more protein. (Insects are protein powerhouses; grasshoppers, for instance, have about the same protein content as a chicken breast). Full-bodied insects won’t appear in your Safeway this year; get ready for them to arrive in processed form, especially protein-packed power bars, like Chapul and Exo. Badaracco expects insects, processed as flour, to soon become a popular protein sources for bakery and cereal products. Full-bodied insects — tentacles and all? Further off, but coming. Badaracco sent a list of more than a dozen American restaurants that feature insect options, such as the “Grass Whopper” —a burger made from cricket meat.

4. The Next Sriracha is Harissa
A few years ago, it was the unpronounceable hot sauce that you might find in Chinatown. Now, you can get a Subway chicken sriracha melt with a side of sriracha potato chips.

Maeve Webster, a restaurant analyst for market researcher Datamonitor, believes the next sauce to experience a sriracha-like rise is harissa, a spread of dried chiles, garlic, tomatoes, caraway, paprika, coriander, and olive oil that’s as common as ketchup in Tunisia. It’s still largely unknown to Americans, but Webster says all the elements are in place for harissa. “U.S. consumers can’t get enough of spicy foods. Harissa has a flavor profile that is both spicy and familiar,” Webster says. Like sriracha, harissa is also versatile and can work in a wide variety of applications. Last year, Datamonitor found that less than 3% of American restaurants included a harisssa item, but Webster noted that’s a more than 180% leap over three years. If Webster is right, get ready for the chicken harissa melt — maybe not this year, but soon.

5. The Next Quinoa is Millet
Melissa Abbot, director of culinary insights at The Hartman Group, concedes that her pick for “Food of 2015″ is not very sexy. Millet is, after all, best known as the main ingredient in birdseed. But Abbot believes that this avian staple could quite possibly become the next quinoa. Ever since quinoa exploded on the scene, the food industry has been in hot pursuit of the Next Great Grain, and there are plenty of healthful, gluten-free candidates. So why millet, and why not amaranth, sorghum, teff, or fonio? It’s gluten-free, protein-rich, high fiber, and, Abbot says, has a superfood quality all of its own. “It retains its alkaline properties after being cooked, which helps in reducing inflammation ideal for those with wheat allergies and sensitive digestion.” Another plus for millet: it’s local. The Great Plains, especially Colorado, is one of the world’s major millet growing regions.

6. Peas
This pick for “Food of 2015″ will not necessarily be found on restaurant menus or on grocery store shelves. You may even need glasses to notice it.

Barb Stuckey, who is a vice president at Mattson, one of the world’s largest food product developers, describes Americans as being in a “torrid love affair” with protein. While it’s debatable whether Americans should be seeking out more protein, the reality is food companies are responding to our love affair with protein by giving us more protein.

Soy is one of the best, most widely available, efficient ways of fortifying foods with protein, Stuckey says. But whether deserved or not, soy is falling out of favor. Food makers are searching for non-GMO plant-based sources of protein and, Stuckey says, “the newest, hottest kid on the block is pea.” Peas are high in protein and, as people gain more experience processing it, the flavor is improving. “Look for pea protein to show up the ingredient list of bars, cereals, beverages, you name it.”


GrubMarket Aims to Bring Farmers Markets Straight to Your Door

January 7, 2015

chi-grubmarket-mike-xu-bsi-20150102-001By Amina Elahi

Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune

There’s not much growing around Chicago these days. That means farmers markets are on hold and even the most persistent locavores are forced to shop at conventional grocery stores.

A young San Francisco company called GrubMarket hopes it can keep consumers connected to local food suppliers with an ecommerce platform that lets farmers and small food businesses sell their goods, even in mid-winter. The company expanded operations to Chicago in December in its first push beyond the west coast.

“I am a big fan of local food and supporting local farms,” said founder and CEO Mike Xu.

GrubMarket is a member of of the San Francisco accelerator Y Combinator’s current class. Xu said the company has raised $2 million from the program and other investors since launching in February. The platform includes 280 vendors who sell to the Chicago and San Francisco markets, Xu said. The majority of those are in the Bay Area.

Chicago is GrubMarket’s first expansion market because of Xu’s connection to the Midwest — he went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison — and due to the number of farms and farmers markets here.

The vendors GrubMarket works with may not be big enough or even willing to sell their goods through retail channels. Xu said his company can help those who want an easier way to sell directly to customers. He’s set on creating software to automate the inventory process, for example.

“We need to manage the logistics and communication with vendors, local small farms,” Xu said. “They need a lot of coordination with us and the buyers.”

Xu said GrubMarket has sold $400,000 worth of food, including fresh produce, cheeses, nuts, condiments, meats and more. GrubMarket contracts with drivers to offer free delivery of goods, though vendors have the option of charging customers for direct shipping. The site indicates when products will be available for delivery, so customers know if an item won’t be available until the following week, for example.

Sharon Seleb, the company’s general manager for Chicago and the Midwest, said Chicago customers can buy goods from vendors in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. She said she works with vendors and helps them market their goods with free photography. Since GrubMarket takes a negotiated percentage of vendors’ gross revenue, Seleb said it’s in the company’s interest to promote their goods.

Customers also have the option of ordering Grub Boxes, pre-selected cases of goods with themes such as fruits or meats to be delivered at regular intervals. The prices depend on size and contents. GrubMarket’s California Fruit Bounty box costs $45 for a regular box and $65 for the large version.

“Our customer is more educated, and they would understand the purpose of getting a certified organic apple versus the apple for 50 cents,” Seleb said. “In terms of price point, our prices will be more on par with a Whole Foods or a farmers market. They’re not cheap.”

The service thereby is unlikely to replace the grocery habits of most Chicagoans, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Chicago-based food and foodservice consulting firm Technomic. He expects Millennials or more affluent consumers — those who likely frequent farmers markets — to take interest in GrubMarket.

Tristano said the local food movement is driven by shoppers’ desire to make purchases they see as supportive of their communities or eco-friendly because products don’t need to be shipped as far. All of this has contributed to a change in these consumers’ values.

“Traditionally it’s been around price and quantity, but the new consumer equation seems to be around where does it come from, how does it connect to my lifestyle, can I connect to this brand?” Tristano said. “Those things are all driving value to a Millennial consumer and to those who can quite frankly afford it.”

Tristano also pointed to restaurants’ role in the success of farmers markets. In many places, he said, chefs seek out fresh goods from local markets. He suggested that some may turn to GrubMarket for similar reasons.


Carl’s Jr. Revolutionizes Fast Food with New All-Natural Burger

December 15, 2014

(c) 2014 Business Wire. All Rights Reserved.temp_image_445085_3

New All-Natural Burger features the first all-natural, no added hormones, no antibiotics, no steroids, grass-fed, free-range beef patty from a major fast food company

Today, Carl’s Jr.(R) announced the All-Natural Burger, featuring an all-natural, grass-fed, free-range beef patty that has no added hormones, antibiotics or steroids. With the introduction of the All-Natural Burger, Carl’s Jr. is the first major fast-food chain to offer an all-natural beef patty on the menu. The All-Natural Burger will be available in participating Carl’s Jr. locations beginning Wednesday, Dec. 17 and features the charbroiled, all-natural beef patty topped with a slice of natural cheddar cheese, vine-ripened tomatoes, red onion, lettuce, bread-and-butter pickles, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, all served on the brand’s signature Fresh Baked Buns.

The Carl’s Jr. All-Natural Burger features an all-natural, grass-fed, free-range beef patty that has no added hormones, antibiotics or steroids. With the introduction of the All-Natural Burger, Carl’s Jr. is the first major fast-food chain to offer an all-natural beef patty on the menu.

“We’ve seen a growing demand for ‘cleaner,’ more natural food, particularly among Millennials, and we’re proud to be the first major fast food chain to offer an all-natural beef patty burger on our menu,” said Brad Haley, chief marketing officer of Carl’s Jr. “Millennials include our target of ‘Young Hungry Guys’ and they are much more concerned about what goes into their bodies than previous generations. The new All-Natural Burger was developed specifically with them in mind. It features grass-fed, free-range beef that’s raised with no antibiotics, no steroids and no added hormones. The charbroiled All-Natural Burger also has a slice of natural cheddar cheese, vine-ripened tomatoes, lettuce, red onion, bread-and-butter pickles, the classic trio of condiments – ketchup, mustard and mayo – and it’s all served on one of our Fresh Baked Buns that we bake fresh inside our restaurants every day. Whether you’re into more natural foods or not, it’s simply a damn good burger.”

“Greater awareness for health and wellness is driving the growth in healthful menu items, yet our research indicates that the majority of consumers still opt for more indulgent food,” said Darren Tristano, EVP of Technomic Inc. “The push and pull between healthfulness and indulgence makes an All-Natural Burger on-trend. All-natural products also have a ‘health halo’ impact and often help consumers feel confident that they are getting a product better for them and from a source they can feel good about.”

The new All-Natural Burger is available as a single all-natural beef burger for $4.69, as a double burger for $6.99, and may be ordered in a combo meal with fries and a drink. Guests may also substitute the all-natural patty on any burger on the menu for an additional charge. Prices may vary by location. For a limited time, visit carlsjr.com/coupons to download a coupon for $1 off any All-Natural Burger combo meal, valid at participating locations.

The new burger will be supported by an advertising campaign created by Los Angeles- and Amsterdam-based creative agency, 72andSunny. The first of two TV spots will begin airing on Dec. 29 with an additional commercial to debut Feb. 2015 during the super big football game many will be watching.


Local Sourcing, Quality Ingredients Take Center Stage

November 26, 2014

featureimagestephanieizardAmericans are voicing increased concerns about the foods they put in their bodies, a message that is being heard — and responded to — by chefs and restaurateurs across the country.
Menumakers are striving to render the dining experience more transparent by addressing such consumer queries as where does their food come from, what’s in it and how is it made. At the same time, many are modifying their menus and purchasing strategies, and stepping up the use of ingredients that are of superior quality, locally sourced, pristinely fresh, free of additives and generally perceived as being more healthful.

Industry experts regard this intensifying focus on ingredients and sourcing as the direction many more restaurateurs will be taking in the future. “It’s not a fad, it’s a long-term trend,” says Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president-foodservice strategies for WD Partners in Columbus, Ohio. “We will continue to see [the use of] better ingredients and more transparency as to where these ingredients come from.”

Local ingredient sourcing — which also encompasses the burgeoning farm-to-table movement — is gaining traction throughout the industry. Many chefs and restaurateurs are purchasing their produce, meats, dairy products, seafood and alcoholic beverages from area farmers and other local suppliers, often emphasizing the provenance of such foods and beverages on their menus or via their serving staff. A growing number of consumers have come to associate the trend with the serving of fresher, more wholesome and authentic ingredients, and now expect to find it in certain dining experiences, most notably in higher end restaurants.

“It’s increasingly important,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc. in Chicago, “especially to the Millennial generation.”

Technomic cited “micro-local” as being one of 10 foodservice trends to look forward to in 2015, while “locally sourced meats and seafood” and “locally grown produce” ranked in first and second place, respectively, in the National Restaurant Association’s Top 20 trends for 2014. Hyper-local sourcing — such as from restaurant gardens — was No. 6 and farm/estate branded items was No. 10.

Datassential also finds that Americans are warming to the idea of local sourcing and the focus on better-quality products. The research firm says 84 percent of consumers believe it is increasingly important for chains to offer fresh, local, organic, and/or natural ingredients. “Instead of basics, we’re seeing more premium, interesting ingredients and flavors showing up on menus,” says Datassential senior director Jana Mann.

However, Technomic’s Tristano maintains that the local sourcing trend must gain yet even more traction before it seriously impacts most consumers’ ordering behavior. “It’s important now, but when it comes down to changing the behavior of the majority of Americans, it’s not quite there yet,” he says. “Only 40 percent of consumers indicate that local sourcing influences their behavior. It’s three to five years off before local goes from a ‘nice-to-do’ to a ‘must-do.’

“But, yes,” he adds, “we expect to see more of it.”

The trend — whose influence varies depending upon the type of restaurant — is being fueled by an increasingly food-savvy public that wants to know more about what is being served to them and is prompting chefs and restaurateurs to trade up to better-quality ingredients.

As part of the movement, some chefs have aligned themselves closely with suppliers and products they believe reflect their restaurant’s philosophy and commitment to quality food preparation. Restaurants like Savory Maine in Damariscotta, Maine, and Farmhouse Tavern in Chicago make local products the stars of their menus. Savory Maine, for instance, says 90 percent of its products are state-sourced, while FarmHouse Tavern sources its ingredients from farmers, brewers and suppliers in states along the Lake Michigan shoreline, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois.

Stephanie Izard, executive chef and co-owner of Girl & The Goat and Little Goat Diner in Chicago, is a long-time advocate of farm-to-table dishes. She has partnered with Kraft Foodservice’s Philadelphia Cream Cheese and showcases the versatile dairy product in a range of sweet and savory dishes. Izard won a James Beard Award in 2013 as “Best New Chef: Great Lakes,” and is the winner of the fourth season of Top Chef, Bravo’s cooking competition show.

While local sourcing and the trend toward menuing authentic ingredients has already spread throughout the higher end restaurant community, it also is making itself felt among chain operators as well. Ype Von Hengst, co-founder, executive chef and vice president culinary operations of Silver Diner, the 15-unit regional casual-dining concept based in Rockville, Md., says he makes his menu as local as possible.

“It supports the local economy, creates jobs and often gives me a fresher, better product,” he says.

Von Hengst purchases produce and fruit from nearby suppliers in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey, dairy products from Pennsylvania, flat iron steaks from Maryland and Virginia, and fresh lamb burgers from Pennsylvania. Since Silver Diner began emphasizing better-quality local ingredients, Von Hengst says the concept has enjoyed 57 months of increasing sales. “That tells you the consumer appreciates what we’ve done with local products,” he says.

He says the public’s growing knowledge of food also is impacting the trend toward the use of “real” ingredients. “People don’t want to see food additives or artificial chemicals or flavorings,” he says. “So our goal is to make food as pure and wholesome as possible.”

One of Silver Diner’s top-selling dishes is a roasted vegetable salad with champagne dressing that showcases such local produce as butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and beets. “People know about better ingredients and are switching to healthier foods,” he says.

For some operators, local sourcing and the use of higher caliber, “real” ingredients can fulfill another role in a restaurant’s mission. Walter Staib, chef-proprietor of historic City Tavern in Philadelphia, says the farm-to-table movement forms an integral component in the 240-year-old restaurant’s effort to recreate authentic dishes from the American Colonial period.

“Whenever we can buy from Amish farms in Lancaster County or farms in New Jersey or other local vendors, we do,” Staib says. “Freshness and quality are very important to us.”

So is historical verisimilitude, he adds, noting that the Tavern tries to use only ingredients that might have been served in Philadelphia in the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, Staib says the restaurant uses many pounds of cream cheese, which was introduced into the region by the area’s original German settlers. In addition to being featured in such desserts as cheesecake, City Tavern offers savory dishes like smoked salmon roulade with cream cheese and knishes with cream cheese and basil.

“We’re a restaurant that relies on our reputation,” Staib says, “so for us it has always been this way. I believe that the best ingredients give you the best results … and I think the consumer is aware of that, too. We always try to use fresh products and foods that are authentic. Our reputation depends on it.”


Should Domino’s and Papa John’s Fear Pizza Hut’s Big Menu Changes?

November 21, 2014

Until now the differences between Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM) Pizza Hut, Domino’s (NYSE: DPZ), and Papa John’s (NASDAQ: PZZA) have been mostly a matter of personal preference. Aside from the occasional special offer or novelty pie, all three chains offer a basic take on pizza.

That has changed as Pizza Hut, the lagging member of this trio of mediocre national pizza purveyors, has radically overhauled its menu. The company, which in recent years has resorted to stuffing cheese into its crusts, has added a wealth of new choices built on the idea that customers want customization. It’s pizza on the Chipotle model with choices including 10 different crust flavors, six sauces, and a variety of new toppings.

Favorites like the Meat Lover’s Pizza will remain, but customers will now be able to order it with a variety of enhancements. So, for people who want their pepperoni and sausage with honey Sriracha sauce and “Ginger Boom Boom” or “Curried Away” crust, Pizza Hut will have it for them.

Why is Pizza Hut doing this?
Pizza Hut has reported sales declines for each of the last eight quarters and this new menu is an attempt to turn things around. “This is the biggest change we’ve ever made,” Chief Marketing Officer Carrie Walsh told USA TODAY. “We’re redefining the category.”

Pizza Hut needed to do something; as it has struggled, Domino’s and Papa John’s have been chugging along nicely. In the third quarter Domino’s posted 7.7% domestic same-store sales growth year over year and growth of 7.1% internationally, marking the 83rd consecutive quarter of international same-store sales growth. In its third quarter, Papa John’s posted a 7.4% gain in its North American stores while gaining 5.5% internationally.

Will it work?
One industry analyst told USA Today the chain might be trying to do too much too fast. “It would appear that the brand that has lost touch with the consumer is trying to change too much overnight,” Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, was quoted as saying.

Pizza Hut might be aiming to please customers with a shift to Chipotle-like customization, but it’s going to be a challenge for a Yum! Brands property to gain a similar reputation. Chipotle has succeeded not just because it offers customization, but because it has a well-known commitment to quality food. Neither Pizza Hut nor sister chains Taco Bell and KFC have reputations based on offering good food. Pizza Hut may find that simply adding trendy flavors like Sriracha may not be enough to win quality-conscious millennials.

On the plus side, the chain will be adding new toppings including banana peppers, cherry peppers, and spinach. On the negative, filed under “please don’t insult our intelligence,” the pizza purveyor will be renaming a number of its standard toppings, ostensibly to make them more appealing. The customer who cares where Chipotle sources its beef from may not be fooled by Pizza Hut renaming black olives as “Mediterranean black olives” or red onions being dubbed “fresh red onions,” even though nothing has changed.

Can Pizza Hut be reinvented?
While Domino’s rebuilt its brand by revamping its pizza a few years ago, the company just improved its recipe, it did not radically change its menu. What Pizza Hut is doing amounts to a massive change in direction, an attempt to differentiate itself from its two major competitors.

Pizza Hut’s moves might even send some of its customers running for its rivals. Though the chain will still be selling “normal” pizzas, it runs the risk of confusing people who just want a plain old pepperoni pie and do not want to have to wade through a wealth of options. Those customers may well switch to Domino’s or Papa Johns.

The potential gain however is not in stealing traditional, undiscerning pizza eaters from its rivals, it’s a bigger growth strategy of winning over fast-casual diners not necessarily looking for pizza. Domino’s and Papa John’s have largely penned themselves in to a specific audience — people who want familiar pizzas cheaply.
Pizza Hut is looking to break the mold and widen its potential customer base — a move that could push it ahead of its rivals. That is a huge risk because the company could scare away its existing customers while failing to win new ones. For this to work the brand has to win customers not just from its pizza rivals, but from fast-casual restaurants including Chipotle, which have a higher perceived quality.

To do that, Pizza Hut needs to up its game. It’s one thing to offer more choice, but a lousy salted caramel organic beet pizza with an artisanal cheese crust won’t be successful just because it has a lot of trendy words attached to it.

To make this new offering, which rolls out Nov. 19, work, the company is going to need to actually deliver quality pizza that people want to come back for. Fancily named olives and balsamic drizzles won’t be able to disguise a mediocre pie.