Restaurant Drink Orders Decline

Consumers are ordering fewer beverages in restaurants. Drink orders have declined 4%, or 2 billion servings, over a five-year period, according to new research from The NPD Group, Chicago.

Behind the trend are changing tastes and cost consciousness, NPD said. In particular, carbonated soft drinks, brewed coffee and milk are falling out of favor. Soda and milk, which account for nearly half of beverages ordered at food service, have lost 4 billion servings since 2010, NPD reported. These beverages, however, are still purchased most frequently of all beverage categories.

Meanwhile, iced and frozen coffees, specialty coffees, frozen slush drinks and tap water and bottled water are growing. Specialty coffees and similar beverages are getting a boost from consumers who make a special visit to purchase the drink or order it as a snack.

Consumers order a beverage 70% of the time when visiting restaurants or other food service outlets, according to NPD.

“Despite recent declines in beverage servings, the fact is that beverages are still an important part of food service visits, whether by themselves or as part of a meal,” said Warren Solochek, president of NPD’s food service practice. “In order to drive beverage orders, food service operators will need to understand consumers’ changing tastes and offer an array of quality beverage choices, including healthy options.”

* Abridged from an article by Monica Watrous, Food Business News

How Smart Companies Get Employees to Brag About the Business

Your employees can provide the strongest, most passionate endorsements of your business — if they’re engaged.

An astronomical 96 percent of employees who are engaged in their jobs try their hardest at work. If that many of your employees are giving it their all, day in and day out, your company will certainly go the distance. But tapping into that engagement is another story entirely. Here are the five most important strategies that will make your employees want to brag about your company:

1. Put employees first:
Put your employees first by providing flexible scheduling and letting them choose work assignments for select shifts. Make sure they know you have their backs.

According to acclaimed author and public speaker Shep Hyken, great companies will train their employees both technically and on how to deliver the best service possible. However, treating your employees with the dignity and respect that every human being craves is at the core of this process. In doing so, you will create a positive domino effect that trickles down to the customers your employees serve.

Employees will care more about how your customers are treated once you’ve demonstrated that you care about how your employees are treated.

2. Connect with your team:
All too often, there’s a divide between executives and hourly employees. Make yourself accessible, and connect with employees on the floor. Consider trading places with an outstanding hourly employee for a day to recognize good work while demonstrating that you’re willing to do all of the things you ask of your employees. Building camaraderie among your teammates will help them see your company as an establishment that values its people.

3. Recognize good work:
A recent survey shows that while 81 percent of respondents’ employers offer some form of recognition, just 46 percent report that their employers offer recognition on an individual basis. Only 51 percent of respondents feel valued by their employers.

Honest, sincere recognition is much more powerful than a tacky “Employee of the Month” award plaque or a canned company wide congratulatory email. Give your staff members immediate feedback when they meet and exceed your expectations. Instant gratification is powerful. It encourages employees to continue developing positive behaviors at work that lead to better customer service.

4. Give employees a voice:
No matter how well you treat your employees, giving them a platform to discuss issues in a constructive manner will make them feel like they have a say in how they do their jobs. Your platform may be a simple suggestion box or a monthly team meeting at which everyone is invited to speak openly.

Whether your employees want more supplies to do their jobs better or an extra break on busy days, providing solutions to small concerns voiced by your staff members demonstrates that you’re listening and sincerely want them to succeed. In turn, they’ll sing your company’s praises whenever they get the chance.

5. Create career paths and goals:
Employees who see a future with your company are more likely to be engaged with where they work. Provide challenging, rewarding work and advancement paths. If you can help your employees see their work as a career as opposed to simply a job, they’ll be proud to evangelize your company culture. Partner with HR to devise plans for how you can help your staff reach career goals and benchmarks.

Employee engagement isn’t the mystery it’s cracked up to be. Show you care by implementing these simple strategies, and you’ll have a hardworking team of employees by day and passionate brand advocates by day and night.

* Abridged from an article by Sam Bahreini

Building Better Brands With The World’s Best Airport Lounges

In a New York Times article, author Jane Levere describes the strategic importance of the airport VIP lounge as a differentiator for competing airlines. As a global traveler who frequents these VIP lounges, I couldn’t agree more.

If you have been watching the airline business over the past several years, you have noticed some drama. Consolidations, alliances, bankruptcies, and “partnerships” (with varied levels of fidelity) abound. Most of the carriers we fly are working to create a unique brand experience in order to instill loyalty in an increasingly disloyal customer base. Many are employing new marketing techniques like social media attractions, or gaming their prospective passengers by pulling or pushing fares across different websites. Few, unfortunately, are investing strongly in the fundamentals: great travel experiences, great employees, and a truly unique brand.

All airlines, however, are trying to catch up with their most valuable, high-mileage passengers and bond with them. They don’t need to look too far. Most of their customers are perusing the complimentary magazine selections and open bars in the VIP lounges. Whether they are premium cabin class passengers, frequent fliers with lots of points, or businesspeople riding along on a coworker’s guest pass, they’re all lounging in the VIP section. All the time.

A well-designed space for airline passengers conveys a rare sense of comfort, calm, and welcome during the uncomfortable, hectic, and sometimes alienating experience of air travel. As Levere points out, well-designed lounges are also a great way for carriers to express their unique character and qualities. I haven’t experienced every airline’s VIP lounge, but certain airlines do it better than others. Here are some of my favorites.

Virgin Airlines never misses the opportunity to express its unique character, even in some of their smaller airport locations. In their airport “clubhouses,” it’s always just a little bit too much fun, in a good way, but also a challenge to stay focused on finishing your monotonous PowerPoint presentation while chilling out beneath those sparkly light fixtures on some fantastically weird couch.

I must mention, selfishly, Iberia Airlines, which I think has the best wine and tapas bar. Granted, I spend a lot of time here, but I think the design of these lounges is excellent and exudes charisma. Besides, during a post-redeye layover, you simply can’t beat fresh-squeezed orange juice, espresso, and the charcuterie. Just my personal bias.

Emirates Airlines is awesome at everything. They’ve pretty much changed the game and have everyone in the travel industry sitting up straight. Staying true to the best attributes people associate with hospitality, they manage to push the envelope of excellence without sacrificing any character.
On the flip side, however, other carriers seem to have caught the fever for granite countertop renovation projects in their lounges, all of which probably took a very long time and probably ran significantly over budget. While they look great, they all look the same, and I cannot tell one airline’s lounge from another.

Clearly the investment in a high-quality airport lounge is not a small one. But such investments can earn impressive returns with a select, high-value group of passengers. It makes a travel experience unique and memorable, it relieves them momentarily of the disorienting stress of travel, and it makes them feel valued.

*Abridged from an article by Michael Valkevich in Fast Company


We Leave Half Of All Our Seafood On The Table (And In The Trash)

Turned off by a slightly strong smelling fillet of halibut? Don’t think that grilled salmon will be any good tomorrow?

Such mealtime decisions may seem innocent enough, but when they’re made by people all over the country, they add up to a staggering amount of waste. Nearly half the U.S. seafood supply winds up uneaten, according to researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

From 2009 to 2013, 2.3 billion pounds of seafood on average in the U.S. was wasted annually. That’s 208 billion grams of protein a year that no one got to eat.

About a quarter of the waste occurs at sea, where fish are frequently caught by accident, then thrown back, according to the study, which appears in the November issue of the journal Global Environmental Change. An additional 15 percent or so is lost en route from sea to consumer, often because it spoils or is discarded as scraps at processing plants.

The researchers say seafood is more likely to be wasted than other foods for a few reasons. It’s highly perishable, for one. And it can give off strong smells “that are not always associated with food safety risks, but may raise safety and quality concerns among retailers, food service providers and consumers,” the study says.

Consumers are far and away wasting more seafood than any other group. The study, which analyzed data from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture among other sources, found that each year we the eaters buy and then never eat 1.3 billion pounds of fish and shellfish. Some of this seafood is going bad in household refrigerators before it is cooked. Some is “plate waste” — it reaches the dining table but winds up in the trash, compost or dog bowl.

Dave Love, an assistant scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and the study’s lead author, tells The Salt that consumers who throw out seafood aren’t just wasting a highly nutritious food. They’re also wasting energy that powered fishing boats and processing plants, kept the seafood cold, fueled its transport over land and sea and maybe even cooked it.

“Lots of time and resources go into that final product, that nice morsel on the diner’s plate or on the supermarket shelf,” Love says. For this reason, reducing waste at the end of the supply chain should be considered a top priority, Love says.

That said, fishermen are also guilty of a lot of waste. And there’s growing awareness about the accidental landing of billions of pounds of fish and other creatures each year — called bycatch. In some fisheries, three-fourths of what winds up in a trawl net is tossed back, mostly dead or dying. Drift gillnets — such as those used for swordfish off the California coast — are another major cause of bycatch, killing marine mammals, birds and all kinds of unwanted fish.

To cut this type of seafood waste, Love and his colleagues recommend bans on destructive fishing methods, such as trawl nets, which are dragged across the seafloor and tend to catch and kill most creatures in their path.

Companies that process fish — canning it or turning it into fish sticks, for example — have plenty of opportunities to curb waste, too, the researchers say. They could package fish in smaller, more manageable portions, to reduce mealtime leftovers, and also provide clearer and more accurate information on product shelf life. Selling more fish frozen instead of fresh would also prevent spoilage.

Still, changing consumers’ careless ways may be the greatest hurdle of them of all.

“How do you force people to eat what they buy?” says Jonathan Bloom, blogger at and the author of American Wasteland. He thinks many Americans will continue throwing food away until they see it as throwing away money.

“To drive behavior change, you have to tie food waste to people’s pocketbooks and wallets,” he says. You also have to educate them about food safety. Bloom says he thinks many Americans have unwarranted fears of food poisoning from fish, which dissuade them from saving leftover seafood that’s perfectly safe to eat.

Another opportunity is to help more people see fish heads and filleted carcasses as tasty — Love says he and his colleagues did not count this waste in the study because most Americans don’t typically eat these byproducts. Other cultures, however, do. In many Asian and African nations, fish heads and bones are prized and are routinely cooked or boiled into broths.

As awareness of food waste grows, and as the challenge of feeding a growing population with limited resources becomes urgent, Bloom guesses the average American may begin utilizing more of all the food we’ve been throwing away.

“I don’t know which happens first — use of insects or fish heads in our kitchens — but both are coming attractions,” he says.

* Abridged from a story by Alastair Bland, NPR Food. Alastair Bland is a freelance writer based in San Francisco who covers food, agriculture and the environment.

Why Chobani, Nestle, and Other Brands Are Opening Brick-and-Mortar Restaurants

Walk down the aisle of any American grocery store and scattered amongst the usual gamut of brands, you’ll find products from popular restaurants. Taco Bell bottles its famous sauce packets (minus the cheeky sayings). P.F. Chang’s boxes frozen versions of its most popular menu items, like sesame chicken and shrimp lo mein. Marie Callender’s is probably better known for its freezer aisle comfort-food meals than for its actual restaurants, and even cult-loved Texas-based chain Whataburger is now selling grocery store versions of is popular sauces.

But what happens when brands, many of which are grocery-store staples, decide to leap from the aisle to the street — in the form of a brick-and-mortar restaurant?

A number of brands — including Chobani, Nestlé, and Barilla — have made the jump from product to restaurant. Popular Greek yogurt company Chobani opened a café in New York City’s Soho neighborhood in 2012 with, unsurprisingly, its yogurt front-and-center on the menu. Nestlé Toll House Café — which has 145 locations across the United States, Canada, and the Middle East — serves cookies, smoothies, and ice cream, the majority of which are made with Nestlé products.

These branded restaurants attempt to leverage grocery-store items into luxurious, upscale entities. But is it working?

The most recent brand to make the jump is Amy’s Kitchen. The vegetarian frozen food company, best known for its microwavable burritos and rice bowls, is now selling pizzas, burgers, and chili made fresh to order at the company’s new San Francisco restaurant Amy’s Drive Thru. Amy’s director of restaurant operations Paul Schiefer reveals that while Amy’s Drive Thru “uses some of the same supplies, growers, and chefs that had made our frozen food,” the menu is “pretty much from scratch.” For the restaurant, which is completely vegetarian like the frozen food offerings, the team held “over a thousand taste tests of the veggie burger alone, just to get feedback and fine-tune what we were looking to do.”

While restaurants offering grocery-store products is a way to make brands more accessible, these branded restaurants attempt to leverage basic grocery-store items — which are often not considered to be very chic — into luxurious, upscale entities. But it is working? Are these restaurants actually just one big, ongoing marketing stunt? Or are they viable concepts on their own? The answer falls somewhere in between the two.
First and foremost, these branded stores are another outlet for the companies to showcase their products. Shawnon Bellah, the COO of the Nestlé Toll House Café, says that nearly 60 percent of ingredients used — from La Lechera condensed milk to branded water — are Nestlé’s. At any given moment at Chobani’s cafe, there are at least 12 yogurt-based creations — both sweet and savory — on offer. Amy’s Drive Thru sells its popular burritos using the familiar Amy’s recipe, only freshly made. Nestlé’s high-end coffee-pod Nespresso has nine self-described “boutiques” across the U.S. that serve a range of coffee drinks, alcohol, and food. According to Nespresso vice president of marketing Davide Moro, the main focus of the boutiques (a word usually used to denote high-end, exclusive product) are the coffee pods, many of which are the same as what customers can purchase in stores and online. (Unlike Nestlé coffee, Nespresso pods can usually be purchased in “select fine retailers” as opposed to traditional groceries.)

“Anybody who walks by one of our cafés may not be 100 percent aware of the café concept, but there’s a trust factor in the Nestle brand,” says Nestle Cafe’s Bellah. Unsurprisingly, brands then use that trust factor to demonstrate, in-store, different ways the product can be used. While Chobani SoHo’s yogurt bowls feature the same product that consumers can purchase in stores, the café offers a number of yogurt bowls, like the Fig + Walnut (dried figs, walnuts, and a drizzle of clover honey) and savory takes like the Mango + Avocado (mango, avocado, olive oil, sea salt cilantro, and lime juice). Michael Gonda, Chobani’s vice president of corporate communications, also points out that “everything you see has our yogurt incorporated, from the spreads on our sandwiches to our baked goods.” The Mediterranean-influenced restaurant sells a number of sandwiches made on simit, a Turkish bagel-like bread, all come topped with labne — strained yogurt cheese — made in-house from Chobani yogurt. The yogurt is even found in the café’s dessert options, like a rice pudding.

The same goes for both of Nestlé’s restaurants. Moro notes Nespresso uses its boutiques — which can be found in cities like New York City, Miami, and San Francisco — to showcase how its coffees can be transformed into other drinks (the boutiques recently offered a peanut butter-and-jelly coffee milkshake). “You can try the drink in stores… and then we teach you how to do it, so you can do it at home.” Nestlé Toll House Cafés also makes a number of items recombining well-known products: Bellah points to the chain’s Nestle Toll House Frappé, which blends coffee with its popular Toll House cookies. However, while Nestlé Toll House Cafés share the same parent company as Nespresso, it uses Nestlé’s lower-end coffee line, Nescafé instead.

When asked why the companies created each restaurant, the spokesperson for each brand could not stop iterating — in terms loaded with brand speak — that the restaurants are meant to bring a “new experience” to customers already familiar with the brands. When a customer walks into one of the restaurants, the product is whisked away from the context of a grocery store, a place that people typically visit during the humdrum of their daily lives. Instead, they eat the product in a way that’s elevated — in the case of Chobani yogurt, it’s served a heavy glass jar, topped with “chef-created” fresh toppings, and covered with a rustic cheesecloth — and all of a sudden, it’s now an experience worth talking about. Essentially, the restaurants are attempting to craft a Pinterest-friendly aspirational lifestyle brand, through a mix of healthy and fresh-looking recipes, well-thought-out design, and luxurious ingredients.

The majority of the branded restaurants feature distinct design that help set them apart from the grocery store. For the most part, the spaces and packaging are Instagram-friendly in the way that their grocery counterparts are not. Chobani SoHo features a large glass windows, rich dark wood, and the yogurts are served in glass containers. Nepresso’s boutiques often feature wall art crafted from the colorful coffee pods and plush leather furniture. Amy’s has managed to give itself a modern and cheery makeover at the Drive Thru. Schiefer explains that the restaurant is contained within a “physically unique building,” which features a solar-panel roof, a water tower replica with the logo in bright blue letters, plenty of light wood, and large sunny windows. While the frozen meal packaging is quite dated — its more likely to appeal to those who love burnt orange and a ’70s aesthetic — the restaurant packaging is rife with bright colors and a bevy of stripes.

The lifestyle angle also allows brands to create and sell items that they can’t necessarily package and put in stores. Chobani created the simit sandwiches for its café, as well as yogurt cups with fresh toppings. Amy’s Drive Thru has a number of restaurant-only dishes, like fresh salads, milkshakes, and fries, none of which have previously been available as a frozen options. And in addition to monthly coffee drink creations, certain Nespresso boutiques also serve wine, and sparkling water, the ultimate benchmark of luxury.

However, just because the item was created for the restaurant doesn’t mean that it can’t end up on store shelves. Chobani uses its SoHo cafê as a test kitchen and “incubation and innovation hub,” as Gonda likes to say. He tells Eater that the company takes advantage of being able to directly interact with customers, testing new ways to serve the yogurt. If the recipe proves popular, it often “ends up on supermarket shelves.” One such item is the Chobani Flip, which is a container of sweetened yogurt, packaged with a combination of “crunchy” toppings that customers “flip” into the yogurt. Gonda notes, that “most of our Flips are inspired by creations at the café.”

Even though Amy’s Drive Thru has only been open less than a month, it has already inspired a new frozen item. Inspired by a customer that would top macaroni and cheese with the brand’s canned chili, Amy’s decided to add a chili-topped macaroni and cheese to its not-so-secret secret menu. While the chili mac “is not an ‘official’ restaurant menu item, it became a popular special request.” So much so that the Amy’s decided “to make a Chili Mac as part of our Amy’s Kitchen range that we are launching soon.”

So are these restaurants actually just one big ongoing marketing stunt? While the companies will say no, the restaurants provide a brick-and-mortar counterpart to a brand’s social media profile — edited, filtered, and presented at just the right angle. It is a version of the brand that really only exists in that one, heavily curated, place. And that’s just how the brands like it — so much so that the companies will continue to open restaurants. Chobani “definitely” wants to build more cafés, Schiefer admits that Amy’s Drive Thru is a concept the company wants to “take further,” Nespresso plans to “continue to open [boutiques] in major cities,” and Bellah reveals that Nestlê Toll House Café is “on track” to open 43 new locations this year.

Grocery-brand restaurants are clearly a financially viable concept and here to stay.

*Abridged from an article by Khushbu Shah,

Mobility is Changing the Way Customers Dine Out

With mobile devices now becoming a rather permanent fixture in our day-to-day lives, it should come as no surprise that the need to stay connected is changing the way customers make their dining decisions. Check out these statistics to see how restaurants are approaching the changing needs of their customers.

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Millennials Drive Demand For Craft Beer, Wine & Spirits

Descriptions including “craft”, “small batch,” “custom,” “limited edition” and “artisan/artisanal” are more likely to influence the purchasing decisions of millennials than they are to sway older consumers, according to a recent Harris Poll.

Chefs and restaurateurs are finding ways to feed the trend — the Culinary Institute of America will hold a Crafting Beer and Food Summit in October, bringing together master brewers and chefs to create menus that complement craft beers.

Millennials are driving much of the growth, as they seek out local, authentic and artisan beer, as well as wine and spirits, said NPD Group Vice President Warren Solochek. The trend in food and beverage in general is toward healthier options, but “healthy” means different things to different people, and in the case of beer, wine and spirits, local and artisan are much more relevant to millennials than calorie counts, he said.

“It’s more true of millennials than others, but it’s also catching on with those of us who are a little older chronologically,” Solochek said. “There are so many variations, taste profiles, alcohol content profiles and so many cool little places producing beer, which makes it much more interesting. Meanwhile, the big producers are producing the same things they always have.” Craft beer consumption has grown steadily over the past five years, jumping 11% in 2014, according to the Brewers Association, and craft brewers sold $19.6 billion worth of beer last year. The number of microbreweries grew 24%, the number of brew pubs increased 10%.

The move toward craft beers dovetails with a growing appetite for local, artisan food, he said, and those trends make it much easier for independent restaurants to give consumers what they crave. “We’re seeing an explosion of microbreweries, there are many more places putting them out than ever before. I live in Chicago, and I go to a lot of restaurants with very long lists of craft beers,” Solochek said. They can also charge more, said Solochek, whose son is a millennial and a craft beer fan who doesn’t mind paying more to try new, interesting and local brews. “They’re willing to pay a little or a lot more for these beers because the value proposition is worth it. If it’s a really cool beer, it’s worth it to them to spend a buck or two or three more for a bottle or can of that than it is for one of the standard big three beers. ”

As more new brews become available, millennials are less likely than their older counterparts to find a favorite beer brand and stick with it, and the trend toward craft brews and away from big brands has the big brewers investing in microbrews without necessarily putting their names on them. “Anheuser Busch bought Goose Island Beer, one of the biggest craft brewers in Chicago,” he said. “AB was distributing the beer, then it just bought the company. Big brewers are getting into cider, Miller Coors owns Blue Moon, which is positioned as a craft beer. The business is changing because craft breweries can get enough size and momentum going for the big three.” Small breweries increasingly host tasting rooms where patrons can try out smaller glasses of several different beers in a sitting, he said, a strategy that may not contribute directly to sales growth but works to build brand awareness.

Wine and spirits makers are also capitalizing on the craft trend. “We’ve seen in Chicago a number of companies open up to distill their own spirits, with small batches and limited distribution. They have to go in and sell it into bars and restaurants, with the hope they can build enough of a following to create the demand,” Solochek said. “If you ask me if I think it’s a trend or a fad, I think it’s a trend. I do think it will continue into the foreseeable future, because people love to try something new.”

* Abridged from an article by Janet Forgrieve at, offering 14 newsletters covering the food service industry from restaurants to food manufacturing.

Bison Is the New Beef as More Diners Choose It Over Steak

At $47, the bison filet at Eddie Merlot’s steakhouse is just as expensive as the New York strip steak. It’s also half the size. The grass-fed meat has fewer calories, less cholesterol or fat than beef, and consumers can’t seem to get enough.

Restaurants are raising prices while the meat — once a niche item — is now stocked by retailers including Whole Foods Market Inc., The Kroger Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp. The growing appetite for bison is part of a wider trend toward organic foods, a small but expanding part of the food industry. Aside from the perceived health benefits, demand for such meat signals a rejection of factory-farming methods that account for most protein eaten in the U.S.

“The consumer today doesn’t trust the food industry,” said Roger Gerber, chief executive officer of Blackwing Quality Meats, a U.S. distributor of bison meat. “They can feel comfortable to know it doesn’t have hormones, it doesn’t have antibiotics.” Dining on bison isn’t entirely new. Cable News Network founder Ted Turner, owner of the world’s largest private herd, opened the first of a series of restaurants in 2002 to serve dishes such as bison short ribs and bison meatloaf.

Bison are considered a conservation success story. There are more than 500,000 in North America, according to Colorado processor Great Range Brand Bison, following the efforts of private ranchers. They were almost hunted to extinction in late 1800s, their numbers dwindling to less than 1,000. By the 1970s, the increase in herd size meant they started to be sold for meat.

What prompted Eddie Merlot’s to introduce bison five years ago was demand for healthier options, particularly from women, said Geoffrey Stiles, president of the Fort Wayne, Indiana-based restaurant chain. Its 6-ounce (170-gram) filet, for example, has fewer than 200 calories. Bison has one-third less fat than beef and the animals are raised without steroids or chemical residue, according to the Canadian Bison Association.

The animals spend most of their time grazing on forage. Low in total fat, saturated fat, sodium and dietary cholesterol bison is the right choice when looking for a healthy red meat to serve.

While prices have almost doubled in the last five years, consumer demand hasn’t waned because the cost of other forms of protein — notably pork and beef — has also surged, said Tom Riemann, president of the North American Bison Cooperative, a North Dakota-based processor. “People have kind of gotten used to the prices and are willing to pay a little bit more,” Dave Carter, executive director of the Westminster, Colorado-based National Bison Association, said in an interview.

That’s just as well, because by any reasonable measure, bison is expensive. Ribeye bison steaks rose 17 percent to an average of $31.76 a pound in August compared with a month earlier, more than three times the retail price of a boneless beef ribeye, U.S. government data show. In contrast, cattle futures are down 11 percent this year in Chicago. To keep up with bison inflation, Eddie Merlot’s is raising menu prices as much as 3 percent a year. A life on the prairie has its risks, and the drought conditions that have crimped U.S. cattle supply also affected bison. Ranchers in the U.S., collectively the world’s largest source of bison meat, held 162,110 head in 2012, down 18 percent from 2007, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

U.S. imports of boneless bison meat from Canada have doubled in the past year, USDA figures also show.

But in Canada, too, availability has been constrained, with dry conditions in Alberta and a decline in the number of ranchers, according to the National Bison Association.

Supplies will probably remain tight until 2017, because it can take five years to increase herd sizes, according to Carter. Still, that supply response is already stirring. Ken Overby, a 61-year-old rancher in Manitoba, is considering expanding production after prices increased.
“All indicators are that this will probably continue for a while,” Overby said in an interview.

*Abridged from an article by Jen Skerritt,

Sophisticated Breads Rise On Menus

With many Americans now avoiding gluten, and a growing number of people eschewing most carbohydrates as they follow the paleo diet, bread is less of a meal staple and more of an indulgence. Consumers are also more sophisticated and discriminating, so when they do decide to have bread, they want it to be something special.

Jana Mann, senior director of menu research firm Datassential, said she’s seeing consumers gravitate toward breads that evoke a sense of freshness, that seem premium or are ethnically inspired.

Variety and choices are also important, observed Mark Mears, chief marketing officer of Schlotzsky’s Franchise LLC, which continues to expand beyond its classic sourdough bread to offer other varieties as well.

“Bread is the undisputed foundation of every great sandwich,” Mears said. “Guests are more discriminating than ever before. They know more about food and want to explore new flavor options.”

Apart from adding gluten-free rolls to the menu, Schlotzsky’s has added ciabatta, which Mears said is more suitable than sourdough for cold sandwiches, and thus appeals to some customers who order catering.

The 337-unit Schlotzsky’s, a subsidiary of Focus Brands, also is experimenting with focaccia, flatbreads and pretzel rolls which have enjoyed a rise in popularity in recent years.

Here’s a look at how restaurants are incorporating pretzel breads and four other fast-growing bread types onto menus:

Pretzel rolls:

Other than the catchall term “artisan,” “pretzel” is a fast growing bread descriptor on menus. Pretzel bread not only has an ethnic heritage that appeals to diners; it also has a nice combination of salty flavor offset by mild sweetness that can work across proteins.

Pretzels are traditionally dipped in a lye solution that causes the outside to brown deeply and more quickly while leaving the inside soft, moist and chewy.

Talera Rolls:

The appeal of ethnic fare also appears to be at the core of the recent growth of telera rolls, the soft, thick carrier for Mexican sandwiches called tortas. Telera rolls are on 245 percent more menus now compared with four years ago — the fastest growing bread in that time period — and 17 percent more menus in the past year, according to Datassential.

Chef Torano of CBD Provisions in Dallas says telera rolls classify as comfort food among Dallas’ large Mexican-American population.“Telera rolls are used here a lot in Dallas because of the demographic,” he said. “It’s very simple to create, but on top of that I think everyone is looking for something they grew up with, something that’s easily approachable and recognizable, and telera is one of the prime examples of that.”

The straightforward roll is made simply with flour, yeast, water and a little sugar and salt, although Torano adds some shortening to his for a softer crust.“It’s great on the griddle, too,” he said.

Los Angeles-based La Brea Bakery has seen so much demand for its telera rolls that it recently introduced a miniature one-ounce version.

Datassential’s Mann said other ethnic breads, from bao buns to Indian breads such as roti and naan, are being used to add slightly exotic character to familiar foods.

“Consumers can’t eat two things they don’t know, but pairing something unfamiliar with something familiar grounds it,” she said.

Conversely, she said some restaurants take familiar breads, like pizza dough, and top them with “all types of crazy ingredients,” whether it’s cheeses or veggies or sauces.


When it comes to premium bread, brioche rules the roost.

This rich, buttery egg bread from France is sprouting up with increasing frequency as a burger bun. But it’s traditionally a breakfast bread in France, according to Lionel Vatinet, chef of La Farm Bakery in Cary, N.C.

He said that although he used to only make this bread — which typically has a minimum butter-to-flour ratio of 50 percent — on special occasions, demand is now so high that he keeps it on the menu regularly.

Doug Taylor, the new corporate pastry chef of three-unit Salty’s Waterfront Seafood Grills, with locations in the Seattle area and in Portland, Ore., said he was hired in part so the restaurants could start baking its own bread.

Taylor said that although brioche is expensive to make because of the high butter content, it’s relatively easy to make and also easy to switch up its flavors. Most bread develops its flavor through slowly rising and fermenting, Taylor explained. But brioche is flavored directly by the fat, and since many flavor components are fat-soluble, brioche absorbs them easily.

Vatinet of La Farm normally flavors his with lemon zest, although for Mother’s Day he also adds dark chocolate and white chocolate. For savory brioche, he often adds thyme, rosemary or puréed garlic.

Lavash – Flatbread:

Relatively new to the trendy bread scene is the Middle Eastern flatbread lavash, which was on 20 percent more menus at the end of 2014 than at the beginning of the year, based on Datassential figures.

Although the term can refer to a variety of different breads, including soft, pliable ones, the type that seems to be catching on is more cracker-like.

Lavash was one of the first bread types Taylor began baking for Salty’s, along with brioche and multiseed, because it can be adapted easily.

“It’s an easy thing to change flavors,” he said. “You roll the dough out paper thin, which gives you a high yield. You can put sesame seed on one, peppers on another, different kinds of salt, poppy seeds [and] mustard seed,” he said. He bakes it in a 24-inch by 12-inch baking pan and then tears it into shards.

CBD Provisions’ Torano also makes lavash, but said that rolling it out is an arduous, labor-intensive process. Instead of including it in the restaurant’s tableside bread offerings, he has relegated it to his charcuterie board.

Rebecca Isbell, pastry chef of Betony in New York City, puts a fusion-style twist on the item, with her pretzel lavash.

“I wanted to give our guests something super delicious — crunchy, salty, kind of sweet and a little bitter, and earthy from a quick spray of lye,” she said.

She uses regular pretzel dough, lets it rise until it doubles in size, then rolls it out on sheet trays flipped upside down. She lets it proof until it triples in size, stretches it paper thin, allows it to dry a bit and sprays it with a 4-percent lye solution. She sprinkles it with fleur de sel and bakes it at 325 degrees Fahrenheit until it’s golden brown and crispy.

“They are pretty epic,” she said.

Walnut bread:

Walnut bread is spreading fast, too: Its menu presence has risen 92 percent in the past four years, according to Datassential.

Part of that spread might be due to the growing popularity of cheese and charcuterie boards. That’s where Florian Wehrli, chef of Triomphe at the Iroquois hotel in New York City, uses it. Triomphe makes a dense rye bread studded with walnuts.

He makes a dense rye bread from the Swiss canton of Valais, for which he uses his own starter and no other yeast. He uses 100-percent rye flour with no wheat added. He kneads it briefly and then adds walnut halves, forms it into loaves and bakes it. He serves it thinly sliced.

“I like it with a little plain butter on top, but with cheese or some charcuterie, with some fat content on top, it’s also good. In Switzerland, we have a lot of good cheese, so it’s perfect.”

Rabii Saber, executive pastry chef of the Four Seasons Resort Orlando in Orlando, Fla., makes a cranberry-walnut bread for his cheese plates. He makes dense bread out of whole-wheat flour and cracked oats, sweetened with a little honey. “It’s a very rustic, country-style loaf of bread,” he said.

“Walnuts are a little bit different than other nuts because they have a little more fat content, so when you mix them in the dough they give it a rich flavor,” Saber said. Like most chefs who add fruit or nuts to their dough, Saber adds the walnuts and cranberries after the bread has risen, so it doesn’t affect the bread’s development.

* Abridged from an article by Bret Thorn at , Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Boosting Sales With Beverages

With competition continuing to heat up across the foodservice landscape, operators increasingly are turning to beverage-focused strategies to help boost customer traffic and build loyalty.

In addition to gathering pertinent information about the consumer groups they’re looking to target, operators are employing such tools as special promotions, menuing of specialty beverages, the use of distinctive packaging, order customization and enhanced customer service.

Foodservice executives took the opportunity to discuss those and other marketing tactics during a beverage marketing roundtable sponsored by Whirley-DrinkWorks!, a designer and manufacturer of high quality food and beverage containers. The roundtable was convened during the National Restaurant Association Hotel-Motel and Restaurant Show in Chicago in May.

While roundtable participants underscored the importance of devising effective beverage promotions, they all agreed that it was critical to first understand the customer base they hope to attract.

Knowledge: “You have to start with understanding what the customer wants,” said roundtable participant Peter Zilper, vice president of operational excellence and food and beverage for Aramark’s Sport and Entertainment.

A few years ago Philadelphia-based Aramark conducted a study of customers at its major league baseball venues. Among its findings, the company discovered that sports fans who attend events most often tend to spend more. And beyond the beer options, they found younger customers — millennials, the generation born after 1990 — were interested in cocktails and food pairings with alcoholic beverages, such as a pork sandwich and a cucumber cooler.

At college campuses operated by onsite feeder Sodexo, students want less sugary drinks and more healthful options, said Jeff Pente, senior director of brand development for Sodexo. In response, Sodexo-run dining areas have “hydration stations” that offer fresh fruits like watermelon or cucumber to flavor carbonated or still water.

Other trends in the beverage arena include energy drinks, according to James Park, vice president of marketing and research and development for Which Wich, the Dallas-based sandwich brand. The chain has experimented with adding caffeine to food and drinks.

“We do believe there’s a big component in energy,” Park told roundtable participants. “Every day there’s more and more fatigue. There’s a lot more information than there ever was before, a lot less time to consume that information. We need something to give us a boost in energy.”

The late afternoon daypart can be a good time to promote energy drinks and caffeinated beverages, the executives said.

McAlister CupPackaging. The packaging of a beverage also can help an operator boost sales. For example, every 18 months or so, McAlister’s Deli introduces a new tumbler for its popular handcrafted sweet tea, said Donna Josephson, chief marketing officer for the Alpharetta, Ga.-based fast-casual chain.

“It’s something, too, that the guest expects; in fact, they actually demand that we provide the new cups and the tumblers,” Josephson said. “They see them as collectables.”

At Sodexo-run State University of New York at Binghamton, students can participate in a prepaid refill mug program that allows them to use the same mugs for drinks throughout the semester. The mugs, produced by Whirley-DrinkWorks! sister company ValidFill, feature RFID tags that can be scanned so students who only want a beverage can skip the cash register lines, Pente said. The mug also meets student demand for sustainable drink container options.

Souvenirs and re-useable mugs and cups labeled with a company name and logo also helps reinforce a brand, said Tom Minella, national director of business development for Whirley-DrinkWorks! Having the cup within arm’s reach in their car, office, or home increases the likelihood consumers will return to that establishment.

“It keeps the operator’s brand front and center,” he said.

Restaurants and foodservice operators also can identify returning customers by using refillable brand cups and mugs in promotions, Minella said.

“When an operator offers a refillable mug promotion and their guests bring the mug back for a refill, it’s a way to identify your loyal customers,” he said. “Here is Jim or Sally back with a mug versus a new customer. When you see them on a regular basis, you can learn their names and call them by their name. It’s a way to surprise and delight the customer.”

Customization: Just as today’s consumers — millennials, in particular — like to customize their food by adding or subtracting ingredients, they also want the same freedom or ability to personalize their drink options.

Firehouse Subs was one of the first to test Coca-Cola’s Freestyle soda machines, which offer more than 100 drink combinations — and even more than that at Firehouse, which had its proprietary cherry limeade drink added to the machines, said Doug Reifschneider, vice president of marketing for the Jacksonville, Fla.-based chain.

Meanwhile, Quiznos is able to offer a good variety of beverage options for customers by working with Pepsi and using coolers and bottled drinks, said Jonathan Tress, senior vice president of marketing at the sandwich specialist headquartered in Denver.

Smashburger, the fast-casual burger brand, promotes local brewers and suggests beer and burger pairings to also give customers variety and personalize their dining experience, said Josh Kern chief marketing officer of the Denver-based chain.

Special promotions. Concepts must be able to tailor promotions to fit the brand’s message and image. For example, McAlister’s Deli’s sweet tea outsells carbonated drinks in the chain’s restaurants. The tea is freshly brewed multiple times a day and made with cane sugar. Because of its popularity, the company’s annual Free Tea Day has become a highly anticipated event, Josephson said. Last year the company gave out some 350,000 glasses of tea.

“Obviously for McAlister’s, beverage inspires the loyalty,” she said. “We do that giant event once a year as a gift back to our guests.”

Hospitality: But no matter how great the quality of the food, the uniqueness of the cup or the customizable options operators provide, the customer’s experience remains the best traffic generator, executives said. Roundtable participants agreed that experience depends on having well-trained, hospitable employees.

“It isn’t about getting a free soda or coffee,” said Aramark’s Zilper. “You want to feel cared for. You nourished me. You cared. You gave. Inherently, I think that’s the answer here. Figure out hospitality. People embrace that and come back.”

For the most part, though, operators have access to many tools to help drive visits, restaurant executives agreed.

Knowing the customer’s likes and dislikes can help operators shape successful promotions. In addition, enabling guests to customize their drinks, providing high-quality ingredients, using well-made sustainable containers that can be branded with the company logo, and offering personalized and friendly service are all steps to using beverages to increase visit frequency and build greater brand loyalty.

*Abridged from an article in Nations Restaurant News, NRN.COM