2017 Looking Bright for Restaurant Seafood Sales

January 10, 2017

surfnturf

By Christine Blank, Contributing Editor
© 2016 Diversified Communications. All rights reserved.
http://www.seafoodsource.com/news/foodservice-retail/2017-looking-bright-for-restaurant-seafood-sales

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.

Pollo Campero Sales Strong as Restaurant Chain Sees Sales Growth of 9.1% for Third Quarter of 2016

November 3, 2016

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PRNewswire
http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/pollo-campero-sales-strong-as-restaurant-chain-sees-sales-growth-of-91-for-third-quarter-of-2016-300354533.html

Campero Marks Sales Momentum with New Store Openings and New Value Latin Meals

DALLAS, Nov. 1, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Pollo Campero, the world’s largest Latin chicken restaurant brand, announced today its sales momentum remains strong as it reports a 9.1 percent same-store sales growth for the third quarter 2016. This marks the Latin chain’s 19th consecutive quarter with positive comparable growth and comes as Campero focuses on expanding both its U.S. and international footprint, while growing its Millennial customer base.

In fact, Campero has now generated a +8 percent compounded same-store sales growth for the past five years. “We are extremely pleased that we continue to see strong growth, despite a restaurant industry slowdown this year,” said Tim Pulido, President and CEO of Pollo Campero International. “Year to date, we have posted excellent comparable growth of +9 percent, positive comparable traffic growth and 22 percent total sales growth driven by our new store openings.”

Pollo Campero has seen steady growth with Millennials, with the group now comprising more than 64 percent of Campero’s customer base in 2016, according to Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics. Campero attributes much of this growth to the constant innovation and enhancement of its bold, Latin-inspired menu.

“Pollo Campero has maintained its relevancy with its growing Millennial customer base by introducing menu items that are true to who they are,” said Darren Tristano, President of Technomic, Inc. “Their new products are viewed as exciting by their customers, helping them differentiate the brand from the competition—their sales results this year reflect that.”

Pollo Campero’s latest limited time offer items include value offerings for individual and family occasions that highlight Campero’s signature Latin flavors. The brand also launched its new kids’ program featuring new Pollito Meals with healthier pairings and more variety for the entire family.

“We understand that our guests have busy, demanding lives,” said Pulido. “Campero’s new Latin meals are proof that families, no matter how busy, can still enjoy fresh, flavorful meals on the go and on a budget.”

Pollo Campero Expansion: Challenge Accepted
As sales continue to grow, Pollo Campero also remains focused on restaurant expansion both in the United States and around the world. Campero currently has in place a goal to nearly double the number of its restaurants in the next three years. So far in 2016, Campero has opened 8 restaurants in the United States, with 6 more slated to open by the end of the year.

While much of Campero’s growth plans are concentrated on key states, such as California and Texas, along with the Washington, D.C. metro area, the brand has recently inked a deal to open its first restaurant in Tennessee – a franchise to be located in Nashville and expected to open during the first quarter of 2017.

ABOUT POLLO CAMPERO
Pollo Campero, considered the home of Authentic Latin Chicken, is the largest Latin chicken restaurant brand in the world. It first opened its doors as a tiny, family-owned restaurant in Guatemala in 1971 with the goal of treating family and friends to its prized chicken recipe passed down from generation to generation. Today, as Pollo Campero marks its 45th anniversary, its focus on quality, and its mission to stay true to its Latin roots remain the same. Pollo Campero is committed to serving unique Latin recipes prepared by hand daily using high-quality and all-natural ingredients. At the heart of that commitment: the promise to use fresh, never frozen, hormone-free chicken paired with traditional Latin sides, drinks and desserts in a vibrant atmosphere. There are more than 350 Pollo Campero restaurants around the world and Campero is accelerating growth. For franchise information, or to learn more about Pollo Campero, visit Campero.com. Follow the flavor on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @CamperoUSA.


How to save money — and avoid talking to anyone — when ordering takeout

November 2, 2016

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By Alessandra Malito
MerketWatch
http://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-to-save-money-and-avoid-talking-to-anyone-when-ordering-takeout-2016-11-02?siteid=rss

Tech companies are entering the food delivery scene in full force; here’s how to capitalize

The way people order takeout food has evolved.

Instead of using a phone to call a restaurant, many now use their phones to access apps like Facebook FB, -0.59% or GrubHub GRUB, +0.46% to place food orders. Even though it costs more than cooking at home, it’s still possible to save a few bucks for those nights you just want to order in, especially now that there are so many services available.

Tech giants Google GOOG, -0.88% , Facebook and Amazon AMZN, -1.07% have entered the food delivery races. A Google Maps for iOS update lets users “place an order” from restaurants in major cities with a button on its app, 9to5 Mac reported last week. Amazon expanded its one-hour delivery service for its Prime members to Brooklyn. Facebook jumped in last month with an option to start an order from a restaurant’s page.

“More restaurants are doing mobile ordering, and because of that the younger consumer is definitely engaging,” said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a food-service and restaurant research and consulting firm. “Today using your mobile device with either an app or the internet becomes a very good, strong option.”

The fans of the hit 2000s show “Gilmore Girls,” which is returning for a four-episode revival on NFLX, +0.43% later this month, may find this familiar ­­— main characters Lorelai and Rory Gilmore hardly ever had a home-cooked meal on the show, opting instead for takeout and delivery for nearly every meal. Though that is somewhat of an exaggeration of real life, Americans do spend $1,100 a year on average ordering food online, according to turkey company Butterball, which surveyed 1,000 people last year. One in 20 ordered every one or two days, and 25% ordered delivery or takeout at least once a week, the study found.

Online orders may soon beat phone orders. About 904 million online orders were placed in May 2015, up from 403 million in May 2010, while 1.02 billion phone delivery orders were placed in May 2015, down from 1.39 billion in May 2010, according to research firm NPD Group.

The interest from tech companies and restaurants may be the popularity from delivery startups, such as GrubHub, Seamless some of which these tech companies are using on the back end to see their deliveries through. Ride-hailing app Uber has been on the delivery scene since 2014, though it launched its stand-alone food delivery app earlier this year. These services give those at home or at work takeout options from local businesses without having to eat in, or step into, those establishments.

Americans’ annual expenditures on food away from home jumped 7.9% from 2014 to 2015, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, while food at home expenses jumped only 1.1% over that same period. The change doesn’t necessarily mean more people are ordering takeout, but that prices are going up, said Warren Solochek, president of food service practice at the NPD Group.

“If you’re working from home, restaurants have to do a lot more to incentivize people to go to a restaurant,” Solochek said. “I can order from GrubHub or I can go to the refrigerator, and guess what, I have most of my meal right there.”

Still, there are ways you can save, even when you do grab for your phone. Here are three:

1. Look for deals: Check food delivery sites or do a quick web search for promo codes before placing an order. Amazon is offering a $10 off code to its Prime members for its one-hour restaurant delivery and other services like Seamless and GrubHub periodically provide discounts for users, such as during the presidential election. Some sites also have first-time user deals.

2. Avoid additional fees: Double check your bill total to ensure you know exactly what you’re paying for, since some sites may tack on additional fees. Uber announced late last month that even its UberEATS service in certain cities would be subject to surge pricing, when there are more orders than drivers. The company said in its announcement the extra fee will appear as a separate line item before checkout and on the receipt.

3. Participate in referral programs: Seamless gives back to those who refer their service, in the form of $7 for every friend. In fact, both parties win — those referred get $7 off their first order and once they try the service, so will the one who recommended Seamless.


McDonald’s Turnaround Fails to Get More Customers in Door

October 26, 2016

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Leslie Patton
Bloomberg
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-26/mcdonald-s-turnaround-fails-to-get-more-customers-in-the-door

McDonald’s Corp. has figured out how to capitalize on the popularity of its breakfast menu, stop a slide in same-store sales and cut corporate overhead. What it hasn’t figured out is how to get more customers into its restaurants.

The world’s biggest fast-food chain is facing its fourth straight year of U.S. traffic declines, according to internal company documents obtained by Bloomberg. The drop follows at least four consecutive years of customer gains.

“Growing guest counts is our main challenge,” said an e-mail recap of a September meeting among McDonald’s franchise leaders and company executives. “Over the past 12 months, we have been pretty flat.”

The only way to build a sustainable business is to show progress on three key areas: sales, guest counts and cash flow, the e-mail said. “And today we are making uneven progress.”

McDonald’s declined to comment on the notes summarizing the meeting with franchise leaders.

McDonald’s last week reported third-quarter earnings and revenue that topped estimates as results in markets abroad, such as the U.K. and Germany, helped results. The company’s division known as international lead markets boosted same-store sales by 3.3 percent. It wasn’t quite as rosy in the U.S., where sales increased just 1.3 percent.

McDonald’s has made progress in the U.S. since Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook took over in March 2015, but there’s still work to be done. He’s revamped drive-thru ordering and improved food quality by getting rid of certain antibiotics from chicken and switching to real butter in Egg McMuffins. While the introduction of all-day breakfast and speedier kitchens have provided a bump, they may not be the long-term catalyst the chain needs.

The stock began climbing about a year ago after the breakfast expansion, gaining 26 percent in 2015. But the shares haven’t fared as well lately. Shares fell 1 percent to $111.54 at 9:57 a.m. in New York on Wednesday. The stock had lost 4.6 percent this year, through Tuesday’s close.

“McDonald’s has become less relevant to the younger generations,” said Darren Tristano, president at industry researcher Technomic in Chicago.

Three Areas
To lure more U.S. customers, the company is focused on three segments, according to the the document: diners who frequent the chain for breakfast and coffee, those who go primarily for lunch, and families and children.

“We’ve talked about our main focus being growing guest counts, certainly in the U.S.,” Chief Financial Officer Kevin Ozan said during a conference call last week.

Through the third quarter, McDonald’s comparable customer counts are down 0.1 percent this year, compared with a 3.1 drop in the same period in 2015, according to a company filing. The U.S. restaurant industry also is facing a broader slowdown as consumers dine out less due to the turbulent election season and cheaper grocery-store prices.

To better compete, restaurants are aggressively discounting fare with offers such as 50-cent corn dogs at Sonic and $1.49 chicken nuggets at Burger King. But those deals haven’t helped so far. Burger King owner Restaurant Brands International Inc. and drive-in chain Sonic Corp. this week reported disappointing U.S. sales in the latest quarter.

Last year, McDonald’s U.S. traffic declined 3 percent, following a 4.1 percent drop in 2014. Customer counts also fell in 2013, filings show. To reverse the trend, McDonald’s needs to stick to its core identity of convenience and affordability, while also improving ingredients, Tristano said.

“It’s hard to imagine they’re going to be able to compete with better burger and fast casual,” he said, referring to chains like Shake Shack Inc. and Panera Bread Co. “They have to operate within their customers’ perception of their brand.”


Bartolotta cooks up kitchen for Kohl’s

October 25, 2016

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Rick Romell
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
http://www.jsonline.com/story/money/2016/10/20/bartolotta-cooks-up-kitchen-kohls/92418108/

Menomonee Falls — For Bartolotta Restaurant Group, it’s an opportunity to branch further into a promising business area.

For Kohl’s Corp., it’s a shiny amenity to help in the quest to attract and retain good people.

And for Jason Wessels, the new dining area and kitchen his employer unveiled this week — a huge space that combines industrial-chic design with around-the-world food prep stations — is more than acceptable.

“This is amazing,” Wessels, who directs the big retailer’s shopper loyalty program, said as he got his first glimpse of the 32,000-square-foot area at corporate headquarters that Kohl’s has dubbed “The Kitch.”

“Like, amazing….It’s unbelievable.”

Following the lead of companies such as Silicon Valley tech firms that compete ferociously for talent, Kohl’s is wagering on the notion that one way to an employee’s heart is through his — or her — stomach.

“Corporations, particularly financial and high tech, where attracting and retaining high-skilled employees is very important, have seriously upgraded the quality of the meal services that they provide,” said Thomas MacDermott, owner of New Hampshire-based Clarion Group, a food service consultant.

Kohl’s isn’t Google. But for a department store retailer beset by stalled growth, changing consumer preferences and the ever-looming, Godzilla-like threat of Amazon, anything that helps bring in and hold smart employees may well be a smart bet.

“We knew we needed to elevate the quality,” chief administrative officer Richard Schepp said.

So, out with an in-house dining setup Schepp described with faint praise, saying it had been “OK” and “a decent cafeteria experience.”

In with a sleek, contemporary dining hall and such fare as Neapolitan pizzas, freshly prepared sushi, and specialty salads (beet and goat cheese; spelt and roasted squash with maple dressing) from a kitchen run by Bartolotta, which owns several highly regarded and popular restaurants in the area.

Just a little over five years ago, Kohl’s was cooking its own food at its 5,000-employee headquarters and, according to Schepp, not very well.

Now it has signed up with one of Milwaukee’s premier restaurant operators, outfitted a completely new kitchen and built a dining area that offers a wide range of collaborative gathering spaces and private nooks.

It’s a spot away from cubicles and offices that’s meant to be used all day, full of power outlets and USB ports but free of Kohl’s branding and even any references to the company’s “Greatness Agenda.”

“You feel like you left the building,” Schepp said.

Kohl’s won’t say what it spent, but turning a warren of cubicles into a dining area that can seat 750, a kitchen the size of a mini-mansion and a barista bar to boot isn’t cheap.

“This is all brand new,” Bartolotta group co-owner Joe Bartolotta said as he showed off the space. “…We gutted everything. We tore out the ceilings. We tore out everything. It was a very sizable investment.”

Whatever Kohl’s spent, it appears the company can recoup a small part of the expense through an agreement with the state that gives the firm tax credits in exchange for capital investments.

The deal was struck in July 2012, when the company planned to build a new, $250 million corporate campus a few miles from its present location. Kohl’s abandoned the plans 17 months later in favor of a less-expensive expansion at its current site. The $137 million in capital investment the company made there through last year, however, have helped it earn $18.3 million in state tax credits under the agreement.

The corporate impulse to amp up in-house dining isn’t broad, but rather is concentrated in sectors such as tech, said Mike Buzalka, executive features editor of trade journal Food Management.

But he said upgrades make sense for companies that, like Kohl’s, are situated where there are few nearby dining options.

It’s unusual for a firm to hire a restaurant operator, rather than a food-service contractor, to run its kitchen, Buzalka said.

Joe Bartolotta, however, sees the venture as a way to diversify. His 1,000-employee company has 11 restaurants, including highly regarded spots such as Lake Park Bistro and Bacchus.

But opening stand-alone restaurants is costly, and Bartolotta has been looking increasingly at opportunities to run places without the big capital investment. The firm operates four restaurants at Wauwatosa’s Mayfair Collection, for example, that are owned by the shopping center’s developer.

Two years ago, Bartolotta took over the food court at the U.S. Bank Center and opened what it calls the Downtown Kitchen. That operation impressed Kohl’s executives and paved the way for creation of The Kitch.

Profit margins on such businesses are lower than at a typical Bartolotta restaurant, but with a minimal upfront investment and an all-but-captive market of 5,000 potential diners, it’s an attractive proposition, Joe Bartolotta said.

That thinking makes sense, suggested Darren Tristano, president of Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic Inc.

“When we look at the full-service space where Bartolotta operates, the high end is doing OK, but there aren’t a lot of growth opportunities for new restaurants,” Tristano said.

John Wise, operations director and managing partner at Bartolotta, said Downtown Kitchen serves about 500 people for breakfast and 1,500 to 2,000 at lunch. He expects the numbers at Kohl’s to be bigger.

Wessels, meanwhile, expects the new space to be about more than food. He believes it will bring colleagues together and spur beneficial collaboration.

Many people, Wessels said, regard the kitchen as the heart of their home.

“This is really going to become the heart of our office,” he said.


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.