Brand strategies from all corners of the food and beverage industry drew the interest of SmartBrief readers this week, with restaurants, consumer package goods firms and retailers shifting the strategies behind their identities. KFC traded Norm MacDonald’s Colonel for Jim Gaffigan’s and Taco Bell introduced its new Quesalupa menu item during Super Bowl spots, while Mondelez unveiled plans to turn its focus to social media to build up its e-commerce business and Target updated the packaging for its Market Pantry brand to give it a bolder design.

Expansion strategies were also popular stories in our food and beverage newsletters this week. Kroger opened the first store under its Main & Vine banner, Chobani decided it would not sell a majority stake to PepsiCo on its path to growth and Ensure’s parent company Abbott Laboratories launched a line of healthy snacks.

Check out the full list of this week’s 10 most-clicked stories:

  1. KFC unveils new Colonel in live-stream Super Bowl spot
  2. Kroger opens 1st Main & Vine store
  3. Chobani declines offer from PepsiCo, other investors
  4. Mondelez to prioritize e-commerce sales
  5. Mars tops Candy Industry’s list of best candy firms for 2016
  6. Ensure-maker Abbott Laboratories launches snack brand
  7. Chipotle to spend $10M to boost food safety
  8. Target gives Market Pantry brand a refresh
  9. Taco Bell takes the wraps off top-secret new menu item
  10. Kroger chooses new division presidents

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Many of this year’s hottest food and restaurant trends are efforts that stem from seeds sowed in previous years, from the ongoing quest to cut artificial ingredients from menus to the rise in retail restaurants aimed at encouraging shoppers to linger longer, according to Baum + Whiteman’s 2016 forecast.

This year’s restaurant menus are taking the quest for “clean” ingredients to a new level, with chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panera Bread, McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts simplifying recipes and touting their short ingredient lists. The trend and other health-focused movements ranked high, including the growing move toward veggie-centric plates and vegetarian meals.

Pasta sales have dipped across the globe during the past five years, including a 6% dip in the US, as consumers have cut carbs and gluten, the report says. In response, chefs are creating spaghetti-shaped “noodles” from veggies including zucchini, beets and sweet potatoes, and they’re also working produce-based purees into pasta dough to add a veggie kick to traditional pasta. (read more…)

For many, ringing in a new year means clinking glasses of bubbly together in celebration. At Datassential, we’re toasting 2016 with our latest MenuTrends Keynote Report covering insights in alcoholic beverages. Our report covers all the bases, from consumer sentiment on alcohol preferences to operator data on what’s being served and where. The following is just a small shot of all of the insights covered in our report – a little aperitif to start you off.

Alcohol appeals to…

Alcoholic beverages are both widely available and widely consumed in the US. According to Datassential MenuTrends, more than half of all restaurants serve some type of alcoholic beverage. While it should come as no surprise that non-alcoholic beverages are more widely consumed in any given day (water is the most common, followed by brewed coffee), beer and wine don’t fall far behind. Beer is the most consumed alcoholic beverage, with 16% of adults drinking beer on any given day, a higher consumption rate than many non-alcoholic drinks like specialty coffee, sports drinks and energy drinks. (read more…)

A new promotion and campaign touting the premium ingredients and recipes that make Papa John’s pizzas worth paying a bit more for ranked high with SmartBrief’s food and beverage readers this week, coming in second after a tale about the soaring popularity of meat-based jerky from established companies and emerging startups such as Epic, which was recently acquired by General Mills.

PepsiCo’s plans for a restaurant, bar and event venue called Kola House also made the top five, as did news that grocers Meijer, Lucky Supermarkets and Whole Foods’ 365 are vying for retail space in the Twin Cities and a story about the will of Williams-Sonoma founder Chuck Williams, which leaves his massive cookware collection to the Culinary Institute of America.

Here’s the entire Top 10 list of this week’s most-read food and beverage stories:

  1. Jerky craze shows no sign of slowing
  2. Papa John’s shifts focus from price to premium pizza
  3. Meijer, Lucky’s, 365 scout out crowded Twin Cities market
  4. Williams-Sonoma founder wills eclectic cookware collection to CIA
  5. Pepsi to court social-savvy consumers with Kola House
  6. CAVU Venture Partners raises $156M to invest in CPG brands
  7. Hershey to expand distribution of Krave brand
  8. Kroger chooses new division presidents
  9. How Campbell’s chefs stay on top of the latest trends
  10. Whole Foods chooses Chicago area for 365 expansion

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As a restaurateur, you either give your customers what they want or you could go out of business.

Where sustainability is concerned, you can leverage your customers’ opinions and attitudes to better understand what environmental efforts you should undertake, which could generate more sales.

A short case study from our neighbors to the North is helpful here.

Tips from a Canadian success story

In Canada, selling root beer and burgers is good business. With 845 locations, A&W Food Services of Canada, Inc. has a successful business model and is committed to reducing its environmental footprint. When they wondered where to begin their eco-efforts, they asked their customers.

The company crafted an environmental strategy focused on waste diversion, based on consumer market analysis and feedback.

“The majority of our sustainability initiatives are guest-led,” said Tyler Pronyk, director of distribution, equipment and packaging.

“We became the first national QSR chain to exclusively serve beef raised without the use of hormones and steroids, and that was sparked by consumer demand. (read more…)