US Manufacturing output rises Solidly in September
Reuters – Production at U.S. factories increased more than expected in September despite strikes in the automobile industry curbing motor vehicle output. This is further evidence that the economy exited the third quarter with momentum.
Manufacturing output rose 0.4% last month, the Federal Reserve said on Tuesday. Data for August was revised lower to show production at factories dipping 0.1% instead of nudging up 0.1% as previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast factory output would tick up 0.1%.
Production dropped 0.8% on a year-on-year basis in September. It was unchanged in the third quarter. Durable goods manufacturing output rose at a 2.3% annualized rate, which was offset by a 2.4% pace of decline in nondurable manufacturing.
Motor vehicle and parts output rose 0.3% last month after declining 4.1% in August.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) union embarked on limited strikes at factories owned by General Motors (GM.N), Ford (F.N), and Chrysler parent Stellantis (STLAM.MI) in mid-September. The industrial action has since broadened out, shutting down Ford’s truck plant in Kentucky last week.
Despite last month’s strong showing, manufacturing remains constrained by slowing demand for goods because of higher interest rates. Since March 2022, the Federal Reserve has raised its benchmark overnight interest rate by 525 basis points to the current 5.25%-5.50% range.
Manufacturing accounts for 11.1% of the economy. But the worst for the sector is likely over, with the Institute for Supply Management’s measure of national factory activity rising to a 10-month high in September.
Last month, there were solid increases in the production of wood, primary metals, plastics, and rubber products. But the output of apparel and leather as well as printing and support goods declines.
Mining output rose 0.4% after gaining 0.2% in August. Utilities production fell 0.3% after increasing 0.7% in the prior month. Overall industrial production rose 0.3% in September after being unchanged in August.
Industrial output increased at a 2.5% rate in the third quarter. That followed a 0.7% growth pace in the second quarter.
Capacity utilization for the industrial sector, a measure of how fully firms use their resources, rose 0.2 percentage point to 79.7% in September. It is now equal to its 1972–2022 average. The operating rate for the manufacturing sector nudged up to 77.8% from 77.7% in the prior month and is 0.4 percentage point below its long-run average.
Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao.
Revalize Expands Foodservice Equipment & Supplies Portfolio with Latest Acquisition
KCL joins the Revalize portfolio to expand offerings in the FES industry
PRNewswire/ — Revalize, a worldwide leader in CAD, CPQ, and PLM software solutions for manufacturers, announced the acquisition of KCL, the premier design software for foodservice equipment in North America and beyond.
Revalize delivers more efficient routes from idea to cash, increasing agility and speed-to-market, while reducing costs and complexity for businesses that design and model, with its industry-leading CPQ solution. KCL enhances Revalize’s CPQ offering with its robust design tools. Revalize will connect designers and manufacturers in one streamlined solution made up of the AutoQuotes(AQ) catalog and CPQ software.
Through the acquisition, KCL’s design customers will find it even easier to design and customize kitchen layouts by staying in one system and using AQ to easily configure and buy products. Meanwhile, manufacturers can easily list design files and configure, price, and quote on the streamlined, integrated solution from Revalize.
“We are thrilled to announce the acquisition of KCL. It further strengthens our already market-leading capabilities within the foodservice industry,” says Mike Sabin, CEO of Revalize. “This addition continues to expand our global footprint and bolsters our commitment to reshaping the world of manufacturing software across industries. KCL’s robust design tools complement Revalize’s current offerings by bringing FES designers and manufacturers closer together with one streamlined solution.”
KCL allows FES designers and manufacturers to access a vast equipment library of accurate, up-to-date designs to easily add equipment to their kitchen layouts. KCL solutions include BIM/CAD Designer, which allows users to search, view, and download CAD blocks and Revit families for designs, and KCL NapkinSketch, which facilitates designs without running a CAD or Revit program.
“We have worked hard to provide the best tools to our customers for the last 38 years,” says Kevin Kochman, President and Founder of KCL. “By combining forces with AQ Revalize, KCL has increased the opportunities to fulfill our brand promise of helping people work more efficiently.”
To learn more about Revalize and its solutions, visit www.revalizesoftware.com.
Founded in 2021, Revalize is the premier idea-to-cash solution on a journey to reshape the future of manufacturing – powering greater outcomes for businesses who design, model, develop and sell, with a portfolio of industry-leading CAD, PLM, and CPQ solutions. The Company serves more than 15,000 customers across the globe. Revalize is a portfolio company of TA Associates and Hg. Learn more at www.revalizesoftware.com.
KCL was founded by Ron and Kevin Kochman in 1985. Based in Orlando, Florida, with offices in Chicago, Illinois, and Venice, Italy, KCL is the industry leader in foodservice design technologies. Their innovative design and sales software provides access to an ever-expanding library of CAD blocks and Revit families from more than 260 manufacturers around the globe, in addition to offering exclusive time-saving features. In 2019, KCL introduced KCL NapkinSketch, the first and only tool that allows sales reps to create detailed foodservice designs with floor plans, elevations, and 3D without a CAD or Revit program. For more information on KCL, visit www.kclcad.com.
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Food Health and Safety Compliance is not as Vvigilant in a Post-Pandemic World
Hazel Analytics data unveiled at the 2023 Food Safety Symposium reveals that handwashing and temperature control are areas in need of improvement.
During the peak years of COVID-19, hygiene was king, and everyone—from restaurant workers to people bringing in packages from outside—was meticulously washing their hands for 30 seconds many times a day. But pandemic panic did not last forever, and with it, some health and safety rigor has gone by the wayside, according to health inspections data unveiled by Hazel Analytics at the 2023 Nation’s Restaurant News Food Safety Symposium in partnership with Ecolab, held this year in Providence, Rhode Island.
According to the report, which analyzed data from two million restaurant inspections from Sept. 2022- Sept. 2023, handwashing was the top offender for FDA food code violations. Specifically, nearly 6% of all inspections received violations for inadequate handwashing stations. The other top five violations were sanitization of food contact surfaces (5.6%), a certified food protection manager present (4.4%), proper cold holding temperatures (3.7%), and food obtained from an approved source (3.5%).
Overall, the data shows that the FDA has been cracking down since the pandemic.
“Health department inspection focus has shifted significantly,” Loveleen Lohia, customer success manager at Hazel Analytics said. “We analyze 255 health departments… and we’ve noticed that […] there has been an increase on the regulatory side on citing those violations much more than before COVID.”
Hazel Analytics also provided custom data from the attendees at the Food Safety Symposium, representing 17 hospitality and foodservice brands across the industry. Their top food safety violations were similar, but not exactly the same as the overall cohort. Their top safety violations were sanitization of food contact surfaces, in which 20% of inspections received violations, proper cold holding temperatures (15.9%), adequate handwashing (15%), a certified food protection manager present (12.3%), and food separated and protected (8.3%). Overall, about 66% of these violations fall into the foodborne illness danger category.
“So, my question to you is ‘do you have access to the data and analytics you need to proactively manage the safety risks?’” Lohia said. “Do you know what your top risk violations are? Do you know who your top and bottom performers are so that you can better allocate resources or training? Do you get real-time alerts on new inspections and keywords that have been cited on an inspection?”
Lohia recommended receiving actionable insights from Ecolab’s HDI system in order to keep on top of food safety violations across a restaurant chain’s portfolio. – Source: NRN.
Which fine dining restaurant brands score highest for customer satisfaction?
Merchant Centric analyzes content from millions of rewards reviews to identify insights for over 100 key themes, such as food, cleanliness and value.
After examining the fast-casual and casual-dining restaurant segments, the Happy Customer Index is now turning its attention to fine dining, an interesting category at this moment as we continue to stave off a recession and as the consumer remains relatively resilient despite an uncertain macroeconomic backdrop.
Those uncertainties paint a complicated picture for this category in particular. Recent research from Deloitte finds that restaurant spending has returned to pre-pandemic levels and that higher quality products are less of a driver than value options, for instance. That said, during times of economic pressure, consumers tend to engage in emotional self-care, and oftentimes that means a premium meal — to the benefit of fine-dining concepts. In fact, the fine-dining category is performing better against customer satisfaction scores than it was pre-pandemic, according to proprietary data from Merchant Centric.
This data is pulled from millions of ratings, reviews, and comments across sites from Google, TripAdvisor, and others. For this index specifically, we have taken a deeper look at food, quality, staff demeanor, staff dedication, timeliness, order accuracy, price/value and loyalty/referral, to determine the strongest fine-dining brands related to these themes.
Merchant Centric calls this measure a brand’s Theme Performance Score (TPS). If the TPS for a brand on a theme is higher than one, it indicates that guests mention the brand positively more often than negatively; for instance, a score of 3.5 indicates that guests mentioned that theme positively 3.5 times more than it was mentioned negatively. Conversely, a score of 0.5 indicates the theme is mentioned positively half as much as it is negatively.
The fine-dining category already has an advantage in customer satisfaction levels, as service is at its very core. Consider the average fine-dining concept scores a 4.3 out of 5 stars, versus 4.08 for casual dining; 3.63 for fast casual; and 3.55 for quick-service concepts. Drill down even deeper, and it shows the leaders in this category are answering consumers’ call for premium experiences.
“They are satisfying guests at a higher rating this past 12 months than the previous 12 months, and even better than their all-time ratings,” said Adam Leff, cofounder and chief strategy officer of Merchant Centric. “The leaders within the fine-dining segment are performing remarkably better than the other brands.”
Leaders are scoring especially high on food, getting more than six times the compliments as complaints, while staff performance for demeanor and dedication are also clear differentiators for this group, which also drives high scores for loyalty and referral.
That’s not to say the others are dwindling, however. The straddlers are performing at an average of 4.3 for the past 12 months, which is consistent with the previous 12 months and all-time ratings. Straddlers have also scored better on price/value metrics compared to the leaders, illustrating that price/value is not quite as important for fine dining customers as food and staff demeanor.
The chasers, however, are flat for the past 12 months, but down almost 10 basis points from their all-time ratings.
“They’re not satisfying guests as they used to do historically,” Leff said.
Typically, we break down categories by emerging brands (20 locations or fewer) and established brands (more than 20), but fine dining is anomalous in that there are few concepts with deep footprints. So, let’s look at the 25 concepts that fit the fine-dining category and how they ranked in terms of leaders (4.6 ratings and above), straddlers (4.30 rating and above), and chasers (all others). The measurement period is May 2022 through April 2023. – Source: NRN.
Wendy’s expanding in Central Asia
Photo: ©ROMAN TIRAPOLSKY – STOCK.ADOBE.COM
The Kusto Group, an industrial holding company and Wendy’s franchise in Central Asia plans to open and operate 55 outlets across Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan by 2030. Singapore-based Kusto also will introduce a “next generation” restaurant layout and a drive-thru based on artificial intelligence (AI) in Kazakhstan by the second quarter of next year.
As of July 2, Wendy’s had 1,122 international restaurants in 32 foreign countries and US territories. Through the six-month period ended July 2, Wendy’s International had revenues of $62 million, which compared to $910 million for Wendy’s US. –: Food Business News.
South American frozen food brand snags ‘Shark Tank’ deal
By Monica Watrous
Arepas, a daily staple of many South American diets, are, as Marina Corina “Coco” Viete Cabezas described it, “basically what would happen if a bagel and a tortilla had a baby” that taps into several mainstream trends in the United States.
“Arepas are amazing, not only because they taste really delicious, but also they are gluten-free, vegan, they don’t have any added sugars or preservatives, and they’re only made with three ingredients,” she said.
So, for her it was a no-brainer to create a convenient take on the traditionally corn-based cake, often consumed in her native Venezuela and Colombia as a part of a sandwich, a side dish or a snack. With no prior food manufacturing experience, Ms. Cabezas and her sister, Maria “Mafe” Fernanda Romer, three years ago launched a line of freezer-to-toaster arepas inspired by their mother’s recipe. The pair reeled in an investment to support the growing business during a recent appearance on the entrepreneurial reality series “Shark Tank.”
Their brand, TOAST-IT, offers three frozen arepas styles, including original, chia flaxseed, and cassava, marketed as sandwich thins and sold in 900 grocery stores across the United States, including Walmart, Publix, and Central Market. Additional products include frozen appetizers such as pandebono bites and plantain buñuelos.
“We shifted from an arepa brand to a guilt-free Latin American brand because we knew there was a lot we could bring to this category, not only arepas but many other products,” Ms. Cabezas told Food Business News. “We’re in frozen now… but as we continue to grow we feel there’s a lot of opportunity outside the frozen category.”
The sisters settled in Miami eight years ago, eager to escape the social and political unrest of their home country. As they completed school and entered corporate jobs, Ms. Cabezas said “we just didn’t have time to prepare the foods we grew up eating, and we found ourselves missing very deeply our mom’s food.” She said they soon discovered “a very interesting hole in the market for products that are authentic” and convenient for busy lifestyles.
“Also, we found most Hispanic products that are available are full of preservatives and horrible ingredients and that didn’t necessarily meet the needs of the Hispanic population because we’re very used to eating organic and clean products back home,” she said. “So, we thought we could bring a very interesting take on the Hispanic category and innovate with many different products that we grew up eating.”
Longtime fans of “Shark Tank,” the sisters applied to pitch to the program’s panel of wealthy venture capitalists and earlier this year were granted the opportunity. Sitting among the typical tycoons was guest investor Daniel Lubetzky, best known as the founder of Kind Snacks, who ultimately offered to pay $150,000 in exchange for 20% equity in TOAST-IT. The sisters agreed to the terms, later noting he was “our dream Shark” as a fellow Hispanic immigrant and based on his business track record, most recently as the co-founder of SOMOS, a ready-to-eat Mexican food brand. He also is the founder of Camino Partners, a business-building and investment platform.
Following the deal, Mr. Lubetzky said, “Mafe and Coco have built the magical bond of sisterhood into a formidable business partnership. As a confused Mexican Jewish American and co-founder of SOMOS Mexican foods, I love discovering companies like TOAST-IT that have mastered the formula for bringing beloved Hispanic staples to mainstream consumers in a format that is delicious and convenient.”
The episode aired on Oct. 6. Ms. Cabezas described her “Shark Tank” pitching experience as “nerve-wracking” and “surreal,” adding, “it not only provides the opportunity to give your brand a lot of awareness because millions of people watch the show, but also getting feedback from the Sharks … is invaluable, and to get a deal with one of the Sharks has the potential to fuel your brand in a way that is really one in a million.”
With Mr. Lubetzky’s support, the founders of TOAST-IT aim to “bring Latin food to more mainstream markets,” Ms. Cabezas said, citing a lack of lesser-known cuisines on grocery store shelves stateside.
“We feel like Mexican food has become so popular, that people from every nationality know Mexican food so well, but when it comes to South American food or Central American food, it’s really not that widely known, and there are so many dishes that we feel have the potential to become very popular,” she said. “We want to continue to bring our culture and heritage forward in a very delicious way, by providing exciting, delicious and guilt-free products.” Enjoying this content? Learn about more disruptive startups on the Food Entrepreneur page.
Legal Sea Foods Undergoes Next Evolution
THE CLASSIC CHAIN IS SET TO OPEN A NEW INNOVATION CENTER AND DRIVE AN UPGRADED E-COMMERCE PLATFORM FOR GUESTS NATIONWIDE.
When PPX Hospitality Brands purchased Legal Sea Foods almost three years ago, it wasn’t just getting a collection of cult-favorite restaurants in the Northeast. It also took on a 75,000-square-foot Quality Control Center featuring a seafood processing facility, commissary kitchen, and corporate office space.
In the past couple of years, it became apparent that much of the equipment and technology were outdated. Even if Legal’s unit count (25 stores) were to double overnight, the space would still be larger than needed. So the classic chain was faced with a choice: invest and renovate or sell and move out. The company chose the latter after negotiating with processor Stavis Seafoods, which needed to consolidate its operations under one roof. The price of the transaction was undisclosed.
In exchange, the processor had exactly what Legal was looking for—refurbished office space along Boston’s Fish Pier, close to key seafood partners like North Coast Seafoods, local fishing vessels, and the chain’s flagship restaurant, Legal Harborside. The new corporate location houses accounting, HR, marketing, IT, purchasing, operations, e-commerce, and retail departments. Legal employees work alongside PPX’s other brands, Smith & Wollensky and Strega Italiano.
“It’s important for us to maintain a presence and live down here, really embedded within the fishing industry in Boston,” says Matt King, president and COO.
King says the older headquarters, largely built as a processing plant, was from a time when the seafood industry wasn’t as sophisticated. Legal was the leader in safe processing, so it made sense for the company to do it in-house. But with the evolution of the industry, higher standards have been adopted and become table stakes. Because of this, the brand buys most of its fish from local processors.
With seafood processing no longer a differentiator, Legal explored how it could maintain its leadership position.
In lieu of the quality control center, Legal is constructing a new innovation center that provides the efficiency, speed, and quality assurance required of a forward-looking company. Based in Milford, Massachusetts—about an hour southwest of the Boston Fish Pier—the space will see the development of new recipes and facilitate marketing, content creation, and training thanks to a fully functioning television studio. There’s also a hydroponic farm situated inside a shipping container offering fresh vegetables and herbs throughout the year. Additionally, a set of solar panels on the rooftop has ensured zero net electricity consumption for over 10 years. The facility serves Smith & Wollensky, Strega Italiano, and Legal Sea Foods.
The innovation center came about through a friendship with Clarke, the showroom and test kitchen for appliance brands Sub-Zero, Wolf, and Cove. PPX will use 30,000 square feet of Clarke’s 107,000-square-foot headquarters. The space is scheduled to open in 2024.
“Where do we bring the company next?” King says. “What are we now doing with that great product that we have access to? It becomes more about innovating from a culinary and beverage standpoint of, reinventing what is New England seafood. What can we do with our local catch as well as fish that is being brought in from all over the world?”
The facility will help bolster Legal’s new e-commerce platform where customers can purchase the brand’s New England Clam Chowder, as well as other fish and seafood products. The chain previously had a mail-order business for many years with printed catalogs of available items. This updated venture aims to ensure that the food delivered matches the quality and representation of dishes served in the restaurants. The chain felt there “was a disconnect between what we were doing in the restaurants and the creativity that we were putting behind dishes and what was available online,” King says. All choices on the website list ingredients and specific instructions on how to prepare the dish.
As part of the innovation center, Legal is investing more in technology around packaging and processing equipment.
“When you order something and you get it delivered at home, the box and that packaging is the table and the plate,” King says. “And in a restaurant, we put so much attention into the table setting and the china and what we’re serving it on that we’re giving that same attention to the box and environmentally friendly packaging that we’re using—no longer shipping things in a Styrofoam-lined cardboard box. We’re sending everything in ecologically friendly recyclable packaging.”
In 1950, George Berkowitz founded Legal by opening a fish market in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He expanded into the restaurant business 18 years afterward. Throughout the year, the eatery presents over 40 different types of fresh fish and shellfish. Notably, its New England Clam Chowder has graced every Presidential Inauguration since 1981.
When PPX took over, Legal had 27 restaurants, having had six that permanently shut down due to COVID. The brand’s biggest presence is in Massachusetts, with 20 stores. Two are in Virginia, and one each in New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. This upcoming winter, Legal will open its sixth spot inside Boston’s Logan International Airport. And then in the spring, the brand will debut its first unit in Chicago, which King hopes will serve as a gateway toward westward expansion. The midwestern move comes after Legal tested the market two years ago with a ghost kitchen. The brand operated out of a Smith & Wollensky kitchen and had deliveries fulfilled by DoorDash. Florida and Las Vegas— also known markets of Smith & Wollensky—are on the radar as well.
For Legal, reasonable growth is about two to three restaurant openings per year.
“We’ve been going through in the past year a lot of work on reimagining what the new Legal Sea Foods looks like inside and identifying what those finishes are,” King says. “Construction costs are through the roof. It does not cost what it used to cost to build the restaurant anymore. So identifying the finishes that give us the look that we want without having to be always custom or the most expensive of finishes. A lot of that comes with just partnering with the right architecture and design firms to identify what those solutions are and then finding the right partners and landlords that really want us to be in the space.” Source: FSR.
Hormel Food Growing into Commercial Foodservice
NEW YORK — The Hormel Food Corp.’s stable of brands, most notably Hormel, Jennie-O, Planters, Skippy and SPAM are synonymous with retail. But during the past 30 years, the company has developed new brands, been making inroads into foodservice, and is accelerating its push into the category with Foodservice 3.0, its latest go-to-market strategy.
The foundation of Hormel’s foodservice business was set in the 1990s in what Mark J. Ourada, group vice president of foodservice, called Foodservice 1.0 during the company’s recent investor day on Oct. 12. Foodservice 2.0 took place from 2000 to 2020 and featured growth in bacon and pizza toppings, but also led to the development of such category-specific brands as Austin Blues, Bacon 1, Café H, Fire Braised and more.
“That was how we started to take share and outpace our competitors — by innovating in those spaces,” Mr. Ourada said.
Starting in 2021, Hormel Foods launched its 3.0 initiative. Innovation remains a central strategy, but it is much more data-driven than in the past, said Mr. Ourada.
“Foodservice — unlike retail — we haven’t had a lot of data over the years coming to us,” he said. “We don’t have the scan data like retail. But I’ll say (that) in the last five or six years, it’s become much more prevalent. We are getting data now through NPD and we’re starting to invest in that.”
New opportunities for growth include expansion in schools, investments in digital capabilities, and convenience stores. Hormel’s Jennie-O Turkey Store brand has a strong presence in the school K-12 segment and the company is focused on selling additional product lines in the segment.
“(Jennie-O has) has a majority of the turkey business in K-12,” Mr. Ourada said. “Hormel really didn’t have that. We’re bringing the (Jennie-O) K-12 team on now with ours. We’ve trained them on key Hormel items that fit in that K-12 space and we’re starting to see a value-add get unlocked as they’re out talking to their customers, adding Hormel items to that portfolio.”
Additional investments in digital capabilities will ensure operators are able to learn and order from Hormel’s foodservice unit at any time.
“Over 75% of all operator restaurants out there are ordering online,” Mr. Ourada said. “They’re not sitting down necessarily with their distributor sales rep placing an order. They’re going online. Now this could be at any time of day or night; it could be 2 in the morning when a chef finally gets done with that grind. We have got to make sure that we’re showing up well when that happens.”
Finally, Hormel Foods is seeking to grow its share of sales in the convenience store category. The company has a strong presence in pizza and its acquisition of Planters is seen by company management as a way to get additional Hormel brands into convenience stores.
“Salty Snacks is No. 5 in (convenience store) revenue and sales,” Mr. Ourada said. “And, obviously, our acquisition of Planters has put us front and center in that part of the store.”
Mr. Ourada said Planters’ presence is opening the door to additional brands like SPAM and Dinty Moore growing sales in the category as well as snack trays and retail bacon.“Its (Planters) allowed us … to get into many more c-stores … and unlock the opportunity for our team to sell into these other categories,” he said. “So, we see some very, very nice runway with the convenience channel as we move forward.” Source: Food Bussines News
Popeyes puts a spin on its chicken sandwich with Truff
Popeyes’ new chicken sandwich features Truff’s Spicy Mayo and is now available at restaurants nationwide.
Popeyes has launched a new variation of its wildly successful chicken sandwich through a partnership with Truff, a Southern California-based hot sauce brand. The new Spicy Truff Chicken Sandwich is now available in restaurants nationwide and for delivery for $5.99.
The sandwich features Popeyes’ original chicken sandwich topped with Truff’s Spicy Mayo, which includes red jalapeno, mayo and black winter truffle. That mayo is also available for purchase on digital channels for $1.
“Both Popeyes and Truff have reimagined our industries, and now we are coming together to challenge the status quo on the concept of ‘fancy food,’ but for every day,” Sami Siddiqui, president of Popeyes, said in a statement. “’We Don’t Make Sense, We Make Chicken’ is the ethos behind Popeyes culinary innovation and this collaboration is no exception. It initially might not make sense to a food connoisseur to crave truffle on a fast-food chicken sandwich, but Popeyes food defies all logic with its homemade traditions and vibrant flavors.”
Since its 2017 launch, Truff has gained a dedicated social media following and a vote of approval from Oprah, among other celebrities. The company labels its products as “luxury condiments,” describing its hot sauce “as if truffle and sriracha had a baby.” According to the company, the Truff Hotter Hot sauce is about two to three times the heat level of its original formula, or about 5,000 to 7,000 on the Scoville Scale (for context, Tabasco Sauce measures about 2,500 SHUs).
To celebrate Popeyes’ new sandwich, the company is hosting a “So You Think You’re Fancy” TikTok contest designed to inspire guests to showcase “how they bring fancy to life in everyday ways” using the #PopeyesContest hashtag. The contest is hosted by content creator Wisdom Kaye. Winners can earn a spot on “the Popeyes yachtsteraunt,” which sets sail in the spring.
“Our chicken sandwich pays homage to time-honored cooking techniques one would find at a fine-dining restaurant. Combined with Truff, our new sandwich boasts new bold, flavorful ingredients typically reserved for white tablecloth settings and we recognized an opportunity to lean in on being lavish,” CMO Jeff Klein said in a statement. “We launched a TikTok contest anchored to the launch of our fanciest Chicken Sandwich yet and designed the campaign to inspire guests to take to social media to spotlight fancy moments in their everyday life.”
In a statement, Nick Ajluni, co-founder and co-CEO at Truff, said the company is “pleased to work with Popeyes to redefine ‘fast food’ and offer an experience where an elevated product like Truff mixes seamlessly with the Popeyes chicken sandwich.”
This isn’t the company’s first foray in the QSR segment. Last year, the company teamed up with Taco Bell for a Nacho Fries with Truff’s Hotter Hot Sauce launch.
Notably, since Popeyes initial chicken sandwich launch in 2019 ignited an industrywide chicken sandwich war, many brands have added variations to meet continued demand. For its part, Popeyes has also created a Blackened Chicken Sandwich. McDonald’s rebranded its sandwich as the McCrispy and also introduced a Bacon Ranch McCrispy, while KFC experimented with an Ultimate BBQ Chicken Sandwich and Spicy Slaw Chicken Sandwich. Wendy’s came out with a hot honey chicken sandwich, while Chick-fil-A recently launched a Honey Pepper Pimento Chicken Sandwich.
Amy’s Kitchen adds family-size entrees
Amy’s Kitchen is adding a new mealtime solution to the freezer aisle with the launch of six family-size entrees.
Featuring a new packaging design, the entrees are ideal for three to four people and come in six varieties, including:
• Cheese enchiladas — Organic corn tortillas filled with a blend of cheeses, topped with olives and peppers, and covered in a traditional enchilada sauce.
• Roasted poblano enchiladas — Organic tortillas filled with carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, and fire-roasted poblanos, plus organic tofu and a blend of cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses, covered in poblano sauce.
• Pad Thai — Rice noodles with organic tofu, julienned carrots, green onions, broccoli and baked cashews.
• Vegetable lasagna — Organic pasta layered with ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan, plus organic vegetables in an Italian-style tomato sauce.
• Pesto tortellini — Basil pesto mixed with tortellini made with organic wheat flour and stuffed with ricotta cheese.
• Broccoli and cheddar bake — Rice pasta tossed with a creamy aged English cheddar sauce and organic broccoli florets, topped with breadcrumbs.
“We take immense pride in bringing families, whether born or chosen, together around the table and believe this new line will make it even easier,” said Fred Scarpulla, chief culinary officer. “The launch of family-size entrees showcases our commitment to offering convenient meal solutions for families, as we understand the challenges of preparing homemade meals day in and day out.”
Amy’s Kitchen family-size entrees are available beginning in October at Amazon Fresh, Instacart, Kroger, Target, Walmart, and other retailers at $15.99.
Chipotle to Begin Test of Automated Makeline.
The race to roll out an automated makeline is on.
Chipotle said Tuesday it will begin testing a new automated digital makeline in its Chipotle Cultivate Center in Irvine, Calif.
Described as a “cobot,” because it involves some human interaction, the new makeline system was designed by the robotics company Hyphen, which Chipotle invested in last year.
The move comes as fast-casual Sweetgreen pushes ahead with its new automated makeline units, which it calls Infinite Kitchens. Sweetgreen opened its first Infinite Kitchen in Naperville, Ill., earlier this year, and a second converted restaurant is scheduled to open in Huntington Beach, Calif., in December.
Sweetgreen’s automated makelines were developed by the team behind Spyce, which first debuted as a restaurant in Boston but was later acquired by the salad chain.
And coming soon is an automated restaurant dubbed Kernel, which is being developed by Chipotle founder Steve Ells. Scheduled to open in New York City this fall, Kernel is expected to operate in about 800 square feet with as few as three humans, but few details have been revealed about how it will work.
Sweetgreen’s system is a standalone makeline, with humans serving as ambassadors and enablers, doing all the chopping and prepping. Customers can watch the bowls progress through the system, and Sweetgreen says the makeline can produce up to 100 salads in 15 minutes, with improved accuracy.
In its first month of operation, Sweetgreen’s Naperville unit had restaurant margins of 26%, which company officials said is strong for a new store, and the chain is already looking to add more Infinite Kitchens to its development pipeline.
Chipotle’s system is somewhat different in that it is designed as two makelines: a human walks the analog line on top, like a traditional restaurant. The automated makeline is operating on a lower level of the counter, and finished bowls pop up at the end of the line.
See how it works here.
Chipotle said the system is designed for digital orders placed through the app, online or through third-party platforms.
The automated line only makes bowls. Orders like burritos, quesadillas or kids’ meals would be made by the human team member on top.
Once a bowl order comes in, the container travels along a belt receiving the ingredients from dispensers. It then pops out the top, where the human applies the lid, adds chips or other side orders and puts the bowl in the designated pickup channel.
Chipotle says about 65% of digital orders are bowls or salads, so the cobot frees up the human team member to focus on the top makeline and providing hospitality.
It’s all about increasing capacity, especially during peak periods. An early version of the Hyphen makeline could produce about 350 bowls an hour, but Chipotle did not disclose what they expected for their system..
Chipotle said the makeline could also improve order accuracy—which so far has been the case at Sweetgreen.
“Chipotle’s new digital makeline built by Hyphen embodies our commitment to leveraging robotics to unlock the human potential of our workforce, ensuring an elevated dining experience for our guests,” said Curt Garner, Chipotle’s chief customer and experience officer, in a statement. “Our goal is to have the automated digital makeline be the centerpiece of all our restaurants’ digital kitchens.”
The cobot makeline won’t be the only robotic system being tested at the Cultivate Center.
Chipotle is also testing the Autocado, a new automated system that peels and cores avocados used for the chain’s hand-made guacamole.
The Melting Pot has 94 restaurants in 30 states.
Despite Inflation, Tradition Drives Diners to The Melting Pot
THE CHAIN WANTS TO OPEN 15 STORES BY 2025.
Consumers may be tightening their wallets, but tradition and experience are still driving them toward The Melting Pot, according to franchise strategist Collin Benyo.
From what he’s seen, guests are pulling back on spending for smaller events. They’re exchanging those two to three restaurant visits for a more extravagant occasion at The Melting Pot. It’s still the place that people think of to celebrate, whether it’s good grades, the grandparents coming to town, or a special anniversary.
“We’re always going to have that connection,” Benyo says. ” … I think that we see a consistency. I think we hurt just like everybody else, of course. But I don’t think we see as big a drop as a lot of other competitors.”
In the post-pandemic landscape, The Melting Pot finds itself at 94 U.S. restaurants across 30 states, with about 95 percent being franchised. That’s a net decline from the 104 stores it had in March 2020 when COVID rocked the country. The fine-dining chain did not open any restaurants during the fiscal years ending March 2021, 2022, or 2023.
There are indicators that the environment is improving. At an annual franchise reunion in Puerto Rico, Dan Ammen, senior director of project management and purchasing, informed attendees about contracts allowing operators to forego big hits on commodities. He gave franchisees direct numbers on how much they’re saving, but also a sense of realism around the fact that The Melting Pot is an experiential concept. So some cost areas will reflect that. However, Benyo says customers are willing to spend “a little bit more” for what these restaurants offer.
Currently, the brand is competing with its own success. The chain had record years in 2021 and 2022; this year isn’t bringing the same leaps, but financial figures are holding steady.
Unit growth remains on the radar as well. The Melting Pot sorts through opportunities using SiteZeus, a company providing an AI-driven algorithm that spits out information on population demographics, psychographics, and market segmentation. It also gives estimations of 12-month rolling sales if The Melting Pot were to open in a certain area. Using this data, Wichita, Kansas, has become a key target. The Southeast will play a major factor too, especially since headquarters are in Tampa, Florida. North Carolina, Alabama, Texas, and Tennessee are particularly huge draws.
The long-term objective is to open 15 locations by 2025. This expansion is measured, but necessary for a brand like The Melting Pot, which requires a higher population per unit.
“Typically, our stores have very large depths and regions that they work with,” Benyo says. “If we were to put a store in Wichita, it more likely would be the only one there, which is a big draw for candidates when they see that we have an eight-mile territory built into the franchise agreement. And then with the technology we have, we actually monitor the range and reach of our locations with the information that [SiteZeus] gives us. We have an understanding of where those locations are pulling from because the last thing we want to do is put a store that’s too close and cannibalizes and no one wins.”
The beauty of having a separation between stores, Benyo says, is that franchisees aren’t stressed about competing with each other. It gives room for transparency. For instance, The Melting Pot’s operations team distributes a scorecard to the franchise community to show where they rank in terms of sales, labor, retail, online, and other factors. Everyone can see how the other fares. So if something isn’t working in a market for an operator, they feel comfortable asking someone who scored higher for advice.
“We just got back from Puerto Rico from our annual reunion where all our franchisees got together, and just seeing them around each other exchanging, talking—it is a community that helps each other,” Benyo says. “I think when you deal with fine dining or something a little bit different, there’s a friendliness and openness to the community that is hard to find in a lot of other brands.”
As for the availability of real estate, Benyo says The Melting Pot can fit in a variety of venues (previous operators have transformed a cave and an old church into a restaurant). There are no ovens or grills. Traditionally, The Melting Pot is a prep kitchen because much of the experience is tableside, giving the chain flexibility to be in spaces that many others wouldn’t consider. It could be endcap, standalone, or in-line. Wherever it is, The Melting Pot wants to be part of an attractive area, not the actual attraction, to capture the most customers possible.
In some cases, the brand wants to partner with a hotel. Benyo says it’s a win-win scenario; The Melting Pot moves in with an entity that understands hospitality, and the hotel has a distinct way of luring more visitors.
“Without really a draw, a hotel tends to lack in that area,” Benyo says. “They tend to be more of an attraction to people traveling through, maybe see them once or twice. But the local community really doesn’t have a recognition of the hotel itself. Other than, ‘Yeah, there’s a hotel down the street from where I live.’ To have that draw, an understanding from the community to the hotel, is a win for them. And then us partner up with somebody that can help us maintain a great spot and thrive in the community, that’s great for us as well. It’s a beautiful thing.”
In addition to new openings, The Melting Pot is working on refreshing its existing footprint. Called “Melting Pot Evolution,” the revamp involves more space, lighter colors, and a bigger focus on the bar. To expand on that last point, the bar was an oversight when The Melting Pot first began, Benyo says. It was simply an area where a customer had a drink before their table was ready. But now, the brand recognizes guests have different ways of using restaurants, and that doesn’t always include sitting in a dining room. The chain wants to open up opportunities for consumers by offering better seating near the bar so that they can enjoy the dining experience but also converse with the bartender or watch television.
About 60 stores have undergone the remodel. The whole system should be finished by around June.
One factor that separates The Melting Pot from most franchisors is that it doesn’t require prospective operators to have restaurant backgrounds. With ease of operations and education systems in place, Benyo is confident that the brand could take anyone and teach them how to make cheese fondue or melt chocolate. He estimates that 90 percent of existing franchisees were fans of the chain beforehand.
“People circle this restaurant on their calendar,” Benyo says. “I think sometimes people literally change their diet before they come in knowing full well how big this meal is for some people. But we have the ability to host a party every night, which makes the guests happy, which makes the employees happy. And at the end of the day, it makes for a great experience.” – Source: FSR.
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