2017 Looking Bright for Restaurant Seafood Sales

January 10, 2017

By Christine Blank, Contributing Editor
© 2016 Diversified Communications. All rights reserved.

Seafood restaurants – and those that serve seafood – are expected to perform well in both the United States and the United Kingdom in 2017.

“Right now, consumers should be in a pretty good place, with regard to the economy. All of the indicators, including unemployment, are trending positive,” Darren Tristano, president of foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic, told SeafoodSource.

As a result, spending at higher-end restaurants that serve seafood will rise, Tristano said. In addition to an increase in consumer spending, United States businesses will have increased expense accounts and take clients out to dinner more.

Restaurant chains like Ruth’s Chris, Fleming’s and other upscale chains are expected to perform well, according to Tristano.

“Steakhouses will continue to pick up, and seafood will do well in the steakhouse format,” he said.

In addition, “more polished casual restaurants” such as Bonefish Grill and Legal Sea Foods will also thrive, Tristano said.

In the U.K., eating seafood in restaurants is also expected to rise, as consumers dine out more and seek healthy, sustainable seafood. Over the last year, seafood servings in U.K. restaurants increased 2.3 percent to 979 million, as restaurant visits also grew 1.5 percent, according to NPD Group – Crest in the U.K.

The biggest trend affecting seafood served in restaurants is sustainability, Tristano said. The health, ethical and environmental attributes of meals are increasingly important to consumers, according to one of NPD Crest’s top five foodservice trends for 2017.

Sustainability is here to stay – and it will continue to increase [in importance to consumers],” Tristano said.

Consumers will continue to seek out seafood for its health benefits, according to Tristano.

However, because of the inherently higher price of seafood versus other proteins, restaurant operators need to offer a mix of seafood species at various price points to “raise the appeal of the protein.”

“For example, you can have Chilean sea bass at one end and tilapia at the other end. Or, in addition to Chilean sea bass, you can add in bluegill and other types of striped bass. You can get it down to an area that is more affordable and approachable for consumers,” Tristano said.

Seafood at restaurants is already becoming more approachable, thanks to fast-casual restaurants that are performing well, such as Luke’s Lobster and Rubio’s Coastal Grill. Even quick service seafood chains such as Captain D’s are performing well, according to Tristano.

The types of seafood dishes that will perform well in 2017 include sushi, sushi burritos, poke and calamari, “a product that is becoming more approachable,” Tristano said.

“Poke is taking off across the nation,” he added. “We are seeing a lot more poke bowls and concepts that are getting into raw ahi and salmon.”

Up-and-coming sushi burrito restaurants in the U.S. include Sushiritto in New York and San Francisco, Chicago-based Sushi Burrito and SeoulSpice in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, the other top NPD Crest trends for foodservice operators in 2017 are:

  • Restaurants must provide different delivery options (potentially use a delivery aggregator) to complement the traditional sit down format.
  • To maintain sales growth and consumer engagement, outlets must deliver a great experience, with a choice of quality meal options.
  • Consumers are interested in buying locally-sourced food. However, they will not accept lower quality.
  • Consumers like variety but they do enjoy their traditional favorites with a fresh twist.

Shrinking sales pushing Bonefish Grill chain to close 14 restaurants, restructure

February 22, 2016
Justine Griffin, Times Staff Writer
Tampa Bay Times
Wednesday, February 17, 2016 11:12am

Times files
Bonefish Grille on North Dale Mabry Highway.Bonefish Grill will close 14 restaurants this year as the seafood chain restructures following several quarters of disappointing sales results.

Tampa-based Bloomin’ Brands, the parent company of Bonefish Grill, Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, announced Wednesday that it expects the 14 Bonefish Grill locations to close within the year. Bloomin’ took a pre-tax charge of $24.2 million during the fourth quarter of 2015 in connection with the closures. No specific stores were named.

“We needed to strip out the complexity that had impacted the core service at Bonefish and focus on what wasn’t broken,” said Bloomin’ Brands CEO, Liz Smith, during an earnings call Wednesday. “We’ve done that. It’s important to look beyond quarter to quarter. We expect 2016 to be a strengthening and momentum story for Bonefish Grill as we move through the year.”

Sales were down at Bonefish Grill by 5.4 percent for the months of October through December as compared to same period in 2014. Sales for the quarter were down a combined 2.8 percent at all Bloomin’ restaurant brands in the U.S.

Bonefish Grill, which was intended to be the leading brand for new growth in Bloomin’ Brands’ restaurant portfolio last year, saw the steepest declines. This is the third quarter of decline for the chain, which is in a competitive class of “polished casual” chain restaurants, and tends to be more pricey than dining experiences like a TGI Fridays or Olive Garden. The menu quality is similar to restaurants like Seasons 52 or Carmel Cafe.

But Bonefish’s biggest competitors are independent restaurants, said Malcolm Knapp, a restaurant economist in New York City and the founder of Knapp-Track, an industry tool used to track restaurant sales.

“Bonefish is in a good spot where they can appeal to a higher demographic because the food quality is good,” Knapp said. “But independent restaurants are getting bigger and there are a lot of really great chef-driven places out there. With the shrinking size of the middle class, restaurants are seeing less frequency from consumers, who have a lot more choices.”

An “anti-chain” movement from a younger demographic has changed the way consumers are spending their money and hurt chain restaurants like Bonefish. Millennials and generation X-ers are looking for value but often opt to try a locally owned restaurant rather than a chain.

“This is a symptom of a bigger issue,” said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a Chicago-based food research firm. “Fast food and fast casual concepts continue to do well but casual dining is staying stagnant. It doesn’t help that Bonefish is a seafood restaurant, which has its ups and downs and isn’t as broadly appealing as steaks or Italian.”

Nevertheless, Knapp believes Bloomin’ is taking the right steps to get Bonefish Grill back on track this year. The company named Gregg Scarlett as Bonefish’s CEO in March 2015. Founding Seasons 52 chef, Clifford Pleau was hired away to Bonefish in Sept. 2014. Since then, the restaurant chain has simplified its menu and instituted an updated look inside newer restaurants.

“They are clearly in the middle of a turnaround,” Knapp said. “Bonefish is not young. The market has moved on from them. But it’s not unusual for large chains to do some pruning like this periodically.”

Bonefish Grill opened two new restaurants in the U.S. from September to December 2015, bringing the total count to 210. The company opened more than a dozen Bonefish locations from 2014 to 2015. However, Smith said in August that development for Bonefish would stall until sales improved.

Carrabba’s Italian Grill also had a shake up in leadership. Bloomin’ Brands announced that Mike Kappitt was named president the day before Bloomin’ released its fourth quarter results. Kappitt will be responsible for leading operations and development of the Carrabba’s brand in the U.S. He most recently served as the senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Bloomin’ Brands. The former president, David Pace, left the company to become CEO at Jamba Juice last month.

Bloomin’ Brands fourth-quarter revenue was $1.04 billion, down 5.3 percent from the fourth quarter of 2014. The company’s net income for the fourth quarter was $17.7 million, down from $22.4 million the year before. Earnings per share were 14 cents for the quarter, down from 17 cents in 2014. Sales were down for the quarter at brands across the U.S. Sales in international markets were up — Outback Steakhouse sales in Brazil saw a 7.3 percent increase. The company operates 75 Outback Steakhouse restaurants in Brazil and 75 in South Korea.

Shares in Bloomin’ Brands fell nearly 11 percent Wednesday to $15.10 despite strong daily gains by all the major U.S. stock markets. The company’s stock price has not been this low since 2012.

Long John Silver’s plans reboot just in time for Lenten fish fries

January 26, 2016

Christmas comes in February for seafood restaurant chain Long John Silver’s, which is launching a reboot of the iconic brand in 2016.

Pittsburgh is front and center for the new Long John Silver’s because of the region’s large Catholic population, the third largest nationwide, according to CEO James O’Reilly. Lent, the 40-day season of penance and avoiding meat at meals, starts Feb. 10, bringing with it boom sales for the privately held, Louisville, Ky.-based company.

“There will always be ups and downs in the restaurant industry, but it’s all about delivering consistency to customers,” the 49-year-old Mr. O’Reilly said. “The time of Lent for us is what Christmas is to retailers.”

Pittsburgh and the surrounding five counties have between 500,000 and 600,000 Catholics, according to Pittsburgh Catholic editor William Cone. The newspaper is preparing to publish its annual list of parish fish fries Jan. 29 in preparation for the start of Lent.

“It’s probably one of our most popular issues,” Mr. Cone said. “People wait for it all year.”

Mr. O’Reilly was in Monroeville Thursday for a daylong meeting with about 50 operators of its 17 corporately owned stores in the Pittsburgh area and some franchisees from outside the region. He planned to discuss the staffing increases at the restaurants — 300 new jobs are planned — and improvements to stores and parking lots.

One thing that won’t change much is Long John Silver’s menu, which has been criticized in recent years as unhealthy for its fat and sodium content. National Public Radio once called Long John Silver’s food a “heart attack on a hook,” but some meals have since been discontinued, as was the use of trans fats.

Baked fish options have always been available from the chain and one dinner has just 600 calories, Mr. O’Reilly said. What’s more, consumers can build meals with even lower calorie counts.

Having healthier options is key, said Darren Tristano, president of Chicago-based marketing research outfit Technomic Inc. But consumers aren’t thinking of healthy eating when eating out.

“Quite frankly, consumers are looking for fried food,” he said. “Indulgence away from home is what they’re looking for and it’s also often very affordable.”

Mr. O’Reilly, who came to Long John Silver’s in March 2015 from hamburger chain Sonic Corp., takes over the reins at a difficult time as consumers have been shunning traditional fast food in favor of restaurants selling healthier fare. Long John Silver’s, which has about 1,300 stores nationwide, also has had changes in leadership.

Mr. O’Reilly replaced Mike Kern, who served as CEO for three years. Mr. Kern was part of investor group LJS Partners LLC that bought the restaurant chain from Yum! Brands Inc. in 2011. The company was founded in 1969 and did not disclose sales figures or the cost of the store upgrades, which are being carried out nationally as well.

Consumers will continue to seek out Long John Silver’s food, partly because there are few other places that focus on fried fish, said Warren Solochek, president of the food service practice at Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group Inc. New paint, lighting and other planned store improvements aside, the challenge for Mr. O’Reilly will be to keep the restaurant name in the consumer’s mind.

“What are they going to do to be top of mind?” Mr. Solochek said. “And he may have a plan to do that.”

Gone Fishing

July 27, 2015


Copyright © 2015 Journalistic Inc.


Seafood gives operators a versatile protein that has a sustainable, healthful halo.

There’s nothing fishy about the seafood at limited-service restaurants today. Operators are focused on meeting consumers’ demands for seafood that is creative, healthful, and sustainable, from grilled fish fillets to upscale lobster rolls.

“There’s a little oversaturation in chicken, burgers, and pizza,” says Andrew Gruel, founder of Slapfish, a seven-unit southern California seafood chain. “People are eating more seafood now that they realize how healthy and accessible it is.”

According to Chicago-based market research firm Technomic Inc., 64 percent of the nation’s quick-service and fast-casual restaurants offer a seafood item, whether it’s fish tacos, shrimp fried rice, or anchovies on pizza. The number of seafood items on regular limited-service menus is virtually unchanged from a year ago, with 54 percent featured at quick serves and 46 percent at fast casuals.

The most offered seafood, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor database, is shrimp. It’s in a variety of dishes, part of many ethnic menus, and a popular add-on protein at restaurants as diverse as Noodles & Co. and Pei Wei Asian Diner.
Even Atlanta-based wings chain Wing Zone serves a shrimp dish. “Almost all of our food items are fried, so having fried shrimp is easy on the operation,” says Dan Corrigan, director of marketing. “We actually changed our shrimp recently to more of a jumbo breaded shrimp, and that’s doing well.” The shrimp is served with a dipping sauce. It’s only 3 percent of the sales, Corrigan adds, but when Wing Zone tested removing the item from one restaurant, guests wanted it back.
One reason fast casuals make up a big percentage of limited-service eateries serving seafood is its premium price, says Technomic executive vice president Darren Tristano.

“That’s harder to translate to quick service,” he says. “Seafood’s price points are more full service or fast casual.” Nonetheless, many big limited-service restaurant operators offer at least one seafood menu item, such as the Filet-O-Fish at McDonald’s or Tuna Sandwich at Subway.

Keeping seafood sustainable is more important to Americans today than ever before.

“Customers are increasingly asking where their food comes from, how is it produced, is it safe, and are there any environmental issues when it’s produced,” says James Baros, aquaculture and sustainability coordinator at provider National Fish and Seafood of Glouchester, Massachusetts. He points to Atlantic cod and some tuna species as examples of how industrial fishing nearly obliterated stocks. “It was an important lesson to learn,” he says.

Half of U.S. seafood is caught wild, while the other half is farmed. That’s up from 15 percent farmed three decades ago. “We’re seeing a big transition to aquaculture,” Baros says. “Fish is the last major food we go out and catch. You don’t hear of catching cows in the wild.”

Salmon, shrimp, and tilapia are the most popular farm-raised seafood varieties for Americans. But wild caught still has a certain cachet for diners, and many restaurants point out that their fish is wild caught. That includes the largest quick-service seafood operator, Long John Silver’s, where the classic battered and fried Fish and Chips remains the biggest seller.

“Our two main types of fish are Alaskan pollock and cod. Both are wild caught and sustainable,” says chief executive James O’Reilly. “It takes a lot of commitment to maintain a sustainable supply.”

The fried fish is usually pollock, while cod is available either fried or baked. Shrimp, mostly farm-raised in South America, can be baked or fried, and Long John Silver’s also sells fried crab cakes and clams, with langoustine bites offered as a seasonal item.

“Our seafood menu has evolved,” O’Reilly says, adding that the brand has increased its healthier options while also adding more portable items, including fish tacos, seafood-salad sandwiches, and fish strips. These steps are helping the Louisville, Kentucky–based company maintain its seafood leadership, O’Reilly says. “I believe that growth will be fueled by the addition of Millennials concerned with quality and sustainability,” he says.

Battered fried fish is also the No. 1 item at Captain D’s, which has positioned itself as a fast-casual seafood dining experience. While about two-thirds of the menu is fried, the biggest growth is in grilled items, says Jason Henderson, vice president of product innovation for the Nashville, Tennessee–based chain. Double-digit growth pushed grilled food to about 10 percent of sales in 2014.

The grilled menu includes Alaska salmon and pollock, tilapia, and shrimp, while the fried fish is pollock. The chain also features breaded flounder and catfish, a nod to its Southern roots, as well as fried shrimp and stuffed crab shells.
Most diners don’t ask about the food’s source, Henderson says, but the menu often makes it quite clear, particularly with Alaskan fish.

“We’ve worked with a long list of accounts to increase the visibility of Alaska seafood,” says Claudia Hogue, foodservice director at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The state produces 53 percent of America’s seafood harvest.

In addition to white fish—cod, halibut, and pollock—Alaska is known for its wild salmon. Some salmon varieties are available year-round, but for most, the season kicked off in May and runs through the summer. There are also Alaska Dungeness and other crab varieties, along with scallops and prawns.

“We encourage people to use the Alaska name because we know customers more and more want to know the origin of their fish,” Hogue says. Studies commissioned by the institute indicate consumers feel better about buying Alaska-brand seafood.

Southern California–based Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill makes a point that fish served in its tacos, burritos, bowls, and other items are wild caught, and varieties like salmon and cod are from Alaska.

“We’re a lifestyle brand, and many who visit us recognize the benefits of wild-caught seafood,” says David Goldstein, chief operating officer of the two-dozen-unit chain.

The most popular seafood item is Charbroiled Fish Tacos featuring salmon or wahoo. Fish tacos are $4.29, versus $2.99 for chicken and $3.99 for steak. Other favorites are the Salmon Power Plate, Salmon Burrito, and Tempura Cod Tacos.
Sharky’s also features mahi mahi, pollock, and shrimp, and all these offerings provide “a real point of differentiation for us,” Goldstein says. Seafood has grown to 11 percent of sales, twice what it was a few years ago.

At Ivar’s Seafood Bars in and around Seattle, fish (Alaska cod) and chips is the big draw. “We ride the up-and-down tides on price points,” says Carl Taylor, director of operations at the regional favorite. “It’s a premium product we serve.”

The majority of the menu is fried. In addition to cod, there’s fried halibut, salmon, clams, scallops, big and small prawns, and oysters. The menu also has several chowders, grilled halibut and salmon, Dungeness crab, and salads with different seafood varieties.

“Within the past three years, we expanded the grilled items and added fresh fish,” Taylor says. “We sell it as long as the run is going.” The two-piece Fresh Halibut Platter, with cole slaw, wild rice, and cornbread, sells for $15.99.

Ivar’s oysters are from the Washington and Oregon coasts. The Alaska Dungeness ($9.29) is higher in terms of price, he says, but worth every penny. “I could go out and get rock crab and mix it with the Dungeness to lower the price, but we don’t.”

Just as consumers equate wild salmon with Alaska, they link lobsters with Maine. That’s the draw at New York–based Luke’s Lobster, which has 17 fast-casual “shacks” in Mid-Atlantic coast cities and recently expanded to Chicago.

“We are exporting the experience of the Maine lobster shack,” says founder and president Luke Holden, whose father has been in the seafood industry for years and built up well-established relationships with fishermen across the Northeast coast.
The $15 fresh lobster rolls are made to order in the traditional Maine style, with a quarter pound of chilled lobster meat in a top-split bun—the sides are shaved to toast better—plus a slick of mayonnaise, Holden’s secret seasoning, and lemon butter.

“All the meat is from the claws and the knuckles; the knuckle tends to be the most delicious part,” Holden says, adding that the tail is considered premium, but not for lobster rolls. “You would have a tug of war with a warm bun and a chewy tail.”

The shacks also offer crab and shrimp rolls, Jonah crab claws, and New England clam chowder. Crab is purchased from fishermen from Maine to Rhode Island, while the shrimp is wild from Canada.

Lobsters were sustainably caught long before it became a trend, says Matt Jacobson, executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. Some rules governing trapping date from the 1870s. Today, lobsters must be males between 3.5 and 5 inches in body length. Others are tossed back—smaller ones to grow, and females and bigger males to breed.

While many consumers consider lobsters a center-of-plate item served whole, there are many other uses for the meat, Jacobson says, including in salads, pasta, and Asian dishes. Lobster rolls are also growing in popularity nationwide.

Lobster rolls and fish tacos are the two top sellers at Slapfish. “Lobster is incredibly indulgent, and the growth in our lobster rolls has been 100 percent due to Instagram and social media,” Gruel says. “People see them online and want them.”

The fish tacos are available with grilled or fried fish, largely wild-caught species ranging from Pacific cod to Maine’s Acadian redfish, depending on the season. The tacos include cabbage, avocado purée, and pickled onions.

“The key is the balance,” he says. “You want a good amount of cabbage to provide that great crunch, and the acidity to cut through the richness of the fish.”

Slapfish’s limited entrée menu also includes the Crabster Grilled Cheese sandwich with lobster and crab, and a Surf ‘n Turf Lobster Burger smothered in lobster and caramelized onions. There’s also fish and chips, chowder, chowder on fries, and shrimp.

A taste of the Hawaiian Islands is part of the draw at Coconut’s Fish Café. The four-unit chain began in Maui, Hawaii, and has since moved to the mainland. It features mahi mahi, ono—the Hawaiian name for wahoo—and ahi.

“They are all wild, and they are line caught,” says Dan Oney, chief operating officer. “The people we buy from are able to track the fish to the boat. It’s the concept of taking care of the earth and taking care of our customers.”

Most of the fish is grilled, and the ahi tuna is seared rare and served with wasabi. “We have big, beautiful, 6-ounce fillets of fish that if you go to a sit-down restaurant, you would pay $30 or $40,” Oney says. Coconut’s platters start at $10.99.
Mahi mahi and ono are in the seafood pasta, as well as the fish tacos that include family-recipe coleslaw and tomato and mango salsas. There’s also a fish sandwich and other fried items—fish and chips, shrimp, calamari, and coconut shrimp—on the menu.

Asian Concepts Poised for High Unit rowth this Year

November 25, 2014

New data from Technomic forecasts a 2.3-percent unit growth rate over 2013 among the 500 largest US restaurant chains.

According to a news release, this will be slightly higher than the 2.1-percent growth rate from 2012-13 and much higher than the 0.5 percent rate in 2009.

The unit growth is rising in both the full and limited-service segments. Technomic EVP Darren Tristano said fast casual concepts will continue to show high levels of unit growth, as well limited and full-service Asian concepts. Among full-service restaurant menu segments, Asian will increase units by 5.1 percent, followed by seafood (3.9 percent) and steak (3.4 percent).

Asian/noodle also leads the limited-service menu segments, increasing unit counts by 8 percent, while bakery cafes and coffee cafes will grow units by 5.2 and 4.2 percent, respectively.

Many full-service brands have positioned themselves to expand this past year. The largest growth has been at Buffalo Wild Wings, which will have added 65 units, Mellow Mushroom (32 units) and LongHorn Steakhouse (24 units), according to Technomic.

In limited service, Subway will add 908 units by year-end, followed by Starbucks (443), Jimmy Johns (350) and Dunkin Donuts (291).

Fast casual to continue double-digit sales bump
Additionally, limited-service restaurants are expected to gain a sales bump of 3.5 percent. Fast casual chains should experience a 10.8-percent increase in sales, while quick-service chains increase 2.3 percent.

Full-service restaurants will experience a 2.5 percent sales increase in 2014, similar to the 2.4 percent increase in 2013.

Fine dining is expected to continue its post-Recession rebound, with a 5.8-percent sales increase. Casual and midscale restaurant growth will be nominal, at 2.8 and 0.5 percent, respectively.

Q3 traffic gains at Mexican concepts
Additionally, research from The NPD Group analyzed Q3 consumer traffic at US restaurants, and shows an increase in the fast casual segment, as well as at coffee/donut/bagel concepts and Mexican concepts.

Fast casual restaurants posted an 8 percent gain in traffic across all dayparts compared to same quarter year ago. Visits to Mexican quick service and coffee/donut/bagel concepts grew by 5 percent, according to NPD’s foodservice market research.

Conversely, hamburger quick-service traffic, which represents the largest share of quick service visits at 23 percent, declined by 3 percent compared to same quarter year ago. Visits to both sandwich concepts and Asian quick-serve restaurants were down 1 percent.

Although total industry traffic was flat in the quarter, consumer spending rose 3 percent in the July/August/September quarter due to average eater check gains. Check and dollar gains are in line with food away-from-home inflation. Dealing/discounts are still supporting traffic with visits on a deal up 4 percent compared to a decline in non-deal visits.

“Although total traffic is flat, the visit growth in the fast casual, coffee/donut/bagel, and Mexican QSR shows that consumers still have an interest in going out to restaurants,” NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs said in a news release. “Those restaurant concepts that are meeting the needs of today’s foodservice consumers will win their visits.”

Is Lent a big event for operators?

February 14, 2013

Many Americans are beginning the 40-day period leading up to the Easter celebration. The rules for fasting can vary dramatically by which days and what types of food can be consumed. Some religious patrons abstain from all forms of meat and animal products while others make exceptions for food like fish, indicating that Lenten rules are evolving.

Although only part of our overall population observes Lent—about one-third of American adults, according to a 2009 study by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion—it is nonetheless significant to business. Operators should have a strategy in place to appeal to their customers and attract new customers or run the risk of losing visits to the competition.

Lessons can be learned from observing some major fast-food burger chains and their recent promotions.

fish1_500In addition to their signature Filet-O-Fish sandwich, originally developed for Lent, McDonald’s created new Fish McBites, leveraging smaller, shareable portions.



fish2_500Wendy’s went the “premium” route and promoted their Premium North Pacific Cod Fillet Sandwich, playing on a better-for-you approach.



fish3_500Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s went the route of “innovation” by creating a new Charbroiled Atlantic Cod Fish Sandwich focusing on a healthier preparation approach.



Although it’s hard to say which menu item will have the greatest success, it’s clear that each of these strategies will provide customers with appealing alternatives and options that fit their needs during Lent.

For operators who don’t have the resources to create new products, calling attention to existing vegetarian and seafood products during Lent can show customers the importance operators place on their patrons’ beliefs. As more consumers seek healthful options, incorporating more seafood and vegetarian options will benefit all consumers in general and help to improve the overall perceptions of restaurant healthfulness.

Parents, Children Want Seafood on Kids’ Menus

December 20, 2012

WeatherVane_KidsMeal_LobsterOnly 20 percent of kids’ menus at restaurants currently include seafood despite consumer demand

Figuring out what kids like to eat that also pleases their parents has long been a challenge for restaurant operators. Parents want healthy fare for their growing offspring, but kids want something fun and tasty. Seafood is one item that can easily fit the bill, but has yet to widely infiltrate kids menus.

“There’s a tremendous missed opportunity with most of the industry,” said Julie Casey, aka The Restaurant Mom, founder of online kids’ dining resource mykidsplate.com. “Kids and parents are agreeing they want to see seafood on kids’ menus.”

According to the 2012 Kids and Parents Discovery Survey, conducted for Kidzsmart Concepts with The Restaurant Mom and Cincinnati-based Directions Research, both kids and parents want to see seafood on kids’ menus. For example, when asked what food items from the adult menu they would like to see on the kids’ menu, more than a quarter of kids surveyed said seafood. When asked what items from the adult menu their kids ordered or would order if they were on the kids’ menu, nearly a quarter of parents surveyed said seafood.

But while seafood presents a big opportunity for restaurants, only 20 percent of kids’ menus currently include seafood, down from 21 percent in 2011, according to foodservice research firm Technomic. Of kids’ menus that do include seafood, shrimp appears the most. Other seafood dishes frequently showing up on kids’ menus are fish and chips, salmon, fish sticks and fried fish.

“[Seafood] is perceived as healthier. [But] there seems to be some type of stigmatization around fish,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic. He also cites the higher cost of seafood compared to other proteins and the fact that kids’ menus are often loss-leaders as other reasons operators may not be taking advantage of the fresh, not fried, seafood opportunity.

Restaurateur Aaron Noveshen has long had success offering seafood dishes on the kids’ menus at his four Pacific Catch restaurants in California’s Bay Area. “Kids a lot of times are very aspirational—they want to eat like their parents,” said Noveshen. “Kids don’t want to be talked down to.”

That’s why Pacific Catch’s kids’ menu largely features junior versions of the items that are part of the adult menu. Among the choices are California Rolls, fish tacos, coconut shrimp and salmon teriyaki bowls.

“We sell kids California rolls to two-year-olds,” said Noveshen. “That’s kids’ food now. It does quite well.”

Across the country, Weathervane Seafood Restaurant, a 43-year-old family owned and operated seafood house with 13 locations throughout New England, recently revamped its entire kids menu to include more healthy choices. “We saw a need and a request from parents for healthier options,” said Jeremy Gagner, chief operating officer and the third generation of Gagner’s to operate the restaurants. “Families with children are one of our target markets, so appealing to them is something we try to do on a regular basis.”

So now instead of all fried, all the time, Weathervane’s kids’ menu features healthier seafood choices, including the claw meal: two whole lobster claws and a choice of two sides, plus a cup the restaurant’s signature seafood chowder. While fried clam strips and fried native shrimp are still the top seafood sellers, Ganger says the new items rank in the top five and have been performing very well.

Operators wary of adding seafood to their menus should consider not just adding it, but making it a fun experience as well, says Casey.

“Any mild fish that can be baked or broiled, not fried, with some sort of sauce on the side — that’s a win-win,” said Casey. “Build-your-own, dunking, sharing … The dipping and the fun and the interacting encourages tasting and eating of healthy things.”

Fun and interactively is a key part of the kids’ seafood experience at both Pacific Catch and Weathervane. At Pacific Catch, guests are greeted with snacks of edamame and goldfish crackers, and little guests are given chalkboards to write on while their parents peruse the restaurant’s daily changing chalkboard menu.

At Weathervane the new claw dinner for kids is served in a whimsical, red, lobster-shaped basket with a bib and a cracker. In addition, parties can request Lobster Lore, a three-minute tableside presentation that gives young guests the low-down on the crustacean, from how to tell its sex to where they live and what they eat.

“The idea of getting kids to eat seafood in a fun way—that’s part of getting kids to eat seafood,” said Ganger. “You have to put a fun spin on it.”

Ruby Tuesday Dives into Seafood Arena

July 6, 2012

Ruby Tuesday’s expansion into seafood with its Marlin and Ray’s concept helps it diversify and compete with the likes of Darden and OSI.

 Ruby Tuesday’s expansion into seafood foodservice with its Marlin and Ray’s concept helps the company diversify and compete with other restaurant giants such as Darden Restaurants and OSI Restaurant Partners.

Ruby Tuesday has quickly grown the Marlin and Ray’s casual seafood brand since its inception in 2010 with 11 locations in a handful of states and another 10 units planned for 2013. Marlin and Ray’s is expected to be profitable for the Tennessee-based company, since the concept latches onto the growing fast casual trend, according to Darren Tristano, executive VP of foodservice consulting firm Technomic.

“Fast casual is where the future lies. Fast casual restaurants are negatively impacting chains that have the lower-price-point, varied menus such as Applebee’s, T.G.I. Friday’s and even Ruby Tuesday,” said Tristano.

Marlin and Ray’s has a higher average check than Joe’s Crab Shack, said Tristano, but is still in the USD 20 to USD 25 range, which is “positioned for middle to upper middle class.” Dinner entrees include Blackened Grouper with Cajun Cream for USD 15.99 and Herb-Crusted Tilapia for USD 11.99. Appetizers range from USD 3.99 to USD 7.99 each, and the chain offers a number of cocktail and happy hour specials.

While Ruby Tuesday has “upscaled” the menus at its Ruby Tuesday restaurants over the last couple of years, Marlin and Ray’s menu and specials cater to more of a “bar and grill” customer, explained Tristano.

The Marlin and Ray’s concept also allows Ruby Tuesday to diversify the type of restaurants it owns (the company also operates the Wok Hay Asian concept and Lime Fresh Mexican Grill), allowing it to compete better against industry giants Darden and OSI. Darden has “built brands that can exist without cannibalizing their other brands,” said Tristano. 

Among Darden’s brands are Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, Capital Grille, Season’s 52, Wildfish Restaurants and Eddie V’s Prime Seafood. The last two concepts Darden acquired from Texas-based Eddie V’s Restaurants for USD 59 million last October.

OSI has also effectively diversified its portfolio with Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill and Fleming’s Steakhouse brands.

“Fleming’s has a USD 55 average price point versus Outback’s lower price point, so the steakhouses are not competing with themselves. It is a different demographic,” said Tristano.

Tender Greens to Put Down More Roots in San Diego Area

June 27, 2012

Lou Hirsh, 14 May 2012, San Diego Business Journal

Operators of the health-focused restaurant chain Tender Greens are looking to expand the brand’s presence in San Diego, after getting a taste of success with their first local restaurant in Point Loma.

TYP Restaurant Group Inc. of Culver City, which debuted the concept at Liberty Station in 2008, next plans to open this summer at Westfield UTC, in the University Towne Center neighborhood. It is finalizing arrangements for an early 2013 opening in downtown San Diego, in the area around Broadway and First Avenue, according to Pete Balistreri, co-owner and executive chef at the Point Loma eatery.

Balistreri said the chef-driven concept aims to be a fast-casual version of a high-end restaurant, with individual items priced at $11 or less. The menu emphasizes salads, soups and sandwiches, made with locally and regionally sourced produce, meats and other ingredients.

Local Beers

“We locally source everything when we can,” Balistreri said. “Our beer is all from craft brewers in San Diego.”

Tender Greens’ suppliers include four San Diego County agricultural growers, as well as local seafood vendors, all of which also supply the region’s top high-end restaurants, he said.

The privately held TYP, which does not disclose revenue figures, first opened Tender Greens in 2006 in Culver City and has since added six more locations, mostly in Southern California. In addition to the two coming San Diego openings, it will debut this fall at Irvine Spectrum and is planning to have a total of 30 operating by 2016, including sites in the Denver and Seattle markets.

Balistreri said the company currently employs about 50 locally, which will expand to 150 with the debut of the downtown restaurant next year.

Two of the company’s co-founders – Erik Oberholtzer and Matt Lyman, who started Tender Greens with David Dressler – are themselves veteran chefs. Most locations, including those in San Diego, are co-owned by career chefs with backgrounds in fine dining.

For instance, San Diego native Balistreri, 29, has worked at several high-end restaurants in San Francisco and Santa Monica, most recently serving as banquet chef at The Lodge at Torrey Pines.

The 3,500-square-foot UTC location of Tender Greens, expected to open by July, will be led by his younger cousin, executive chef Peter Balistreri, who has trained as a sous chef under his more experienced relative.

The Westfield Group mall, which is currently in the midst of a $180 million renovation set for completion next year, will get at least one other fast-rising chain competing for the hearts of health-oriented diners.

475 Is the Magic Number

Florida-based Darden Restaurants Inc. plans to open its first local location of Seasons 52, an upscale fresh-grill and wine bar restaurant, in spring 2013 at Westfield UTC. The full-service concept features a meat and seafood menu that changes four times a year, and no items have more than 475 calories, according to Darden.

Darren Tristano, executive vice president of restaurant industry consulting firm Technomic Inc., said the growth of concepts like Tender Greens and Seasons 52 represent successful efforts to appeal to an upscale demographic that has held up well for industry sales, even during the recession.

However, he noted it does take a certain level of “culinary expertise” to make healthy items palatable to a large audience, and the upscale chains are catering to those willing to pay more for higher-quality meals that fit their dietary priorities.

While overall restaurant industry revenue rose 2.5 percent in 2011, the fast-casual category – which also includes players such as Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill – grew 3.1 percent, according to Technomic.

After nearly three years of sales contraction, the U.S. restaurant industry is now in a slow growth mode and is on track to see sales rise 3 percent in 2012 compared with a year ago, the research firm predicts.

Copyright San Diego Business Journal May 14, 2012

U.S. Seafood Chains’ Sales on Rebound

March 21, 2012

U.S. seafood chains’ sales on rebound

U.S. seafood chains’ sales on rebound

By Christine Blank, SeafoodSource contributing editor 20 March, 2012 – U.S. seafood restaurant chains bounced back in 2011, as the economy improved and more consumers returned to dining out.

According to Technomic’s new “Top 500” restaurant chain report, the 19 casual-dining seafood chains in the top 500 grossed USD 5 billion in sales in 2011, with an average sales growth rate of 2.5 percent.

Overall, the nation’s 500 largest chains registered a 3.4 percent sales increase in 2011, a sharp improvement over a 1.8 percent increase in 2010.

The seafood chains with the highest sales growth from 2010 to 2011 were Joe’s Crab Shack (12.1 percent), Chart House (9.6 percent), Bonefish Grill (9.6 percent), Roy’s Restaurants (7.7 percent) and Red Lobster (6.2 percent). Other top gainers were Legal Sea Foods (3.9 percent), Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. (3.6 percent), Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen (3.1 percent) and Landry’s Seafood House (2.9 percent).

Red Lobster realized near-record sales growth in 2011, demonstrating a rebound from its “struggles” over the last five years, said Darren Tristano, executive VP of foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic, which is based in Chicago.

“Red Lobster has contemporized a number of restaurants, making them more appealing — not just on the outside, but also on the inside. And, for those in the lower to middle class who would like to dine at Red Lobster, they have made it more affordable and within reach,” Tristano said.

Joe’s Crab Shack added units and improved its advertising and marketing in 2011, according to Tristano. “They have done a really nice job of creating ads around their products and creating a very festive, high-energy shack concept,” he said.

Bonefish Grill’s sales have improved due to the chain marketing its contemporary concept that is “a step above casual but a step below fine dining.”

“It’s a nice niche. They don’t seem to have a lot of competition in that area,” said Tristano.

As for upscale seafood chains, sales at Ocean Prime jumped 23.1 percent in 2011, while sales at Mitchell’s Fish Market edged up 2.6 percent; sales at Oceanaire Seafood Room were flat in 2011.

Some seafood chains have also benefitted from the overall growth in the full-service restaurant segment, which experienced a 2.8 percent sales increase in 2011. Sales at full-service seafood chains grew 5.2 percent, edging out sales at full-service steak concepts at 5.1 percent, according to Technomic.

View the full article on seafoodsource.com