Fast-casual outlets are a small part of the UK’s restaurant trade – but the sector is growing rapidly, with sales growth outpacing the number of locations opening. Technomic’s David Henkes argues fast casual is set to take off in the country.

Franco Manca does not entirely use locally-produced ingredients but has "a good food story to tell that lends credibility and authenticity"

Franco Manca does not entirely use locally-produced ingredients but has “a good food story to tell that lends credibility and authenticity”

George Bernard Shaw’s quip the United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language might apply to the words we use for some foods -especially chips,which you might take to mean French fries but makes me think of crisps.

But plenty of things about the USrestaurant industry translate perfectly to the UK, especially the growth potential for fast-casual restaurants, which have dominated foodservice in my home country for years. The same appealing price points and service style are likely to entice British consumers looking for something between fast food and traditional full-service restaurants.
Fast casual is quite young in the UK, with sales of just GBP1.1bnamong in theTechnomic UK poll of the top 100 restaurant brands in 2014. But the segment already has impressive momentum, with an 8.6% increase in turnover last year. The sales growth even exceeded the 5.7% increase in UK fast casuallocations last year, suggesting average sales per unit are also expanding at a healthy pace.

While that makes fast casual a relatively small part of the UK’s GBP31bnrestaurant industry, it also means there is tremendous potential for growth in the segment and virtually limitless upside. The field is about to get crowded very quickly, however, as homegrown fast-casual chains like Pret a Manger will soon be competing for retail space and consumer attention with American brands making their way to the market.

In this column, I’ve already discussed the so-called “better burger”chains eyeing the UKbut other fast-casual segments will be targeted as well, including Mexican and pizza. For instance, in September, American fast-casual brand MOD Pizza announced a joint venture with Sir Charles Dunstone and Roger Taylor to bring the concept to the UK, with the first location expected to open in London by mid-2016. Dunstone, founder of TalkTalk Telecom Group, and his partner operate 30 units of Five Guys Burgers and Fries in the United Kingdom and plan to expand that fast-casual burger chain in France.

Two practices stand out among the fast-casual brands succeeding in the UK so far, which can be found in their American counterparts as well.The first is a narrowed focus on a limited menu, which saves brands time and money by simplifying operations and minimizing needs for retail space and equipment. It also helps chains differentiate from the competition with a signature menu item, such as at The Meatball Shop in the United States, a six-unit brand that uses its namesake meatball as a canvas for experimenting with different proteins and new flavours.
Having fewer menu items puts a premium on customisation, which consumers continue to love in the United States and, increasingly, in Europe. This personalisation trend works to great effect at Chatime, which has 11 locations in the U.K. despite entering the market only in 2012. Consumers can choose from one of several Taiwanese-style bubble teas and pick the toppings and sweetness level they want in their drinks.

Another key practice for fast-casual success is honest sourcing. Providing more seasonal or locally grown ingredients fits with consumers’changing definitions of health, and the success of a concept like London’s salad specialist Chop’d bears that out. Being able to tell the story about where food and ingredients come from satisfies a big consumer demand.

But fast casuals don’t need to get everything from organic or hyperlocal sources, as long as they have a good food story to tell that lends credibility and authenticity. Take British chain Franco Manca, for example, which can crank out a personalized Neapolitan pizza in under a minute. Some of its ingredients are sourced from the UK, but many of its commodities crucial to baking a genuine Neapolitan pizza come from Italy, like Sicilian extra-virgin olive oil and San Marzano tomatoes.

On my side of the Atlantic, the fast-casual segment has been the dominant story of the restaurant industry for several years, posting double-digit gains in sales and locations even though it is a mature sector with some giant players. Britain’s roster of fast-casual companies is not as deep as that for the United States -yet -but Technomic nonetheless is forecasting serious expansion in this part of the UK foodservice industry.

To read the original article, visit


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Foodservice focus September 2015 – all-day breakfast, concept innovation

September saw McDonald’s make two significant announcements in the US, a one-two from Taco Bell and a new format from hitherto retro-focused Johnny Rockets.

McDonald’s hopes for all-day breakfast boost

The fast food giant announced plans to serve from its breakfast menu all day in the US, with the formal launch coming yesterday (6 October), its latest move to try to revitalise its performance in its domestic market.

Mike Andres, president of McDonald’s operations in the US, told The Wall Street Journal the roll out was the company’s biggest domestic strategic move since it took its McCafe line of drinks across the US six years ago.

“This is the consumers’ idea. This is what they want us to do,” Andres said. “That’s why I think this could be the catalyst for our turnaround.”

Analysts at NPD say breakfast is the “only restaurant daypart” to see “sustained visit growth over the last several years” in the US, so it is easy to see why McDonald’s has decided to allow US consumers to eat an Egg McMuffin at 3pm, should they wish. September also saw regional US chain White Castle start serving breakfast throughout the day.

There are the obvious logistical and culinary challenges but McDonald’s has been testing the day-long offer in parts of the US. Not all breakfast items will be available all day, everywhere, and the move is unlikely to solve McDonald’s domestic on its issues but the decision does suggest the fast food giant is listening to what its customers want and prepared to act.


And eggs from caged hens to be phased out at the Golden Arches

Egg McMuffins on sale in the US and Canada will increasingly be made only with eggs from cage-free hens, the second significant announcement from McDonald’s last month.

The move is the latest initiative on animal welfare from McDonald’s after its pledge in March on the use of antibiotics in chicken. Driven by the likes of Chipotle Mexican Grill, the US fast-casual chain, food “with an integrity focus”, as Technomic analyst David Henkes puts it, is becoming more important for consumers and, consequently, foodservice operators.

“Our customers are increasingly interested in knowing more about their food and where it comes from,” Andres said in a statement. Marion Gross, chief supply chain officer at McDonald’s North American arm, added: “This is a bold move and we’re confident in our ability to provide a quality, safe, and consistent supply.”

It appears it will take some time for McDonald’s to be able to only use cage-free eggs. The New York Times says less than 10% of laying hens in the US are housed as cage free but moves are afoot for more suppliers to switch part of their production to the mark. In the meantime, the opportunities for egg suppliers majoring on cage free are clear.

A one-two from Taco Bell

September saw two pieces of news from another major US quick-service player. The company, owned by Yum Brands, closed U.S. Taco Co., a restaurant it launched in California last year to try to attract a more upmarket clientele, particularly those frequenting fast-casual outlets.

According to The Orange Country Register, Taco Bell blamed “lower than anticipated foot traffic” and “hurdles securing alcohol permits. Taco Bell chief executive Brian Niccol added: “U.S. Taco Co. remains a fantastic concept, and was very successful as a place to experiment and learn.”

The setback does not appear to have halted Taco Bell’s innovation in store formats. Last month, the operator launched Taco Bell Cantina, a “new urban restaurant concept” targeting five consumer trends the company said “balance relevancy and brand authenticity” – urbanisation, unsurprisingly; second, digitisation; thirdly, localisation; the “green” trend; and transparency.

Two outlets, in Chicago and San Francisco, have been opened. Niccol said the new format shows Taco Bell was “adapting our traditional restaurant concept to fit [consumers’] modern needs”.

Format innovation from Johnny Rockets

The US retro burger chain has also been looking at formats and last month opened Johnny’s Burger Factory in Buffalo in New York state.

Johnny Rockets is focusing squarely on one type of consumer – millennials. “Every detail about the development of Johnny’s Burger Factory, from the first design to construction, product development and marketing had a new kind of consumer in mind. It’s not possible to ignore millennials and still be competitive in the better burger category,” president and CEO Charles Bruce said.

Technomic’s Henkes says Johnny Rockets saw its US sales fall 5% in 2015. Its international expansion has continued apace this year; the company admitted the new format launched in Buffalo was a way of expanding its customer base back at home. “Our goal with Johnny’s Burger Factory is to broaden our appeal and foster an immediate connection and loyalty with a tech-savvy generation looking for a new kind of restaurant,” James Walker, the president of global operations and development at the chain, said.

The company believes the quality of its food, the ability of customers to personalise meals and order dishes themselves, will “differentiate” the format from other fast-casual brands. The segment has grown rapidly but is becoming fiercely competitive. Will Johnny Rockets’ foray take root?

More international expansion – and notable piece of M&A

September saw US fast-casual chain Firehouse Subs enter Canada, its first move outside its domestic market. Krispy Kreme said it would open stores in Peru. And Starbucks announced plans to make Cambodia its 16th market.

On the M&A front, Burger King’s franchise joint venture struck a deal to buy European fast-food chain Quick. Burger King’s owner, Restaurant Brands International, and Groupe Bertrand, the majority investor in the Burger King France venture, said Quick’s outlets would be converted to the US insignia over time.

“This transaction represents a significant step forward for Burger King France, which will have more than 500 restaurants and EUR1bn of system sales following the transaction. Following the conversion, Burger King is expected to be the number two QSR brand in France and France will become one of the largest markets for Burger King globally,” Josh Kobza, Restaurant Brands International’s CFO, said.

Read the story at just-food

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Corona, Modelo maker unveils first craft beer, with Rick Bayless

Constellation Brands, best known for Corona and Modelo, is now making craft beer too.

Life is good these days for Constellation Brands, as American beer drinkers have a seemingly unquenchable thirst for Mexican beers.

Now it’s jumping into the craft beer game, teaming up with Chicago celebrity chef Rick Bayless for a line of Mexican-inspired beers called Tocayo Brewing Company.

All this comes as Constellation, which reports its fiscal second-quarter performance Wednesday, could become the country’s second-largest beer company, should AB InBev indeed make a formal offer for — and win — SABMiller, as has been reported.


On a recent afternoon though, Constellation executives were thinking in smaller terms about Tocayo Hominy White Ale, their first craft beer, to be unveiled this week. The plan is to market the beer only on draft early on and grow the brand gradually in Chicago, said Bill Hackett, Constellation executive vice president and president of the beer division.

“I think it’s going to do very well. Our challenge is going to be can we (produce) enough of it. That’s a great challenge to have,” Hackett said.

Mexican imports and craft beers have surged in recent years, as sales of domestic mainstream beers continue to decline. In such a climate, Constellation’s recent success has been unparalleled, buoyed by shifting demographics in the U.S. and increased popularity of Mexican imports among mainstream consumers. In 2013, Constellation landed all U.S. rights to its beers, which recently produced double-digit growth in the first quarter of this year.

The Tocayo Hominy White Ale, a Belgian White-style beer, is intended to be an accessible and “sessionable” beer, meaning it’s relatively low in alcohol (5.5 percent by volume), making it well-suited for drinking more than one.

A proven craft brewer, Two Brothers Brewing, has been contracted to produce the beer at its facility in Warrenville. Future Tocayo styles will be developed and tested at Bayless’ Cruz Blanca brewery, which is expected to open this spring.

Jason Ebel, who founded Two Brothers with his brother, Jim, said their brewery is “proudly independent,” but respect for both Hackett and Bayless helped persuade them to produce the beer. “If it’s other people, we don’t contract out,” Ebel said.

Constellation executives declined to disclose the financial details of the partnership with Bayless or Two Brothers.

If Tocayo takes off, it will add to the frothy sales the company is reporting. In the first quarter ended May 31, Constellation’s beer sales increased 11 percent to $965.8 million, compared with the same period a year ago.

In that same period, Constellation’s wine and spirits net sales rose about 1 percent to $665.5 million.

During the July call with investors, CEO Rob Sands said Constellation would shift resources to the company’s beer business to maintain the “hit-it-out-of-the-ballpark growth.”

Case sales for the Modelo and Corona brand families have steadily grown during the past six years, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. For the 52-week period ending Sept. 6, case sales for the Corona brand — including Corona Extra and Corona Light — were up 8.3 percent to 55.9 million cases compared to a year ago.

For the Modelo line, which includes Modelo Especial, Modelo Chelada and Negra Modelo, case sales increased 23.7 percent to 31.9 million cases compared to a year ago, according to the IRI data.

Last year, Modelo Especial surpassed Heineken as the second-largest import beer, according to David Henkes, vice president of Technomic, a Chicago market research firm. Corona Extra is the top-selling import beer in the country.

Constellation’s beers haven’t just benefited from the increased popularity of Mexican beers, they’ve helped drive that trend, Henkes said. The Mexican imports have taken the place of premium domestic light beers for many consumers as a sort of counterpoint to heavier craft beers, he said.

“They go down easy and smooth,” and they’re perceived as a more premium product, said Henkes, who was bullish on the Tocayo concept.

“You’re almost checking all of the boxes, aren’t you? A craft beer that pairs well with Mexican cuisine and has Rick Bayless’ imprint of approval,” he said.

That such a sentiment even remotely makes sense is testament to how much the beer industry has changed since Hackett, 64, first started with Barton Beers in 1984, importing Corona when few people knew anything about Mexican beer.

“I thought, my goodness, this Mexican beer in clear bottles with no six-pack. This just isn’t going to work,” Hackett chuckled. “That shows how smart I am.”

Hackett’s guided some iteration of what is now Constellation’s beer division for about 30 years, enjoying a rare longevity in the beer industry that’s helped earn him the respect of competitors and wholesalers alike.

In 1993, Barton Beers was acquired by Canadaigua Wine Company, now known as Constellation Brands, an international producer and marketer of beer, wine and spirits. And in 2007, Constellation formed a 50-50 joint venture called Crown Imports with Grupo Modelo to distribute the Modelo brands, which includes Corona, Corona Light, Pacifico and Negro Modelo, throughout the U.S.

During the recession, Constellation Brands “got smacked just like everyone else” but began rebounding well in 2011, Hackett said. He pushed for more investment in the beer business.

When AB InBev acquired Grupo Modelo in 2013, the Justice Department intervened and forced the consolidated company to divest its share of the U.S. rights of the Modelo brands. Constellation bought those rights, along with a brewery in Nava, Mexico, for just over $5 billion.

That brewery is undergoing an expansion that will allow Constellation to produce all of the beer it imports into the U.S., said company spokesman Michael McGrew, a project that’s expected to be complete by June.

The acquisition of the remaining U.S. rights was a key turning point for the company, cementing its relationship with distributors for the long haul.

As the sole owners of the U.S. rights for Modelo brands, Constellation had newfound freedom in advertising and package design. As one example, the look of the Corona can was redesigned last year. Previously, such decisions had to be approved by the Grupo Modelo partners in Mexico.

Last year, Constellation’s beer ad spending increased 28.4 percent to $108.3 million, according to data provided by the Beverage Information Group.

Jim Sabia, Constellation’s chief marketing officer, pointed to Modelo Especial as an example of a brand that’s now crossing over from Latino consumers to a more general market audience because of a bigger marketing push.

“We’re spending more money than we ever have on marketing,” Sabia said.

“And Jim keeps trying to spend more and more,” Hackett interjected, laughing. “But it’s OK because it’s working.”

Eric Shepard, executive editor of Beer Marketer’s Insights, a trade publication covering the beer industry, said Constellation Brands has been able to weather challenging times through a consistent marketing message for each of its brands and through Hackett’s steady leadership as a well-respected figure in the industry.

Or, as Shepard puts it, Hackett’s “a beer guy.”

“Momentum is its own reward to some extent,” Shepard said. “Right now, the (Constellation Brands) story is kind of extraordinary.”

Hackett aims to keep that momentum going and has challenged his staff to double the number of cases sold to wholesalers, from 180 million cases in 2013, to 360 million in 2024. Tocayo is expected to be part of that success.

“We certainly have visions that it will absolutely be a critical part of our business,” Hackett said.

Jim Vogel, vice president of marketing for Chicago Beverage Systems, a Chicago-area distributor, said he saw promise in the Tocayo Hominy White Ale, which he considered to be a “gateway” beer for people new to craft beer.

“Once the liquid hits people’s lips, I think they’re going to like it,” Vogel said.

Read the story at Chicago Tribune

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Suburban officials: sale of liquor at Starbucks good for business

For evening customers craving something a little stronger — at least in terms of alcohol content, Starbucks wants to be the place to be. But community leaders who have allowed the company to sell alcohol at some locations aren’t expecting much in return.

Burr Ridge is one of about 10 Chicago-area communities Starbucks has targeted for the Evenings Program, which was launched in 2012. Mayor Mickey Straub said letting Starbucks sell beer and wine at its 515 Village Center location has not resulted in an appreciable increase of foot traffic in the Burr Ridge Village Center shopping mall. But he has noticed couples and small groups enjoying a glass of wine or beer in the evening, particularly on the outdoor patio.


“Because it’s located across from a very successful restaurant that specializes in wine — Cooper’s Hawk, I don’t think it’s increased foot traffic very much,” he said.

Other stores in the Chicago area that are selling or plan to sell beer and wine are in Burr Ridge, Plainfield, Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Schaumburg, Yorkville, Winnetka, Des Plaines, Glen Ellyn, Highland Park and Evanston. Sales of wine or craft beers start as early as mid-afternoon at some locations until 10 p.m.

Algonquin Village President John Schmitt, who also is the liquor commissioner, said the license for the location at 790 S. Randall Road was approved about a month ago. Although wine and craft beers are new products for the coffee chain, he said council members did not have strong objections to adding alcohol to the menu.

“After finding that Starbucks would be expanding food options as well, it was passed without further comment,” he said.

The company’s small plate menu includes such offerings as truffle macaroni and cheese, and bacon-wrapped dates.

Starbucks declined to comment, but said in an email that its Evenings Program is in about 10 locations in the Chicago area, with plans to add more.

The city of Des Plaines recently approved a liquor license for the Starbucks at 1427 Lee St. According to a city memo, coffee shops with approved liquor licenses may only sell beer and wine between certain hours on weekdays and weekends, plus the beverages must be sold and consumed in single-serving transparent containers and cannot be sold via a drive-thru window.

In addition, all employees selling beer and wine must be at least 21 and have completed Illinois training on serving alcohol.

Plainfield also recently approved the sale of beer and wine at the Starbucks at 23915 W. Main St. Village President Mike Collins said the store is well-suited for selling beer and wine.

“It’s a quiet place. They (Starbucks) perceive that it’s a place where people will want to come, have a glass of wine and relax,” he said.

Other suburban leaders haven’t seen much benefit but don’t think it hurts either.

Schmitt does not know if allowing a single Starbucks store in his village to sell beer and wine has increased foot traffic much. He, like Straub, said it also has not resulted in any significant boost to sales tax revenues. They both said they supported the Evenings Program.

David Henkes, vice president at Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based restaurant consulting firm, said it makes sense that Starbucks wants to tap the evening market, even if the gains are not tremendous.

“For them it’s a way to incrementally drive sales in a time where they aren’t really making anything,” he said.

He said the company needs to be strategic about where it places the stores that sell beer and wine.

“It needs to be in an area that (is) upscale and where there’s already foot traffic,” he said.

Unlike other communities that have let Starbucks get liquor licenses, Naperville is taking a wait-and-see approach. It recently denied an application for a liquor license for the store at 1200 S. Naper Blvd. Starbucks also had expressed interest in rolling out the beer and wine concept at four more locations in Naperville in the next five years.

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said the one of the reasons he would not support the concept is because it was not expected to generate significant sales tax revenue, according to a story in the Naperville Sun.

Neither Straub, Collins nor Schmitt said they were concerned about other coffee houses also seeking licenses to sell alcohol.

“It’s up to the individual business and whether we think it will work for us,” Schmitt said. “We are very restrictive (in terms of issuing licenses). But where a quality, well-run business is making a request, we have no issues with the legal sale of liquor.”

Read the story at Chicago Tribune

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Foodservice focus August 2015 – health, indulgence and international

Smashburger offering healthier options for kids in US

Smashburger offering healthier options for kids in US

Consumer interest in health has attracted private-equity investment in some up-and-coming operators, while other chains are revamping menus or even considering more substantial changes. Elsewhere, US fast-food chicken operator Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen demonstrated it is benefiting from demand for indulgence and comfort food and there were more examples of international expansion.

Investment in growing segment of US foodservice

On 4 August, there was a third announcement in week of investment in an up-and-coming segment of the US foodservice sector. Snap Kitchen, a retailer selling freshly prepared, healthy takeaway meals, completed a $22m fundraising from existing investors private-equity firm Catterton and co-founder Bradley Radoff. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Coors Banquet keeps growing as other domestic beers decline

Bartender Sinead Talty pours a Coors Banquet from the tap at Mac's Wood Grilled in Chicago. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune) By Greg Trotter Chicago Tribunecontact the reporter

Bartender Sinead Talty pours a Coors Banquet from the tap at Mac’s Wood Grilled in Chicago. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
By Greg Trotter Chicago Tribunecontact the reporter

As Coors Banquet appears headed for its ninth straight year of growth, it’s also gaining traction among Chicago hipsters and other beer drinkers fond of an old yarn.

Strange but true: As similar domestic mainstream beers continue to decline amid the continued surge of imports and craft beers, Banquet just keeps growing.

The original Coors beer’s curious marketing success story is becoming almost a matter of routine, after turning around a more-than-20-year slide in 2006. Leaning on the beer’s retro style and its rustic history in the Rocky Mountains, Chicago-based MillerCoors has found gold in them hills — an old beer with a loyal following that’s attracting a growing number of drinking-age millennials. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

As if hamburger-focused concepts in the UK did not already have enough competition, now the Americans are coming, bringing many of their better burger brands across the Atlantic in order to capitalise on one of Britain’s hottest restaurant segments.

Five Guys among US burger chains to enter - or set to enter - UK

Five Guys among US burger chains to enter – or set to enter – UK

In the past year, US chains Burger Fi, Smashburger and Fatburger have announced plans to open their first locations in the UK, joining peers like Shake Shack and Five Guys, which have two and about 30 units in the market, respectively.

The burger business is bound to only get better. According to Technomic’s 2015 Top 100 UKChain Restaurant Report, burger concepts grew significantly in 2014, including a collective sales gain of 5.8% at fast-casual chains and 37.4% at full-service restaurants. What’s more, UK pub culture favours burger sales, even as competition intensifies from emerging casual-dining chains that put the burger front and centreor from the fast-casual segment, which is still in its infancy in the UK.

Burgers remain a fantastic vehicle for culinary innovation and experimentation with new flavours. Meanwhile, chains in the UK, as in the US, have found success in building burger sales by simply marketing their ingredient quality as better and fresher. To date, Gourmet Burger Kitchen has built the largest system of fast-casual burger restaurants, with 63 locations and nearly GBP 50 min total sales at the end of 2014. But the rest of the field is wide open. There are already dozens of like-minded concepts in the United States that have been taking market share from quick-service brands like McDonald’s and Burger King.But those fast-food giants have held up better in the UK than they have in the United States -or even in the rest of Europe, for that matter. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized