Archive for May, 2011

Americans More Sweet on Snacks Than Canadians

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

While Americans and Canadians both value convenience when it comes to snacks, consumers in the United States have a bit more of a sweet tooth, according to data on eating trends from The NPD Group.

In its 10-year eating trends forecasts, the Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD projected that consumers in the United States will grow hungrier for sweet foods, especially at snack time, while Canadians’ preference for salty and savory dishes will grow stronger.

The “Future of Eating” reports focused on meals consumed at home, but an NPD analyst stressed that taste preferences transfer fluidly from restaurant meals to home eating occasions.

“People don’t delineate much from what they eat in home and out of home, so the same behaviors carry through all occasions,” said Joel Gregoire, The NPD Group’s food and beverage analyst for Canada and co-author of “A Look into the Future of Eating – Canadian Marketplace.” “It’s important for restaurateurs to get a hold of the big picture of how North Americans are eating. Less than one-third of meal occasions occur in restaurants, but understanding how people eat at home has big restaurant implications.”

NPD spokeswoman Kim McLynn said the firm is forecasting a 20-percent growth between 2008 and 2018 of prepared foods eaten at home, representing an opportunity not just for supermarkets selling packaged meals, but for restaurants to augment their delivery and carryout platforms.

The big similarity between the markets in Canada and the United States is a need for convenience, seen in the growth of sales for “heat-to-eat” meals like frozen pizzas, canned chicken and pasta, and soup. Gregoire noted that, even while consumers in the United States are set to increase their use of heat-to-eat meals at breakfast and Canadians are not, restaurants in both countries need to have convenience offerings for on-the-go customers.

“The main reason why people go out to eat is for the convenience it offers,” he said. “Somebody else does the cooking and serving. Anything you can do to make that easier for their hurried lifestyle will resonate.”

Easy meals or items that can be consumed quickly on the go could boost a restaurant’s sales, he added, citing fruit, snack bars and yogurt as examples.

“Certain restaurant chains are starting to incorporate more yogurt into their menus, at a breakfast occasion or as a snack,” Gregoire said. “We could call this the food of the decade, because I don’t see any leveling off.”

Gregoire was not thrown by a growing preference for sweet snacks in the United States, but the Canadians expressing favor for salty and savory bites did surprise him, since Canada’s aging population likely would be more concerned with sodium reduction.

“There seems to be a dichotomy,” he said. “A lot of the growth in salty and savory snack foods is forecast to come from the baby boomer cohort. It’s a good example of when you’re basing analysis on data, it will challenge your preconceptions. We really see an opportunity for salty snacks, mainly chips with unique taste profiles.”

The trend could enable product innovation not just in side dishes, as with Wendy’s new Natural Cut Fries with Sea Salt, but also in desserts like a toffee-chocolate dish with sea salt.

Similarly, sweet items will only increase in popularity in the United States, even despite menu-labeling rules that mandate the posting of calorie counts, NPD projected. That’s where the importance of portion sizes comes in, so restaurants can offer sweet treats with less sticker shock, such as Starbucks’ new Petites line of desserts and Dairy Queen’s Mini Blizzards.

“Generationally speaking, all people are looking for smaller portions — it’s basically ‘everything in moderation,’” Gregoire said. “I’m not sure it’s limited just to snacking. I immediately think of sliders like a White Castle. They’ve become more popular up here in Canada, and more food manufacturers are making that move now.”

The report also found that consumption of salads, warm side dishes and center-of-the-plate proteins would increase in the next 10 years, at higher rates for American customers than for Canadian consumers.

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How One Restaurant Chain Responded to Disaster

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar is among the restaurant operators assisting relief efforts in Joplin, Mo., which was devastated by a recent tornado.

The May 22 tornado, the nation’s deadliest twister in six decades, killed at least 132 people and injured 900 others, while damaging some 8,000 commercial and residential structures in the southeastern Missouri city.

“It’s unbelievable the extent of the damage,” Bob Bonney, chief executive of the Missouri Restaurant Association in St. Louis, told NRN on Friday. “We’re even having a good deal of difficulty getting in touch with our members there.”

The tornado missed an Applebee’s in Joplin by only 200 yards, the Lenexa, Kan.-based chain said on its website. This week, a spokesman from Applebee’s explained how the chain reached out to its employees in the area and assisted in the city’s relief efforts.

“Our first priority was making sure our team members were OK and to do everything possible to help them,” said Derek Farley, who e-mailed responses from the Applebee’s group in Joplin. “Every team member has been accounted for, but many have lost their homes and/or belongings.”

He said Applebee’s immediately “sent a convoy of assistance — a generator, mobile-hand washing stations, cases of water and other sanitation supplies — to Joplin.” Officials feared Joplin’s water system might have been contaminated by the storm, so residents and businesses were under orders to boil water before consuming it.

Applebee’s also dispatched eight employees from Kansas City, Mo., and four from Springfield, Mo., to provide further assistance. In addition, Applebee’s units in Springfield, which is 68 miles east of Joplin, made 800 boxed lunches and delivered them to Red Cross triage centers in Joplin.

Farley said another priority was reopening the Applebee’s in Joplin, which happened on Wednesday.

“We are offering a limited ‘relief’ menu to help feed the community during this tough time,” Farley said. “For those that are unable to pay, we are happy to accommodate them. Many relief workers and law enforcement officers have been coming in throughout the day and night.

“As a side note, a manager last night told me that our restaurant is serving as a gathering place for the community to share stories and lend support,” Farley added. “Anyone is encouraged to come by even if they just need a place to sit and take a break.”

DineEquity Inc., the Glendale, Calif.-based parent company of Applebee’s and IHOP, also made donations to the American Red Cross, a children’s hospital in Joplin and an Applebee’s fund that provides assistance to employees in times of crisis.

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Consumers Hungry for Chicken in the Morning

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Those who rise when the rooster crows would like to see more of that poultry on the breakfast table.

According to recent polls by Technomic Inc., about 25 percent of consumers who eat chicken say they would very likely order chicken breakfast sandwiches at restaurants if such products were more readily available. Meanwhile, nearly 30 percent said they would like to see breakfast items featuring turkey sausage or turkey bacon.

“Poultry is a very versatile protein that can be positioned in a number of ways for different dayparts,” Darren Tristano, Technomic executive vice president, said in a statement Tuesday. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of turkey items on breakfast menus, and also some high-profile additions of chicken items at breakfast.”

EARLIER: Top flavors for chicken

Since 2008, both limited and full-service restaurants have increased their use of turkey on breakfast menus as a more healthful alternative to pork.

Chains ranging from Caribou Coffee and IHOP to Subway and Energy Kitchen have been promoting items made with turkey bacon at breakfast, for example.

“If you look at consumers who eat turkey at least occasionally, 22 percent say they are eating it more now for breakfast than they were two years ago, so there is clearly an opportunity,” Tristano said.

IHOP recently featured fried chicken and waffles as a limited-time offer, and Hardee’s has long offered a chicken fillet on a biscuit.

In fact, with the recent successful introduction of turkey burgers at Hardee’s and sister brand Carl’s Jr., officials with parent company CKE Restaurants Inc. told Nation’s Restaurant News recently that guests have begun asking for turkey-sausage biscuits at breakfast, an idea the company is exploring.

Other findings from Chicago-based Technomic’s poultry report:

• Consumers likely would be willing to pay more for poultry dishes if restaurants point out the product’s lower fat content or highlight the lack of steroids or hormones.

• At limited-service restaurants, consumers prefer barbecue-flavored chicken sandwiches, while garlic is the seasoning of choice at full-service restaurants.

• About 50 percent of those polled said humane animal treatment and environmentally sound practices are becoming more important to them.

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New Menu Items Heat Up Summer

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

With warm weather finally approaching, a number of restaurant chains are looking to heat up their menus with the introduction of a range of new summer selections.

Among the brands introducing new items this week are Cold Stone Creamery, Bruegger’s Bakeries, White Castle and Luby’s.

• Cold Stone Creamery: The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based ice cream chain with more than 1,500 locations in 17 countries is jumping into the growing savory dessert arena with two new flavors.

The chain will kick off the limited time only summer selections with Lemon Poppy Seed Ice Cream this month. The item, which Cold Stone says tastes like a lemon poppy seed muffin, features bright yellow ice cream sprinkled with poppy seeds.

In July, the dessert specialist will introduce herbs to its dessert selections when it debuts Strawberry Basil Ice Cream, inspired by a traditional Italian combination.

Later in the summer, Cold Stone plans to launch another new LTO flavor, Mojito Sorbet, a nonalcoholic selection flavored with a lime and mint infusion.

All items are part of Cold Stone’s Gold Cone Collection.

Ray Karam, Cold Stone Creamery Tastemaster, said, “No culinary trend is out of reach for the ice cream industry…The tastes you’ll experience will remind you of your favorite bakery items, herbal fruit blends and even summery cocktails.

• White Castle: The iconic burger chain in Columbus, Ohio, also is offering customers some indulgent choices this summer. Jumping on the booming bacon bandwagon, White Castle is debuting two new LTO sandwiches — a Bacon and Cheddar Slider and Bacon and Ranch Slider.

In addition, the 400-plus-unit chain introduced Loaded Fries — thick-cut fries topped with ranch dressing, cheese sauce and bacon crumbles.

“Bacon is one of the top popular culinary ingredients among restaurants these days and White Castle prides itself on being current with what’s hot in the foodservice industry,” said Jamie Richardson, vice president of corporate relations. “Everything’s better with bacon.”

The introduction is being supported through May with online couponing on Facebook, enabling patrons to get a free Bacon and Cheddar Slider or Bacon and Ranch Slider with the purchase of any Sack Meal or for $3 off one Crave Case filled with 30 Sliders.

• Luby’s: The 96-unit chain, based in Houston, is reintroducing three popular LTO entrées for the summer months. Originally presented in 2007, Luby’s Mushroom Chicken Madeira features pan-grilled chicken breast with Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs, top with melted cheese, roasted mushrooms and a Madeira wine sauce. The dish is priced at $8.69.

Honey BBQ Chicken, another popular LTO, also is being reintroduced. The dish, a chicken breast topped with sweet honey hickory barbecue sauce and onion rings, is priced at $8.99.

Luby’s third entrée is Grilled Summer Tilapia, which is dusted with ranch seasoning, pan-grilled and served with cheese tortellini and grilled vegetables. It is priced at $10.69.

Each entrée is served with two sides and a roll, and is available through August.

• Bruegger’s Bakeries: The Burlington, Vt.-based, 300-unit bagel chain is taking a lighter route and launching a low-calorie menu addition, the “Skinny Bagel.” The company says the new item has the same taste and texture as a classic bagel, but contains 100 fewer calories.

Jim Greco, Bruegger’s chief executive, said, “With 62 percent of national consumers planning on eating healthier in 2011, Bruegger’s is excited to offer our guests a healthier option without sacrificing any of the flavor they have come to expect from our bagels.”

This month Bruegger’s also will start rolling out a new turkey sausage option, which will be included with the new low-calorie bagel in the Skinny Zesty Egg White Sandwich. An LTO breakfast item, it contains about 410 calories and includes Swiss cheese and sundried tomato spread. Recommended pricing is $3.99.

Skinny Bagels served dry are priced at about $1.05 each, depending upon the location.

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McD’s Makeover: 7 Things You Didn’t Know

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

McDonald’s has touted much about its plan to revamp most of its 14,000 domestic locations, ditching the bright colors and iconic roofs of the past for ultramodern interiors and exteriors.

However, a recent tour of newly renovated McDonald’s units around Tampa, Fla., revealed new details of the quick-service giant’s plan.

Securities analysts Larry Miller of RBC Capital Markets and Jeffrey Bernstein of Barclays Capital, who participated in the tour, noted not only the new facades, digital menu boards and fancy new seating, but also several operations-minded upgrades, including a new POS system and dual drive-thrus meant to speed service times and boost throughput. They also learned more about the costs involved in the reimaging plan.

Based on reports by the two analysts, here are seven things industry watchers may not know about McDonald’s undertaking:

1. Reimaging work also includes plenty of rebuilding

McDonald’s expects to upgrade 800 restaurants in 2011, including 600 reimages to interiors and exteriors as well as 200 total rebuilds or relocations, Miller and Bernstein wrote in their reports. The company completed 100 upgrades in the first quarter and is projecting another 100 in the second quarter, implying an aggressive expansion of the program in the second half of the year.

Miller, Bernstein and others toured reimaged units in Clearwater and Brandon, Fla., which required four to six weeks of construction to upgrade, as well as a rebuilt location with McDonald’s new interior and exterior flourishes in Seffner, Fla. The rebuilt restaurant opened in November 2010 after construction began the prior August. The securities analysts noted that either the dining room or drive-thru remained open throughout construction.

2. Not all restaurants will be revamped

Miller and Bernstein both said 1,800 locations of McDonald’s more than 14,000 domestic restaurants have the new look and feel, and there is plenty more opportunity for upgrading the system. About 6,100 units are candidates for reimaging and another 2,500 could be rebuilt or relocated, the analysts wrote.

However, nearly 4,000 McDonald’s locations will not be considered for remodels, Miller wrote. About 1,000 units do not generate sufficient volume to justify the investment, while another 2,600 locations are nontraditional units, like on-site restaurants in Walmart stores, which are not candidates for the program, he said.

3. Costs for reimages vs. rebuilds

The average cost to reimage a McDonald’s restaurant was $550,000, with a range between $400,000 and $700,000 depending on the location and condition of the unit, the analysts wrote. In these cases, McDonald’s Corp. contributed 40 percent of the cost of the remodel, or an average of about $220,000.

A restaurant needing to be rebuilt or relocated required more capital expenditures from both McDonald’s and its owner-operators. Those investments ranged between $1.7 million and $2.1 million, including about $1 million to $1.2 million from McDonald’s Corp. and about $700,000 to $900,000 from franchisees.

4. Impact on sales

Miller of RBC Capital Markets estimated that the reimage and rebuild efforts could add 50 basis points a year to McDonald’s annual same-store sales over the next several years. Both he and Bernstein of Barclays Capital wrote that a reimaged restaurant experienced an average same-store sales increase between 6 percent and 7 percent above the rest of the market in the first year, while totally rebuilt units had same-store sales increases between 15 percent and 20 percent.

“The rebuild we visited in Tampa cost a total of $2.4 million and saw average unit volumes rise from $4.1 million prior to the rebuild to $4.8 million today, a 17-percent increase, though we note the store has only been open for six months,” Bernstein wrote.

That 5,766-square-foot restaurant had 128 seats, he noted.

5. Revamps include operational improvements

The new interiors and exteriors at upgraded McDonald’s locations are crucial to creating the chain’s new look and feel, but some design updates also improve efficiencies and throughput, Miller and Bernstein both wrote.

For example, a new POS system being rolled out to all domestic McDonald’s units is a simplified, icon-based model that should cut down the time and cost needed to train crew members and increase speed of service, they said. Capacity also will be bolstered in remodeled or rebuilt units, using various kinds of seating — wood tables replace fiberglass ones, and the steel chairs of the past will give way to wooden chairs and stools, some with faux leather — to fit more customers without needing to increase the location’s square footage drastically.

The double drive-thrus at the three Tampa-area restaurants the analysts toured not only handled more volume with two ordering lines, but also increased accuracy with a system that photographs the driver and car of each order. McDonald’s said some restaurants would be able to move through an additional 50 cars per hour in incremental traffic during peak periods, Bernstein wrote.

6. International upgrades increase confidence

McDonald’s officials have shared in previous earnings calls that moves to refurbish restaurants in international markets, particularly Europe and Australia, have shaped McDonald’s strategy to remodel its domestic system. Miller wrote that Australia’s 800-unit system has grown sales since its complete upgrade and that sales of new products in Australia outperform sales in non-refurbished markets.

The improved décor has a positive menu shift in Australia, “allowing McDonald’s Australia to reshape itself for consumers and therefore sell more premium products,” Bernstein added. “Management expects the reimaging efforts in the United States to similarly allow for future flexibility.”

The Financial Times reported this week that McDonald’s European division would upgrade its POS system to self-service, touch-screen terminals that could read swiped payment cards and would replace many cashiers. McDonald’s Europe president Steve Easterbrook told the newspaper that the new payment systems are designed to shorten transaction times and to collect consumer data in the same way that supermarkets glean ordering habits from the use of loyalty cards.

7. Signage is what’s next

Bernstein wrote that signage, including the iconic golden arches making the McDonald’s “M,” would be the “next frontier” in the chain’s ongoing campaign to update its image.

“During our tour, we noted that even the reimaged restaurants had the old ‘M’ and outdated line-by-line product and promotional advertising,” he wrote. “With 50 percent of customers making their dining decisions while on the road, management believes it is crucial to modernize the signage, both aesthetically and technologically, including a digital board underneath the ‘M.’”

McDonald’s officials told Bernstein that such new signage is being tested in a few locations and that costs for that investment could range from $30,000 to $100,000 depending on the size of the sign and property, excluding the digital board.

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What’s Driving the Nation’s Fastest-Growing Chains

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Growth chains of all kinds, from large brands like McDonald’s to small concepts like Roti Mediterranean Grill, rely on menu innovation and differentiation to steal share from competitors as the restaurant industry’s growth as a whole stalls.

Technomic Inc. held its Growth Chain Conference this week in Chicago and outlined the state of foodservice, latest consumer trends and growth chain case studies, including looks at Red Mango, Smashburger and Brick House Tavern and Tap. About 60 restaurant industry executives were in attendance Wednesday at the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center.

The takeaways showed a still wary consumer, especially as unemployment remains high and gas prices rise, but a modestly improving restaurant sector. Technomic’s latest estimate for the industry shows a 2.6-percent nominal growth rate for the balance of 2011. With inflation running close to that number, real sales growth this year looks to be close to flat, the market research firm said.

In the midst of those challenges, some restaurant chains will succeed through growth. More U.S.-based chains will look abroad, greater investments in remodeling will be made and daypart expansion will continue, Technomic said. While there are “growth chains” in all sectors of the restaurant industry, the hottest growth sector, by far, is fast casual.

“This category has essentially blown through the recession without skipping a beat,” Darren Tristano, Technomic executive vice president, said in a statement ahead of the conference. “The real pressures are now coming from other types of concepts that have taken note and are positioning themselves alongside their fast-casual counterparts. Quick-service restaurants are revamping their offerings and decor in an attempt to provide value beyond low prices and take back market share.”

The fastest-growing fast-casual chains, by unit count growth rate from 2000 to 2010, were Pei Wei Asian Kitchen, Noodles & Company, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Qdoba Mexican Grill and Panera Bread, Technomic’s research showed.

Among concepts with sales under $100 million, and looking at just one-year unit growth rates from 2009 to 2010, the fastest-growing chains were Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Chipotle, Noodles & Company, Einstein Bros. Bagels and Wing Stop.

The fastest-growing smaller chains, with sales between $25 million and $100 million, based on one-year unit growth rates, included Smashburger, Zoës Kitchen, Freebirds World Burrito, Pret A Manger and The Habit Burger Grill.

Looking closely at these chains, Technomic said similarities included menu innovation, from flatbread sandwiches at Noodles & Company to the Stuffed Saladwich at Einstein. New menu items from all growth chains were key to their sales performance, Technomic said, from Dunkin’ Donuts’ new snack line to McDonald’s beverages, and from Korean BBQ steak tacos at California Pizza Kitchen to healthful beverages like the Skinny Rita-tini at Bonefish Grill.

“Chains in the restaurant industry need to look at what the growth chains are doing…and provide a better quality, continuously improving experience if they want to gain market share,” Tristano said.

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Seattle’s Best Testing Outlets in Walmart Stores

Monday, May 16th, 2011

After losing some 225 café locations with the closure of Borders bookstores over the past year, Seattle’s Best Coffee is testing a new store-within-a-store concept in Walmart Supercenters in Canada, the company said Thursday.

Owned by Starbucks Corp., Seattle’s Best Coffee, or SBC, has reached the milestone of 50,000 points of distribution, a 66-percent increase over the past year, the company said, despite the loss of outlets following the bankruptcy of the Borders Bookstore chain.

Starbucks initially grew the SBC brand as a licensed concept within Borders locations, and most of the chain’s 325 locations are still in the bookstores.

In recent years, however, the Seattle-based coffeehouse giant ramped up efforts to build SBC as a more approachable and accessible alternative to its namesake brand through multiple channels, including franchising.

Company officials say Seattle’s Best has the potential to grow into a $1 billion business globally.

“Seattle’s Best Coffee is the coffee brand to watch right now,” said Michelle Gass, SBC president, in a statement. “Our dramatic expansion this past year confirms that we are delivering what consumers and our business partners truly want — a great tasting cup of premium coffee anywhere it’s needed.”

In addition to testing the new store-within-a-store concept in four Walmart Supercenters in Canada, an additional four are scheduled to open over the next 12 months as part of the pilot, said Jenny McCabe, SBC’s director of communications.

SBC has long offered a variety of flexible store sizes, from 10-square-foot kiosks to larger stand-alone cafes with indoor and outdoor seating. The Walmart version, ranging in size from 400-square feet to 1,000-square feet, will be a coffee bar with a walk-up window and seating at the bar.

McCabe said the company is testing the use of new equipment that could allow for more food and beverage offerings. Since Walmart doesn’t open until 10 a.m. in Canada, the focus will be less on breakfast and more on other dayparts.

The new pilot marks a shift in strategy directed at establishing SBC as a premium coffee option for a variety of retail executions that don’t serve name-brand coffee, including convenience stores, gas stations or family dining concepts, McCabe said.

“We have been in grocery and book stores, but we want to see the brand go into places that haven’t had premium coffee before,” she said.

SBC is now available in the roughly 25,000 Subway restaurants that serve breakfast, as well as at Burger King domestic locations. The coffee is also served in AMC Theatres and on board Delta Air Lines flights.

The 5,600-unit Taco Bell chain’s test of breakfast also includes SBC coffee, McCabe said.

In October Starbucks launched self-service vending machines offering Seattle’s Best coffee in hundreds of locations, such as ferry boats, college libraries, hospital waiting rooms and office break rooms.

The machines were developed to serve brewed coffee or café au lait with freshly ground beans for each serving, McCabe said.

Over the past year, the company has also seen double-digit increases in the sales of SBC coffee to workplaces, despite a negative trend for the industry overall, she added.

Grocery sales of the packaged coffee also continue to grow. In the past year, Starbucks changed the packaging of SBC packaged coffee in grocery stores, offering a “Levels” system to help consumers better identify the blend they like.

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Guests Wary of Higher Prices, Smaller Portions

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Consumers are becoming more sensitive to scaled-down portion sizes and rising menu prices in restaurants, according to a new survey by research firm Technomic Inc.

The Chicago-based firm found in a recent study that 62 percent of consumers believed that restaurant prices have increased in the past three months, while 32 percent said portion sizes have shrunk. Consumers said they saw similar trends in grocery stores — 84 percent of respondents said supermarket prices were up and about 50 percent said they noticed smaller portion sizes, Technomic found.

Commodity inflation has picked up in 2011 after a few years of easing prices, necessitating menu price increases at many restaurant chain. Meanwhile, fuel prices surging above $4 per gallon in several states have put pressure on disposable incomes of consumers in the United States, Technomic said.

This puts restaurants in a tricky spot. Bob Goldin, executive vice president at Technomic, said the firm’s research indicates that consumers are very sensitive now to manipulated portion sizes, so operators considering some downsizing cannot make that their only value-engineering move.

“You have countervailing forces of rising food costs and the need to take price, and the consumer point of view that they have less money than before at the pump and in the checkout aisle,” he said. “The Groupons of the world are accelerating the trend toward discounting and dealing.”

In addition, consumers are skeptical about the reasons behind smaller portion sizes in restaurants and supermarkets, Goldin said. Most of the people polled by Technomic said they thought companies were downsizing portions to enhance profitability or keep retail prices the same despite higher input costs. Only 10 percent of respondents said portion sizes are being adjusted to improve menu items’ healthfulness.

Given this cynicism, restaurants must consider carefully when to protect margins by increasing prices, trimming sizes, or creating new items designed to fit new price tiers or dayparts.

“It’s a balancing act,” Goldin said. “Maybe you upgrade an offering with a new sauce and then achieve some reduction in portion. Operators are taking price, but they have to make sure to keep some items on the value side. They may be afraid of gravitating toward a value menu and cannibalizing their sales. But if you strictly shrink portions and don’t adjust the price, consumers are going to notice.”

The pizza segment is particularly sensitive to high gas prices and the pressure to discount, Goldin said.

Executives at Domino’s Pizza Inc. recently told securities analysts during its first-quarter earnings conference call that rising gas prices haven’t affected customers’ purchasing habits too drastically. Patrick Doyle, Domino’s chief executive, noted that the chain may consider increasing a delivery charge should gas prices rise sharply.

However, he added, “the direct impact of gas prices on our store-level P&L just isn’t that big.”

Pizza Hut’s largest franchisee, NPC International Inc., told analysts recently that consumers historically start picking up their orders when gas prices rise in order to avoid paying delivery fees.

Pizza Hut franchisee expects customer shift to carryout as gas prices rise

During Papa John’s first-quarter earnings call last week, chief executive John Schnatter said the aggressive discounting seen throughout 2010 in the pizza segment eased up slightly in the first part of this year.

Papa John’s on what’s driving sales

“It’s less difficult than a year ago, but there are no easy days in this business,” he said. “Our positioning lets us price a little higher than the competition, which makes margins a little easier for our operators.”

Papa John’s current limited-time offer is an $11 large specialty pizza, John’s Favorite. The chain’s value-focused promotions this year have been tied mostly to special dates or events, such as an offer for seven free toppings following this year’s Super Bowl and a “1040” promotion of a large, four-topping pizza for $10.40 during the weekend around Tax Day.

Some restaurant chains have reduced portion sizes by developing smaller menu items to sell between meals, such as Starbucks and its Petites line of bakery snacks and McDonald’s and its Snack Wraps and McCafe beverages.

Value menus also have provided a forum for smaller yet margin-friendly items. In the pizza segment, Columbus, Ohio-based Donatos introduced its Everyday Values Menu last week to its restaurants in Columbus and Cleveland. The company told Columbus Business First that rising fuel prices played a part in the timing of the menu’s introduction. The 175-unit chain’s new menu will sell small entrées for $4 and combo meals for $5 featuring pizza, salad, subs and Stromboli.

“The timing is right for that,” Goldin of Technomic said. “Unfortunately, we’ve trained our consumers and have over-served them with large portions. Weaning ourselves from that is going to be pretty difficult. All of those [value-engineering strategies] need to be looked at.”

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Beard Awards Honor Top Culinary Talent

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon in Portland, Ore., was honored as Rising Star Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation on Monday at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York.

The award kicked off a gala evening of what many consider to be the most prestigious chef awards in the industry. The event attracted some 2,000 attendees.

In a process reminiscent of the Academy Awards for film, nominees for the Beard awards and recipients of honorary recognitions — such as Humanitarian of the Year and inductees into the Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America — walked past paparazzi on a “red” carpet, actually colored green this year at the request of one of the sponsors.

The Rising Star award is presented to a chef aged 30 or younger “who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to have a significant impact on the industry in years to come.”

Other big winners of the night included Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen in New York, which was named the year’s best new restaurant, and Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ founder Richard Melman of Chicago, who was named the year’s “Outstanding Restaurateur.”

Washington, D.C.-based chef José Andres won the award for Outstanding Chef, and Per Se in New York won the Outstanding Service award.

The Outstanding Wine & Spirits Professional award was presented to Julian P. Van Winkle III of the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery in Louisville, Ky.

The Outstanding Restaurant Design award went to Aidin Darling Design for Bar Agricole in San Francisco, and the Outstanding Restaurant Graphics award was won by the design firm Love and War for The National Bar & Dining Room in New York.

Union Square Hospitality Group in New York won the most awards this year, picking up three of them. USHG’s Eleven Madison Park was named the year’s Outstanding Restaurant and its pastry chef, Angela Pinkerton, was named Outstanding Pastry Chef. In addition, The Modern’s beverage director Belinda Chang won the award for Outstanding Wine Service.

The city of Portland, Ore., also stood out, winning the Rising Star award and the award for best chef in the Northwest, which went to Andy Ricker of Pok Pok in that city.

The other regional awards went to:

• Alex Young of Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Mich., for the Great Lakes region
• Michael Solomonov of Zahav in Philadelphia for the Mid-Atlantic
• Isaac Becker for 112 Eatery in Minneapolis for the Midwest
• Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune in New York, which is its own region
• Tony Maws of Craigie On Main in Cambridge, Mass., for New England
• Michael Tusk of Quince in San Francisco for the Pacific
• Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon in New Orleans for the South
• Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill, N.C., for the Southeast

A tie was declared for the Southwest region between Saipin Chutima of Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, and Tyson Cole of Uchi in Austin, Texas.

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T.G.I. Friday’s Debuts Beer-Inspired Menu

Monday, May 9th, 2011

T.G.I. Friday’s is tapping into microbrews with several new dishes inspired by beer — including desserts — as the chain launched its summer menu Monday.

The more than 900-unit casual-dining chain also started offering, for the first time, a lineup of craft beers that varies by state, including such regional favorites as Fat Tire, Harpoon, Shipyard, Goose Island and Magic Hat.

The Carrollton, Texas-based chain cited figures from the Brewers Association that found sales for craft beer increased about 10 percent in 2010 while mainstream beer sales declined nationally by about 2 percent.

“This season’s menu stands out with the inclusion of the best regional craft brews from around the country as a pairing for complementary meals and as an ingredient in the actual recipes,” Ricky Richardson, T.G.I. Friday’s executive vice president and chief concept officer, said in a statement.

Friday’s new items include:

- Black Angus Brew House Steak: An 8-ounce flat-iron steak is marinated in a brine of beer and citrus and is then grilled and served with a craft beer sauce, potato salad and buttered summer green beans.

- Parmesan-Crusted Crab Flounder: Pan-seared fish fillets are flavored with beer, then topped with deviled crabmeat and Parmesan breadcrumbs and served with sides of jasmine rice pilaf and buttered summer green beans.

- Ale House Baby Back Ribs: Baby back pork ribs are grilled with beer, glazed with a Jack Daniels barbecue sauce and served with sides of potato salad and buttered summer green beans.

- Dijon-Crusted Beer Chicken: Chicken fillets are marinated in craft beer and lightly breaded with seasoned breadcrumbs. The dish is served with a tossed salad of mixed greens and grape tomatoes drizzled with a Caesar vinaigrette.

- Ale House Shrimp and Chips appetizer: Beer-battered broccoli, sliced red peppers and Cajun-spiced shrimp are served on home-style potato chips with cucumber-wasabi ranch dip and a stout-beer remoulade sauce.

- Guinness Stout: A Guinness Stout beer is blended with chocolate syrup and vanilla ice cream and topped with whipped cream, for adults.

- Mandarin Dreamsicle: Orange liqueur is added to an orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream shake that’s topped with mandarin oranges and whipped cream, for adults.

- Ice Cream Strawberry Shortcake: The non-alcoholic dessert is topped with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, fresh strawberries and whipped cream.

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