Striking While the Tortilla Warmer is Hot

October 5, 2016

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By David Farkas
http://restfinance.com/Restaurant-Finance-Across-America/October-2016/Striking-While-the-Tortilla-Warmer-is-Hot/

Mendocino Farms co-founders Mario Del Pero and wife Ellen Chen have put their money where many mouths are. Last month, the couple invested an undisclosed sum in Dos Toros, a 11-unit New York City-based taqueria chain that plans to expand to Chicago next year. “There is an unbelievable runway for them [to grow],” Del Pero declared in a recent interview.

The timing of the investment is no accident. Investors have been scouting for a viable investment vehicle in the category given the troubles at beleaguered Chipotle Mexican Grill. “I think that with the decline in traffic to Chipotle, the opportunity for other restaurants to capture share and support their desire for flavorful Mexican fare is very high,” Technomic Inc. President Darren Tristano told the Monitor. The market research firm expects Mexican fast-casual to grow 8% overall in 2016.

Del Pero and Chen invested alongside Managing Director Nick Marsh of GrowthPoint Partners, which last month made a $10 million minority investment in Dos Toros. Marsh, an early investor in the Studio City, Calif.-based premium sandwich chain, is also CEO of Chopt Creative Salad Company. “He’s a close restaurant friend that we trust,” Del Pero said.

Although Del Pero declined to reveal how much capital the couple put up, he acknowledged it was their own money. Still, he added, he sought permission for the investment from private equity firm Catterton, which has a substantial stake in 13-unit Mendocino Farms. “We made it very clear that we’re just investors, though we are a sounding board for Leo and Oliver,” Del Pero explained.

Brothers Leo and Oliver Kremer founded Dos Toros (“two bulls” in Spanish) in 2009, slowly opening units in Manhattan and Brooklyn until they added a second line in store in a busy Manhattan food-court two years ago. The addition has allowed new units to serve 450 people an hour.

Del Pero wouldn’t comment on Dos Toros AUVs or unit economics but claimed Dos Toros unit sales rivaled Chipotle’s. Before the chain’s food-poisoning problems, CMG reported volumes of $2.5 million. Dos Toros reportedly rang up $20 million in 2015.

He also said the couple would likely offer Dos Toros advice on catering and procurement as the brand scales outside New York City. “We think there is opportunity in catering. So that’s one of the things we can help with,” Del Pero offered.


Why fast-food chains are making ‘increasingly outrageous’ creations to get you through the door

September 30, 2016

imrsBy Becky Krystal
The Washington Post
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/going-out-guide/wp/2016/09/28/why-fast-food-restaurants-are-coming-up-with-increasingly-outrageous-ways-to-get-you-through-the-door/

Call them what you will. A sign of the apocalypse. Unabashed marketing ploys. The anti-kale. However you view the latest splashy fast-food innovations, know this: They’re probably not going anywhere. At least for now.

The latest of these creations to be foisted onto America: Pizza Hut’s Grilled Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza, which features mozzarella and cheddar baked into a crust that’s topped with bread crumbs and melted butter. Close relatives of recent vintage include Burger King’s Whopperrito and Mac n’ Cheetos, KFC’s Double Down, Pizza Hut’s hot-dog-crust pies and Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos.

Such creations, often referred to as stunt foods or limited-time offers if they’re temporary, aren’t concocted in a vacuum, especially since they can take months or even years to develop. In the last few years, the trend has grown amid efforts to lure customers back into fast-food restaurants, as well as diners’ quest for novel items to share on social media.

Now it seems like each release is wackier than the last. “Like clickbait, the concepts are so unbelievable, so shocking, so Onion-headline-esque that they work,” said Sophie Egan, author of “Devoured,” an exploration of the modern American diet. “They’re irresistible.”

The wave of headline-grabbing fast-food items has its roots in the recession, when the industry entered a slow-down period that lasted through 2014. “A lot of these companies were trying anything to get customers back” during that time, said Sam Oches, the editorial director of Food News Media.

Ask observers and analysts what particular promotion was the turning point in paving the way for successors, and you’re likely to get one of two answers: KFC’s Double Down, a bacon, cheese and Colonel Sauce sandwich that used fried chicken fillets as a bun, and Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos. (Not surprisingly, both chains are part of the same parent company, Yum! Brands, along with Pizza Hut.)

Launched in 2012, Taco Bell’s Doritos-taco mashup took two years to develop. The fast-food chain sold 100 million units in the first 10 weeks and surpassed the $1 billion sales mark the following year. “The Doritos Locos Taco was a pivotal moment in our brand’s innovation journey,” said Rob Poestch, Taco Bell’s director of public affairs and engagement.

Coming next year: The Naked Chicken Chalupa with a fried chicken shell.

Why do they do it?
Despite the effort these foods take to develop, most aren’t intended to be sustainable as long-term menu additions. “It’s almost never about making money off the product,” said Darren Tristano, president of the food industry analysis firm Technomic.

In fact, the bestselling items at fast-food restaurants tend not to be the wacky mashups, but the classic offerings — Taco Bell’s standard tacos and burritos, for example.

The point of the limited-time offers, as Taco Bell’s head of social insights, Ben Miller, told the Atlantic, is “getting people in the door.” Tristano also said it’s about taking money away from competitors and making companies seem innovative and appealing.

So why do companies need to invent excuses for you to come in? The main reason is competition, and not just from their immediate fast-food brethren. Fast-casual restaurants such as Cava Grill, Chipotle and &pizza have moved in on the fast-food market and are growing at a faster rate, said Elizabeth Friend, a Euromonitor International strategy analyst. From 2014 to 2015, fast-casual brands grew at a rate of 10.2 percent, compared to 3.1 percent for the rest of the fast establishments.

Years ago, a diner’s only option for getting food quickly was the local drive-through. Now, “It’s really easy to get food quickly with minimal effort,” Friend said, pointing to such delivery apps as UberEats and GrubHub in addition to grocery stores with hot bars and prepared food offerings.

“Convenience is a very strong factor,” Tristano said. And if fast food isn’t as convenient as other options, then brands have got to think of something else.

A crazy fast-food item might be the only nudge a diner needs to walk into a Taco Bell or Burger King. If they’ve seen news coverage or a post on social media, the restaurant might later be at the top of their mind when they’re trying to decide where to go.

Why does it work?
No doubt the visuals are especially compelling and share-worthy, which says as much about consumers as it does about the brands hawking them. “The vast majority of us, we don’t have a lot of exciting things that happen to us” on a daily basis, said Brian Wansink, author of “Slim by Design” and the director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab.

By trying one of these flashy foods and photographing them, people are showing that they’re willing to try something new. And like most food photography, those social media-friendly images are aspirational. They aren’t usually representative of our diet, a cultural disconnect that Wansink, in a study of historic paintings, has shown goes back well before the advent of fast food and the Internet, let alone cameras.

The whole experience suggests that consumers are full of contradictions. We make an effort to eat well but still want to reject the health-food guilt, at least once in a while. “We want to feel that we’ve treated ourselves. We want to feel that we’ve experienced new life experiences, and food is part of that,” Egan said.

Diners are also downright curious to know what something new tastes like, which may be more human nature than food culture. “You just can’t help yourself,” she said.

So what’s next for stunt foods?

As long as people keep paying attention to them and talking about them, the short term expectation is that they’ll become “increasingly outrageous,” Technomic’s Tristano said.

In the long-term, though, the “the tide of consumer empowerment” (see: nutrition labels, the fight against GMOs, etc.) is turning, and people may begin to call these foods out as, well, stunts.

The feeling is that “it will no longer be smart business to rely on stunts, and instead [companies will] start to take more of the cues from what these fast-casual chains are doing,” Egan said, referring to fast-casual’s more customized meals, upscale decor and values regarding the environment, sourcing, health and social issues.

r they might try stunts of a different sort.

After all, Pizza Hut did recently reveal a turntable pizza box.


Why new sports bars are blitzing Dallas for a piece of the action

September 28, 2016

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By Karen Robinson-Jacobs
http://www.dallasnews.com/business/restaurants/2016/09/21/sports-bar-operators-look-gain-yardage-north-texas

When The Park, a small sports bar chain, began looking to expand beyond its Austin birthplace, it bypassed Houston and headed straight for Big D.

With its confluence of marquee sports teams across every major league and its never-say-die fans, North Texas has become a magnet for game-focused restaurant chains and independents.

All are hoping to score.

“I don’t think there’s a better sports town anywhere in the country than the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” said Eric Dunahoe, director of operations for The Park, which hopes to open a North Texas location — its first outside of Austin — by late 2017. “If we’re going to be the Texas-owned-and-operated sports bar, we need to be in the city within the state of Texas that’s the best sports town and that’s Dallas.”

The sports bar occupies a unique, if amorphous, niche within the casual dining segment.

There’s no strict definition of what makes sports bars. Generally, they include TV-festooned venues where more than 40 percent of sales come from alcohol and the draw is the love of the game. (Think Buffalo Wild Wings, Dave & Buster’s and Twin Peaks.)

The growth of sports bars — both in number and in sales might — comes as the broader casual dining segment has struggled.

Chicago-based Technomic tracks sales at the Top 500 U.S. restaurant chains. In the 2015 list, about 13 percent of casual dining sales were at “sports bar” concepts.

Sales at sports bars on the Top 500 list grew 7.7 percent in 2015 to $7.3 billion, compared with 2.9 percent sales growth for the broader “varied menu” category, Technomic said.

The top sports bar chains grew their location count by 4.6 percent in 2015 while major full-service chains overall grew at a rate of 0.9 percent.

“I would say this is a fast-growing niche in the full-service industry,” said Technomic president Darren Tristano. “Although independents place higher emphasis on food quality, the chains tend to have the largest consumer attraction due to the size of the locations, variety of adult beverages, affordability of shareable food, comfortable seating and availability of televisions to view a variety of sports.”

North Texas is one of about a dozen U.S. markets with all four major sports leagues — NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB — along with soccer and numerous alums from powerhouse college programs.

And it’s increasingly a draw for migrants from other major sports towns, who bring their viewing loyalties with them.

That makes North Texas fertile ground for expansion-minded sports bar operators.

It’s also home base for several of the major chains including Twin Peaks, Boston’s and Dave & Buster’s.

Dave & Buster’s was born in Dallas in 1982 as a hybrid restaurant/playground that enticed guests to “Eat. Drink. Play,” with a focus on food and electronic games. In 2011, the Dallas-based chain added “Watch,” as part of a full-court-press designed to include a branded “D&B Sports” area near the restaurant bar.

Today, all 86 U.S. Dave & Buster’s locations include amped-up “sports viewing packages.” About 80 percent are officially branded with D&B Sports sections that bring the restaurant TV screen count up to about 40 (compared with 20 pre-sports push).

That includes two or three 180-inch screens, according to Sean Gleason, chief marketing officer for Dave & Buster’s.

The sports theme has helped Dave & Buster’s appeal to millennials, who gravitate to the communal dining spaces and party-like atmosphere.

On a recent football Sunday, manager Don McDougall presided over the dimly lit but highly animated scene at the Dave & Buster’s on Central Expressway — a restaurant that promises the “ultimate sports watching experience.”

The bar shows every NFL game on Sunday.

As the Cowboys battled the New York Giants, the chatter among the sports fans was constant. A taunt here, a high-five-punctuated boast there. Cheers and groans were interrupted by the occasional “Over here” as patrons vied for attention from a worker lobbing Dave & Buster’s T-shirts into the crowd.

“We try to make it just like tailgating, with prizes, a T-shirt cannon,” said McDougall of the 4-year-old location. “We try to make it as close to being at an actual game as possible.”

Near the center of the bar area, Brad Cotton, 33, and his wife Donna, 42, of DeSoto said they can be found at a sports bar any given Sunday, unless family members are hosting a watch party.

“Going to the game is a little expensive,” said Brad, who was wearing a No. 82 Jason Witten jersey. “So that’s once a year if we do that. This is affordable, but you’re still around die-hard fans. You want to be in the atmosphere with other fans, that’s going to turn up like you turn up.”

Donna noted that the uniform of the day was predominantly blue and white.

“When we walk through the door, just because we have Cowboys gear on, everybody becomes friends,” she said. “That’s pretty cool.”

None of the sports fans interviewed were surprised that North Texas is home to a growing sports bar scene.

“Sports are big in North Texas, whether it’s NASCAR [or] football,” said Daryl Hope, 47, who is moving soon from Forest Hill to Rockwall.

Hope prefers his perch at Dave & Buster’s to stadium seating because it allows him to watch multiple games at once.

That’s important, he said, since he’s big into fantasy football. Try 14 leagues big.

The introduction of fantasy football to younger consumers and mainstream consumers, including women, has given the sports bar segment a nice lift, Tristano said.

Despite the fan enthusiasm, North Texas remains a challenging market as operators compete for both consumers and investors.

In 2000, when the Canadian-based pizza and sports bar chain Boston Pizza began investing in a U.S. expansion, it headed straight for North Texas. The U.S. headquarters is in Dallas and a corporate restaurant that doubles as a training center is in Irving along busy Interstate 635.

Three more franchised locations were added locally through 2007. Then the company was hit with a blitz known as the great recession. From about 60 U.S. locations, the brand dropped to about 25. No additional locations have opened in North Texas in the past 9 years.

Nationally, the brand gained some yardage and is now back up to 29 locations. And while the company has found a franchisee to grow in West Texas — two locations will open in El Paso next year — the company has yet to find the right local combination of investor and real estate for North Texas.

“There’s lots of competition,” said Ken Phipps, director of franchise development for Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar, the U.S. arm, as the lunch bunch watched highlights from the weekend’s sports matchups.

North Texas “is and will remain one of our target markets to find the right franchise partners to help us grow.”

“It’s a very expensive market as far as real estate,” he added. “It retained its real estate value post-2008, and it’s gone nothing but skyward. Especially locations like Frisco, Plano, Arlington, with all of the new big developments like the Cowboys’ The Star.”

Three different franchisees own the three noncorporate D-FW locations. Now the company, like many major chains, is looking for large investors who can open more than one location.

“It’s a big investment,” he said, “We look for a net worth of $1.5 to $2 million and liquidity of $500,000.”

“We really want to grow our D-FW market,” said the North Texas native. “It’s our home. It’s our backyard for the U.S., and if we find the right partners we could easily add 15 restaurants in the next five years. This market can easily handle that.

“I’m grinning about the opportunities here in Texas,” he added, after showing off the restaurant’s 160-inch drop-down screen. “It’s very exciting.”


Will Novelty Foods Fix the Fast Food Slump?

August 15, 2016

1471036997485By Vera Gibbons
http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2016/08/15/will-novelty-foods-fix-fast-food-slump.html 

Grilled hot dogs. Mac ‘n Cheetos. Beefy Frito burritos. Chicken rings. Hot dog-crusted pizza. The revival of old cult favorites like clear soda and chicken fries.

And now – the “Whopperrito.”

Yup, this burger/burrito hybrid goes national today following successful test debuts in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

What gives? Why are the fast food chains putting so many weird – if not repulsive – food gimmicks on their menus? “It’s about generating traffic,” says Darren Tristano, president of Technomic Inc., a food service research firm.

There’s been a pullback in the industry, you see. A slump. And everyone’s feeling it – from Shake Shack (SHAK) to Starbucks (SBUX) to McDonald’s (MCD).

“Things were going really well at the start of the year when all the economic indicators that would correlate to positive restaurant conditions were in a good place – gas prices were low, confidence was up, housing was settled – and then in April, the switch turned off even though the indicators were still in place.”

Why? Tristano says there isn’t one specific reason for the softness. “People are buying food from other places – supermarkets, convenience stores; they’re eating at home more; and then there’s the presidential election, which could be a trigger point. It’s really the most tangible explanation anyone can point to—political uncertainty.”

Regardless, consumers – especially those looking ahead and thinking about college obligations and other expenses – are watching their wallets, says economist, Arjun Chakravarti, Assistant Professor of Management and Marketing at the Stuart School of Business.

While the younger set (The 25-year old group without 401ks and exposure to the global markets) is more optimistic about the economy and therefore more inclined to spend (especially in light of slightly rising wages and lower gas prices), says Chakravarti, the reality is that purse strings are pretty tight right now. And they’re not expected to loosen them anytime soon.

In fact, restaurant sales, virtually flat, are expected to remain weak for the rest of the year, according to The NPD Group, an industry research firm.

Is this a warning sign for the economy? “A downturn in restaurant sales increases the likelihood of a recession, but the hope is that it’s counteracted/buffered by expectations for increases in business spending in the 3rd quarter,” says Chakravarti.

Fast food chains aren’t taking any chances. They’re responding by offering aggressive discounts that emphasize affordability, and unleashing innovative, zany mash-ups that are more profitable (Burger King’s “Whopperrito” will sell for $2.99; $4.99 when wrapped into a combo meal.).

Buzz marketing – a viral marketing technique that is focused on maximizing word-of-mouth potential largely on social media platforms – is the name of the game, says Dan Rene, senior vice president at LEVICK, A strategic communications firm. “Fast food chains are engaging customers by selling them an ‘experience’ and this is an ‘experience’ that customers want to be part of, and share—pictures, posts, you name it.”

“It doesn’t matter whether or not customers like the food or what it tastes like. If everyone’s talking about it and the hype results in more foot traffic for the fast food chain, it’s won.”


Leading Culinary Predictions & Trends 2016: What’s in the Hunt?

August 4, 2016

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By Barbara L. Vergetis Lundin, Assistant Editor
http://www.foodabletv.com/blog/leading-culinary-predictions-and-trends-2016-whats-in-the-hunt

A survey of chefs conducted by the National Restaurant Association predicted 20 trends for 2016. The chefs are obviously on top of their game, as all of the trends have come to fruition in some form or fashion. Which ones are in the hunt?

“True trends evolve over time, especially when it comes to lifestyle-based choices that extend into other areas of our everyday life,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the National Restaurant Association, in a statement. “Chefs and restaurateurs are in tune with over-arching consumer trends when it comes to menu planning, but add their own twist of culinary creativity to drive those trends in new directions. No one has a better view into the window of the future of food trends than the culinary professionals who lead our industry.”

Some of the predictions are “fully inundating top restaurant chains,” according to Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a Winsight Company.

Farthest along are natural ingredients, ethnic condiments/spices, authentic ethnic (think Middle Eastern and African spices like sumac and dukkah), ancient grains, ethnic-inspired breakfast items like coconut milk pancakes, and street foods, as a multitude of top chains are embracing these trends in one way or another, he said.

“In my opinion, the two biggest headliners of this year have been natural ingredients and ethnic condiments/spices,” Tristano said. “They’re showing up in all restaurant segments and cuisine types in so many different ways.”

Natural Ingredients

When it comes to using natural ingredients, Panera is setting a high standard. Not only does Panera stress clean ingredients, but the chain has a “no-no” list of ingredients that they have committed to removing from their food by the end of 2016, including artificial flavors and colors; artificial sweeteners like aspartame; partially hydrogenated oils and artificial trans fat; fat substitutes like sucrose polyester and micro-particulated whey protein concentrate; lard; high fructose corn syrup; sucralose; maltodextrin; added nitrates, nitrites, and sulfites; and added caffeine.

California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) recently announced its intention to use more local, natural ingredients. For example, it will source vegetables like lettuce, kale, and arugula from local and regional farms whenever possible. Not only are the ingredients being used this summer at California Pizza Kitchen natural, they are simple – as evidenced by new seasonal dishes like California fields salad (with fresh field greens and baby kale, strawberries, watermelon, basil, California pistachios, feta, and champagne vinaigrette), strawberry shortcake featuring house-made candied lemon zest, strawberry lime margaritas, and strawberry mango coolers.

“It’s been a long, cold winter for many and we are happy to welcome the warmer weather by offering a taste of the season’s freshest ingredients throughout our menu,” said Brian Sullivan, senior vice president of Culinary Development for California Pizza Kitchen, said in a statement. “Tender, leafy greens are a key component to many of our dishes and we’re also giving fresh strawberries special emphasis this season…We love summer at California Pizza Kitchen when some of our favorite produce, like sweet strawberries and watermelon, are at their freshest and juiciest.”

Even McDonald’s has jumped on the natural ingredient bandwagon with a new line of summer salads that are moving from traditional iceberg lettuce to red leaf lettuce, romaine, baby spinach, and baby kale peppered with vibrantly colored vegetables.

McDonald’s culinary and supply chain teams have even traveled to some of the chain’s lettuce suppliers, learning, right in the field, how the leaves are harvested and how suppliers maintain consistent growing techniques.

Further, McDonald’s has committed to fully transition to cage-free eggs over the next 10 years. Annually, McDonald’s purchases approximately two billion eggs in the U.S. and 120 million eggs in Canada.

Ethnic Condiments and Spices

American consumers are seemingly pretty adventurous when it comes to food. In fact, 80 percent of those consumers surveyed by the National Restaurant Association in 2015 consume at least one ethnic cuisine per month; 17 percent eat seven or more monthly.

Further, two-thirds are trying a wider variety of ethnic cuisine than they were five years ago, according to NRA research. Restaurants were found to be the main way consumers get access to ethnic food.

“Americans generally are more willing to try new food than they were only a decade or so ago – especially in restaurants – underscoring that the typical consumer today is becoming more adventurous and sophisticated when it comes to different cuisines and flavors,” said Annika Stensson, director of Research Communications for the National Restaurant Association, in a statement. “Ethnic cuisines are a long-term trend on restaurant menus, with some being so common that they’re hardly considered ethnic anymore, while others are still relatively unknown. However, our research shows that consumers are exploring a range of international dishes these days.”

The research revealed that, not surprisingly, Italian, Mexican, and Chinese are the most familiar, while consumers are least familiar with Ethiopian, Brazilian/Argentinian and Korean cuisines. However, condiments and spices with these origins are popping up on familiar menus.

Lizzy Freier, menu analysis managing editor with Technomic has been tracking the up and coming trends in spices and has found that berbere (a staple spice mixture in Ethiopian cooking) and other African influences are making their way onto North American menus. In particular, True Food Kitchen serves a Moroccan Chicken with chickpea, olive, spinach, and chermoula (a North African marinade); BLT Steak features a rack of lamb with a spicy North African merguez sausage; Veggie Grill has unveiled a super green salad featuring hummus and harissa (Tunisian hot chili pepper paste); and Modern Market’s eggplant goat sandwich offers a spicy helping of harissa tahini.

Nando’s chicken chain has made peri peri (also called piri piri) famous, if not infamous. The Portuguese seasoning, which is prevalent in South Africa, contains crushed chiles, citrus peel, pepper, salt, onion, lemon juice, basil, oregano, tarragon, lemon juice, pimento, paprika, and bay leaves (although Nando’s recipe is a secret). A chain similar to Nando’s, albeit much smaller, Boneheads Grilled Fish & Piri Piri Chicken also capitalizes on the South Africa influence.

Noodles & Company has incorporated a similar, more exotic version of sriracha into its menu. Called gochujang, it plays heavily in the fast-casual restaurant’s new dish Korean BBQ meatballs with gochujang sauce – making Noodles & Co. the first national restaurant chain to feature gochujang on its menu. Sriracha is also a popular condiment at Noodles & Company, as well as other chains like Subway.

Ghost peppers, the world’s spiciest pepper, are a hot menu item, as evidenced by Wendy’s ghost pepper fries and Quaker Steak & Lube’s dusted ghost pepper flavor which is available for a limited time as a wing sauce.

Brazilian-influenced brands include Texas de Brazil Churrascaria, Fogo de Chao, and Tucanos Brazilian Grill. Plus, these kinds of ethnic influences are also appearing on non-ethnic restaurant menus. For example, Yogurtland offered a limited-time Argentinian Dulce de Leche Cookie frozen yogurt flavor at the end of April.

Argentinian Chimichurri sauce has been popular at national brands, particularly paired with shrimp (Taco John’s, Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, and Red Lobster).

Early Stage Trends and Laggards

On the opposite end of the spectrum, many trends – like hyper-local sourcing, artisan ice cream and butchery, and house-made sausages – are in their early stages, appearing in mostly independent restaurants.

“[These trends] are really tough for large restaurant chains to do on a national level…because it’s expensive and equipment can be tough to source,” Tristano said.

Some of these trends do well in non-commercial as opposed to commercial.

“Hyper-local sourcing and food waste reduction/management are both well-developed at college and university foodservice,” said Tristano. “Applying these to the mainstream could be tougher, though some chains like Sweetgreen and Shake Shack have approached trends like food waste in interesting ways by repurposing food scraps.”

For example, for a limited time, Sweetgreen and Shake Shack featured a burger created by Chef Dan Barber (the wastED juice pulp cheeseburger), which used leftover vegetable pulp, leftover cheese trimming, and bruised beets for ketchup, atop a repurposed bun made from stale rye bread.

While other trends, are making progress, it has been significantly limited. For example, chains like True Food Kitchen and Top 500 chain Sweetgreen feature sustainable sea bass and sustainably farmed trout, respectively, but many other large chains aren’t quite there yet.

While pickling has been a huge trend in recent years, even making it onto menus like Red Robin which recently unveiled a Battered Broccoli with house-made pickled jalapeno aioli, there hasn’t been a significant surge on other top menus.


Eatery digests patrons’ feedback

June 6, 2016

Arkansas-based fast-casual restaurant chain Slim Chickens, known for its tenders and wings, is rolling out a chicken-breast sandwich for taste-testing.

Testing is underway at Slim Chickens’ three Fayetteville locations, its Rogers store, and in Broken Arrow, Okla., near Tulsa. The restaurant chain is offering cayenne ranch and buffalo chicken sandwiches in Northwest Arkansas and cayenne ranch and Cajun chicken versions of the sandwich in Oklahoma.

Customers who select the sandwich are asked for feedback in a survey that takes about a minute to complete. That information goes straight to a few select Slim Chicken executives. So far, customers’ feedback has already resulted in changes to one of the sandwiches. The process is expected to continue for the next several weeks.

“Early indicators are positive,” said Sam Rothschild, Slim Chickens’ chief operations officer. “This is why you test.”

While the chain has offered sandwiches in the past, this is the first one made with a whole, premium chicken breast. Rothschild described the test sandwiches as being made from high-quality chicken and “fully dressed” with Slim’s sauce, pickles, lettuce and onions.

“We want our sandwich to stand out,” he said.

Slim Chickens has 35 restaurants — 25 are company owned and 15 are franchise operations — in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee, with 21 other stores under construction. With the new stores, Slim’s is expected to have more than 50 restaurants open by the end of the year. The company said it hopes to have 600 stores in the United States by 2024.

Slim Chickens competes in the fast-casual segment, where operations focus on an enhanced dining experience compared with fast-food operations. While they don’t have a wait staff, fast-casual restaurants typically deliver patrons their food after ordering.

According to information provided by Chicago-based Technomic Inc., a research and consulting firm focusing on food and food service, sales at limited-service chains among the top 500 U.S. restaurant chains grew 5.5 percent to $211 billion in 2015. Sales at limited service chicken restaurants was up 9 percent. Limited service chains include fast food and fast-casual concepts.

Sales in the fast-casual segment alone were up 11.5 percent, and unit growth was up 9.6 percent in 2015, according to the report.

Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, said that portability, in the form of a sandwich, is something that consumers are looking for, and that adding a sandwich helps fast-casual operations compete with more traditional fast food’s convenience factor.

“One hand on the wheel and the other on a sandwich,” he said.

He added that Slim Chickens’ efforts to test the sandwiches locally are wise.

“They are getting consumers to validate the quality of the product,” he said. “It’s what successful brands do but not what everybody does.”

Rothschild said the sandwich sells for $3.99 by itself or as part of a combo meal at $6.49. Slim Chickens’ lowest cost combo meal, pre-sandwiches, was $6.99. He said that puts the Slim Chickens’ sandwich and combo meal close to fast food on price.

“We want people to come to us when they want chicken,” Rothschild said.


McDonald’s All-Day Breakfast Sparks a Fast Food Fight

May 9, 2016

by Leslie Patton

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-03/mcdonald-s-breakfast-push-sets-off-morning-scramble-in-fast-food

Fast-food joints aren’t hitting the snooze button anymore.

McDonald’s Corp.’s decision to start selling Egg McMuffins all day long last year — meant to help sales during lunch and dinner time — has boosted its morning business as well. That, in turn, has kicked off a scramble among its rivals to find new ways to combine eggs, potatoes and meat for a tasty breakfast.

The latest example is Burger King’s Egg-Normous breakfast burrito, which is being introduced in the U.S. on Tuesday. It’s stuffed with sausage, bacon, eggs, hash browns, cheddar and American cheese and served with picante sauce. The home of the Whopper, which still serves breakfast only during morning hours, also recently added a supreme breakfast hoagie and got rid of slower-selling English muffin sandwiches.

“We’ve invested more in breakfast,” Alex Macedo, head of Burger King North America, said in an interview. “The environment is very competitive.”

Along with adding and deleting items, Burger King tweaked its smaller egg burrito earlier this year, removing green and red peppers and replacing them with hash browns.

Skillet Bowls

Taco Bell revised its morning offerings in March to include $1 options such as skillet bowls and sausage flatbread quesadillas. Subway Restaurants just announced buy-one-get-one subs for the month of May. The catch: They have to be purchased before 9 a.m. And Dunkin’ Donuts revamped its menu boards to focus on all-day choices and started advertising $1.99 Coolatta drinks that are sold at all hours.

The changes come as more U.S. consumers grab eggs and coffee outside the home, according to a study by researcher GfK MRI published by EMarketer.com. Last year, more than 34 percent of Americans reported buying breakfast at fast-food restaurants, an increase from 32.8 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, fewer consumers said they’re dining out for lunch and snacks. Dinner increased less than 1 percent.

McDonald’s all-day breakfast in the U.S. has helped turn around its worst sales slump in more than a decade by drawing more customers throughout the day, including the morning. The plan is surpassing its goals.

Exceeding Expectations

“It’s still exceeding our expectations,” Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook said on a conference call in April. “Whilst we clearly added incremental visits and incremental spend across rest of day, our breakfast business has also prospered.”

Items like Egg McMuffins and hash browns fueled a 5.4 percent U.S. same-store sales increase at McDonald’s in the first quarter. That’s stronger than the most recent quarterly gains posted by Burger King, Dunkin’ and Taco Bell.

“It’s helped drive success, which they haven’t seen for several years,” said Darren Tristano, president of industry researcher Technomic Inc.

After losing customers to McDonald’s all-day Egg McMuffins, Jack in the Box Inc. has been advertising a triple-cheese and hash-brown breakfast burrito. Same-store sales at company-owned Jack in the Box locations may be down as much as 3 percent in the recently ended quarter, the company said in Februar-1x-1y. The chain also is adjusting and improving other breakfast items, CEO Lenny Comma said during a conference in March.

Dunkin’ Donuts said last month that its new menu boards are helping drive breakfast-sandwich sales. It’s also focused on introducing mobile ordering and will start a 1,650-store test in metro New York in May to get customers their morning meals even faster. CEO Nigel Travis says McDonald’s push has actually helped Dunkin’ in the breakfast battle by highlighting that the doughnut chain has the same menu all day. Still, the change has increased competition for diners’ dollars.

“Clearly, the value war is pretty intense,” Travis said in an interview.