Archive for July, 2012

Chains Sweeten Desserts with Branded Ingredients

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

A 100-year-old cookie has brought new life to a number of summer dessert and treat offerings, and has also put a spotlight on how a brand-name ingredient can heighten interest in menu offerings.

Kraft Foods’ crème-filled Oreo turned 100 in March, and restaurant chains from Dunkin’ Donuts to The Cheesecake Factory have found ways to celebrate the cookie centennial in menu offerings.

Dunkin’ Donuts is offering the Oreo in its Coolatta frozen drinks and several doughnuts. And on July 31, the casual-dining Cheesecake Factory chain will take the wraps off its new Oreo Dream Extreme Cheesecake, which will feature a layer of vanilla cheesecake studded with Oreo cookies, layers of fudge cake, and Oreo cookie mousse, all topped with milk chocolate icing and a large cookie wafer.

While Oreo has garnered a lot of attention because of its anniversary, other confectionary brands have also appeared in chains’ dessert offerings. Hershey’s and Ghirardelli chocolates, Hostess Ding Dongs, Sour Patch Kids, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Butterfinger, Snickers, Heath and M&Ms all are playing supporting roles in restaurant treats.

Nancy Kruse, president of the Atlanta-based menu consultancy The Kruse Co., said, “Ingredients like these offer a nice promotional hook based on their brand recognition, and, especially, their image. They’re all fun products — the kind that make patrons smile. And the fact that most are cold makes them summertime naturals.

“I don’t see any downside. In fact, I think there’s tremendous upside potential for the marriage of two proven brands to grab consumer attention and drive traffic,” Kruse said.

And getting on the “brand-wagon” doesn’t have to be complicated. The five-unit Seattle-based MOD Pizza, for example, offers a simple stack of foil-wrapped Hostess Ding Dongs at the cash register. Customers in the know can ask for one of the frozen Ding Dongs that MOD keeps on hand in the freezer.

Ally Svenson, co-founder of MOD, said the concept has offered them since the opening the first unit in 2008.

“When we launched, we were very focused on offering ‘simple stuff for complex times’ and put a bunch of good old Ding Dongs on our counter,” Svenson said.

“It was for a bit of fun at the time, and we wanted a nostalgic feeling, reminding people of simpler times,” she said. “Surprising even us, the Ding Dongs really resonated with our customers, putting lots of smiles on many faces. And they really sell, too!”

While dairy-treat chains like Dairy Queen, Sonic Drive-In and Cold Stone Creamery have offered mix-ins of crumbled branded candies, other operators have subtly incorporated brands into their offers.

For example, Pizza Hut has offered its Hershey’s Chocolate Dunkers option since October 2008. BJ’s Restaurants has used Ghirardelli chocolate in its signature Pizookie and ice creams, and garnishes many of its dessert with a branded square of Ghirardelli as well.

And in June, the 625-unit Rita’s Italian Ice debuted the sweet-and-sour Sour Patch Kids version of its frozen treat. The bright red Italian ice capitalizes on what Trevose, Pa.-based Rita’s chief executive Jonathan Fornaci said was a “wildly popular candy.”

Baskin-Robbins, the sibling brand to Dunkin’ Donuts, is using Oreos in dipped ice cream, cake bites, cookie cakes, sundaes and soft-serve ice cream.

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Women in Foodservice Discuss Progress, Obstacles

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

The hospitality industry has grown beyond being the man’s world of the last century, with women now mentoring and motivating the next generation of leaders.

The number of women-owned restaurants has increased 28 percent over the past five years, moderator Robin Lee Allen, executive editor of Nation’s Restaurant News, told a panel at the 2012 Southwest Foodservice Expo in Dallas. She added that 58 percent of the first-line supervisors and managers are women.

“Now those are wonderful statistics,” Allen said. “They show progress. But if you look higher up into the management ranks, you find that is not the case. In fact, only 35 women are CEOs in the Fortune 1000 companies.”

The Expo panel, titled “Providing Leadership and Inspiration to the Next Generation,” featured Estella Martinez, an owner and co-founder of Matt’s Rancho Martinez restaurants in Austin and Dallas; Gina Puente, president, chief executive and chief operating officer of Puente Enterprises Inc.; and Sharon Van Meter, president of SVM Productions of Dallas.

Allen cited statistics that show the success of women in business in general. “In a 2011 report by Catalyst [a non-profit organization aimed at expanding opportunities for women], companies with women on the board out-performed other companies in return on sales by 16 percent and return on invested capital by 26 percent,” she said. “Boards that had three or more women for four out of the past five years did even better, outperforming other companies by 84 percent in terms of return on sales, 60 percent in terms of return on invested capital and 46 percent in terms of return on equity.”

Women now own 35 percent of start-up businesses, Allen added, and by the end of the decade, they are projected to open more businesses than men. However, women still only earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn, she noted.

Puente, whose company includes a collection of retail, food and beverage and travel companies, said she grew up in “an entrepreneur boot camp” with her family business. She created La Bodega Winery for airport locations in 1996 and joined her father in number of quick-service restaurants.

“The common denominator among all the business is customer service,” she said. “That’s what my dad taught me.” Puente is currently working with Dallas chef Stephan Pyles on a Sky King wine bar for the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, which is to open in the fall and another planed for Dallas’ Love Field.

“Twenty years ago, there seemed to be fewer opportunities for females,” she noted. “There was a competitive nature that didn’t foster a lot of support. That’s changed a lot over the past seven or eight years. Women understand that all ships rise.”

Networking among women has increased as well, according to Puente. “We try to encourage and foster innovative thinking,” she said. “Innovation and change is something you have to make people feel comfortable with.”

Van Meter, president of SVM Productions of Dallas, a television and radio culinary production company, recalled that when she started at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris in 1974, she was the only female among 573 students. “That was really, really an obstacle,” she said. “I just stood my ground, and said, ‘I’ll excel at this program.’”

Now she relies on encouraging others in her company. “You encourage the person who’s in charge of a part of your company to do their very best,” Van Meter said. “It really is all about team building. It’s not male or female.”

The hospitality industry is “a good career to be in as a woman,” Van Meter said. “It’s very flexible. You can be working days. You can work nights. You can switch with your husband so you both can take care of your family.”

Estella Martinez, an owner and co-founder of Matt’s Rancho Martinez restaurants in Austin and Dallas, said the board of her restaurant company is made up of four women. “We are a good example of women working together for continued success,” Martinez said. “Women are a lot more confident that they used and to be. I think the opportunities are more available. I hope our company is one that doesn’t base a position on gender.”

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How Restaurants Are Catering to Kids

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

As parents spend more time with their children during the summer, restaurants have the chance to help families grab dinner during vacation or celebrate a Little League victory, but recent trends show that eateries could capitalize on the opportunities if they respond to kids’ and parents’ evolving needs.

“Kids are different today than they were a decade ago,” said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant analyst for consumer market research firm The NPD Group, in a May report. “They want to grow up fast and don’t want to be thought of as kids. Moms are also more concerned with the foods that their kids are eating. Restaurant operators and foodservice manufacturers understand this and are offering more varied options on kids’ menus, downsized portions and healthy alternatives.”

Of the restaurants featured in the Top 75 Kid-Friendly Restaurants list published last month by, chains featuring a varied American-fare menu as well as specialty cuisine garnered top ratings as a suitable choice for families. Japanese concept Benihana made the list, for example, and Italian chain Buca di Beppo did particularly well, with 25 of its 86 U.S. locations making the list. Not Your Average Joe’s had six of its 17 restaurants make the top 75 as well. The brand’s kids’ menu has standard choices like chicken fingers, pizza, and mac and cheese, but also more grown-up options like sirloin tips and balsamic-glazed salmon.

Take a look at some more chains that are successfully catering to kids with their menus, as well as chains that have retooled their marketing to become more family friendly.

Raising the bar on the kids’ meal

In order to fit maturing tastes among young consumers and to push back against criticism from nutrition activists, McDonald’s has updated the contents of its Happy Meal. The standard offering in Happy Meals now includes apple slices, a smaller portion of French fries and low-fat milk.

Other chains have also worked toward more healthful versions of their kids’ meal items, such as Chick-fil-A and Uno Restaurant Group, which began offering children grilled chicken nuggets and applesauce and white whole-grain pizza, respectively, this year.

Chick-fil-A joined the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell initiative this past May during the NRA Show in Chicago, along with Applebee’s, Mimi’s Café, First Watch and Which Wich. Other restaurant brands like Au Bon Pain, Burger King, Chili’s, Cracker Barrel and Outback Steakhouse were among the first to join the NRA’s program.

Separately, Chuck E. Cheese’s and Domino’s Pizza have rolled out pizzas with gluten-free crust to address not only the need for more healthful items but also to accommodate young diners with gluten intolerance.

Refreshing the marketing message

Chuck E. Cheese’s had advertised itself for years as the restaurant “where a kid can be a kid,” but the restaurant has made several changes to its marketing to appear fresher to children — and their parents. This spring the chain began shifting ad dollars away from TV and toward radio and digital campaigns, to capture kids’ attention on new platforms and pitch its food and experience to parents, rather than rely on the children to pester their folks to take them for pizza. In addition, the brand gave its eponymous and a hip makeover and featured him in new “Chuck E. rocks” commercials that launched in early July.

Last March, Rita’s Italian Ice represented a different type of cool in its first TV campaign ever. The commercials introduced kids and their parents to the Cool Treats Gang characters representing its products, from Italian ice and frozen custard to the Misto and Blendini beverages.

Unlike Chuck E. Cheese’s and Rita’s, McDonald’s is shying away from emphasizing a mascot in TV commercials these days. In March, McDonald’s said all marketing campaigns aimed at children would include active-lifestyle messaging. The brand’s current campaign toward kids is Champions of Play, which promotes active lifestyles and features swimmer Dara Torres as a tie-in to McDonald’s sponsorship of the Summer Olympics. The chain is adamant, however, that Ronald McDonald remains an “ambassador for good” and is central to the company’s Ronald McDonald House Charities for sick children.

And declaring itself the “Unofficial Sponsor of Summer,” Boston Market is also seeking to encourage active lifestyles among kids this month by offering a free dessert to any child visiting its restaurants wearing a uniform of a team sport.

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McDonald’s Readies Sustainable Restaurants for Summer Olympics

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

With opening ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Olympics a little more than a month away, McDonald’s Corp. revealed several details about its four restaurants there, including a 1,500-seat flagship unit, to be operated at Olympic Park in London.

According to McDonald’s global marketing officer Dean Barrett, the brand’s Olympic Park flagship would not only be one of its biggest locations in the world, but also its most sustainable, with more energy-efficient kitchen equipment, water-saving faucets, and express lanes and contactless payment to speed throughput. The environmentally friendly design aligns with the sustainability goals set by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“London 2012 is set to be the most sustainable Games ever hosted, and this ambition inspired us to not only fulfill our role as official restaurant in the catering operation behind the event, but also to bind environmental sustainability into the heart of our state-of-the-art Olympic Park restaurant,” said Jill McDonald, chief executive of McDonald’s United Kingdom, in a statement.

The flagship restaurant features many of the equipment and design elements that McDonald’s European system has implemented over the past five years as part of its reimaging program, she said. Barrett added in an interview with Nation’s Restaurant News that some of the sustainability elements could be added to the chain’s global reimaging program, including in the United States.

“Based on their usability, you’ll see a lot more of those sustainability efforts,” Barrett said. “They would also be available in the next remodeling cycle for restaurants that have already been reimaged.”

When the restaurants are dismantled after the Olympics, 75 percent of the building materials will be reused and every item of equipment and furniture will be recycled in McDonald’s restaurants throughout the world, he said.

The menu and crew at the Olympic Park restaurants will be McDonald’s most diverse to date, he said. More than 2,000 of McDonald’s top-performing managers and crew members from 42 countries will make up its Olympic Champion Crew to staff the restaurants.

The menu will include core favorites like the Big Mac, French fries and Chicken McNuggets, as well as European best sellers like porridge, large wraps, and sustainable tea and coffee served with organic milk from the United Kingdom. A new fruit juice beverage, the Fruitizz, will be offered after extensive testing in the United Kingdom, Barrett said.

The Olympics will also start marketing at the chain’s restaurants around the world McDonald’s official sponsorship of the Games and its Champions of Play initiative to promote active lifestyles for kids, he said.

“All our countries are very excited about being associated once again with the Olympics,” Barrett said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun activity for us in London, but customers also will see a lot of fun coming to life at their local restaurants.”

Opening ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Olympics begin July 27.

Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s operates or franchises more than 33,500 restaurants in 119 countries, including more than 14,000 in the United States.

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Restaurants, Suppliers Ready for Foie Gras Ban

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

A California state law banning the sale of foie gras goes into effect on Sunday but it remains unclear whether restaurant goers will be able to find the fattened liver of duck or geese on menus next week.

Sales of foie gras have been booming for weeks leading up to the ban, with restaurants across the state serving pricey multicourse foie gras dinners.

Earlier in the week, reports indicated that enforcement of the ban might be somewhat lax. Some chefs said they were planning to look for loopholes to continue to serve the product, such as offering foie gras for free — along with high-priced accoutrements.

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Signed in 2004, the law — which has won the support of chefs like Wolfgang Puck — will make it illegal to sell or produce products in California made from force-fed ducks or geese, but it will not be illegal to consume, possess or transport foie gras.

At issue is whether foie gras can be produced humanely, a debate that continues to rage throughout the food world.

On Friday, however, suppliers elsewhere across the country were giving mixed predictions about what might happen after July 1, saying it may take someone getting cited with the $1,000-per-day fine to know exactly how the law will be enforced.

“The law is very confusing. We’ve spoken to a number of attorneys and we get a different answer every time,” said Marcus Henley, operations manager for Hudson Valley Foie Gras, a Ferndale, N.Y.-based producer.

Henley said the company plans to hold off on any sales to California residents or restaurants on Sunday and Monday. “After that, we’ll see what happens,” he said.

Henley said it is not clear whether a California buyer can legally order the product online from the New York producer.

“We’re being very cautious at first because I think that’s a question that could be answered either way, and we want to see how it’s enforced,” said Henley. “I expect it to be quite a chaotic week.”

Ariane Daguin, founder of foie gras purveyor D’Artagnan, based in Newark, N.J., said her lawyers believe it will be legal for customers to order foie gras from her company online. “It’s business as usual for us,” she said.

Whether or not loopholes exist for California restaurants to serve the product remains to be seen.

“We’re going to see right away,” said Daguin. “It really depends which lawyer you talk to.”

Foie gras was briefly banned in Chicago in 2006, and later the ban was lifted. During that period, however, restaurants “found creative ways to serve foie gras without selling it,” Daguin said.

Restaurateur Mark Pastore of Incanto in San Francisco, however, said he plans to remove foie gras from the menu after June 30. “It will be off the menu for now,” he said. “We’ll wait and see how it’s enforced.”

Pastore had been quoted in some reports as being open to allowing guests to bring their own foie gras, and charging a “foie-kage,” akin to a wine corkage. On Friday, however, Pastore said, “I have no plans to do that.”

Pastore predicted that the battle is not over, and that supporters of foie gras will continue to pursue legislative and legal remedies to get clarity about what might constitute humane practices for producing the high-end ingredient. Meanwhile, he added, restaurants may be subject to the “vigilante” enforcement by activists.

Ken Takayama, chef de cuisine at Mélisse in Santa Monica, Calif., said his staff has already received threatening phone calls and emails. The high-end restaurant has played host to a number of foie gras dinners and events over the past few months, some of which have attracted protesters outside. “These people are pretty extreme,” the chef said.

Meanwhile, consumers have clamored for foie gras the same way Michael Jackson fans might have scrambled for tickets to his last concert, he said. Next week, however, Takayama said Mélisse’s menu would be foie gras-free — for now.

“I’m sure other people will find a way to serve it,” he said. “For me, personally, if you have to go that far to serve foie gras to save your restaurant, what does that say about the rest of your menu? Is foie gras really that important?”

David Féau, executive chef at The Royce in the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, Calif., said foie gras dishes and specialty dinners have done very well this year.

For the last days leading up to the ban, The Royce has offered foie gras 30 different ways over three days. Popular dishes have included seared foie gras with torched leek ash and rhubarb gelée; foie gras croquembouche puff pastries; and foie gras fondue with tarragon-printed pasta and crimini mushrooms in a dry-aged beef bouillon. The dishes started at $20.

Next week, however, Féau said foie gras would be off the menu – along with the rest of the duck.

“The whole point of the ‘foie gras battle’ is to support sustainable farming practices and ‘the whole duck,’” he wrote in an email. “If we can’t serve the liver then we can’t serve duck. I will serve calf liver and animals that are not corn-fed.”

California’s only foie gras producer, Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras, is reportedly closing up shop, leaving about 35 people without jobs or with greatly reduced hours.

Laurel Pine, owner of foie gras retailer Mirepoix USA, moved her business out of California to Nevada in anticipation of the ban. Pine said Friday her company’s foie gras sales were nearly six times what is typical for June and the highest in her eight years in business. On Friday, California buyers were paying a hefty $55 shipping fee to ensure it arrived before the ban goes into effect on Sunday.

Mirepoix is looking into opening a retail location near the California border in Reno, Nev., and in Las Vegas, where she said Californians can buy the product legally — though she said it’s not clear whether restaurant operators could take advantage of such retail locations. “Nobody really knows what’s going to be okay until the violations start happening,” she said.

Daguin of D’Artagnan said she hoped the ban would light a fire under restaurant operators who want to serve foie gras. “I hope they will show strong interest and motivation to get rid of that ban,” she said.

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