The restaurant industry has a fair amount of uncertainty, but menu labeling and its requirements may be one of the most ambiguous challenges operators have faced in recent years. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released proposed regulations in 2011. Three years later, we are still waiting for the final rulings, but operators can take steps toward accurate labeling now.

Menu labeling triply challenges pizza operators. First, pizzeria menus offer greater variety than other industry segments. Second, customization inherent in the offering makes standardization far more difficult. Third, pizza — in its wonderful decadence — often has higher calorie counts than other comparable segments. Add to the pie the expected costs of analysis, and menu labeling becomes a supreme problem. Or not. With the right partner and the right information, operators can stay true to their brands while providing the necessary information and options that comply with menu labeling standards. It’s as easy as pie, or in this case, as easy as 1-2-3. (read more…)

Consumers’ concerns about genetically-modified foods are growing in the wake of GMO labeling efforts in some states and Whole Foods’ decision to label them in its stores, making GMO transparency.

Four in 10 people say they avoid or reduce GMOs in their daily diets, up from 29% in 2010, and they are demographically indistinguishable from the general population. The differences among them have more to do with their aspirations around food and beverage quality and production. For example, 87% of GMO-averse consumers are organic users.

Consumer’ aversion to GMOs does not mean they understand them.

“I don’t really know what the ‘O’ [in GMO] stands for,” one consumer told The Hartman Group in its new special report, GMO Perceptions, Knowledge and Labeling: A Consumer Perspective. “But they make me think of things that are altered away from the normal. They sound bad, like aspartame.”

They also do not necessarily know how to avoid GMOs. (read more…)

Beef prices have been rising for several years and there’s seemingly no ceiling, an ongoing trend that’s challenging restaurants and retailers to make changes ranging from price increases to putting less beef on the plate to promoting poultry and other animal proteins in the supermarket.

Retail and wholesale beef prices edged even higher this summer, according to the Agriculture Department, as growing demand for U.S. beef in Asia and other international markets pushed up exports and ranchers took longer than expected to replace herds thinned during the droughts of the last few years.

Operators have had to raise prices in many cases, said NPD Group Food Industry Analyst Bonnie Riggs, not just because of higher beef prices but because of overall food inflation.

“The average check at casual dining places is up three percent over a year ago. I’m sure they’ve had to take some price because of high food inflation,” she said. (read more…)

As consumers become more aware of where their food is coming from, restaurants and retailers alike are getting into the sustainability game. From a business standpoint, incorporating things like sustainable design makes sense because it helps the bottom line. But having a strong message of sustainability associated with a business is also advantageous in the food and beverage industry from a branding perspective.

For EL REY, a Mexican beer garden in Washington, D.C., sustainable design is what the business is all about. In addition to beer, margaritas, tacos, tamales and other items one would expect to find at a Mexican beer garden, diners are also treated to a unique atmosphere created by the restaurant’s structure. EL REY is D.C.’s first fully-enclosed structure that is made out of shipping containers. The building is made out of five total, along with a retractable roof over its patio area.

According to Roger Brown, EL REY’s general manager, the unique facade is often what draws customers to the restaurant. (read more…)

When Denny’s recently unveiled their newest restaurant, set to open in Manhattan’s Financial District, the design was nearly unrecognizable. The new restaurant is full of dark woods, tufted leather seats, copper ceilings, and full-wall photographic murals. There is even a craft cocktail bar serving pre-Prohibition era cocktails and an eye-catching $300 “Grand Cru Slam” which pairs two entrees with a bottle of Dom Perignon and a “bartender high-five.”

But the new Denny’s concept is representative of a broader shift in the industry, as a number of brands seek to regain market share lost during the recession and compete with fast casuals for the Millennial dollar. Now many restaurant chains are revamping their image with new logos; playful social media-driven marketing efforts (like that high-five from the bartender); modern décor; and a refreshed menu.

For the first in our two-part series of TrendSpotting Reports on recently revamped restaurants, we focused on the well-known chains that have recently (or are currently) refreshing their concept, discovering the modern trends that are impacting the entire landscape. (read more…)